Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Holy Shiite: A more in depth look at an ancient Indian tea


  While volunteering on a weekly basis, I was constantly missing huge pieces of the farming puzzle including many stages of plant development from seed to harvest which left me with an incomplete feeling.  I could read and talk about what was happening while I was sitting behind my desk Cubing in Rockefeller Plaza, but to me theorizing never feels as good as the real thing...experiencing something for myself.  Similar to a classroom, without real world application, it's all just an idea and not a reality.  So after a year of thinking, reading, listening and dreaming, I'm finally getting my first taste of what it's like to care for these plants through each stage of growth.  Holy basil (AKA Sacred Basil or Tulsi) is a plant that caught my palette from first steep.  Difficult to walk past without stopping to stare at it's beauty and stature.  Although attention grabbing, it wasn't until I finally got to work hands on with this ancient Indian panacea that I learned that the real power was actually found...

in the leaves and buds, not in the flowers.  Similar to why we pull garlic scapes off of garlic plants, it's important to focus the energy of the plant on what we want to consume rather than its goal of reproduction.  By preventing the holy basil plant from flowering and seeding we are containing the essential oils and energy in the leaves and buds of which the tea is processed.  In order to flower and seed, a plant, like a person, must exert an intense amount of energy and with that much focus and attention on one task, the plant actually reduces the potency of its leave's medicinal qualities (just think about how much energy you use when you're trying to seed).

In addition to increasing medicinal energy, we will get a greater number of harvests from one plant by harvesting it on a regular basis.  Each harvest sends a signal to the plant to reproduce, sometimes stronger and faster than its initial growth.  In order to maintain the holy basil plant as well as most other bushy herbs like other basils, mints, lemon verbena, thyme, oregano, sage and others we want to nip the buds before they flower and reduce the plant to a shorter more contracted muffin-like state, as the Captain likes to call it.  Although this may seem drastic, the holy basil plants appreciate this aggressive attention and seem to come back with increased force.  We are currently able to nip these plants about twice a week for processing.

We then document the raw weight and take them up to the drying room.  It's amazing to see that a whole bin full of holy basil will be reduced down to a fraction of its weight when dried.  We leave the tea sitting on metal screens in a dark room with good air circulation. A dehydrator is another good option to speed up the process, but may cost more than the simple screen drying technique.  

Cardboard also works because of its porous nature, but not as effectively.  

After 3 or 4 days, when the leaves are fully dried, the tea team rubs the dried leaves through a much smaller screen separating the leaves and the stems.  Stems always seem to get the short end of the stick, one day someone has got to find something to do with them all...

As you can see, if we are not constantly watching these little buds, they will get ahead of us and start flowering in every direction.

A medicinal herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae) that is not only a delicious tea, but has been known to assist with what seems to be most medical issues from the common cold to heat disorders, stress, kidney stones, coughs, sore throats, bug bites, eye disorders, teeth problems, skin disorders and others.  Like a ancient Robitussin or something. Although there are no guarantees, why not give some holy basil a shot.  Even if you're not feeling sick it tastes great and can increase your well being and immune system.



  1. I think giving a try this holy basil is great idea. No harm in trying. I do believe that herbal medicines are effective in many ways. This holy basil is great to cure a different health issues like cold to heat disorders, stress, kidney stones, coughs, sore throats, bug bites, eye disorders, teeth problems, skin disorders and others.

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    1. Yes Bella, Holy Basil is known to have lots of different healing qualities, but unlike pharmaceuticals, they don't seem to be the type of medicine you can take one time when you are feeling ill. I believe you want to incorporate herbal teas, such as holy basil into your everyday routine when you think these issues may begin to affect you. Not only will the plant's medicinal qualities help, but the intention put into the practice of acknowledging your issue and being aware can help too.

      Keep us posted.

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