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THE GLOBAL GARDEN

Holy basil: Grow your own pesto with punch

By Jeff Spurrier

8:55 AM PDT, October 30, 2012

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For most gardeners, basil is a wonderful harbinger of summer, but in India a variety known as holy basil, or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), is grown year-round.

Basils have been cultivated in India for more than 5,000 years, for culinary and medicinal uses. Holy basil is far more aromatic and sharper in taste than the sweet Italian basils, so in cooking, it can be used in far smaller quantities. Even then, the flavor may be too intense for some palates.

Not to be confused with Thai basil, holy basil is used in teas and in herbal Ayurvedic medicine. Farmers add dried leaves to grain to keep out pests.

Unlike Italian basil, holy basil can be an evergreen perennial that gets tall and bushy. Its thick stem is cut and formed into beads worn by followers of Rama, one of the incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Finding a seedling can be tricky. There are two main varieties, red and green, both easily grown from seeds. Among the sources: seedsofindia.com and seedsofchange.com.

Seeds can be started in a pot or in the ground. Be careful not to cover the seeds with too much soil because they need light for germination. Transplant the seedlings into an area with good sun but some shade, and keep the soil moist during hot spells. Pinching the top will result in bigger, fatter leaves.

The Global Garden, our series looking at our multicultural city through the lens of its landscapes, appears here on Tuesdays. We welcome story suggestions at home@latimes.com.