This week’s ingredient spotlight covers the plant commonly known as Tulsi or holy basil. Tulsi comes from the shrub Ocimum sanctum that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is a sacred plant in the Hindu religious tradition and is worshiped in the morning and evening Hindus at large as the avatar of goddess Lakshmi. The holy basil is also an herbal remedy for a lot of common ailments.
Medicinal uses: Tulsi extracts are used in Ayurvedic remedies for a variety of ailments including colds, coughs, and flu. The powder is often used to treat skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis as well as dandruff. Traditionally, tulsi is taken in many forms: as herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf or mixed with ghee. Essential oil extracted from tulsi is mostly used for medicinal purposes and in herbal cosmetics, and is widely used in skin preparations. The essential oil is a strong antiseptic against many kinds of bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Tulsi oil also has antioxidant properties that may explain its effectiveness in reducing the damaging effects of stress on the body. Studies have shown that tulsi protects healthy cells from the toxicity of radiation and chemotherapy. In addition, tulsi seems to influence the neurochemistry of the brain in a way similar to antidepressant medications.
Other interesting uses: Dried Tulsi leaves can be mixed with stored grains to repel insects. It is used often in Thai cooking for flavoring.
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***One precaution: Studies from the 1970s suggest that holy basil might have a mild anti-fertility effect in animals. Although this effect hasn’t been demonstrated to occur in human beings, if you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, don’t take medicinal doses of this herb.***