Described as the most holy plant on earth in the ancient Vedic Puranas, tulsi is still revered today as holier than holy. For thousands of years, tulsi has been grown for spiritual purposes in the backyards of most Indian homes. Its branches are sanded into beads and worn to enhance spiritual progress. Its fragrance is used to purify temples and the leaves are used in sacred ceremonies to honor God and heighten one’s awareness. Tulsi is named after these spiritual attributes and commonly called sacred holy basil and botanically named Ocimum sanctum.
What is not commonly known about the tulsi plant are its best kept secrets. Called the Queen of Herbs, The Incomparable One and The Mother Medicine of Nature, tulsi is as powerful a medicine as it is spiritual and holy. Interestingly, tulsi is both spiritual and medicinal for the same reasons. In Ayurveda, which is India’s 5000 year old traditional system of medicine, the source of tulsi’s unique properties are described. Today modern science has confirmed many of these properties, recognizing tulsi as one of nature’s most powerful medicines. I will begin by describing the degenerative process of stress, which is regarded by western science as the leading cause of disease. Then I will delve into the benefits of tulsi and how this miraculous plant literally links and heals one’s body, mind and spirit.
CHOOSING AN ADAPTOGEN
Tulsi not only helps protect the body from the degenerative effects of stress, but it also repairs the body from its damage. These are the properties of an adaptogen, and tulsi is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s finest. Tulsi treats the body at a deeper level than most other adaptogens, which may be why tulsi’s benefits extend far beyond its ability to cope with stress. We can no longer wait until the disease appears and then begin treatment. Everyone is under stress, and the treatment for well-being and optimal health starts now, before the symptoms arrive. Twenty years ago the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) rejected the need for a daily multi-vitamin and has recently reversed its position. Today JAMA recommends the use of daily vitamins to everyone for maintaining good health. There is no doubt that with the emergence of stress as the new cause of disease, a daily adaptogen is necessary today and its endorsement cannot wait twenty years.
When searching for a daily stress fighting adaptogen, it is important to make an informed decision. While most stress-fighting adaptogens have hidden stimulating properties, few claim the ability to rejuvenate rather than stimulate. While a common adaptogen like ginseng has many rejuvenating properties, it also acts like a stimulant and thus should not be considered as your daily adaptogen. Tulsi has rejuvenating properties that can boost energy, and because it is not a stimulant, it can be taken before bed and support deep sleep. Before choosing your daily adaptogen, give it the acid test. Take the product before bed. If you cannot sleep after taking it, it may be a stimulant in disguise and not a pure enough adaptogen to be taken everyday.
THE CHEMISTRY OF STRESS
Stress itself has become a constant and a disease producing stimulant to the nervous system that we are forced to endure on a daily basis. We self-medicate with stimulants like coffee, sugar and – sometimes in the name of good health – energy boosting adaptogens. While these may offer short term relief, in the long run they will deplete our ability to handle stress naturally. When under stress, the nervous system responds by increasing stress fighting hormone production. While these hormones help the body fight stress, they are both toxic and degenerative hormones that produce waste products called free radicals that are linked to causing 80% of all disease. Constant stimulation from stress causes adrenal depletion, which puts pressure on the endocrine system to make energy that it simply doesn’t have. Blood sugar levels rise and fall causing cravings, unstable moods and exhaustion. Reproductive hormones like testosterone and progesterone help bail out the adrenals, leaving reproductive and menstrual function compromised. Finally, the thyroid is asked to increase metabolism because the body has borrowed so much energy that the entire hormonal and stress fighting system is in crisis.
Sadly, the wrath of stress doesn’t stop here. This accelerated hormonal response to stress has a devastating impact on almost every function and system in the human body. Perhaps the most devastating is the impact of the body’s waste removal channels. Imagine not being able to take the trash out of your house or if the drains in your bath or toilet were clogged. This is exactly what happens to the body when under excessive stress. While these stress fighting hormones are designed to save lives they are also extremely acidic. The body cannot move waste out of the body well in an acidic environment. The biggest detox system in the body, and the first system to be treated according to Ayurveda, is the lymphatic system. This system is twice as large as the arterial blood supply system and is responsible for draining waste from every organ, muscle and cell of the body. It is also responsible for maintaining the strength and integrity of the body’s immune system. The lymphatic system is very dependent on the acid alkaline balance in the body. Stress causes an acidic chemistry in the body that directly congests the lymph. Stress calls on the pancreas to raise blood sugar. What goes up, must come down, and when the blood sugar plummets from an incessant stress response, we crave comfort food and energy boosting foods. These foods are all very acidic and further congest the lymph.
So the problem gets worse. When the body is under stress it is told to store fat. Fat is the body’s non stress fuel, and it stabilizes the mood. It burns very slow and steady, and makes energy last for hours without the need for a snack. Fat also mitigates acid – which means it burns up excess acids and directly fights the devastating chemistry of stress. It is for all of these reasons we cannot just give symptomatic relief to stress. We must treat the cause of stress by first understanding the difference between a true adaptogen, like tulsi, and one that just helps offset the symptoms of stress. Tulsi is called the Incomparable One because it naturally employs the body’s healing system, intelligence and awareness to fight stress and restore optimal health.
Instead of acting only as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-bacterial, anti-stress or anti-arthtritic agent, tulsi does it all. In addition, tulsi has been reported to lower blood pressure, boost immunity, reduce ulcers, treat allergies, cancer, infertility, diabetes, cholesterol and radiation poisoning. As western science continues its investigation it will be hard pressed to find a condition that tulsi will not be helpful in.
OJAS BUILDING PROPERTIES
In Ayurveda, the cause of disease is described as the mistake of the intellect; where the intellect identifies itself as separate from consciousness. Ayurveda extols that pure consciousness is considered to be the source of all creation. Separation from pure consciousness, or the source of our Being, is the main obstacle for spiritual progress resulting in mental, emotional and physical dis-ease. Treatments aimed at the cause of disease also aim to raise consciousness while restoring the memory of pure consciousness in every cell. Ayurvedically, this is achieved by increasing a substance called ojas, which is described as the physical expression of consciousness. Tulsi is one of a select few Ayurvedic herbs that carry the label ojas building. Building ojas in the body benefits the body, mind and spirit as it treats the body at its most refined level. Ojas is produced as the result of a complex series of enzymatic processes that takes 35 days to complete. It is stored in the heart and controls the life giving functions of the sperm and ovum. It is responsible for one’s immune strength, ability to handle stress and spiritual status. If ojas is high, health is optimal, reproductive strength is maximal and the ripe fruits of a spiritual life are harvested.
Ojas, which acts much like the so-called anti-aging hormones, HGH and DHEA is also depleted by stress, aging and excessive activities. Excessive stress, exercise, work, sex, sleep, food and stimulants all deplete ojas. In our modern world, where excess has become a badge of honor and stress has become the cause of disease, the need to rebuild ojas has never been more important. Tulsi, the Queen of Herbs, has been guiding people spiritually for thousands of years due to its ojas building properties and is also called the Mother Medicine of Nature.
Tulsi, for the body, mind and spirit should be considered your daily adaptogen.