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Holi Basil

Ocimum sanctum  or Tulsi

Holi basil is a herb with multiple branching of stems and a typical aromatic smell. Leaves are hairy, green, smooth and pungent in taste. The small compact clusters of flowers are arranged on branches which are called mangiri. These bear fruits and seeds which are brownish in color and have typical odor. Leaves and manjiri are edible part of the plant and have medicinal value.  There are two varieties; one has a darker colour - Shyama tulsi possesses greater medicinal value than the lighter coloured one called Rama tulsi.

This medicinal herb is known to Indians from the vedic period. (Vedas= songs of life written by Indian sages). Hinduism has given special honour to Holi basil, the plant itself is treated as a god by some people and the leaves are included in religious performances. They are included in tirth (holy liquid) and prasad (Holi food) of pooja (worshiping god) and the custom has been followed by many generations.

The followers of Vishnu who are called Vaishnavaites, worship Tulsi and tend to it carefully, believing it to be sacred as God's representative on earth and the Shyama Tulsi is used for worship by the devout.

Holy basil has many medicinal properties and all parts of the plant can be used. The leaves are included in most of the herbal nervo-tonics. A fresh juice/ decoction of holi basil with few other herbs is taken for improving memory. Herb can be tried in conditions like Alzheimer, alcohol brain syndrome which are modern diseases and until now there are no perfect remedies for these disorders. I myself have given a clinical trial of this herb for the patient who complained partial loss of memory after accident and observed miraculous results. Systemic clinical trials under medical supervision may give a valuable gift to medical science and patients suffering from loss of memory may be benefited.

Sanhitas (ayurvidic megabooks) talk about diaphoretic properties of herb. A fresh juice/ decoction/ powder of dry leaves or a vati (tablet form) prepared from a group of herbs like clove, cardamom, holy basil etc. is recommended for pyrexia unknown origin. A herbal tea prepared from a group of herbs which have similar action is used as a preservative measure from seasonal troubles such as common cold, cough, influenza etc. This herbal tea is a proven remedy in sore throat, hoarseness of voice and vocalist’s voice culture treatment. A patient of mine who was a case of ca larynx claimed relief from pain with regular consumption of the herbal tea prepared out of holy basil, clove, cardamom, ginger and honey etc.

Ayurvedic practitioners use this herb in common cold, sinusitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, cough, acute/ allergic/ asthmatic bronchitis etc. These times tested medicines are very useful in tribal/ rural area where there is scarcity of health care. The popularity of alternative therapies in increasing in cities also where allergies due to allopathic medicines is a ‘difficult to tackle’ problem. In pediatric cases where repeated respiratory infection in winter/rainy season is the trouble, medicines like holy basil, cardamom, clove, ginger etc. can be of great use. One school of ayurvedic medicines has suggested use of this herb in viral conditions like measles, chickenpox etc. It is confirmed that the use is safe and gives some relief from itching and malaise.

Some traditional healers use this medicine in ‘blood purification’ where the cause of trouble is ‘impurities in blood’.  Conditions like boils, blisters, abscesses, furuncles, carbuncles etc. are included in this group. A fresh juice applied to area of insect bite gives soothing to that irritated body part. In fungal/ bacterial infections of skin, this herb has a role in  follow-up treatment where recurrence is common. In shalakya tantra (The branch of ayurvedic medicine which is dedicated to treatment of diseases of the ear-nose-throat and eye) ayurvedic sagas have recommended external use of medicine for sore eye, ear pain etc. Few gynecologists use this herb in gynecological conditions like scanty/ painful menses, menopausal troubles etc.  Some say, it is having anti stress properties. A juice taken orally or applied externally on forehead gives relief from cluster/ tension headache. In conditions like oral ulcers, leukoplakia (trouble of mucosal lining of mouth), oral troubles related to tobacco chewing etc. holy basil can give some relief.

In short the herb is effective in respiratory troubles like common cold, cough, influenza etc. It is also used for conditions where ‘purification’ of blood is the line of treatment. The herb has role in conditions like impairment of memory. It has medicinal as well as religious status in Indian life.

By Dr. Satish Kulkarni

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