How does one disambiguate a subject so complex? Holy Basil, a plant that is gentle and healing to body, mind and spirit should bring happiness, not confusion! The commonality of all types (species/cultivars) is that the leaves may be eaten fresh, used in cooking, or best yet picked, dried, and made into tea.
Taxonomy: Vana Tulsi (a tree basil) is Ocimum gratissimum. The tropical tulsis (Rama, Krishna, Amrita, etc.) are Ocimum tenuiflorum which is the same as Ocimum sanctum (2 different Latin names used interchangeably). The temperate tulsi (formerly called “Kapoor” tulsi which is a misnomer and commonly called “Holy Basil” which is inaccurate but lovely) is classification unknown. Could it be Ocimum kilimandscharicum? Probably not, it smells like tutti-frutti, not camphor. However, a google search (odorless) would lead one to believe so!
Common names: The tropical basils intergrade (hybridize) freely, will vary in name and appearance depending on location and gardener, and have been called by many common names: Krishna Tulsi, Shyam Tulsi, Rama Tulsi, Amrita Tulsi, etc.
Pharmacology: For the purpose of identification, the presence of Eugenol (oil of clove) seems to be the ruling factor. All the tulsi types contain eugenol and smell and taste of clove. Eugenol is an antiseptic and is often used in dentistry. The anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) aspects of the herb have been attributed to the presence of Rosmarinic acid, which is present in varying concentration in all types of tulsi.
Comparative description of types of tulsi:
Vana Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum) is a tree basil native to India and East Africa. The plant grows wild on roadsides and in waste places. The leaves are large and the plant can easily attain 5 feet tall, even when grown as an annual in the temperate north. Vana tulsi is relatively easy to overwinter indoors–they are very stable in a bright window, and once the soil warms outdoors, can be transplanted to the garden with good results. This type is often used as an ingredient in tulsi tea blends. There is a long history of misidentification–many products have used lemon basil and called it “vana” out of convenience. Here are the results of one of our analytical tests of Vana Tulsi: 8.89 Eugenol, 3.51 Rosmarinic Acid expressed as dried wt in mg/g.
Rama Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum = O. sanctum) is a tropical perennial that may be grown as an annual in temperate gardens. The color of the leaves is primarily green, while the color of the stems is primarily purple. This is the most common type grown in India. Here are the results of one of our analytical tests of Rama Tulsi: 5.60 Eugenol, 5.15 Rosmarinic Acid expressed as dried wt in mg/g.
Krishna Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum = O. sanctum) is a tropical perennial that may be grown as an annual in temperate gardens. The color of the leaves is green at first, but eventually develops to a mottled purple, while the color of the stems is primarily purple. This is a preferred type grown in India. Here are the results of one of our analytical tests of Krishna Tulsi: 4.90 Eugenol, 10.47 Rosmarinic Acid expressed as dried wt in mg/g.
Amrita Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum = O. sanctum) was originally obtained from Amritapuri in Southern India. It is a Rama Tulsi type, more vigorous than standard Rama. As with any tulsi cultivar obtained from any particular place, it has its own unique characteristics. We have found this type to overwinter very nicely in a heated greenhouse (50 degrees F minimum temp). The plants tend to be globe-shaped, bushy and almost red when mature and flowering. I have heard that in India the plants grow very tall and are not globe shaped. Environment will have its influence!
Temperate Tulsi (AKA: “Holy Basil,” Ocimum africanum) was introduced by the now-defunct Abundant Life Seed Foundation. The plant has been grown successfully as a quick summer annual and is well-loved by American gardeners. The aroma is tutti-frutti, the plant bolts fast to flower, it magnetizes bees and is the only basil I know of that readily self-seeds from seed dropped the year before. To make the most of the leaf, it works best to direct-seed the plant in the spring garden and harvest on an ongoing basis, cutting back just prior to flowering. The plants are globe-shaped and do not get very tall–a foot or two at best. Careful management of the timing of planting and harvest can result in a good deal of dried tea from a few plants. This is the tea that we grow and dry for our own personal use, and it has been shown to be a healthy drink for our family. Here are the results of one of our analytical tests of Temperate Tulsi: 0.74 Eugenol, 5.53 Rosmarinic Acid expressed as dried wt in mg/g.
Here’s a video to show the differences between the several types of tulsi. I hope nobody gets too hung up about the different types–a tulsi by any other name would smell as sweet!
62 thoughts on “Tulsi (Holy Basil) Type Comparisons”
I’d like to grow Tulsi for medicinal tea for our family for general health, so it needs to be palatable for kids. But I’d also like to grow a good amount to share with my mom who has dementia-like symptoms, so I’m interested in high rosmarinic acid content, I believe, per your article. Can you recommend a variety that is less peppery and more pleasant-tasting, that is good for medicinal purposes?
Hello Heather, considering everything you’ve said, I would recommend Ocimum africanum “temperate tulsi” richo
Hi! I love your natural, herbal life!
I want to focus on growing a large collection of basils, and be able to save seeds. Can you recommend a good way to prevent cross pollination between the varieties?
Thanks for writing. One good way is to plant in beds and alternate a bed of tomatoes, then basil, then a pepper, then a different medicinal herb (ex. valerian). Then start over again, same pattern. Makes a lot of sense to grow different basil species closer together and really separate cultivars of the same species. check my book “growing plant medicine,” for more good info on this. richo
Hello, Very informative article. I recently purchased the Tulsi variety pack for my granddaughter who isinterested in Holy Basils. She will be starting the seeds soon and then transplanting the seedlings outside into pots.
How far apart should she keep the varieties from one another to minimize cross pollination?
This is not so much a function of distance as it is a function of ecology and timing. Producing pure Tulsi seeds is not that easy because you need to have a critical mass of plants to maintain genetics. They are outcrossers so at least 24 plants per patch, separated by other plants to minimize bee cross pollination between the varieties. For home gardeners, it usually works best to grow just one type per year. r
Richo, you are my “go to” person on O. tenuiflorum and O. gratissimum. There seems to be a lot of confusion concerning what is holy basil on social media and you’ve cleared this up. For example it is my understanding that Blue Spice is of the species O. americanum. Temperate tulsi reminds me of Blue Spice except for its growth habit. Temperate seems to mound and Blue Spice seems lanky. Am I correct? Please school me!
hi phyllis, I checked “blue spice” and it appears to be Ocimum africanum. The “Ocimum americanum” name is unfortunate as no basils come from america, they come from africa. Temperate tulsi can be mound-forming or lanky depending on how and where and when it is grown. It looks like B.C. is selling Ocimum africanum. Richo
So I have been using the incorrect species for Blue Spice. I hope B.C. Corrects this. The Herbalist quotes you as saying that it is sometimes confused in the nursery and seed trade with ‘Spice’ basil. I see on some sites it is marked as Ocimum sp. because the sellers really don’t know! I have to now correct some slides that I’ve used in a presentation. Thanks for all of your hard work!! By the way your seed co. Is part of the reason I’ve become so intensely interested in basil/tulsi.
Very informative; thanks for explaining these types of Tulsi. Tulsi is widely used in Ayurveda (Ancient Indian Medication). I learned about Tulsi from iahas.com , and since then, I have been a big fan of this herb. I have tried a couple of tea using Tulsi, and it taste good actually. I will also add your blog to my list.
Keep posting great stuff.
Hello, can you tell me if Tulsi is considered a warming or cooling or neutral herb?
I am looking for something restorative to support calm and focus, but not a cooling herb. Suggestions are welcome!
Hi, The tulsi tea is warming, not cooling. Richo
? Thank you!
There seems to be some confusion over Thai Basil, and whether or not it is Holy Basil. Could you clarify this for me? Thank you!
Hello Solveig, Thai basil is not a holy basil in the sense that it is not an Ocimum tenuiflorum. it is a very good cooking basil, though. richo
Hi, thank you so much for an informative article! I was wondering if all types of tulsi have the same health benefits? If not, what are the differences and which one would be considered the most beneficial? Looking for one(s) to help with flu symptoms/cough. Thank you in advance!
Probably your best choices for medicinal use are: rama, krishna and amrita.
Awesome, thank you! 🙂
I just ordered Tulsi Vana for medicinal will that work ?
hello elaine, yes, of course. richo
i grow 2 basil which suppose to be rama, but it look differently, 1 have green leaf with green stem, the other one green leaf with PURPLE stem. The scent the leaf with PURPLE stem color, is much stronger, and the taste with strong similar to cloves
Hello BB, There is quite a bit of variation in the tulsi cultivars, and naming is only approximate. That sounds like the standard deviance from the norm. Rama usually has a green leaf and purple stem.
thanks richo! i wonder if you know or grown amrita tulsi?
Hello BB, Yes, we introduced this variety to the USA. It is basically an uncommonly vigorous form of RAMA tulsi. We are growing it again this year and so far this is our best year ever on tulasi cultivars.
Hi, just want to let you know that I bought the tulsi seed set and almost all sprouted. Now I have so many different tulsis to try. Can’t wait for harvesting ?
I had good luck with the tulsi set this year, too. Thanks for the positive note!
Dear Richo, Hope all is well on your end (in this time of coronavirus). I have few questions, firstly I am from India. I have plenty of Vana and Rama tulsi growing in my house. I was only using Rama tulsi leaves till now for making my tea, and interestingly I have never seen flowers on rama tulsi.Although vana tulsi has lots of flowers on them. Please guide me which tulsi and what part of the tulsi plant should be used in making tulsi concoctions / elixir?
Thank you for contacting. We are well and with the grace of God still able to work hard to disseminate seeds and healing plants to the people. In Ayurveda, all parts of the tulasi are used–leaf and flower, stem and root, seed. All have different applications. The leaves are mainly used. You don’t really have to pick them off individually, you can just harvest the top 1/3 of the plant and hang to dry, then rub to remove stems and use the dried, broken leaves for tea. Another option is to eat a fresh leaf daily, which I understand is AMMA’s advice. I think if the Rama tulsi is planted to the garden it will eventually flower, and from there make seed, and then you can collect some seed and replant in season.
I’m growing some seeds I got from a woman and she is saying they are ocium kilimandscharium…. I’ll keep you updated on what it turns out like and I saved some seeds back for safe keeping.
Hi Richo! I just found your blog, and I’m hoping you can help me, and perhaps others. I purchased one small plant a few years back at a flea market, while out of town. It was just labeled “Holy Basil”. I thought I would try it since I’m a basil enthusiast. I placed it in a large raised planter and it took off like mad smothering out the rest of the plants! As it began flowering, I noticed the intoxicating sweet clove-ish fragrance! It would hit me the moment I stepped out of my house. The single plant grew quite large and bushy (24″ x 36″ or more with frequent pruning), and the pollinators enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ve been trying to identify the type ever since, so I can get my hands on the seeds. I’ve purchase a few seeds and plants, but they were not this one. Each year, I have ended up with one or two plants coming up from seed in random places, but I want to plant a mass of them. Do you have any idea what this may be? I don’t believe it gets any or much purple on the leaves, but they’re slightly fuzzy (I’ve ended up buying some holy basil plants with smooth, glossier leaves). I think the calyxes are purple with white or pinkish flowers, and It blooms pretty aggressively. Can you help?
Yes, this would be Temperate Tulsi (Ocimum africanum).
I need some info re the 3 holy basils. I have dropped like $50+ on various tulsi “teas” that are universally not any good. I don’t know if they’re faked, adulterated, or just so old they’ve lost their flavor but it looks like I have to grow my own as the only decent Tulsi tea is found at Trader Joe’s and there are no Trader Joe’s where I’m going.
The one thing I remember for sure about Tulsi tea is that it tastes of cloves. I’m talking Tulsi tea made for me by my mother-in-law in Vijayawada. Trader Joe’s has that authentic flavor. NONE of the tulsi teas I’ve bought recently have much of any flavor at all, let alone that clove-like flavor I associate with Tulsi tea. Please please please please please discuss the flavor profiles of the holy basils (temperate doesn’t count) and how early you need to start them, relative to ground temp or last frost or whatever is appropriate. Also no analysis for the Amrita? Do you know its eugenol levels?
The relative concentration of eugenol will vary depending on harvest time, with higher essential oil content as the plants go to flower. Much commercial tulsi is misidentified. Vana tulsi is highest in eugenol, then rama (amrita tests the same as rama, it is closely allied to rama), then krishna. Despite lower eugenol content, krishna is considered by many to be strongest in effect.
True tulsi can be very slow to start and once planted to the field they don’t put on much growth until the soil truly warms up. A possible scenario would be to start indoors (greenhouse or lights) March 1, prick to pots April 1 and set to field June 1. Keep the potted plants pruned back if they look like they’re going to flower. Try to keep the plants growing on at a consistent rate. If the cycles are missed the plants won’t amount to much. If you hit the cycles they can be very prolific producers of leaf.
Marc here again. What I have read about the correct holy basil for Thai cooking is RAMA. Rama claims to have the redish stems. With all the replies to my original post, I still do t have the answer. If Rama is the strain I want, 2here can I get Rama plants? I failed miserably at growing Tulsi fro seeds.
Hi Marc, I do think you can use any of the holy basils in thai cooking with various tastes as a result. The basil that is normally used in Gai Pad Gra Pow is a thai basil called kha-prao which actually is not rama tulsi but is similar. We will be carrying the rama tulsi on an ongoing basis, but yes, I see that the plants are out of stock again at http://www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com. Please check back in the spring. Richo
I am growing holy basil for use in Thai cooking. None of the recipes I have seen specifically say which strain of holy basil to use Thai Basil Chicken). My plants are gorgeous and quite tasty. No tag on these plants to offer the strain. The leaves are green and jagged, but the stems are not purple. What do I have and what do I want?
The Kha-prao is a red/purple strain from thailand. We don’t specifically have this one. Any of the basils can be used. Sounds like you have temperate tulsi (Ocimum africanum). Richo
Which Tulsi would you recommend for Thai cooking? It’s also called Ocimum tenuiflorum, Ocimum sanctum and Krapow, so it’s confusing since there are so many of the tenuiflorum.
Right, Krapow is very good, a reddish type, tasty in thai dishes. I would actually recommend Basil Thai (Ocimum basilicum) for this, either that or mrihani. Krishna tulsi looks similar but the taste is different.
Question about cross pollination: Does regular basils and tulsi basil cross pollinate?
Actually they are different species and don’t easily hybridize. Here’s a small secret: We’ve all experienced unwanted cross-pollination (hybridization) with squash, for instance, where that big volunteer plant refuses to make honeyboats and makes spaghetti instead. OK, understood. But actually hybridization among native land races of different species of medicinal herbs hardly ever happens. More to the point of your question, the tropical tulsi cultivars (O. tenuiflorum) will cross with eachother but not with O. basilicum.
Hi Richo I hope you are doing well. I was wondering if you new of Thai Holy basil crossing with lemon basil before. I got some seeds from real Thai holy basil from a Thai lady at my local farmers market. I was talking to her about how I like to hybridize basil and she mentioned she had heard of Thai holy basil crossing with lemon basil.
Also, I know for sure I have got Temperate Tulsi to cross with basilicum basils, which turns out to be great because Temperate Tulsi is immune to basil downy mildew. Do you know if Temperate Tulsi will cross with O. Tenuiflorum? Also thank you for the Zanzibar Lime basil seeds it is a great plant! I grew it next to a bunch of types of basil last year and am hoping to luck out with some hybrids.
Thanks for this communication. Its too hard for me to say, given that the Latin hasn’t been included and so I’m really not sure what is meant by, for instance “Thai Holy Basil” or “Lemon Basil.” Some investigators are calling Ocimum africanum “lemon basil,” which really muddies the picture. Look at the Latin. If you have 2 different varieties of Ocimum tenuiflorum, then crossing is possible. If you have an Ocimum sanctum and an Ocimum basilicum, then crossing is less likely. My zanzibar lime basil is a typoe of kivumbasi–Ocimum africanum–it is indeed a great plant. Richo
Hi Richo Thanks for the reply. After looking at the seeded flower I was given I believe the Thai Holy basil must be a Ocimum Sanctum ( which is the same as tenuiflorum?). I believe the lemon basil she was referring to might be a Ocimum Canum.
I also see Ocimum africanum as lemon basil. Is that accurate of are these two different subspecies?
Right, Lemon Basil is one of the historical names for O. africanum and not a good choice since a (different) plant is currently in commerce called “lemon basil.” We ran the temperate tulsi for genetic analysis and it came up O. africanum. Richo
Hi Richo, my daughter is planning a trip to Bali and is concerned about the diseases there. Would Holy Basil be a good herb for her to drink every day? Any other suggestions? Thank you. Debbie
herbalists use oregon grape tincture to treat questionable drinking water
Do you have analytical test results for Eugenol & Rosmarinic Acid in your Amrita Tulsi?
Hi Beth, YEs, we’ve looked at this one, also. It is the same genetic line as Krishna Tulsi, the analysis shows very similar results. Richo
Hello Richo, thank you for all the good information here. I’m not a big constituent guy, but I noticed the temperate tulsi, in your testing, has a remarkably lower Eugenol content. Do you find that this one maybe has a gentler action? This “kapoor” tulsi is the only one I’ve grown, and it is very fruity compared to the others, as you said.
Good point, there are a large number of constituents in there that we’re not even reporting on. Temperate tulsi (sold previously as “kapoor”) is gentler than the other tulsis. It is very kind to the tastebuds, though!
Ahh yes, thank you. I have mostly drank the Temperate tulsi that I grew, but recently been enjoying the spicyness of the Indian Tulsa’s. Thank you.
You only mention using the leaves. Are the flowers not to be used for teas or tinctures as well? What if we have been using both dried leaves and dried flowers?
Hello Jeanne, Thank you, yes, the flowers are good, as well. I think what it comes down to is, that to make the most of your plant, harvest is made just prior to flowering, which gives the plant time to reset and make more leaves, and then flowers. Once the plant goes to flower the leaf mass lessens.
Excellent! Thank you, Richo! I do enjoy letting a large patch go to flower since the bees (and I!!) love it so! ??
thank you for all information that you shared. before finding your blog, I’ve just searching everywhere and nobody know the difference between rama and kapoor(temperate) tulsi.
i wish you the best.
We ran the temperate tulsi (which was misnomered kapoor at one point) for genetic analysis and it came back Ocimum africanum.
Do those of your family who may be pregnant and breastfeeding still drink this tea every day?
Hi,i have bought some ‘Tulsi Patta’ leaves/Tea from an Indian supplier and unsure as to whether it’s the same as -‘Tulsi/Ocimum Sanctum’ ,
Can you help me to discern the two?
Tulsi patta simply means tulsi leaves. the leaf is the part usually used for making the tea. I wouldn’t get too caught up in all the naming–holy basil, tulsi, Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuiflorum–it is all more or less the same thing, with the one caveat that there are many different cultivars.