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Gardening 101: Tulsi

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Gardening 101: Tulsi

September 9, 2021

Tusli, Ocimum tenuiflorum: ‘Holy Basil’

To get in the proper mood to write this post, I brewed myself a cup of warm, tasty, and healthy Tulsi tea. I’ve been a fan of this tea for a while, because studies have long shown that the herb has medicinal qualities that support the body’s natural defenses against stress and germs—and everyone needs extra of that right now. If you’ve never tried Tulsi tea, put it on your list to sample some, or try growing the plant yourself for the full ‘garden to teacup’ experience.

Please keep reading to learn more about this holy of holy herbs:

A pack of \25 Tulsi seeds is \$5.4\1 from GreenlaneGardens on Etsy.
Above: A pack of 25 Tulsi seeds is $5.41 from GreenlaneGardens on Etsy.

Native to India, the Middle East, and tropical and subtropical Asia, this refreshing and healing herb is known as holy basil (and a slew of other names) and is a plant worth adding to your herb garden. Tulsi is a perennial that grows two to three feet tall with gray-green leaves, is evergreen in frost-free areas (USDA Zones 10-11), and grown as an annual in cold climates.

You can harvest and enjoy the leaves throughout the growing season; just make sure your plant is at least eight inches before cutting leaves or branches and remember to use the leaves the same day as harvested to preserve the medicinal qualities. Did you know that there are multiple scientific studies supporting the claims that Tulsi is anticancer, antiviral, immune-enhancing, rich in antioxidants, and boosts your resistance to and tolerance of stress?

Beyond the health benefits, Tulsi also has a spiritual aspect. The herb symbolizes purity and is considered the holy plant in the Indian subcontinent; in Hindu religious ceremonies, it’s used to ward off misfortune and to purify. You can even find this plant growing in Indian courtyards, temples, and homes of people who display it as a form of worship.

A few common varieties:

  • Purple leaf Tulsi, also known as Krishna, is known for its peppery taste and purple leaves and stems.
  • Green leaf Tulsi, also known as Rama Tulsi, is known for being smoother in flavor but having a crisp smell when crushed.
  • Kapoor is a smaller plant growing to 2′ tall, has a coffee-ish, clove-like flavor and is the most common type in the United States as it is easy to grow.

Cheat Sheet

Above: At Obercreek Farm, the dried Tulsi leaves will make a great tea mixed with other herbs, such as mint or chamomile, or on their own. Photograph by Meredith Heuer for Gardenista, from DIY Natural Remedy: Calendula Oil from Obercreek Farm.
  • Most people make a tea from either fresh or dried leaves. The plant’s essentials oils are also used in Ayurvedic medicine and herbal remedies to alleviate sore throats, insect bites, and fevers. But as with all natural remedies, consult a doctor before consuming Tulsi.
  • If you live in a cold climate, bring your plant outside during the summer and then back inside before the cold sets in. Your plant will appreciate living near a sunny window.
  • Tulsi a great companion plant to scented geraniums, oregano, lemon balm, and rosemary. Some even say that Tulsi near potatoes can keep away potato beetles; near tomatoes, they can protect against tomato horn worms.
  • Kapoor Tulsi’s elongated flowers attracts bees, so consider adding this plant to your pollinator garden.
  • If you cut more than you can use, consider air drying and storing the leaves for later use.

Keep It Alive

Tulsi in a vegetable bed. Photograph by George Wesley and Bonita via Flickr.
Above: Tulsi in a vegetable bed. Photograph by George Wesley and Bonita via Flickr.
  • Tulsi likes to be grown in rich, well-draining soil, so be sure to mix in some organic compost to your soil when planting and then top dress with more compost.
  • This plant needs at least four hours of sun so a full sun or a partly shady spot is best.
  • In the summer heat, make sure to keep your plant well-watered and avoid wetting the leave as this can lead to fungal diseases.
  • To encourage bushiness, pinch the tips when they have formed four to six pairs of leaves. Pro tip: remove the flower buds when they appear to prevent seed formation from slowing growth. Also remove any wilted leaves as they appear.
  • You can start your Tulsi by seed in a greenhouse or on a warn, sunny windowsill or by taking a cutting from a healthy mother plant in the summer and then continue with propagation.

For more on herbs, see:

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