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Holy Basil

Holy Basil
 

The water-carriers sprinkled all the streets
From spirting skins, the housewives scattered fresh
Red powder on their thresholds, strung new wreaths,
And trimmed the tulsi-bush before their doors.
The paintings on the walls were heightened up
With liberal brush, the trees set thick with flags,
The idols gilded; in the four-went ways
Suryadeva and the great gods shone
'Mid shrines of leaves; so that the city seemed
A capital of some enchanted land.
Arnold, Edwin, Sir, 1832-1904: THE LIGHT OF ASIA

Holy Basil/Tulsi/Ocimum sanctum Plant description(Technical)
Subshrubs to 1 m tall, much branched. Stems erect, base woody, spreading pilose. Petiole 1-2.5 cm; leaf blade oblong, 2.5-5.5 ? 1-3 cm, puberulent, glandular, pilose on veins, base cuneate to rounded, margin shallowly undulate-serrate, apex obtuse. Verticillasters 6-flowered, in pedunculate, terminal thyrses or panicles 6-8 cm; bracts sessile, cordate, ca. 1.5 ? 1.5 mm, apex acute; peduncle 1-1.5 cm. Pedicel ca. 2.5 mm. Calyx campanulate, ca. 2.5 mm, villous, tube ca. 1.5 mm; middle tooth of upper lip broadly oblate, abruptly acute; lateral teeth broadly triangular, shorter than lower lip teeth, spinescent; lower lip teeth lanceolate, apex spinescent; fruiting calyx to 6 ? 4 mm, conspicuously veined. Corolla white to reddish, ca. 3 mm, slightly exserted, sparsely puberulent; tube ca. 2 mm, dilated at throat; upper lip less than 1 ? 2.5 mm, lobes ovate; lower lip oblong, ca. 1 ? 0.6 mm, flat. Stamens slightly exserted, free; posterior filaments puberulent at base. Nutlets brown, ovoid, ca. 1 ? 0.7 mm, glandular-foveolate. Fl. Feb-Jun, fr. Mar-Aug.
http://hua.huh.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/Flora/taxon.pl?ACT=desc&FLORA_ID=11746&TAXON_ID=200019919

Plant description(Simple)
General Description: erect, herbaceous, much-branched, softly hairy annual; long, thin leaves, possessing many essential oil gland sacks; flowers are purplish or crimson in closedly whorled racemes; at least two types in cultivation: Sri tulsi, green in color, is the most common, and Krishna tulsi has purple leaves
http://members.aol.com/ratrani/holybasil.html

Images;
http://hua.huh.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/Flora/taxon.pl?ACT=desc&FLORA_ID=11746&TAXON_ID=200019919
excellent botanical illustration

Holy Basil-Tulsi in Indian Tradition  (Information is provided for cultural interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease)

The Holy Basil plant from which the oil is distilled has been revered in India for thousands of years. It has a special place in the courtyard of Hindu families. The daily routine of many families is centered around this plants worship. When one begins to investigate its use in indigenous systems of medicine, then it is easy to see why the plant is considered so special. The sages and seers of ancient times were keen to instill in people's hearts appreciation for the virtues to be derived from plants. Holy Basil could easily be cultivated in a wide range of climates and filled the surrounding atmosphere with a type of charged aroma which was in itself an elixir of the finest quality. This coupled with the rich inner world that often is part of the Eastern heart and mind, brought this plant into a world of symbolic imagery which is a delight to read about.
Perfect picture of devotion:
The following episode was written by Huyler as he witnessed Tulsi worship in an Orissan home. It conveys the intimate relationship the Hindu has with Tulsi, and it teaches, through exquisite example, how we may worship Her.
"'O Tulsi, you who are beloved of Vishnu, You who fulfill the wishes of the devout, I will bathe You. You are the Mother of the World. Give me the blessings of Vishnu.'
The high, cracked voice of Manjula pierces the damp predawn hush. Joining her voice, other women also sing the praises of the Goddess. They all kneel before a meter-high terracotta planter shaped like a miniature temple adorned with sculptures, and containing a green-leafed Tulsi [photo, page 32]. Rising to her feet, Manjula pours holy water from a small, brightly polished brass pot into the cupped palm of her right hand and sprinkles it upon the leaves of the bush. Her expression is one of adoration but also one that portrays many years of close association, of friendship. For Manjula, the Goddess is incarnate in this herb, representing the duty and dedication, the love, virtue and sorrow of all women. She is a link to Manjula's own soul.
"Manjula's actions are repeated by the other women. Beneath their feet are designs of flowers and conch shells painted directly onto the ground with white rice powder and sindur (vermilion). Placing the brass pot on the ground amid the paintings, Manjula lights camphor incense in a clay pot and waves the clouds of sweet smoke over and around the bush and its container. Holding a clay lamp filled with lighted ghee in her right hand, she rotates it in a large circle three times in front of the tulsi plant. Bowls of fruit (bananas, apples, guavas and the meat of dried coconuts) and hibiscus and marigold flowers are placed on the ground before the terracotta. "Incense sticks are lit as Manjula once again presses her hands together in reverence, singing:
'O Tulsi! Within your roots are all the sacred places of the world. And inside your stem live all the Gods and Goddesses. Your leaves radiate every form of sacred fire. Let me take some of your leaves that I may be blessed.
' With her right hand clasped around the stem of the small bush, she shakes it gently, causing three leaves to flutter to its base. Thanking the Goddess, she places a single leaf between her palms and prostrates herself before the planter. After lying in this posture of absolute supplication for several minutes, Manjula again kneels before the Tulsi shrine and lovingly asks the Goddess if she may be allowed to dress Her. Taking a length of red cotton cloth from a basket, she wraps it around the bush. Then she places bright red hibiscus flowers in the upper leaves and hangs garlands of marigolds around the stem and the planter. Culminating the ceremony, Manjula puts the tulsi leaf in her mouth, taking into her body the spirit of the Goddess. Followed by the other women, she walks seven times around the elaborately sculpted planter, chanting:
'O Goddess Tulsi, You who are the most precious of the Lord Almighty [Vishnu], who live according to His Divine Laws, I beseech you to protect the lives of my family and the spirits of those who have died. Hear me, O Goddess!'
"As the first rays of the rising sun hit the tulsi's top leaves, the ritual has ended. Every morning and every evening of the year, Manjula prays to Tulsi at the shrine on the doorstep of her house, but that worship is usually simple and straightforward, entailing sprinkling the bush with holy water, adorning it with a few hibiscus blossoms, and shaking down a few leaves to eat as part of her prayers. This morning's elaborate ritual celebrates the first day of Kartika, a month particularly sacred to Vishnu and his Goddess-consort Tulsi. By caring for and honoring this sacred bush, Manjula creates a bond with the Goddess. Representing honor, virtue and steadfast loyalty, this humble bush of herbal leaves is the archetype of Hindu femininity, revered by men and emulated with empathy by women. She is Tulsi, Mother of the World."1 http://www.hinduismtoday.com/1997/3/#gen359
the entire article on Tulsi in Hinduism Today is splendid

http://hinduism.about.com/religion/hinduism/library/weekly/aa062000a.htm
a great site giving good legendary background on Tulsi

Essential Oil-Tamil Nadu State, India
Physical description-clear to light green mobile liquid
Olfactory description-very rich sweet fresh herbaceous-minty topnote with pronounced clove/anise like accents which last well into the heart and base notes. Powerful suave purifying radiance ripples out from the perfume blotter and fills the nasal passages which an easily inhalable aromatic elixir. Volatile Components of Holy Basil(I do not yet have a detailed analysis of this oil so will list a few of its basic components for interests sake)

CARVACROL Leaf 180 - 210 ppm GEO
CINEOLE Leaf: GEO
Odor Description : Eucalyptus Mint Herbal Rosemary
EUGENOL Leaf 4,200 - 4,970 ppm GEO
Odor Description : Pungent Spicy Clove
EUGENOL-METHYL-ETHER Leaf 1,200 - 1,400 ppm GEO
Odor Description : Sweet Fresh Warm Spicy Carnation
LINALOL Leaf: GEO
Odor Description : Fresh Floral Sweet Woody Green Natural
METHYL-CHAVICOL Leaf: GEO
Odor Description : Sweet Phenolic Anise Harsh Spice Green Herbal Minty