Friday, 24 August 2012

Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a perennial plant from the Lamiaceae family. It has a huge number of common names including tulsi (pronounced “tool-see”), tulasi, Thai holy basil, the queen of herbs and the elixir of life. This legendary plant belongs to the Lamiaceae or mint family. It is easy to grow in the British Isles and so highly beneficial to health that we would be crazy mad not to make more use of it in our gardens.

Holy Basil (O. tenuiflorum). Synonym: O. sanctum

Holy basil is a sacred and medicinal plant and has been in use in Asia for thousands of years. In India, Hindus use it in daily religious worship in their homes and their temples. It aids meditation and spiritual well-being or enlightenment.

The health benefits of this plant are vast and the Longevity Warehouse call it an "adaptogenic supertonic". This plant can boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, reduce stress, eliminate toxins, calm the digestive system, regulate blood pressure, regulate blood sugar and support the liver and heart, amongst other things.

Growing holy basil

Holy basil is very easy to grow. Sow the seeds in the spring or summer just under the soil and they should germinate within two or three weeks. Seedlings should be planted out or thinned to about 30cm to 60cm apart. Holy basil plants prefer full sun, fertile soil and regular watering. They can be grown in the soil or in pots. In the British Isles they should be grown as an annual or brought indoors for the winter. In its native tropical Asia, and under the right conditions, tulsi may live to a decade or more.

Raw edible parts

The fresh aromatic leaves of holy basil are usually chewed or made into a herbal tea. The tea can be taken on its own or with a plant milk and a sweetener. It reminds us of a slightly spicy rooibos or redbush tea and is very refreshing. In India it is used as an alternative to coffee. The leaves of this plant can also be dried and ground down to a powder for later use. While the leaves are most commonly used, all parts of the plant have certain medicinal and religious uses.

There are many other cultivars of the various basils available and they all have raw edible flowers, leaves and seed (probably the whole plant is edible raw). Basil seeds are often sold as tukmaria (edible vegetable seed) for use in Asian dishes. As with all seeds, they are best soaked and/or sprouted before use. The soaked seed make a thick gel like frogsprawn (in a nice way) and can be used in desserts and drinks. Since the seed is so mucilagenous, it needs to be sprouted using the clay dish method. Holy basil seed is reported to be less mucilagenous. I'm afraid we couldn't confirm this as all we've ever done is grow the seed.

All true basil plants are part of the Ocimum genus and include annual and perennial plants. Sweet basil (O. basilicum) is one that is rather more familiar to us in Britain. It is a perennial plant but more usually grown as an annual in the British Isles. The leaves are mostly used for Italian style dishes and are the main ingredient in pesto.

The Lamiaceae or mint family is large. Thomas J. Elpel author of Botany in a Day says that you can "safely sample any member of the mint family".

Tukmaria edible vegetable (Basil) seeds

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