Boost your immune system and reduce stress with holy basil

The days are lighter and longer, the breeze is warmer and often we feel sleepier than ever rather than having boundless energy. Much of this drowsiness is due to the fact that our bodies take time to adjust our sleep-wake cycles to match the new season patterns and change our inner clocks, and that timing is often out of sync with Mother Nature.

If you are feeling too tired to fully enjoy springtime, it’s time to boost your metabolism. IRMA’s new guest editor, Vasudha Rai, recommends tulsi, which has been prized in Ayurvedic cuisine for centuries, for its many positive effects.

As the name clearly specifies, holy basil (or tulsi) has an almost God-like status in India. We keep it in our courtyards and temples. Some of us start our day with a little prayer and offering of water to this wonderful plant. We also add it to teas and tinctures. Yes, our tulsi is really a magical herb.

A few years back I met Professor Marc Cohen at the launch of one of India’s most luxurious wellness centres called Vana. Prof. Cohen is one of Australia’s pioneers in integrative and holistic medicine. He is currently chair of the Australasian Spa and Wellness Association, a board member and former-president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA), and a board member of the Global Wellness Summit, among other things. Over a cup of tea, Prof. Cohen spoke about his love for this herb, and how it was equal, if not better, than green tea. He said the only reason it wasn’t as popular was because it wasn’t marketed as well. He explained to me that tulsi is a potent adaptogen, which helps the body cope with stress. And that’s just one of its powerful qualities.

In India, we consider it to be the queen of herbs. A tincture of tulsi boiled in water with cloves, black peppercorns and ginger helps improve a cold and flu. We chew the leaves because the lovely fragrance works as a wonderful breath freshener. Those who eat raw turmeric in colder months consume it with a couple of leaves of tulsi because it works as an activator of curcumin, so it gets absorbed easily into the body. It’s antibacterial, antiviral and anti-carcinogenic. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the scientific research that proves holy basil deserves to be revered.

We all know that radioactivity is on the rise. The use of nuclear energy and leaks in Fukushima and  Chernobyl have put us all at relative risk. However, a solution lies in this wonderful plant. In a paper written by Prof. Cohen he mentions that of all herbs tulsi is most studied for its radiation-protective effects. He says that various laboratory and animal tests have found that it reduces oxidative and chromosomal damage induced by radiation.

Tulsi also helps reverse the effects of pollution. There’s always a reason behind most Asian traditions. Ancient Indians knew its protective powers and so every household on the subcontinent has this aromatic shrub planted in its courtyard. In fact, there are many tulsi shrubs planted around the Taj Mahal to protect its beautiful white marble from oxidizing. Needless to say that it also helps purify and detoxify the body. You can plant a tulsi tree at home and eat a few leaves every day. Or you can boil 10-15 leaves in a liter of water and drink it thoughout the day. You can use it to flavour soups, or add it for an exotic zing to your bliss balls. And even if you can’t grow tulsi at home, you can always buy tulsi teabags from Organic India — they’re my favourite. In a world where we’re constantly rushing to meet deadlines and are bombarded with pollution and radiation, this plant is a gentle and soothing ally that you can trust.

Read more from IRMA Guest Editor Vasudha Rai on her website