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    Ethnobotany and Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi)
    By Ashwani Kumar | November 27th 2012 05:19 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Ashwani

    Professor Emeritus ,Former Head of the Department of Botany, and Director Life Sciences, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. 302004, India At present...

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    The term 'ethnobotany' was first applied by Harshberger in 1895 to the study of plants used by primitive and aboriginal people.  The term is not new even to India, Kirtikar and Basu (1935) stated”, The ancient Hindus should be given the credit for cultivating what is now called ethnobotany”. The term has been variously defined and interpreted by subsequent workers. Jones (1941) defined it as the study of the inter-relations of primitive man and plants. Schultes (1962) interpreted ethnobotany as “usually the study of relationship which exists between people of a primitive society and their plant environment”. Jain (2001) laid down that “ethnobotany deals with the study of total natural and traditional inter relationships between man and plants and his domesticated animals”. Ethnobotany must have the first knowledge, which the early man had acquired by sheer necessity, intution, observation and experimentation (Bedding, 1925; Apparanathan and Chellandurai, 1986; Battacharyya, 1988 and Jain, 1997). Since Harseberger the defination of ethnobony has changed&evolved along with the formation&evolution of the field (Jain, 1996). Although ethnobotany is distinctive as and academic field of study, it maintains a multidisciplinary character in both theory & methods. (Alexiades&Sheldon, 1996). Ethnobotanical studies on utilization of plants by the rural folks including tribals has gained much importance in the recent past all over the world. In India lot of works has been done both at national and regional levels.


    “The Tulsi is most sacred plant in India. No Plant in the world commands such... universal respect, adoration and worship from the people as does Tulsi. It is the plant par excellence.” [Indian Botanical Folklore]

    “A house with a Tulsi plant in front of it is a place of pilgrimage... The wind that carries the aroma of Tulsi spreads purity wherever it blows.”

    In India, many traditional Hindus grow Tulsi and have at least one living Tulsi plant. They use its leaves in routine worship; they feel protected by its sacred aura; and they use rosary beads for meditation made from its cut stems.

    Tulsi is used by Ayurvedic practitioners and laypersons for many health ailments and it has both medicinal and spiritual significance in Ayurveda. Tulsi is also used as a valued culinary herb closely related to the sweet basil plant widely available in the West.

     Tulsi is acclaimed in India as possessing sattva (energy of purity) and as being capable of bringing on goodness, virtue and joy in humans. In the Puranas (sacred Hindu text), everything associated with the Tulsi plant is holy, including water given to it and soil in which it grows, as well as all its parts, among them leaves, flowers, seed and rots. There are many legends from India regarding the Tulsi plant.

    Tulsi is classified as a “rasayana,” an herb that nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and promotes long-life. For perhaps 5000 years, Tulsi has considered truly legendary of India’s healing herbs. From general well-being to acute critical imbalances, Tulsi’s magnanimous healing nature is used and honored daily by millions.

    Tulsi in Sanskrit means “one that is incomparable”- one that does not tolerate or permit similarity. It is pronounced in English as “tool-see.”

    Tulsi has a long history of medicinal use, and is mentioned in the oldest ancient Sanskrit Ayurvedic text-Charak Samhita (written perhaps 6000 BC and complied approximately 400 CE). Tulsi is also mentioned in the Rigveda (Book of Eternal Knowledge), thought to have been written around 5000 BC.

    AYURVEDA: Tulsi was recognized thousands of years ago by the ancient rishis to be one of India’s greatest healing herbs. They saw that this herb is so good for health and healing that they declared that it was God herself. Where most herbs are used for two or three diseases, Tulsi is recommended for hundreds of serious disorders and is actually highly recommended as daily prophylactic to prevent disease.  It is so readily found, now even in the West, that one of its names is Sulabha, ‘the easily obtainable one.’ [Prashanti de Jager]

    Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi medicinal uses)

    Ocimum (Tulsi) is a medicinal and holy plant native to the Indian subcontinent. This plant belongs to the labiateae family. In the Hindu religious tradition, tulsi is an important symbol and its is adored by the large number of Hindus in the mornig and evening. It is an aromatic sub-shrub and also a cornerstone of Ayurveda (traditional Indian herbal medicine). Each part of the Tulsi plant possesses medicinal properties and so every part of the Tulsi plant can be used in herbal remedies to treat a variety of conditions.

    Malaria, periodic fever and all other ailments will be cured if eleven Tulsi leaves are taken along with four black pepper seeds. Tulsi has more effective health benefits when used with Yogic asanas and breath-control exercises. For poor digestion, lack of appetite, constipation, flatulence, acidity and other disorders of the disorders of the digestive tract tulsi is reliable remedy.

    The ethnobotany of the genus ocimum has been well documented in India and some other countries. The present study was done to document the ethnobotanical uses of ocimum spp. In the rural area of Shekhawati region in the Thar Desert, India. Documentation of indigenous knowledge through ethnobotanical studies is important for the conservation of biological resources as well as their sustainable utilization.

    New researches on tulsi specifies that it might potentially be an effective treatment for conditions like high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, ulcers, obesity and compromised/suppressed immune systems (from conditions like cancers and AIDS). The traditional uses of Tulsi in Ayurveda said by plant cultures may be because of some intrinsic properties in many varieties of Tulsi essential oils containing eugenol, and various acids having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Fever&Common Cold:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->The tulsi leaves are specific for many fevers. When malaria and dengue fever are widely spread mostly during the rainy reason, tea which is prepared by using tulsi leaves, act as preventive against those diseases. An extraction of the leaves by boiling it with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water and then mixed with sugar and milk helps in case of acute fevers. To bring down fever, the juice of tulsi leaves can also be used.

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Sore Throat:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->In case of sore throat, water boiled with basil leaves can be taken as drink to relief the plain. This solution can also be used as a gargle in sore throat.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Respiratory Disorder:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->In the treatment of respiratory system disorder, the tulsi herb is also useful. For bronchitis, asthma, influenza, cough and cold, an extraction of the leaves, with honey and ginger is an effective remedy. However, in case of influenza, a decoction of the leaves, cloves and common salt provides instant relief.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Healing Power:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->Tulsi leaves are nerve tonic. They encourage the removal of the catarrhal matter and phlegm from the bronchial tube. They also help to boost the memory power. The leaves induce abundant perspiration and also increase the strength of the stomach. The plant seeds have mucilaginous property.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Coughs:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->In many Ayurvedic cough syrups and expectorants, tusi is an important constituent. In respiratory problems like bronchitis and ashtma, it helps to mobilize mucus.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Teeth Disorder:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->The herb is also useful in teeth disorders like pyorrhea and other. Its dried leaves can also be used as tooth powder for brushing teeth. It is very beneficial for maintaining dental health, counteracting bad breath and for massaging the gums.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Kidney Stone:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->It has spiraling effect on the kidney. Renal stone will expel through the urinary tract if the juice of basil leaves and honey is taken regularly for 6 months.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Heart Disorder:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->In cardiac diseases, basil has a beneficial effect. Also, it decreases the level of blood cholesteroal.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Children’s Ailments:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->The juice of basil leaves gives favour response to the common pediatric problems like cough cold, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. If basil leaves are taken with saffron, then it will hasten the chicken pox.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Stress:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->Tulsi leaves have anti-stress activity. To prevent stress, healthy persons can chew 12 leaves of basil twice a day. It also has blood purifying activity.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Mouth Infections:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->For the mouth infections like ulcer, leaves are quit effective.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Insect Bites:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->Tulsi herb has both preventive and curative effect for insect stings or bites. For this condition, a teaspoonful of the juice of the leaves is taken and also it is repeated after a few hours. To the affected parts, fresh juice must also be applied for the relief. A paste which is prepared from fresh roots of basil is also effective in case of bites of insects and leeches.



    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Skin Disorders:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->In the treatment of ringworm and other skin diseases, basil juice is beneficial when applied locally. In the treatment of leucoderma, it has also been attempted successfully by some naturopaths.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Headaches:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->For headache, basil makes a good medicine. On the forehead, powdered leaves mixed with sandalwood paste can be applied for getting relief from headache and heat, in general to provide coolness.


    <!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Eye Disorders:

    <!--[if !supportLists]-->o   <!--[endif]-->Put two drops of black basil juice into the eyes daily at bedtime. Sore eyes and night-blindness are usually caused by deficiency of vitamin A and black basil juice is an effective remedy for this.

    Ocimum tenuiflorum due to its manifold curative uses, the plant is considered as highly sacred, worth worshipping and hence was given the name of “Sacred Tulsi” or “Holy Basil” in India. It is a perennial shrub and primarily it occurs in two colors, green (Lakshmi/Sri Tulsi) and purple (Krishna Tulsi). Its oil possesses the pleasant odor characteristic of the plant, with an appreciable note of clove. The  essential oil has either phenolic constituents like eugenol, thymol or sesquiterpene alcohols as major oil constituents and terpene compounds as minor constituents.

    "Tulsi is used in Ayurvedic preparations. Tulsi leaves contain a bright yellow            volatile oil. The oil contain eugenol, eugenal,  methyl chavicol, limatrol and Caryophylline and a number of sesquiterpenes. and monoterpenes viz., methylengenol, neral, B-pinene, comphene, A-pinene etc. Seeds contain an oil composed of fatty acids like ursolic acid, campesterol, cholestrol, stigmasterol, B-sitosterol , methyl esters etc. Oil of basil obtained from Ocimum basilicum L. is a useful sources of components like methyl chavicol, eugenol  methyl cinnamate, thymol linalool etc" (Jansen, 1981).

    The oil is reported to possess antibacterial properties and acts as an insecticide. It has marked insecticidal activity against mosquitoes .The juice of leave gives relief in common cold, fever, bronchities, cough, digestive complaints etc. Tulsi oil is also used as ear drops in case of pain. (according to Haryana-online.com). The seeds are used in curing urinary problems.

    Chemotypes of O. tenuiflorum containing methyl eugenol as a major or minor constituent of essential oil has been reported earlier from India and Thailand Methyl eugenol is used quite widely in perfume.  It is also used as a flavoring agent in jellies, baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, candy, pudding, relish and ice cream.  

    Essential oils from aromatic plants are widely used as fragrances and flavors in the perfume and food industries (Mukhopadhyay 2000). Also, essential oils are increasingly adopted in agriculture for their use as pesticides (Daferera et al. 2003). Plant chemicals associated with allelopathic activity have been reported in most cases to be secondary metabolites from shikimic acid, acetate, or terpenoid pathways (Vokou 2007). In particular, volatile phenols and terpenes are the main components of essential oils (Isman 2000). Specific investigations confirm that some essential oils have contact and fumigant insecticidal, bactericidal, or fungicidal action (Daferera et al. 2003) Winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri S. Watson) germination was inhibited by essential oils of certain aromatic plants including lemon basil (Ocimum citriodorum L). Ismaiel and Pierson (1990), who investigated the mechanism of the inhibition of Clostridium botulinum by spice essential oils, found no effect on DNA, RNA, or protein synthesis. The  same researchers suggested that essential oil altered membrane permeability. Moreover, Baum et al. (1998) and Romagni et al. (2000) reported that volatile monoterpenes such as cineoles are potent inhibitors of mitosis, whereas the terpene citral has recently been shown to inhibit microtubule assembly (Chaimovitsh et al. 2010). Essential oils are considered safe to both consumers and the environment and are classified as:  ‘‘generally regarded as safe’’ , mainly due to their rapid breakdown in the environment and their low toxicity .  

    Daferera, D. J., B. N. Ziogas, and M. G. Polissiou. 2003. The effectiveness of plant essential oils on the growth of Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium sp. And Clevibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis. Crop Prot. 22:39–44.

    Isman, B. M. 2000. Plant essential oils for pest and disease management. Crop Prot. 19:603–608.

    Vokou, D. 2007. Allelochemicals, allelopathy and essential oils: a field in search of definitions and structure. Allelop. J. 19:119–134

    Mukhopadhyay, M. 2000. Natural Extracts Using Supercritical Carbon Dioxide. New York: CRC Press. 342 p


    Ismaiel, A. A. and M. D. Pierson. 1990. Inhibition of germination, outgrowth, and vegetative growth of Clostridium botulinum 67B by spice oils. J. Food Prot. 53:755–758.

    Baum, S. F., L. Karanastasis, and T. L. Rost. 1998. Morphogenetic effects of the herbicide Cinch on Arabidopsis thaliana root development. J. Plant Growth Regul. 17:107–114.

    Romagni, J. G., S. N. Allen, and F. E. Dayan. 2000. Allelopathic effects of volatile cineoles on two plant species. J. Chem. Ecol. 26:303–313.

    Chaimovitsh, D., M. Abu-Abied, E. Behausov, B. Rubin, N. Dudai, and E. Sadot. 2010. Microtubules are an intracellular target of the plant terpene citral. Plant J. 61:399–408


    Ashwani Kumar

    "Malaria, periodic fever and all other ailments will be cured if eleven Tulsi leaves are taken along with four black pepper seeds. Tulsi has more effective health benefits when used with Yogic asanas and breath-control exercises. For poor digestion, lack of appetite, constipation, flatulence, acidity and other disorders of the disorders of the digestive tract tulsi is reliable remedy".

    I wish to add that we are having profuse growth of Tulsi plant and we never had "malaria"  or Dengu in our family for the last 25 years. 

    In temples charnamrit is given putting some tulsi leaves and they call it "holy water". Even if milk is used in charnamrit some tulsi leaves are put to purify the same. 

    Possible explanation is tulsi has flavonoids ( water soluble ) and antibacterial compounds and  essential oils which get dissolved with or missible with water and make the water "holy". 

    Ancient people could know this fact that growing tulsi can prevent malaria and it was common custom to grow tulsi in courtyard of house "angan" . Tulsi even has radio-protectant properties. 

    Modern researches are proving ancient people right. 

    I wish to add that we are having profuse growth of Tulsi plant and we never had "malaria"  or Dengu in our family for the last 25 years. 

    Tulsi leaves and roots do have a compound that's effective against Plasmodium berghei, which is used in lab research involving rodents and gives a good idea if a susbtance will also protect humans from other species of Plasmodium. http://www.ajebs.com/vol7/27.pdf
    It's surprising, given that Tulsi is a mint family member and given that its main essential oil component being eugenol. But although the source does not reveal the chemical nature of the antimalarial compound(s) in Tulsi, it's probably not eugenol.
    Ashwani Kumar
    Thanks for supporting suggestions. My mother used to give "Kadah" or boiled soup from leaves of "neem"  tulsi leaves, ginger ,  black pepper and  clove buds,  in malarial fever as an alternate to bitter quinine tablets of those times. Malarial fever was a routine in that time period and it seems history is repeating itself again .  Now your comments have helped me find it out what are the actual ingredients and how do they help cure malarial fever. Apparently recent studies suggest controlling Plasmodium spp. This confirms the belief that traditional medicines have some scientific basis although its left to pure science to prove it . Any way 25 percent modern medicines have their "roots in plants" or plant derived products .  
     2012 Feb;5(2):103-6.

    In vitro antiplasmodial effect of ethanolic extracts of traditional medicinal plant Ocimum species against Plasmodium falciparum.

    Inbaneson SJSundaram RSuganthi P.


    Department of Oceanography and Coastal Area Studies, School of Marine Sciences, Alagappa University, Thondi Campus, Thondi, Ramanathapuram District, Tamil Nadu, India.

    One more benefit of tulsi is radiation protection. 

    “Orientin and vicenin are two c-glycoside flavonoids iso- lated from the aqueous extract of dried leaves of Ocimum sanctum (Family: Labiatae, Sanskrit: Tulsi, English: holy basil), an Indian medicinal plant. In a previous study, both orientin and vicenin were shown to increase the 30-day survival  of  whole-body-irradiated  mice,  which indicates protection against death from bone marrow syndrome”

     Source : 

    Nayak V. and P. Uma Devi (2005) Protection of Mouse Bone Marrow against Radiation-Induced Chromosome Damage and Stem Cell Death by the Ocimum Flavonoids Orientin and Vicenin.  Radiation Research, 163(2):165-171. 2005.

    Ashwani Kumar
    "The medicinal plants are widely used by the traditional medical practitioners for curing various diseases in their day to day practice. In traditional systems of medicine, different parts (leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds and even whole plant) of Ocimum sanctum Linn (known as Tulsi in Hindi), a small herb seen throughout India, have been recommended for the treatment of bronchitis, bronchial asthma, malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases, arthritis, painful eye diseases, chronic fever, insect bite etc. The Ocimum sanctum L. has also been suggested to possess antifertility, anticancer, antidiabetic, antifungal, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, antiemetic, antispasmodic, analgesic, adaptogenic and diaphoretic actions. Eugenol (1-hydroxy-2-methoxy-4-allylbenzene), the active constituent present in Ocimum sanctum L., has been found to be largely responsible for the therapeutic potentials of Tulsi".