Thursday, August 7, 2008
Sulasi / Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy basil is hot. I discovered, while munching on random garden leaves, that savoring its clovey flavor should be limited to brief periods. It literally burns the tongue! However, it cuts wonderfully through the thickness of sweet and creamy desserts, growing it for this alone is recommended.
Taking its English name from its important connection with religious practice in the Indian subcontinent, tulsi (Hindu name) means "the incomparable one". Sprigs of it were sometimes placed on the chest of a resting person to protect him. People chew its leaves before religious ceremonies, and households often grow them and even adorn them.
Migrating towards Southeast Asia, it picked up variations on its name such as sulasi (Philippines, Malaysia) and selaseh (Indonesia, Malaysia). Eastern Philippines calls it kamangi or kamangkau, related to Indonesia's selseh kemangi. Eastern and Tagalog Philippines also calls it loko-loko and koloko-loko, similar to Malay ruku-ruku.
As you can see above, the plant is pretty hairy. Its leaves are toothed. The flowers appear in smaller, neater rows than most basil varieties. Vigorous self-seeders like basil, I find, are really useful in restoring a barren area that you don't quite have enough time yet to attend to. There have been times when a "mini-basil forest" simply pops up somewhere, really bushy thriving, protecting the soil from drying out, attracting butterflies, and decomposing into the soil. They are wonderful to walk through.
There is a dark purple sort of holy basil that I tried to propagate many years ago, but that went to shits. This one grew out of some seeds from India.
Holy basil is one of those that treat an amazingly broad range of imbalances. Even my dog knows it (see him munching on the leaves in the topmost photo).
Folk uses in the Philippines include boiling the leaves for aromatic baths, or for remedies against gonorrhea. A preparation from the seeds (which form a jelly when soaked) is said to soothe inflamed throats. Other countries use the plant as an infusion for stomach and liver problems. The juice from leaves can be used to treat earaches. It is also used to increase milk for breastfeeding.
Modern research shows that the plant actually helps people deal with stress. It reduces the production of stress hormones, apparently allowing people to approach 21st century frustration with more clarity. It also packs significant anti-oxidant properties.
Posted by Bea