Holy Basil is an annual plant grown mainly for medicinal and religious reasons but also with culinary uses. Holy Basil, Ocimum Sanctum, is also known as Tulsi, Tulasi and Kraphao. Hindus consider Tulsi to be a most sacred plant which is how it got the name Holy Basil. Holy Basil is therefore sometimes referred to as Sacred Basil. Throughout India Tulsi is worshiped and has a special significance for followers of the Hindu God Hanuman.
Holy Basil, an annual plant, forms a small bush and grows to a height of about 50cms. The stems are hairy and the leaves are highly aromatic.
It is in Thailand where Holy Basil known as Kraphao is mainly used as a culinary herb. There are actually 2 varieties of Kraphao or Holy Basil. There is a green leaved variety which for some reason is called White Kraphao and a purple tinged variety which is by far the most common variety in Thailand. In Thai cooking, Kraphao is an indispensable herb with no suitable substitute. Italian Basil or Lemon Basil have a completely different flavour. There is another completely different variety of Basil used in Thai cuisine known as Thai Basil or Horapa so care must be taken to purchase the correct variety. The best known Thai dish using Kraphao is the highly popular Phat Kraphao, a very spicy minced pork or chicken dish.
For many centuries Tulsi has been an important herb in Ayurveda and Thai traditional medicine and is believed by some to promote longevity.
Holy Basil, leaves, flowers and stalks, can be made into herbal tea, and the leaves may be used fresh or dried and powdered. Indeed, nearly all the parts of Holy Basil have some medicinal uses. Uses include treatment for the Common Cold and Influenza, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Peptic Ulcers, Gastritis, and to relieve pain caused by Earache, Headache and Arthritis. The seeds of Holy Basil, after being soaked in water for several hours make an effective laxative.
Another use of Tulsi is as an effective insect repellent. The leaves are dried and stored with various grains to keep them insect free. Essential oils extracted from Holy Basil are widely used in skin preparations.