Holy Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum), also known as ocimum sanctum or tulsi, is a sacred plant in India, used in Thai food, and essential for medical purposes. It is native to the old world tropics where it often grows as a weed. The herb can be found in the kitchens of many Southeast Asian and South Asian countries.
Holy basil is a small and ornamental plant that grows to be about two feet tall. It is simple to grow, especially in pots or from seeds. The plant bears small purple or scarlet flowers.
The small but fragrant leaves are jagged, fuzzy, and can range in color from green to purple. The taste and fragrance of the leaves is peppery and clove-like with hints of ginger and mint.
In India, holy basil is considered a sacred plant and is an important part of ceremonies and sacraments. The herb is found all over the country in homes and temples where it is an important part of worship and associated with Vishnu, a Hindu god. Vishnu wears a decorative wreath of basil. During weddings in India, the brides parents give her away along with a basil leaf. Wealthy families will have the leaf made of gold and gems.
The leaves of holy basil are not usually used in dishes but in herbal drinks in India. It is sometimes found in soups, fish, or even in desserts. In Thailand, the leaves, known as kaphrao, are commonly used in food dishes. One of the most popular dishes is phat kaphrao which is a stir fry of meat or seafood, rice, and holy basil leaves. The delicate leaves should never be fried as it destroys the wonderful aroma.
Holy basil is used all over the world for medical purposes and to treat ailments and be used as an anti-inflammatory. It is commonly used to treat colds, bronchitis, asthma, arthritis, and even cancer. It has also been proven to be an antioxidant, to help with stress, and to help treat malaria.