Adaptogens: Exploring the benefits and properties of Tulsi
Ayurveda recommends the incorporation of herbs when necessary along one’s journey toward health. Plants are regarded in Ayurveda as medicine capable of supporting, nourishing, and healing us in a number of different ways. Though Ayurveda believes the body is capable on its own of achieving optimal health, herbs are commonly used as part of an overall holistic approach to keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance.
There are hundreds of herbs that can be found in Ayurveda’s vast collection. Among them is a smaller group of “superstar herbs” that are used widely and offer a myriad of benefits. Super herbs all contain sattvic energy (a Sanskrit word meaning purity and wholeness), which encourages clarity, compassion, and calm in those who consume them.
Included in this group of super herbs is tulsi, one of the most revered herbs in Ayurveda. It’s native to India where it’s considered a great healer and is grown in nearly every Hindu household. But before we dig into this magical adaptogenic herb, let’s explore what an adaptogen is in the first place.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plant derived elements or “herbal pharmaceuticals” that have been used for thousands of years in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. They offer a host of benefits and are best known for their ability to counteract stress in the body caused by both internal and environmental sources.
From coffee, sugar, TV, social media distractions, exercise, drugs, alcohol, and more, many of us are highly adept at finding and using various solutions to combat stress in the body. Put simply: we really don’t like stress, and we’ll try a number of things to relieve its exhausting effect.
However, many of our common remedies are harmful for the body, thus contributing in the long run to the stress that we’re trying to alleviate in the first place.
Thankfully, we have access to plants all around us that support and nourish us in many ways, including stress relief. Adaptogens have been around for millennia and are a significantly healthy and beneficial remedy to treat stress.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
As its name states, adaptogens help us adapt to life’s stress by bringing the body back into balance. This happens through their ability to normalize the adrenal system, which is responsible for managing the body’s hormonal response to stress.
Interestingly, adaptogenic herbs often grow in some of the most inhospitable and stressful conditions on the planet. This is believed to give them their own stress-fighting and adaptation abilities, which they impart to us.
Adaptogens work in the body in a similar way as a thermostat in a room. A thermostat reads the room’s temperature and then responds based on what the room needs. If it’s too hot, the thermostat cools the room down; if it’s too cold then the heat kicks in. Similarly, adaptogens have an amazing ability to read the body and bring it into balance. They can both calm or enhance one’s energy (without overstimulating the body) depending on one’s needs.
Some of Ayurvedic’s more popular adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, brahmi, amalaki, guduchi, licorice, bacopa, shatavari, moringa, and the one and only tulsi.
Tulsi in Focus
Tulsi has been a principal herb in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It goes by many names including “Holy Basil,” “Elixir of Life,” and “Queen of Herbs,” and it translates from Sanskrit as “the incomparable one.”
Tulsi is considered the most sacred plant on earth in the ancient Vedic texts and has a special religious significance. In Indian scriptures, it’s said that tulsi was originally a devotee of Lord Vishnu who then reincarnated into the tulsi plant to express her love. It’s even believed that the countryside was filled with blooming tulsi after Christ’s crucifixion.
…Clearly, tulsi is one for the gods. And its plethora of benefits have been praised by many societies dating back thousands of years. Today, many people in India grow this plant in the courtyards of their homes to purify the environment and to offer gratitude during daily worship. It’s also sometimes used in the East during wedding ceremonies and at one’s deathbed. More commonly, tulsi is consumed as an herb for it’s wide range of benefits.
Benefits of Tulsi
As an adaptogen, tulsi is especially effective at combating stress in the body. But as a divine plant, this herb offers an entire platter of benefits and supportive qualities.
Tulsi has a high nutritional value and contains vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc, iron, and chlorophyll. It’s also sattvic in nature, meaning it’s infused with the qualities of lightness, clarity, intelligence, compassion, and wisdom. Because of this, tulsi has the power to increase ojas (the subtle essence of the physical body) and prana (the vital life force in everything). Without getting too caught up in these two complex terms, it’s important to know that ojas is directly linked to the immune system and prana is responsible for the life-force of the body.
Tulsi has light, warm, and clarifying qualities that help to reduce kapha in the mind and body, which is especially beneficial during the current kapha season of Spring. Its warming nature balances excess vata or kapha and is beneficial to just about everyone, though it should be combined with cooling herbs for people with high pitta.
Other benefits include:
- Reduces stress; produces a calming effect on the body
- Brings lightness and clarity to mind
- Reduces kapha in body and mind
- Calms a nervous or agitated vata or pitta
- Promotes healthy and uncongested breathing
- Soothes vata in digestive tract
- Promotes healthy circulation
- Strengthens immunity
There are many creative ways to incorporate holy basil into your life. A few simple and common ways are by drinking tulsi tea (made by mixing powdered tulsi with hot water or pouring the water over dried tulsi), consuming tulsi tablets, or applying it topically with massage oils during abhyanga (self-massage). Tulsi is also an ingredient in several ZV Botanicals products including zCHILL massage oil and tincture, zMAGIC salve, and zLIFT massage oil.
The benefits of tulsi extend far and wide. This plant is nothing short of amazing. It’s really not surprising that it has been named “the incomparable one” and is referred to as “the Queen of herbs.” Without a doubt, holy basil can benefit everyone.
As we see in tulsi and the vast collection of herbs in general, nature is here to support and nourish us. We are surrounded by plants that are not only visually and aromatically appealing but are blooming with medicinal properties. We can’t usually see these healing qualities with our eyes alone, but their therapeutic magic works in our bodies in profound ways.
Adaptogens are a particularly important group of herbs that can bring us back into balance, which many of us need in today’s high-stress culture. With awareness and gratitude, we can incorporate plants like tulsi into our lives to experience optimal health. It’s not the healing that’s most difficult, but rather our willingness to recognize and accept the help that nature has, and will continue, to provide as long as they exist.