Holy basil is a native plant in India and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3000 years. Known as Tulsi in Hindi, which means “The incomparable one,” holy basil is also called “The Queen of Herbs” and “Mother Medicine of Nature.” It is considered sacred in Hinduism and is typically grown in pots in Hindu households.
Holy Basil has a mild spice scent and is widely planted in India around temples and in gardens. All parts of the revered plant are used for practical and ceremonial purposes.
How to Grow Holy Basil
Holy basil is an annual that enjoys warmth and sunshine, so starting seeds indoors will ensure a successful growing experience. To start seeds:
- Sprinkle the seeds over a fine-textured growing medium in pots or trays and cover them with 1/4” of soil. Lightly mist the surface and keep the soil moist but not soggy. You can cover the trays or pots with a dome or plastic wrap to hold the moisture in.
- Keep the seeds warm and protected. Use heating mats if needed to keep the temperature at least 60 degrees.
- The seeds need light to germinate, so place them under grow lights or bright, indirect sunlight. Germination typically takes 6 to 12 days.
- Once they have started sprouting, keep the seedlings moist. You may need to continue using a dome. Once the plants have grown enough to have true leaves and are several inches high, they can be hardened off to transplant outside. Do not plant them directly into the garden until the soil has warmed and outdoor temperatures don’t dip below 50 degrees.
When you're ready to plant holy basil in your garden, choose a sunny location where the plants can get 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Holy basil can handle some shade but prefers warmth. To prevent fungal disease, give the plants enough room for good airflow.
Once the holy basil plants are in the garden, maintain regular watering to keep the roots moist but not soggy. Good drainage is essential. Water when the top inch is dry, and use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep the leaves dry. It is also a good idea to use organic mulch to keep down weeds and preserve soil moisture. This organic material will enrich the soil and achieve a better flavor than fertilizers.
The tiny seedlings can take time to grow, but holy basil will grow rapidly once outdoors, with temperatures more than 60 degrees. During the growing season, regularly pinch out flower heads to promote bushy plant growth and prolong the plant's productive life.
Holy basil can be easily grown indoors as well. Choose a pot large enough to handle the plants, as they can grow two feet high. Make sure the indoor location has 4-6 hours of sunlight.
Harvesting Holy Basil
Like other varieties of basil, holy basil can be harvested at any time during the growing season. You can pick individual leaves as needed or cut whole branches at a time.
It is best to gather basil in the morning after the dew has dried and the plant oils are at their highest level. Use sharp garden shears to cut right above the leaf nodes. This will allow the plant to keep growing as it sends out side branches.
After cutting, you can place stems in a glass of water to keep them fresh for several days.
To dry holy basil, you can either gather bundles and dry them upside down or place them in a dehydrator on the herb setting or 95 degrees.
However, if you want to harvest the seeds, allow the plant to grow naturally. This will allow the plant to put its energy into growing flowers which will develop into seeds. Allowing the plant to produce flowers has the added benefit of attracting honey bees.
What is Holy Basil Used For?
Revered for its medicinal and spiritual properties, holy basil has been used for centuries to heal and strengthen the body.
The most common way to consume holy basil is to drink it as tea.
In traditional medicines, holy basil tea is consumed several times a day to help the body deal with physical and emotional stress.
Studies suggest that holy basil can help regulate cortisol levels and blood sugar. It has also been shown to help people feel more social and less anxious.
In addition to helping with anxiety, traditional uses for holy basil include treating earaches, coughs, colds, indigestion, ringworm, skin infections, dysentery, and malaria.
Sometimes called “hot basil” because of its peppery taste, holy basil has been used to decrease pain and swelling, lower blood sugar, and reduce stress and anxiety. Drinking daily cups of tulsi tea is believed to regulate cortisol levels and help your body better respond to stress.
Using Holy Basil
- When using fresh herbs, remember that fresh has more water than dried, so you need to use more herbs to achieve the same strength.
- Holy basil can be used topically for skin infections and added to bath soaks.
- Adding it to Asian dishes and soups can increase the health benefits, but don’t expect it to taste like other varieties of basil with its spicy and peppery flavor.
- It can be made into an essential oil.
- The most common way to enjoy holy basil is in herbal tea.
How to Make Holy Basil Tea
To make a warm tea, place 1-2 teaspoons of dry or 2-3 teaspoons of fresh leaves into a cup. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Drain leaves and enjoy.
For a cool drink, place flowering tops, stems, and leaves in a clear glass quart jar. Fill the jar with boiling water and let it sit for several hours. Then place in the fridge. Serve it cold.
Cautions: As with all medicinal herbs, use caution when consuming more than a small amount of holy basil. Holy basil may slow blood clotting and is not recommended for people who are taking blood thinners. Consult your doctor if you are trying to conceive or are pregnant.