Tulsi, Queen of Herbs

Tulsi, Queen of Herbs

Helping the mind and body recover from stress.

With our addition of Happy Honey to the Countertop family comes a whole new range of herbs and spices that are filled with wonderful health benefits and delicious flavor. The hero of our newest honey is Tulsi, which is renowned for helping the mind and body recover from stress.

Tulsi, commonly known as holy basil, is an essential herb in Ayurvedic medicine and Indian culture. It is so revered in India that it is known there as the “Queen of Herbs.” Just like the sweet basil on top of your Margherita Pizza, Tulsi is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family of herbs.  Described in the Vedas (ancient texts) as the most sacred holy plant of India, it traditionally appeared in religious ceremonies and in ayurvedic formulas. These days, many Hindu families still have a Tulsi plant in their home and caring for the plant is part of regular religious practice. Tulsi has another name, “the wonder herb,” because of its many medicinal, culinary, and spiritual uses.

Modern research classifies Tulsi as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are a group of natural substances that help balance the taxing effects of both psychological and physical stress. Adaptogens like Tulsi work by promoting healthy cortisol levels and restoring a balance of hormones.(1) Called “the stress hormone,” cortisol regulates and controls the influence of many of the physical and emotional changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Cortisol plays an important role in the body, releasing a boost of energy and strength in times of  the “flight or fight” reaction our nervous system goes to as humans. This response helped our ancestors spring into action in the face of life-threatening danger. The body was not built to remain in a constant state of stress, as high levels of cortisol are extremely demanding on the physical body with excess resulting in what we commonly call burn out. Regular use of Tulsi helps to balance the body on all levels and support its response to everyday stressors.(2) Personally, I take Tulsi almost every day and have found it to be an incredible help in times of mental and emotional stress. Studies show that Tulsi may even help to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression for chronic sufferers.

Traditional uses of this herb include treating common colds, bronchitis, stomach disorders, headaches, inflammation, heart disease, and skin diseases.  Tulsi was even added to grain stores to ward off insects, and many use it today as a natural insect repellent. It is a common ingredient in ayurvedic throat syrup to soothe a sore throat and relieve coughing. While the protective mechanisms of Tulsi are not completely understood, studies have shown the herb to have anti-microbial (3) and immune-boosting (4) properties.   I rely on Tulsi in the winter and spring to support the respiratory system during cold and flu season. Whenever I feel a sore throat coming on, I make a simple tea by combining two tulsi powder capsules, 12oz hot water, fresh ginger, and some mint leaves. A spoonful of raw honey adds sweetness and a healing, antibacterial boost.

Ayurveda classifies all foods by their energetic properties, taste, and their effect on the Doshas (mind-body types). Tulsi is pungent, bitter, light, dry, and has a heating quality.  Due to its Kapha and Vata balancing effect, it is useful in the treatment of chronic respiratory issues, cold and cough and also repeated hiccups. It balances Kapha and Vata Doshas, but can slightly increase the Pitta Dosha. Tulsi has specific benefits for the respiratory system. Its heating and sharp qualities help liquefy mucus, making it beneficial in treating an occasional cough, boosting the respiratory system, and bolstering the body’s natural response to allergens. Combined with honey, Tulsi juice works well to ease hiccups.

Tulsi is popular as an herbal tea, dried powder (and then encapsulated), or fresh leaf used in cooking traditional dishes, although it may be hard to find fresh Tulsi in the US. When I did a Pancha Karma (a 28-day Ayurvedic cleansing program) in 2014 in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tulsi tea was served all day and alleviated all symptoms of withdrawal during the month-long detox. Well, the daily abhyanga massages might have helped too.

 

STUDIES

1 Lowers cortisol

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15587591

2 Protects against mental and physical stress

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21206619

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21281248

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12237819

3 Immune-booster

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21619917

Anti-microbial

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27135002

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21914546

An exhaustive review on many studied benefits of Tulsi citing over 100 studies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/#ref42

 

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