Tulsi Basil: Cultivating and Using this Sacred Herb

Tulsi basil in flower

Tulsi basil, also known as holy or sacred basil, holds a special place in my heart as an herb gardener and herb crafter. Over the years, I’ve developed a deep love for this herb, studying its growing conditions, medicinal properties, and various uses. Whether you’re an experienced herb gardener or a beginner, tulsi is a versatile and easy-to-grow plant that offers numerous benefits. It’s one of many herbs I’ve incorporated into my daily life, and my herb garden just wouldn’t feel complete without it.

Origins of Tulsi Basil

Tulsi basil is native to India, where it holds great cultural and medicinal importance. In Sanskrit, tulsi means “incomparable one,” symbolizing the reverence and respect people have for this plant. Its origins date back over 3,000 years in the Indian subcontinent, where it is considered a sacred plant in Hinduism and is often grown in or near Hindu households. According to some spiritual traditions tulsi is considered to be the embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi making it highly revered in Indian culture. Its influence extends beyond India, as tulsi is an herb that’s also cherished in various Asian cultures, where it is believed to have both spiritual and medicinal significance.

My First Encounter with Tulsi Basil

I first encountered Tulsi many years ago at the Tulsa Farmer’s Market when it was on Cherry Street every Saturday. A local herb farmer had a variety of herbs for sale, and the temperate variety of Tulsi (Ocimum africanum) was among them. It was the scent that first drew me in. From the moment I smelled its sweet fragrance, unlike any other herb I’d encountered, I fell in love with it. I bought three plants, and it has had a home in my garden every year since.

Tulsi basil plants
Whether I start temperate tulsi basil from seed or it just reseeds from the previous year, it makes itself right at home in my garden every year.

Growing Tulsi Basil

Tulsi is an incredibly easy-to-grow and adaptable plant, which makes it an ideal choice for gardeners of all levels, including beginners. Its remarkable adaptability is evident in its ability to thrive in various soil types and climates, making it a versatile addition to any garden. While it is hardy in zones 10 and 11, gardeners in other zones can still enjoy its benefits by growing it as an outdoor annual.

I’ve already mentioned a few times that I grow a specific tulsi variety called “temperate.” It’s important to note that there are different types of tulsi, each with its own unique characteristics. The temperate tulsi variety, which is of East African origin is highly aromatic and acts as an annual in my zone 7a garden. Other varieties include Krishna, Rama, Vana and Amrita tulsi, which flourish in warmer, tropical climates. I grow the temperate variety due to its ease of germination, rapid growth, and high productivity, making it a rewarding choice for any gardener looking for a low-maintenance yet productive plant to cultivate.

Spiky purple flowers of Tulsi basil
Temperate tulsi is my favorite to grow and use. I love it's strong scent and lovely spiky purple blooms.
Growing Tulsi Basil from Seed

Tulsi basil can easily be started from seed by direct sowing in the garden in spring or in late winter indoors to get a head start. I find that temperate tulsi germinates easily but can be sporadic, with seeds sprouting at different times.

Seeds can be sourced online from trusted companies like Mountain Rose Herbs and Strictly Medicinals. In my garden, temperate tulsi reseeds readily so even when I don’t start plants from seed, I have a steady supply all summer where it volunteers in different spots around the garden in spring and summer.

You can also allow some of your plants to flower and go to seed for seed saving. For the purpose of seed-saving, it typically takes around 120 days from the initial planting to to the point where the crop is ready to harvest seeds.

Tulsi basil seedlings in soil blocks
A few tulsi basil seedlings growing in soil blocks which I started from seed a couple of years ago.
Propagate from Cuttings

If you have access to a healthy tulsi plant, you can grow it from cuttings by placing them in water until they root. When taking a cutting from an herb like tulsi basil for propagation, it’s important to follow a few steps to increase the chances of success.

First, choose a healthy and disease-free plant for the cutting. Use a clean, sharp knife or scissors to take a 4- to 6-inch cutting from a stem that isn’t flowering. Remove the lower leaves, leaving only a few at the top. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone to encourage root growth, then plant the cutting in a soilless mix or potting soil. Keep the soil consistently moist and provide indirect light until roots develop.

Tulsi basil volunteer
Tulsi basil does well grown in pots. Here's a volunteer plant that came up in one of the whisky barrels in the garden.
Planting and Maintenance

Tulsi basil is a versatile plant that can thrive both in the ground and in containers, making it a popular choice for gardeners with limited space. It’s one of my favorites to grow in large pots and whisky barrels. This herb requires ample sunlight and warmth to flourish, and it can adapt to various soil types and water conditions, making it an ideal addition to any garden. In fact, subjecting the plant to slightly challenging conditions can enhance its medicinal and aromatic qualities. With minimal care requirements, such as regular trimming to promote bushy growth, Tulsi basil is a low-maintenance and rewarding plant for both novice and experienced gardeners.

Harvesting and Drying Tulsi Basil: Tips and Techniques

Tulsi basil can be harvested throughout its growing season. Both the leaves and flowers can be used. When harvesting, you can either pinch the growing tips or cut the whole plant back sharply. 

Tulsi is known for its aromatic scent, which intensifies when the leaves are brushed or harvested, making it a pleasant herb to work with indoors or out. Be ready for this herb to fill your house with its aroma while you’re preparing your harvest for preservation. 

After harvesting, the leaves and flowers wash to remove dirt and insects and then dry using methods such as hang drying in bundles, lying flat with a fan, or using a dehydrator on a low temperature. I like to use my 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator. I lay the branches on the trays and set it to a low setting and dry until each leaf is completely dried. It’s important to ensure they are fully dry before storing.

harvest basket filled with Tulsi basil
You can harvest and use both the leaves and the flowers of tulsi basil.

Tulsi Basil: A Versatile Medicinal Herb

Tulsi basil is renowned for its diverse medicinal properties, making it a valuable herb in traditional medicine, particularly in Ayurveda. It is commonly used to address stress, anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia. Moreover, it is recognized for its antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and immune-supporting qualities. Tulsi is also considered an adaptogen, aiding the body in effectively responding to stress. Additionally, it is believed to help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or herbalist to determine appropriate dosages and potential medication interactions before using tulsi or any other herb for medicinal purposes.

Using Tulsi Basil

Tulsi can be used in various forms to enjoy its flavor and aromatic benefits year-round. Tulsi basil is an herb that can be enjoyed daily, providing a soothing and nourishing experience. Here are a few ways to use your homegrown Tulsi.

dried tulsi basil in a jar with other jars of herbal tea
Tulsi basil is a staple in my collection of dried herbs for blending and making herbal tea.
Holy Basil Tea

The most common and simple method is making herbal tulsi basil tea from either fresh or dried leaves. A tea infusion can be made by steeping leaves in hot water, for 3-4 minutes. For this, you can use a tea strainer, a mesh tea ball infuser, cotton tea nets, press-n-brew teabags, or even a lovely cast iron teapot like this one. You can drink it hot or let it cool to room temperature and chill or serve it over ice.

Learn more about growing an herbal tea garden here.

One of my favorite ways to make tulsi tea, though, is through a solar infusion. I add tulsi and other complimentary herbs like peppermint and chamomile to a quart jar and fill it with cold water. I then set it out in the garden in a sunny spot for the day and let the sunshine do all the work. Then I use a tea strainer to filter the herbal infusion into a cup or jar and store any extra in the fridge.

Solar herbal tea
Infusing tulsi basil and other dried herbs in a solar infusion is one of my favorite tea-making methods.
Tulsi Honey and Electuary

Another popular way to use tulsi is by infusing it into honey, or creating a delicious and aromatic herbal electuary. This method involves blending the powdered herb with honey, resulting in a versatile concoction that can be incorporated into various culinary uses, such as teas, desserts, and beverages. The electuary not only enhances the flavor but also provides the benefits of tulsi in a convenient and palatable form.

Tulsi Oxymel

An interesting way to use tulsi is by making a tulsi oxymel. This involves combining tulsi with apple cider vinegar and honey. The mixture is left to infuse for a few days, creating a potent and versatile remedy. Oxymels are known for their ability to support the immune system and overall well-being.

Infused Herbal Oil

Tulsi is a versatile herb that can also be used in skincare. In fact, alongside lavender, it ranks among my top favorite herbs for infusing into oil to create topical herbal oil infusions. For my herbal oil infusions I like sunflower oil because it has no detectable scent and doesn’t feel greasy. I store the finished product in small cork topped glass bottles. These oils can be used for massage, aroma therapy, to moisturize dry hands and feet, or to add to homemade salves and balms.

bottled herb infused oils
Tulsi is one of several herbs I infuse in sunflower oil for topical use.
Homegrown Bouquets

I also use Tulsi basil as an addition to flower bouquets. Many types of herbs look beautiful when combined with other blooms collected from the garden. But the strong sweet scent of tulsi, along with its spiky light purple flowers, makes it one of my favorite plants to compliment a home grown fresh harvested bouquet. You can also combine it with other herbs like peppermint and lemon balm to make herbal tea bundles and bouquets for gifting or preserving. Learn more here.

Herbs used in a flower bouquet
Herbs like basil add a special touch to homegrown bouquets. All of the flowers and herbs in this arrangement were grown and harvested from my garden.

Tulsi Basil: A Source of Joy and Wellness

Tulsi basil holds a special place in my heart and will forever be a regular part of my garden. Its adaptability allows me to incorporate it into a range of home remedies, whether in teas or skincare routines. With its aromatic and healing attributes, it stands as a valuable component in my herbal assortment. Whether I need to unwind, boost my immune system, or enhance the flavor of a drink, tulsi basil is my go-to herb.

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Cultivating Nature's Wisdom

I’m a nature photographer and gardener sharing how I created an ecological garden in a small suburban backyard. I also share a few tips for growing and using herbs to craft your own homegrown spice blends.

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