As the name would imply, holy basil has spiritual as well as medicinal significance in Ayurveda. In Hindu mythology, the plant is an incarnation of the goddess Tulsi, offering divine protection. Many Indian families keep a living holy basil plant in their homes, and tend to it with great care and reverence. The plant’s woody stalks are often made into beads used in meditation malas or rosaries.
Although basil is found on every continent, holy basil is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It is a bushy shrub that grows to about 18 inches in height. Its leaves are oval and serrated, with colors ranging from light green to dark purple, depending on the variety. In the wild, holy basil is an annual, but it can be kept as a perennial by trimming it before it forms seeds. The plant has delicate lavender-colored flowers, and its fruit consists of tiny rust-colored nuts.