Ocimum tenuiflorum (also known as Ocimum sanctum, and Tulasī (तुलसी) in Sanskrit and Hindi), (തുളസി) in Malayalam, (துளசி) in Tamil, (ತುಳಸಿ) in Kannada, is a well known aromatic plant in the family Lamiaceae. It is known across South Asia as a medicinal plant, and has an important role within the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism, in which devotees perform worship involving Tulasi plants or leaves. Native to India, it is a small herb or shrub, having long lives (some plants are known to have been in the families since 3-4 generations.) The foliage is green or purple, strongly scented. Leaves have petioles, and are ovate, up to 5cm long, usually somewhat toothed. Flowers are white, tinged purple, borne in racemes.
Its close cousin, the Thai Basil, Ocimum basilicum L or Ocimum sanctum, are sometimes wrongly called Hindu Holy Basil in shops and on the internet, but they can be distinguished by their very different aroma and flavour. Hindu Holy Basil is slightly hairy, whereas Thai Basil is smooth and hairless; Hindu Holy Basil does not have the strong aniseed or licorice smell of Thai Basil; and Hindu Holy Basil has a spicy flavor sometimes compared to cloves.
Tulasi in scripture
A number of passages in the Puranas and other scriptures, point to the importance of tulsi within religious worship. Tulasi is regarded as a goddess (an avatar of Lakshmi) and a consort of Vishnu. A garland of tulasi leaves is the first offering to the Lord as part of the daily ritual. Tulsi is accorded the sixth place among the eight objects of worship in the ritual of the consecration of the kalasha, the container of holy water.
According to one story, Tulasi was a gopi who fell in love with Krishna and so had a curse laid on her by His consort Radha. She is very dear to Vishnu. Tulsi is also mentioned in the stories of Mira and Radha immortalised in Jayadeva's Gita Govinda. One story has it that when Krishna was weighed in gold, not even all the ornaments of His consort Satyabhama could outweigh Him. But a single tulsi leaf placed on one side by his consort Rukmini tilted the scale.
Tulsi is ceremonially married to Vishnu annually on the eleventh bright day of the month of Kaartika in the lunisolar calendar. This festival continues for five days and concludes on the full moon day, which falls in mid-October. This ritual, called the "Tulsi Vivaha", inaugurates the annual marriage season in India.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsi
Divyang A. Pandya