Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Q&A About Drying & Blending Holy Basil (Tulsi) for Tea

I received the following inquiry through the contact form on RateTea:

... I have grown some holy basil (tulsi) to make my own tea (...) Should I dry the leaves or just use them in their natural state? (...) how mush leaf to make one cup of tea? (...) how long should the leaves steep? If I dry, should I crush the leaf into powder or just roughly (since I won't be using tea bags)? Can I dry in the microwave oven or should I use a dehydrator? After drying, how long can I store (in glass jars) before they go stale? Should the tea be consumed straight, or is it OK to mix with other teas?

I'm not the most authoritative source on this topic but I did the best to come up with an answer. After writing a response, I realized it might be useful to share my response publicly. I've edited the response slightly since then.

My answer:

I'm afraid I can't answer all your questions definitively but I can make a pretty good guess/recommendation. Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a close relative of basil. I have had Holy Basil tea both fresh and dried. You can definitely make tea out of it fresh by steeping the fresh leaves in boiling water. Drying is mainly done to preserve the leaf, but it may concentrate some of the flavors. It does taste different fresh. I know nothing about differences in medicinal effects fresh or dry--and there is probably little known about this. Much of what has been studied scientifically has been on ethanol extracts of the dried plant.

How to dry? There are different ways to dry but I would recommend against drying in the Microwave. Usually you want to dry in a warm, dry, dark area--away from humidity and sunlight. However, drying in a bright area can be okay if it's done quickly. Too much exposure to sunlight breaks down certain chemicals. If you want a quick dry, you could try heating an oven to a very low temperature. But even this might cause some volatile oils to escape or break down, or cause the herb to burn/char. Experiment. My best luck with drying herbs has been to place them in a paper bag at the top of my furnace/hot-water-heater closet--which is warm and dry year-round--I'm lucky enough to have a room like that where I live. I've also successfully dried some herbs, including holy basil, in a sunny room though.

About blending, holy basil is very good on its own but also good to mix or blend. Commonly, holy basil is blended with black tea, but more creative blends are possible and can be delicious. One company that has done this extensively is Organic India; you might want to browse their listings to get some ideas.

If you're blending it for medicinal purposes and not just for a beverage, you would want to consult an herbalist or medical professional, preferably someone who knows something about Ayurveda--many western herb books don't even mention holy basil because it has not been widely known in the west until recently.

Lastly, about storing, when drying your own herbs, making sure they are completely dry is crucial. Herbs should be stored in an airtight container to preserve aroma, but if they have any moisture in them, they can quickly mold and/or break down in unpleasant ways. I have found that basil loses its flavor more quickly than tea. As a spice, I generally do not like using basil dried for this reason. However, my experience with holy basil to make tulsi tea has been that it keeps much better, and is similar to tea (staying fresh 1-2 years and then only losing flavor slowly). And, as I have mentioned on RateTea's page on storing tea, if you use glass jars, keep them out of sunlight, as sunlight can break down chemicals in the dry leaf.

Further Reading:

For more information on drying herbs, I found this useful resource: How do I dry? - National Center for Home Food Preservation. It provides some very useful tips.

No comments:

Post a Comment