Phytopharmacology of Tulsi- Basil (Osimum basillicum) Part 1

Phytopharmacology of Tulsi- Basil 
(Ocimum  tenuiflorum, Ocimum sanctum) Part 1


There are many varieties of Basil. Their phytochemistry, properties, culinary uses, medicinal uses etc. are more or less similar. To avoid repetition and confusion I shall describe here Holi Basil AKA Sweet Basil AKA Krishna Tulsi (Shyama Tulsi) AKA Saint Joseph’s Wort.

On account of its virtues viz. having many medicinal properties and their applications, insect repellant property, ability to disinfect the ambience and revivify malarious air; Hindus regard Holy Basil as a sacred shrub. As the protecting spirit of the family, it became inseparable from Hindu houses in India. They grow the herb in decorated containers on the windowsills, on the balconies, in the courtyards and on the patios.     

Since childhood they chant ditties, verses, hymns in admiration of the herb. 

    Sinking in the eternal sleep
A Hindu goes to his rest
   With a Basil leaf on the lip
                                          and on his breast
Holy Basil furnishes him
His passport to Paradise
              (Hemant Vinze)

1. Tulsi in History

Prof. Shrinivas Tilak, who taught Religion at Concordia University, Montreal has made this historical citation: In a letter written to The Times, London, dated May 2, 1903 Dr. George Birdwood, Professor of Anatomy, Grant Medical College, Bombay (now known as Mumbai) said, "When the Victoria Gardens (now known as Jijaamaataa Udyaana) were established in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), the men employed on those works were pestered by mosquitoes. At the recommendation of the Hindu managers, the whole boundary of the gardens was planted with holy Basil, on which the plague of mosquitoes was at once abated, and fever altogether disappeared from among the resident gardeners."

2. Tulsi: The Holi Basil

The name ‘Tulsi’ connotes “the incomparable one”. Tulsi is a venerated plant in Hinduism. Since Tulsi has pleiotropic pharmacological pharmacological activity, multifold chemical properties and actions and botanical importance Hindus worship Tulsi. Of the many varieties, Krishnaa or Shyaamaa Tulsi is selected for worship. Light or Rama Tulsi possesses lesser medicinal value. Hence it does not attain high veneration as Krishnaa or Shyaamaa Tulsi.

3. Tulsi as A Deity

The presence of Tulsi plant symbolizes the religious bent of a Hindu family. A Hindu household is considered ‘incomplete’ if it does not have a Tulsi plant in the courtyard.


Many families have the Tulsi plant planted in a specially built four sided structure having images of deities installed on all four sides (Tulsi-vrindavana) and an alcove (Konaadaa in Marathi) for a small earthen oil lamp. Some households can even have up to a dozen Tulsi plants on the verandah forming a “Tulsi-vana”- a miniature Tulsi forest.      

4. The Holy Herb

According to the “Gandharva Tantra” grounds overgrown with Tulsi plants inspire concentration. Such places are considered ideal for worship. The “Tulsi Manas Mandir at Varanasi is one such temple, where Tulsi is worshiped along with other Hindu gods and goddesses. Believers of Lord Vishnu (Vaishnavaites) worship the Tulsi leaf, because it pleases Lord Vishnu the most. They also wear beaded necklaces made of Tulsi stems. Manufacture of these Tulsi necklaces is a cottage industry in pilgrimages and temple towns.

5. Tulsi as An Elixir

In English Tulsi is known by the name Holi Basil. The juice of its leaves is used for treating inflammations, headaches, respiratory ailments, stomach disorders and many other illnesses. It is considered to be an adaptogen. The aroma of Holi Basil leaves is agreeable, so some people like to add Holi Basil leaves to their tea to get a unique flavor.  
Apart from its religious significance, Tulsi is of great medicinal significance. Tulsi is a prime herb in Ayurvedic treatment. As Tulsi is said to promote longevity Tulsi is regarded as a kind of “the elixir of life”. Essential oil extracted from “Karpoora Tulsi” is mostly used for medicinal purposes
As per the Christian tradition, it is believed that Tulsi grew around Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified. In Greece and Rome Tulsi is valued for its medicinal use.

In Europe, folks place Tulsi (Basil) in the hands of dead to ensure a safe journey to heaven. Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed that placing Tulsi in the hands of the dead would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on. [1]    

Sanskrit meaning of Tulsi is the “incomparable one”. It is also known as the queen of herbs. The name Basil is derived from the Greek word  basileus  meaning "king", as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine". An alternative but rather unlikely etymology has "Basil" coming from the Latin word basilicus, meaning dragon, a fabulous creature that could kill with a look and being the root for basilisk. But this likely was a linguistic corruption of the Greek word. The theory may be based on a quaint superstition that scorpions do much rest under these containers wherein Basil is planted. Also it was believed that if a sprig of Basil were left under a container it would in time turn to a scorpion. Superstition went so far that Hilarius, a French physician, affirms that even smelling the plant might breed a scorpion into the brain.

Basil has acquired a long list of superstitions and lores associated with it.      According to Culpepper if Holy Basil be applied to venomous bites, 'draws the poison to it'. Mizaldus stated that if sweet Basil be placed on a dung heap it would breed 'venomous beasts'. Pliny recommended smelling it in vinegar for fainting. To the French it is 'herbe royale'. In Malaysia and Iran it is planted on graves. In Egypt women would scatter the Basil flowers on graves. The ancient Egyptians burned a mix of basil and myrrh during religious rituals and used it in embalming the dead. To the ancient Greeks, the Basil represented hate and misfortune. It was also believed the plant would not grow unless subjected to verbal abuse at the time of sowing. To the Romans it symbolized love. In parts of Italy Basil is still considered a token of love. Traditionally, a woman would put a pot of Basil on the balcony outside her room when she was ready to receive her suitor. In Moldavia tradition holds that a lad will love any maiden from whom he accepts a sprig (Marathi=Dahaalee) of Basil. In Haiti it is associated with Erzulie, the Haitian goddess of love. The Haitians think Basil stimulates sensuality. Store owners there would sprinkle Basil water over their places of business to drive away evil spirits, thus opening the way for buyers [2]

Other Names

Taxonomic Name: Ocimum tenuiflorum, Ocimum sanctum
Sanskrit: Tulsi, Surasa, Krishnamul, Vishnupriya, Vaishnavee and many more
English: Holy basil, Sacred basil, Indian basil
Arabic: Dohsh, Schadjant, Vasub                              .
Assamese: Tulasee
Bengali:   Krishna-Tulsi, Kalotulsi, Kural, Tulsi, Tulshi
Burmese: Lun, Pinseiin-net, Kala-pinsein  
Farsi:  Baadhrooj, Baadhrooz, Nazbo
French: Basilic sacre, Basilic sacre a feuilles vertes, Basilic thailandais  
German: Indisches Basilicum           
Gujarati: Tulasi
Hindi:        Kala-tulsi, Shyama-Tulsi, Jangalee Tulsi
Japanese: Bajiru hoori, Kamimebouki, Kamibouki 
Kannada:  Sri Tulasi, Kalatulsi, Karitulasi, Vishnu Tulasi, Tulasi     
Kashmiri:   Babri Beol 
Khmer: Che tak, Che tak me, Mareah proeu, Mrea preu     
Laotian: Phak i tou thai, Saphaa,Sa phao lom khao
Malay: Kemangi, Selasih, Selasih Siam
Malayalam:   Trittavu, Tulsi, Krishnatulas, Punya, Shivatulasi, Krishna Tulasi  
Malaysia: Ruku                
Marathi: Tulas, Tulashi,
Nepalese: Krisna, Tulsee maa  
Oriya (Orissa): Ganga Tulasi
Patna: Tulasi
Portuguese: Manjericao-branco, Tulase (Brazil)
Punjabi: Tulasi       
Sinhalese: Madurutala, Mudura tulla      
Spanish: Albahaca   
Tamil:   Thulsi, Alungai, Karuntulsi, Karut Tulasi, Kullai, Tiruttizhai                                     
Telugu: Tulasi, Krishnatulsi, Bryanda, Gangera, Tulsichettu
Thai: Ka phrao, Tu thai, Kom ko dong, Ka phrao khon
Urdu: Raihan, Kali Tulasi, Janglitulshi
Vietnamese: E rung, E tia, E do, Hung que, Huong nhu tia, Cay e tia [3]

Taxonomic Classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (Vascular plant)
Superdivision: Spermatophyta (Seed plant)
Division: Magnoliophyta (Flowering plant)
Class: Magnolopsida (Dicotyledons)
Subclass: Astrridae
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Phylum: Magnoliophyta
Genus: Ocimum L (Basil)
Species: tenuiflorum L (Holy Basil)

 At this time, at least one hundred fifty different varieties of the basil are cultivated around the world; each of these varieties has its own type of essential oil and is characterized by its own distinctive flavor.  [4]


Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Trachoephytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Ocimum
Species: tenuiflflorum   [5]

1. Krishna Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)


                                      Krishna Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

The plant is native to Indian subcontinent. It is commonly known as holy basil. Its leaves are purplish green and purple stem It has more medicinal properties than the other species. The plant is located out outdoors, requires bright sunshine. It requires temperature between 20 to 450 C. It requires regular watering except during winter. [6]

2. Raam Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)


Raam Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)

The plant is native to Indian subcontinent. It is cultivated throughout Southeast Asian tropics. The plant is hardy as it tolerates cold and hot weather well. Its leaves are bright green. The plant requires more watering and nurturing with fertilizers than other varieties. Said to be “the Queen of herbs” is worshiped the most at almost every house in India. It has more aroma than other varieties. It is located outdoors. It requires bright sun light and temperatures between 15 to 400 C. Tulsi is found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and from prolonged physical exertion. [7]

3. Amrita Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)         

 Amrita Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

This plant is less commonly grown, perennial, aromatic and worshiped as a sacred species of Tulsi. It is not much in use for medicinal purpose. The plant is less commonly grown in houses. It grows outdoors in bright sunshine. The plant loves temperature range from 15 to 400C. It is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron and zinc. In Sanskrit “Amrita” means “immortality”. Thus the plant is worshiped as “Nectar of Immortality”. It is used to prepare “Tulsi-tea”. It possesses better anti-bacterial and insecticidal properties than the other species of Tulsi. Hence it is used to purify contaminated water. [8]

4. Vana Tulsi/Raana Tulsi (Ocimum gratissum)

Vana Tulsi/Raana Tulsi (Ocimum gratissum)

 Vana Tulsi is a wild variety. It is woody perennial aromatic sacred variety. It is a hardy plant. It is located outdoors, grows up to 2m high, in full sunshine between 15 to 400 C temperatures. It requires daily watering. It is one of four main forms of Tulsi that are cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes. It has slightly hairy green leaves. It has strong clove scent and spicy flavor. [9]

5. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) AKA Mediterranean basil


              Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) AKA Mediterranean basil

Sweet basil is most commonly grown perennial, aromatic and culinary type species of Tulsi. The plant has bright green coloured bigger leaves and stem. It grows out doors in full sun between temperatures of 10 to 350 C, requires at least two hours of daily exposure to bright sunlight and watering except in winter. It has better anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties than the other varieties of basil. [10] 

6. Thai Tulsi/Thai basil (Ocimum thyrsiflora)


                           Thai Tulsi/Thai basil (Ocimum thyrsiflora)

Thai Tulsi/Thai basil is perennial, aromatic, culinary type of Tulsi. It has bright, shiny green, slightly serrated, long, pointed leaves; having sweet anise like scent and hints of licorice; stem reddish purple; the inflorescence is purple and the flowers pink when they open. The plant grows out doors in full bright sun, between temperatures of 10 to 350 C, up to 45 cm in height, requires daily watering except in winter. [11]

7. Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum)

         Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Purple basil is a commonly grown perennial, aromatic and culinary type of basil. It has big purple leaves and stem. It grows outdoors in full sun between the temperatures of 10 to 350 C, but prefers to be kept indoors, requires daily watering except in winter. It has strong aroma. Purple basil needs to be cut to ensure continuous leaf production. Its flowers are small, white in color. [12]  

8. Lemon basil (Ocimum citrodorum)


                               Lemon basil (Ocimum citrodorum)

Lemon basil is perennial, aromatic and culinary type of basil. It has green leaves and white flowers. It has strong lemon aroma. Its all parts viz. the flower, leaves and stem are edible. It is known by several common names such as hoary basil, Thai lemon basil, Lao basil etc. It is hybrid between sweet basil and American basil. It is grown primarily in Northeastern Africa and Southern Asia for its fragrant lemon scent. It can grow to 20 to 40 cm tall. It grows outdoors, in full sun between temperatures of 10 to 350 C, requires daily watering except in winter. It is used in cooking. It is of medicinal value. [13]

9. Vietnamese basil (Ocimum cinnamon)

                               Vietnamese basil (Ocimum cinnamon)
Vietnamese basil or cinnamon basil is also known as Mexican spice basil. It gives flavor reminiscent of cinnamon which is due to methyl cinnamate. Cinnamon basil is a culinary type species of basil. Cinnamon basil grows outdoors, 18 to 30 inches tall in full sun between the temperatures of 10 to 350 C, requires daily watering except in winter. Cinnamon basil has reddish purple stem; somewhat narrow, slightly serrated, dark green, shiny leaves with reddish-purple veins; small pink flowers bloom between July and September. [14]

10.  American basil (Ocimum americanum)

                                       American basil (Ocimum americanum)

Although commonly known as American basil (Ocimum americanum) or “hoary basil”, it is native to the Indian Subcontinent, Africa, China and Southeast Asia. The species is naturalized in Queensland, Christmas Island and parts of tropical America. This is perennial, aromatic and culinary type species of basil; grows outdoors, in bright sun, between temperatures of 10 to 350C; requires daily watering except in winter. The plant is known for its sweet flavor. Its stem is purple in color, rich green pointed leaves and purple flowers. [15]

11. African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum)


 African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum)

African blue basil is hybrid basil variety, a cross between camphor basil and dark opal basil. They are sterile, unable to produce seeds of their own and can only be propagated by cuttings. It has camphor scent inherited from camphor basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum). The other major aroma compounds are linalool and 1, 8- cineol.
It blooms profusely like an annual. It is also taller than other varieties of basil. It grows outdoors in bright sun between temperatures 10 to 350C. The leaves are purple when young and dark green when they grow to full size and even then the veins retain purple color. The flowers are purple in color. Its all parts i. e. stem, leaves and flowers are edible and are used as a seasoning in soups and salads. [16]

12. Italian Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum)


                      Italian Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Italian Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a sweet basil. It is one of the most popular basils for its use in the traditional Genovese sauce, pesto. The basil is produced in the provinces Genoa, Savona and Imperia. In a warm sunny window it grows indoors in the winter. It is a frost-sensitive annual, growing 18 to 24 inches tall and 10 inches wide. It has dark green almond-shaped leaves. [17] 

13. Lettuce leaf basil (Ocium basillicum)


Lettuce leaf basil (Ocium basillicum)

Lettuce leaf basil is also known as mammoth leaf basil or Large Leafed Italian Basil or Crispum Basil. It is a specialty Italian type of basil. It has very large, crinkled, bright-green leaves that resemble the leaves of lettuce. Its leaves are up to 5 inches long. It grows up to 12 inches in height.  Its flavor resembles that of clove and taste that of mint. [18], [19]  

14. Green ruffles basil (Ocimum basillicum)



Green ruffles basil (Ocimum basillicum)

Green ruffles basil (Ocimum basillicum) is a perennial type of basil. It is a variety of Lettuce Leaf Basil. It grows up to 12 inches in height in bright sun. It is frost sensitive. It thrives in warm temperature. It has deep green, serrated leaves. Its bloom is pinkish-purple or lavender in color. Its flavor is more complex with cinnamon, citrus, anise and many more tones. It requires ample and persistent water supply. [20]

15. Cardinal Basil (Ocimum basillicum)


Cardinal Basil (Ocimum basillicum)

Cardinal Basil (Ocimum basillicum) is probably native to Africa. It is frost sensitive annual. It grows in full sun to part shade. It is about 24 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Leaves are lush green, flat, 2 to 3 inches long; stems are purple; flower bracts are dark, purple-red in color. Its flavor resembles that of cinnamon or clove or anise. Its flowers are edible. [21]

16. Greek basil (Ocimum basillicum)


Greek Basil (Ocimum basillicum)

Greek basil grows wild in Greece, hence the name Greek basil. It is used the most in Greece for culinary and medicinal purpose. It is a dwarf, dome-shaped plant that reaches about 8 to 20 cm in height. This annual plant grows in bright sun preferring a temperature of 150 C or warmer. It is planted as companion to tomato plant. Its fragrance repels pests, stinging insects and mosquitoes. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its leaves are tiny forming a dome. [22] 

17. Spicy globe basil (Ocimum basillicum)


Spicy globe basil (Ocimum basillicum)

Spicy globe basil thrives in warm weather. Hence grows in soil that has warmed and there is no chance of frost. Spicy globe basil grows in full sun and as indoor plant in plant pots. It grows in the form of a tidy, compact bush. Spicy globe basil has small densely growing leaves. Pruning helps to develop in to bushy plant for as the plant starts flowering it begins to wilt and die. Spicy globe basil is nearly a round plant with soft stems and spicy leaves. There is no agreement about its properties and medicinal value. Spicy globe basil is rabbit resistant. [23]
18. Summer long basil (Ocimum basillicum)


Summer long  basil (Ocimum basillicum)
Summer long basil is a dwarf, delicious warm weather annual herb. Summer long basil is an easy-to-grow plant. Summer long basil grows in compact bushes in bright sun. Summer long basil is cold tolerant variety of basil that grows about 10 inches in height. Summer long basil is tasty, slow to bolt, densely covered with shiny, bright green leaves.
[Note: bolting is defined as “when plants grow quickly, stop flowering and set seeds] [23]

Paandharee Tulas/ Shweta Tulsi  (White Basil)

Paandharee tulas or white basil is not a different species. It was thought that the natural green color of basil leaves turns yellow and subsequently white as an effect of aging. But the recent study shows that the change in color is due to the plant experiencing nitrogen deficiency. The deficiency is caused by the overcrowding in the containers. [24] 


 Snow white basil                                                Shweta Tulsi

White basil

Lal tulas (Red basil)

This is not a different species. This tulsi (basil) is in fact Ocimum americanum.

   Image result for red basil  Image result for red basil
Lal Tulas/ Rakta Tulsi /Red basil

Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium)
(Also refer to Vana tulas or Wild tulas above)


Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium)

Other names:
English:   Wild basil, East Indian basil, Clove basil
French: Menthe gabonaise
Indonesian: ruku-ruku rimba
Malay: ruku-ruku hitam
Thai: Horapha-chang

Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium) is a variable polymorphic complex species, often subdivided into subspecies, varieties and forms, mainly based on differences in chemical content, the morphology of the fruiting calyx, and on different degrees hairiness. Sometimes Ocimum gratissium containing chromosome counts: 2n=40, 48, 64; Ocimum suave containing chromosomal counts: 2n=32, 48, 64 and Ocimum viride containing chromosome counts: 2n= 40, 48, 64 are treated as one complex species Ocimum gratissium. In fact they are three different species. Cross between   Ocimum gratissium and Ocimum viride resulted in partially fertile F1 hybrides.  

In India Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium) an aromatic perennial herb is grown on large scale in the city Ahmednagar of the state Maharashtra.

Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium) is 1 to 3 m tall; stem erect, round or quadrangular, much branched, pubescent, woody at the base, often with epidermis peeling in stripes.

Leaves opposite; petiole 2 to 4.5 cm long, slender, pubescent; blade elliptical or ovate, 1.5 to 16 cm long, 1 to 8.5 cm broad, membraneous, sometimes glandular, base cuneate, entire, margin coarsely serrate, apex acute.

Inflorescence Verticillaser (i. e. consisting of two clusters of flowers that develop from each of the two opposite axils of the leaves. The flowers are sessile and appear as a cluster around the node), arranged in a terminal, simple or branched raceme, 5 to 30 cm long; rachis lax, softly pubescent; bract sessile, ovate, 3 to 12 mm x 1 to 7 mm, accuminte; pedicel 1 to 4 mm long, spreading or ascending, slightly curved; flowers in cluster of 6 to 10, small, hermaphrodite; calyx 2-lipped, 2 to 3 mm long; corolla 3.5 to 5 mm long, 2-lipped, greenish white, pubescent outside, upper lip truncate, quadrifid (divided into four parts), lower lip longer, flat, entire; stamens 4, in 2 pairs, inserted on the corolla tube, upper pair with a bearded tooth at the base; ovary superior, consisting of 2 carpels, each 2 celled, style bifid.

Fruit consisting of 4, dry, 1-seeded nutlets enclosed in the persistent calyx ( the lower lip closing the mouth of fruiting calyx); nutlet subglobose, 1.5 mm long, rugose (wrinkled, corrugated), brown; outer pericarp not becoming mucilalagenous in winter.

Leaves and stem of Vaijayanti tulas (Ocimum gratissium) contain essential oil which is edible. Eugenol and thymol found in the oil are used as substitute for clove.
The essential oil is an important insect repellent. [25], [26]

 Geographical Distribution
Basil is a tender low-growing herb originally native to India, Africa, Iran and other tropical regions of Asia having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years.

Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. While most common varieties are treated as annuals some are perennial. Sweet Basil grows to about two to three in height while Bush Basil grows to one foot in height. 

Although Basils will grow best outdoors in bright sunlight, they can be grown indoors in a pot and, like most herbs, in dappled shade. They should be kept away from extremely cold drafts. They grow in a light to sandy, well-drained nutrient rich soil having lots of humus and minerals. The Basil can tolerate pH ranges starting from 4.3 to 8.4.  When planted next to tomato plants, it wards of the white fly, which plagues the tomatoes.
Several other Basils are grown in many regions of China, Mediterranean, Indonesia, Northern Europe, northern states of the U.S. and South Island of New Zealand. [27], [28], [29]


1. Why Tulsi Is A Sacred Plant in Hinduism? https://www.speaking sacred-plant-in-hinduism
7. Marc Maurice Cohen, Tulsi-Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons, J. Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 251-259
27. http://www.plantsofthe


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