Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tulsi - Sacred Basil Plant - Ocimum tenuiflorum

Growing a Holy Basil Plant

Ocimum tenuiflorum or
Ocimum sanctum

Eight years ago in California, a friend gave me a tiny, one-leaf seedling in a styrofoam cup full of soil and told me it was a Tulsi plant from a neighbor's yard. Apparently, her neighbor's tulsi plant had spread seedlings all over the flowerbed, so she was potting each one and giving them away. Since Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is highly regarded in Ayurvedic and Hindu traditions, there was a huge demand for her seedlings.

I happily adopted the tiny plant, and watched it grow into a 6 foot tall, multi-stemmed shrub over seven years. I used the leaves in tea and in yogurt raita dishes. I used the seeds from the its ripened flowers to grow more seedlings to give to others who wanted their own Tulsi plant.

When it came time to relocate across the country, I had the plant sent by overnight courier to our new location. It did well during the summer months, even thrived, but a harsh North Carolina winter draft finally put my Tulsi plant to sleep. I was very disheartened and sad at losing my treasured plant, and didn't have the heart to plant a new seedling from the bag of seeds I had saved.

Then, this past weekend, I went to the new Hindu temple in Cary. The beautiful new temple is breathtaking. We enjoyed the service, the sounds and smells, and most of all, the feeling of peace one gets when in a place of worship. On our way out of the temple, I noticed a crate of tiny seedlings off to one side. The sign read "Tulsi Plants" and a suggested donation amount was posted. I couldn't help but pick up a tiny seedling, in a styrofoam cup, and bring it home.

Maybe this one is meant for North Carolina!

How to Grow Holy Basil

Here's how I took the tiny seedling and grew it into a 6 foot tall shrub:

1. Replant the seedling first in a 6 inch pot (not bigger) with good indoor/outdoor potting soil so that the roots and plant both grow well.

2. Water frequently, do not let the soil get too dry, but also do not let it stay too soggy either.

3. Keep it in a sunny location. While the plant is small, (less than 2 feet tall) keep it indoors, away from cold drafts.

4. Transfer the plant to a larger pot when the plant is about 18 inches tall. You can keep the plant outdoors if the weather is not cold, and overnight temperatures are not cold. In California I kept the plant outdoors during the spring/summer months after the last frost, and indoors for fall and winter.

5. Watering and keeping the plant away from cold drafts is the key.

6. When the flowers dry up, you can gently remove flowers from the stem and save for future use. Inside each dried flower will be a tiny black seed, about the size of a dot on this page.

7. Certain varieties of Tulsi plants may only be annuals. However, you can try to make them perennial by bringing the plant indoors. If that doesn't work, save the ripened flowers/seeds from your annual and plant a seedling in spring to have a year-round supply of Tulsi.

8. Tulsi leaves are great added to chai, or cool yogurt dishes, or as a garnish.

Enjoy your Holy Basil for years!
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