It is intriguing to understand the rich traditional Indian knowledge in all walks of life. And it is more interesting to know the outreach of this widespread knowledge through the skillful documentation of the information since the time unknown. There were different methodologies for the nomenclature and common ways to identify the herbs were devised. Methodologies to name and identify the drugs were formed in such a way that medicinal properties should be known to even those who are unaware of the common herbs and their uses. Sometimes I wonder, is it really necessary to do a scientific research on all the documentation done in past? Isn’t it a futile effort to establish something which has already been established for ages? I really do not know when we will believe that Ayurvedic approach towards human health is the most scientific and holistic approach.
Tulsi or Holy basil is one of the most common herbs known to Indian house hold. It is grown uniformly in almost every house, not to mention the reason – religious. Most of us might not be aware that it is more due to scientific reason than religious alone which would be discussed later. Holy basil has following synonyms and each of it signifies properties of Tulsi.
तुलसी – तुलां सादृश्यं – which relates to balance or brings balance
ग्राम्या – which grows in villages
सुलभा – available easily
बहुमञ्जरी – one with multiple flowering pods
अपेतराक्षसी – which removes evils
भूतघ्नी – which eradicates negativity
देवदुन्दुभिः - Dundhubi is a synonym for Lord Vishnu
It is incredible to find so much of information about a medicine hidden in its names.
Latin name - Ocimum sanctum Linn.
Family - Labiatae
तुलसी कटुका तिक्ता हृद्योष्णा दाहपित्तकृत् !
दीपनी कुष्ठ कृछ्र अस्र पर्श्वरुक कफवातजित् !! भाव प्रकाश/ पुष्प वर्ग/६३
Primarily, holy basil is pungent in taste and it has bitter secondary taste. It means technically its potency should be hot in action. Due to its hot potency, Ocimum sanctum (OS) increases Pitta (Fire) and results in burning sensation. Especially to those already suffering from gastritis, they should avoid excessive use of the herb except when needed. Due to its property of being hot it is a drug of choice in diseases of Kapha and Vata origin like common cold, cough with expectoration, asthma, colic pain and so on. As per the synonyms Apetrakshasi and Bhootaghni, it suggests the role of this herb on devils. It has to be understood in right context. In ancient times devils were described as disruptive elements that possessed extraordinary qualities to create trouble in bodily society. They had evolved to remain invisible and create turbulence around. This is why they required special human beings with an insight to distinguish them and kill the evil. In fact, in my opinion sages meant to explain bacteria and other microorganisms that were invisible to naked eyes (Bhoot means the one beyond the physical elements –microorganism may fall in the category). Modern scientific understanding of the herb establishes the fact.
As per the review article by S. K. Gupta et al – Department of Pharmacology, AIIMS, New Delhi, India (Indian Journal of experimental biology/ vol. 40/ July 2002/ pp. 765-773), the aqueous leaf extract showed insecticidal and antibacterial activity against Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria. The ethanolic extract from Tulsi was demonstrated to be a better antiviral agent. Today, we have a devised radiotherapy against cancer, and in context to the ancient references it shall also be considered as Bhoota (invisible foreign invasion). Scientifically, we know today the Radioprotective, anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties of Tulsi (P Uma Devi, Department of Radiobiology, KMC, Manipal; Indian Journal of experimental biology/ vol. 39/ March 2001). There is no doubt why altruistic sages named the herb Bhootaghni. Leaves of Tulsi can be used for local application on chronic infected wounds in paste form. It can be highly effective in those having diabetic foot. It is due to the fact that as per a recent study on mice, ethanolic OS leaf extract showed the efficacy in lowering the blood glucose levels substantially. In diabetic foot the dual efficacy of the single herb could be utilized to its maximum. For its optimum results, dry powder of Tulsi leaves can be taken empty stomach in the dosage of 3 – 4 gms with warm water.
As per Bhav Prakash, Tulsi promotes digestion. It especially works on Dhatuagni (Metabolic digestion and absorption mechanism). No wonder why it makes pancreas to work and helps in reducing blood sugar. As per traditional knowledge of healing, Tulsi is a very good remedy for Kushtha (leprosy). It is again to understand that as per Ayurveda any chronic skin infection with non-healing nature which results in damage of tissues is called as Kushtha (कुष्णाति वपुः). It is also very effective in chronic urinary tract infections. In cases of painful and burning micturition cold infusion prepared with Tulsi leaves could be very effective. It is a good blood purifier and an excellent remedy in circulatory disorders. As per the research paper above, Tulsi leaf powder in 1% of dosage to mice showed significant hypolipidaemic effect. It is no doubt that Tulsi remains a wonderful drug and probably that is why it has been regarded so much in ancient texts. Due to its multiple benefits and the ease of availability it became an Indian tradition to grow the herb in household.
OS leaves contain 0.7% volatile oil. This oil contains multiple chemical structures in it. This makes Tulsi to be very effective herb against worms, parasites, mosquitos and other microorganisms. In India it has been a tradition to grow this herb in front of the house and to light an earthen lamp with a cotton wick soaked in oil. It would be interesting to see the reaction. This light must be helping green leaves of Tulsi to emit some component of instable oil into the air thus removing mosquitos and moths from surrounding area although it needs to be validated and experimented. But, as far as my knowledge goes I haven’t seen mosquitos feeding around Tulsi. Indian tradition always had logic behind every action; unfortunately we do not have time to understand the wisdom but to follow rituals blind folded.
Further adding on to the properties of this amazing herb, Bhav Prakash explains its role on abdominal colic. Due to its hot potency and volatile oils in it, Tulsi becomes and obvious choice in spasmodic pains of abdomen. A hot infusion is prescribed in such cases. During the menstruation some of the females go through an excruciating pain in abdomen. It is due to aggravated Vata. Hot infusion made up of Tulsi leaves along with bishop seed relieves the pain by regulating Vata channels. Ayurveda recommends Tulsi in aggravated Kapha disorders like allergic cough, asthma, COPD, bronchitis. Volatile oil present in Tulsi removes congestion from the channels, helps in broncho dilatation and increases oxygenation. It is found to be very effective in allergic cold and viral fever conditions.
To enlist properties and uses of Tulsi is an exhaustive task. It is antibacterial, anti-allergic, antipyretic, analgesic, it reduces cholesterol levels, brings down increased blood sugar levels, strong antioxidant, adaptogenic, contains antiviral properties, radioprotective, possesses anticarcinogenic properties, aphrodisiac and don’t know what else. And if nothing at all, growing Tulsi in your garden does not harm at all; at least it could protect your house from deadly mosquitos. Ayurvedic wisdom says,
तदेव युक्तं भैषज्यं यत् आरोग्याय कल्पते !
स चैव भिषजां श्रेष्ठो रोगेभ्योः यः प्रमोच्येत् !! च. सू. १/ १३५
The best medicine is the one that restores health and the physician who removes the fear of diseases is the paramount in his race.