Friday, September 24, 2010

Fresh Tulsi (Holy Basil) Tea

I make fresh herbal tea from home-grown herbs all the time. My favorite ingredients are spearmint, lemon balm, apple mint, and peppermint, roughly in that order. More recently, I discovered the joys of the Monarda sp., orange mint, and a number of other mint-family plants. Yet there is another herb in the mint family that I have fallen in love with for its use in herbal teas. This is tulsi, also known as holy basil, scientific name Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum. I first tried Tulsi when I ordered some from Upton Tea Imports. Interestingly, this tea is one of the relatively small number of teas that has already received several reviews on RateTea (read the reviews, including mine).

It was not until several months later that I tried brewing tea from the fresh leaves of the tulsi plant. I discovered the plant growing in an edible garden at Michigan State University in East Lansing, while visiting a friend there on my trip across the midwest. The garden had just about every variety of basil that I had ever tried or heard of, and countless more I had never encountered before. Besides nibbling on a myriad of basils of all different sizes, shapes, and colors, I took the opportunity to gather enough tulsi for a single cup--it was quite plentiful and I couldn't even notice that any had been taken. The picture above is of the first cup of fresh Tulsi tea that I have ever brewed.

About the same time, and unbeknownst to me, my parents had obtained some tulsi seeds, and were growing it in their own garden. I have since been able to taste tulsi grown in their garden, and theirs is very similar. In both cases, the tulsi was the green-leafed variety.

What does it taste like?

Fresh tulsi tea is very different from dried tulsi (in my opinion, more than fresh mint tea is different from dried mint tea), but is still easily recognizable as the same plant. In both cases I brewed the fresh leaf by pouring boiling water over the leaves directly in a cup, and then steeping for at least 8 minutes. The aroma is much less suggestive of spice, and, as is typical of a fresh herbal tea, was significantly more vegetal. I enjoyed this, however: it imparted a lighter characteristic to the drink. The dominance of clove in the aroma is still noticable, but I find that in the fresh tulsi, the clove was more balanced with other aromas. There was also a bit of a muted peppery quality absent from the dried herb. I found the fresh tulsi tea also left a richer aftertaste.

Holy basil is known to have a number of medicinal properties, and among them, it has a noticeable relaxing effect. I found this to also be the case with the fresh tea.

So what's the bottom line? I think holy basil is a great option for making fresh herbal tea. My parents prefer to blend it with mint, whereas I prefer to drink it on its own. And according to my parents, it's also easy to grow, significantly easier than sweet basil, and they live in Pennsylvania, which has a very different climate from Tulsi's native habitat. The seeds can be hard to obtain, but if you can get your hands on some seeds or some plants, you might want to give it a try.


  1. I'm with you on the Tulsi tea. Dried i kind of nice, but fresh is better. Orange mint is my all time favorite of the mints. A pleasant treat is yogurt, cut up orange and orangemint. This usually had with Indian food as a raita, to cool your tongue, but it is quite good on its own. It is best with Greek yogurt, as this is closer to Indian - nice and thick and creamy

  2. That sounds really good. I often mix plain yogurt with spearmint or orange mint on my own. For some reason, orange mint loves my garden here in Delaware, whereas spearmint struggles a bit. I haven't figured out why? At my parent's house in PA, they both do well, but the spearmint has tended to do better than the orange mint.

  3. do you crush/treat up the leaves or just use them whole?

    1. When brewing the tea fresh, I just keep them whole. You can sometimes get the leaf to infuse faster if you crush up the leaf, but I find it works fine without doing this.

      When drying tulsi, I try to keep the leaf as intact as possible, but again, it doesn't matter hugely, as I find it stores relatively well even when finely broken.

  4. How many leaves doe you use at a time, and will it work in a metal tea container boiled in water?

    1. I use a much larger volume of leaves when brewing it fresh, compared to using it dried. I think this is both because the fresh leaf is harder to extract flavor from, and because there is a large water content of the fresh leaf so the flavor isn't as concentrated.

      As to how many, I don't really's too many to really count, I just grab a big bunch. It takes up many times as much space as a teaspoon of dry leaf though, which is what I normally use when I brew the dried herb.

      I think it would work fine being brewed in a metal container. My preferred method for fresh herbs is steeping them in a pot on the stove, but in the picture here I just poured water directly on the leaves in a mug, and it came out just fine.