I was eating pasta with basil pesto sauce the other day, and was reminded of the holy basil…
Now everyone is familiar with sweet basil, the one that is used in Italian cuisine. Personally, I love the flavor imparted by sweet basil, and have used it in Indian cooking too. However, in India, there is no sweet basil. What we have is the “holy basil”, that has religious connotations and is used for its medicinal properties.
So the holy basil (aka Tulsi) is a house plant closely related to the sweet basil that is supposed to be planted (in a pot or otherwise) in every Hindu household, usually in the center of the courtyard. Every morning, all members of the household would pray around the Tulsi plant after their ablutions and water it at the same time. After that, you were free to pluck the leaves of the plant and use them for its medicinal properties (for stress relief, cough/ bronchitis, headaches etc.), but not as food. However, Tulsi leaves are commonly brewed with tea to which they impart a wonderful aroma. I remember consuming cup after cup of tea with Tulsi leaves when afflicted with a cold.
The one caveat is that we cannot pluck the leaves on Sunday..I guess it has something to do with Sunday being the day of the Sun God, and Tulsi needs sunlight for its growth.
Once I bought a Tulsi plant from a Hindu temple in Philadelphia, since I was nostalgic for tea infused with its leaves (I had been trying to use sweet basil leaves, without the same effect). My mother cautioned me that I needed to water the plant regularly because “killing” it was sinful…I am not religious anyway, and the plant ended up being destroyed during snowy weather.
Anyway, coming back to holy basil versus sweet basil, the former has smaller leaves, and a very different flavor. They are more pungent and spicier then the latter, and are never used in Indian cooking, probably for the same reason.
That’s all, I just wanted to share how cultural differences are intertwined with differences in flora..
Here is an image of the holy basil courtesy http://www.theherbalist.com:
Here is an image of sweet basil courtesy http://www.imgarcade.com: