In many ancient traditions, winter is the season where we look inward. It is a time of quietness and solitude, a time of potency and power, of wisdom and fear, and of darkness and water. A good meditation practice will help your journey through the season, and the use of herbs to augment your practice has been an age old tradition as well. Part 1 will focus on the herb commonly known as holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, tenuiflorum) and tulsi.
Holy basil, is probably the most venerated plant in Hinduism and has been used in spiritual practices for hundreds of years. One legend has it that Lord Vishnu had three wives: Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Ganga. In a heated argument, Lakshmi and Sarasvati put a curse on each other and Sarasvati’s curse turned Lakshmi into a tulsi plant. Another version says that Vishnu freed Lakshmi from the curse of living as a plant, and that she left some of her hair behind to grow on earth which, in turn, became tulsi. But regardless of the story, the sacredness of the plant is seen in its use in ceremonial worship to Vishnu. It is planted in courtyards or outside homes where it is used in a daily ceremony known as Pradakshina.
There are three species of holy basil: Ocimum sanctum (Krishna) known for its red-purple leaves, O. tenuiflorum (Rama) with green leaves and O. gratissimum (Vana). Holy basil is related to our sweet basil and all basils are in the mint (Lamiaceae) family. And like sweet basil, tulsi needs a warm sun to flourish. Still, if you can grow one inside, with the help of a grow light, just having this plant near you can bring calmness to the spirit and mind. For a meditation focal point, surround the plant with your favorite crystals or stones.
Of course holy basil can be made into a delicious tea. Some flavors that go well with it are peppermint, ginger, rose or lemon. When ingested, holy basil is said to have adaptogenic properties, meaning that it helps the body to handle stress. David Winston, a world respected herbalist,
considers it an immune amphoteric, which is an action that down regulates a histamine (immune) response: think of allergies, asthma, and hay fever. Finally, it is used, often in conjunction with gotu kola, Gingko, Bacopa and/or rosemary, to improve ones concentration and mental clarity.