Learn how to grow a holy basil plant, also known as Tulsi–its care and growing requirements are simple and easy.
Tulsi or holy basil is an incredible herb, not just because it’s revered by people who follow Hinduism and Jainism but for its great medicinal and spiritual characteristics proven in many scientific studies.
Holy basil is a medicinal herb native to the Indian subcontinent, its spicy and refreshing fragrance, and tiny colorful flowers make this a useful plant to grow at any herb garden. Tulsi grows as a perennial plant in frost-free areas with mild winter and as an annual in cold and temperate climates.
USDA Zones–10-11, can be grown as an annual in a cold climate
Other Names–Ajaka, Albahaca Santa, Bai Gkaprow, Baranda, Basilic Indien, Basilic Sacré, Basilic Sacré Pourpre, Basilic Saint, Brinda, Green Holy Basil, Hot Basil, Indian Basil, Kala Tulsi, Kemangen, Krishna Tulasi, Tulsa, Manjari, Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuiflorum, Parnasa, Patrapuspha, Red Holy Basil, Sacred Basil, Sacred Purple Basil, Shyama Tulsi, Sri Tulasi, Suvasa Tulasi and Tulsi Patra.
Popular Types of Holy Basil
There are more than 100 different varieties, but the most known and commonly grown are three:
Rama Tulsi or Bright tulsi is a broader leaf variety and can be found in parts of China, Nepal, India, and Southern South America. It is used to promote healthy digestion and has a milder flavor than other holy basils but stronger scent when the leaves are crushed.
Krishna Tulsi or purple leaf basil is less common than the greener variety. It is especially useful for curing respiratory ailments, ear infections, and skin problems. It grows slower than other varieties, which may contribute to its spicy, pungent flavor and odor. Purple leaf basil is also less bitter and astringent than other cultivars.
Vana Tulsi Tulsi or Wild forest holy basil is the most difficult variety to find. It grows around the foothills of the Himalayas, one of the tastiest and beneficial types in all the sacred basils. It has light green upper leaves and dark green lower leaves.
Propagation and Planting
Sow seeds outdoors in late spring or early summer, when the temperature range around 60-70 degrees F (15-21 C). For an earlier start in spring, sow the seeds indoors in a greenhouse or on a warm, sunny windowsill.
Place the tulsi seeds on top of the soil, and tamp them for good soil to seed contact, cover the seeds with barely 1/4 inch layer of compost or soil. Mist the seeds with sprayer and place them where they receive warmth, bright shade, and some part morning sun. Keep the soil constantly moist until the germination occurs, which will take around 1-2 weeks.
When the seedlings have grown two or three sets of true leaves, transplant them carefully in individual containers or outdoors, taking care not to disturb the roots.
Note: As holy basil is a warm climate herb, you can sow its seeds year-round in tropical areas except peak summer.
Requirements for Growing Holy Basil
Requirements for growing holy basil are very similar to sweet basil. Although, it’s just more drought and heat tolerant.
Tulsi grows well in loamy and fertile soil with good drainage. You can plant it in slightly acidic, neutral to slightly alkaline soil pH, level around 6 to 7.5 is optimal.
Holy basil thrives in full sun but grows in partial shade too, at least four hours of sunlight a day is required for the best growth.
Water the plant when the top one inch of soil is dry, but in summer, keep the soil slightly moist. Do not water during rain. Reduce watering by the winter to prevent diseases.
Tulsi Plant Care
It is important to pinch tops of the holy basil plant when they are forming four or six pairs of leaves, this will make the plant grow bushier. Even the flower buds need to be removed when they appear. It grows more lush and full when seed production is prevented.
It is also important to remove the faded, wilted or discolored leaves to encourage the growth of new and vigorous foliage. Regular removal of old leaves and flower buds keep the plant healthy.
Apply balanced liquid fertilizer once in four weeks but reduce the fertilization after the growing season. Replacing the top two-inch layer of soil with compost every year or in six months is also beneficial.
Prune Tulsi as needed throughout the year to control its size and promote bushier and more compact growth. Remove no more than half of the growth of stem while pruning.
Move Tulsi plant indoors in the winter if you live below USDA zone 10, place the plant near a bright sunny window, where the temperature is kept above 50 F (10 C). Move the plant again outside after all the dangers of frost are passed.
Pests and Diseases
It is generally free from pests and diseases. However, when grown in poor conditions, it can be attacked by some common pests like mealy bugs, aphids, spider mites, and sometimes whiteflies. For treating pests, use organic pesticide or insecticidal soap.
How to Harvest Holy Basil
Reap the aromatic leaves of your Tulsi plant throughout the growing season. Once your plant reaches 8 inches in height, take a pair of scissors and, depending on your needs, cut large single leaves or cut the whole branch. Use fresh leaves on the same day you harvest because they fade quickly.
Store your holy basil harvest for future use by drying out the leaves in a warm shady place. Collect branches in a basket and place them on a dry place away from sunlight and toss the stem 2-3 times every day until leaves become crispy and collapse when you crush. Its seeds are also edible and can be stored to add in teas.
Holy Basil Benefits
Holy basil benefits are many scientific studies done on this herb in the past that support the claim that it has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anticancer, immune-stimulating, and adaptogenic (stress removal) properties. It supports the body’s natural defenses against germs, stress, and disorders of various kinds.
Read this article to find out links to many crucial research journals and clinical trials
How to Consume
It’s commonly consumed in herbal teas and masala chai. You can also add it to soups and smoothies. People also add it in many Ayurvedic concoctions.