Growing Holy Basil – 5 Things I Learned Pretty Quickly

Last year was my first season growing Holy Basil, a medicinal herb that is used prominently in Eastern Ayurvedic medicine.  I started with seeds and sprouted them under lights last winter, and then transplanted them to a couple of containers when Spring arrived.

Holy Basil, also known as tulsi or ocimum sanctum, is a very strongly flavored basil that is revered in Eastern medicine for it’s healing properties.

My wife grows culinary basils that she uses for cooking, pesto and salad dressings.  But Holy Basil is actually better suited for teas, tinctures and oil extractions.

Holy Basil

Traditionally, Holy Basil has been used to treat digestive and respiratory issues such as indigestion, diarrhea, coughs and bronchitis.  It is also classified as an adaptogenic herb, which means it excels at providing body normalizing benefits.  The herb improves resistance to stress, reduces blood pressure levels and can normalize sugar levels in the blood.

I love adaptogenic herbs for their general healing properties and body balancing effects.  Hence my interest in cultivating this exotic herb that is actually worshiped in some Indian cultures.  And over the course of the season, I learned quite a bit about Holy Basil.

  1. Holy Basil loves rich, heavily composted soil.  The seedlings I started in a rich mix did much better than those I started in a soiless planting medium.  And the transplanted seedlings thrived in all areas of the Bell Back 400 where the soil has been fortified with periodic additions of finished green and brown compost.
  2. When I say that Holy Basil thrived in all areas of the garden, I’m not exaggerating.  I started with two half whiskey barrel containers with approximately 5-7 seedlings in each.  Within a couple of months I was finding Holy Basil seedlings popping up all over the garden.  Holy Basil sets seed pretty quickly, and that seed gets dropped, windblown and carried by water all over the place.  So I literally had Holy Basil growing between all my raised beds and even had to pull it from some other containers that were 20-25 feet away.  Warning:  Holy Basil is invasive.
  3. Holy Basil grows well here in North Texas.  It does best in morning sun, but also stood up well in areas of the garden exposed to the brutal afternoon sun.
  4. Holy Basil is a great plant for attracting bees and butterflies.  The flowers it produces are very fragrant and the flying critters love them.
  5. All parts of the Holy Basil plant (except for the woody stems) are good for teas and tinctures.  This include the roots, leaves, seeds and flowers.  I use a 75% alcohol, 25% water tincture medium.  The roots need to be finely chopped to get the best tincturing results.  Dried roots make a great tea.

And one other thing I learned?  I won’t have to buy any more Holy Basil seed.  I’m pretty sure that come Spring, I’m going to have it popping back up all over the garden.

Holy Basil is an extremely valuable medicinal herb.  It’s adaptogenic properties make it a medicinal favorite of many Eastern cultures and a focal point of religious significance in many Indian homes.

And it is so easy to grow.


Update: 11/2014

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