Purple ‘Holy’ Basil

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Last fall my friend Barry put me onto pots of green and purple ‘Holy’ basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) for sale at a neighbourhood Indian food store. ‘Holy’ basil, also known as Tulsi, is a beautiful herb that brightens a dull spot in the garden. It’s a tough, woody plant with textured leaves that can take a lot of heat and a little bit of drought, but I don’t recommend it if you’re looking to grow a culinary basil. It has a very potent smell and flavour and is more commonly used as a medicinal remedy than a meal enhancer.

I intended to post about the plant here months back, but as sometimes happens, I neglected to get a good photo before the frost hit and to top it off I left the plant outside to die rather than overwintering it indoors. And even though I wasn’t going to tell this part of the story, now that I’ve exposed my neglect, I feel a guilt-ridden need to explain that the reason I didn’t bring it inside was because we were going away for a month and I didn’t want to overburden my friends with millions of plants to keep alive on top of the thousands I already have.

Passively allowing tender plants to die outdoors at the end of the season is a gardeners’ dirty little secret. Just about everyone does it, but few admit it. Many of us feel guilty about it, although in my case I suspect it has more to do with throwing away money than intentionally killing a plant.

But I digress. What I really intended to say was that as luck might have it, a month or so after the “killing frost”, I came upon the plant in this photo, growing on a farm in St. Lucia. It may not have been my plant, but I got the photo I had hoped for. And like most basil plants grown in a tropical climate, the thing was huge, much larger than any basil I could grow here in Toronto.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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6 thoughts on “Purple ‘Holy’ Basil

  1. You’re right, the ‘tulsi’ or Holy Basil is mostly used in teas to bring down a fever or coughs and colds. The doctors and scientists seem to be finding more things that the tulsi is good for almost everyday. The last I checked, it was found to be a great anti-stress herb and also a good anti-cholesterol agent.
    It is practically indestructible here in India and just about every rural hindu home has a tulsi altar (yes, altar!)in the courtyard.

  2. i really appreciate your plant killing confessions this week. aside from being mildly hilarious, they make me feel a little less guilty.

  3. A nice coincidence, yesterday I was given a lovely Indian painting of a Holy man watering Tulsi. My friend said it reminded her of me. I’d better get out my dhoti.

  4. Ahh, purple basil…I’ve seen some wonderful basil ‘shrubs’ grown in the garden in Ontario & am slightly jealous. The slugs would have a hay-day if I tried that out here on the coast – so it lives in my greenhouse. Will have to try some Tulsi to see if it survives the deer buffet…

  5. I just went to India and there are fields of Tulsi there. They make all sorts of necklaces from beads made with it’s wood. I wear mine every day! Barry time to break out your dhoti and I’ll wrap my sari.

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