In early April, pop star Madonna posted a photo and a video of her bathtub filled with basil on her Instagram account. But Madonna isn’t basil’s only fan.
Basil, a member of the mint family, comes in 40 varieties (lemon, cinnamon, Thai and more) and a form of basil, grown in India, called Tulasi or Tulsi or holy basil (scientific names: ocimum sanctum or ocimum tenuiflorum), is considered sacred by Hindus. Many varieties of basil leaves tend to be bright or deep green, smooth to the touch, with smooth edges. The flavor can be sharp, especially when raw, and the aroma spicy. A basil plant’s flower is often white. Holy basil, in contrast, has grey-green coarse leaves with rigged edges. Its fragrance is sweeter but it possesses a similar sharp flavor to its cousins. Holy basil plant’s flowers are lavender in color and its stems may be white or red instead of green. Both plants can grow over two feet tall and two feet wide.
Basil in Spiritual Life
The Chopra Center explains, “As the name would imply, holy basil has spiritual as well as medicinal significance in Ayurveda. In Hindu mythology, the plant is an incarnation of the goddess Tulsi, offering divine protection. Many Indian families keep a living holy basil plant in their homes and tend to it with great care and reverence. The plant’s woody stalks are often made into beads used in meditation malas or rosaries.” Holy basil is also planted around Hindu shrines.
According to Ayurvedic traditions, purity and lightness are promoted in the body when holy basil is ingested. WebMD calls holy basil “an ‘adaptogen’ to counter life’s stresses.”
Basil as Medicine
Holy basil’s leaves, stems and seeds have been used in and as medicines for thousands of years to cure or lessen all kinds of ailments. WebMD and the Chopra Center both report that holy basil can be used to treat:
- common cold
- clean the respiratory tract of toxin
- digestive gas
- influenza (“the flu“)
- H1N1 (swine) flu
- stomach upset
- heart disease
- viral hepatitis
- mercury poisoning
- snake bits
- scorpion bites
Basil can also be used to repel mosquitos. Further, Danielle Brooks of GoodDecisions.com and author of Good Decisions Most of the Time: Because Life is Too Short Not to Eat Chocolate said that eating 10-12 basil leaves can relieve menstrual cramps. Holy basil leaves contain eugenol, nerol, camphor, and a variety of terpenes and flavonoids. According to the Chopra Center, “The oil is a strong antiseptic against many kinds of disease-causing organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and parasites.”
WebMD says that the chemicals in basil are thought to decrease pain and swelling (hence Madonna’s tub filled with leafy greens). And the National Institutes of Health reports on a number of studies of holy basil seeds and oil being used in cancer prevention and treatment, though the studies are still in their early stages. Basil is a versatile, easy to grow and use herb with a myriad of benefits. So plant some seeds in a pot or a plot of land today, add some leaves to your salads, soups and sandwiches in the near future.
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