Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Love at first smell (and sight)

Absorbed in deep communion during a Plant Initiation Weekend, I was seeking to meet the spirit of Tulsi. A lovely spicy aroma began to envelop me, then I saw her. She was dancing. Green robes and gold swirled, moving and spinning a little like the ballerina in your first jewelry box. Tulsi danced in a shaft of gold-green light, clearly enjoying herself immensely.

She looked at me with a sparkle in her emerald eyes, and said “So, what shall it be today?”

I was smitten – enchanted – and remain so to this day. 

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you. You can read my full disclaimer here


Tulsi is a powerful medicinal and culinary plant. Also known as Holy Basil or Sacred Basil, it has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, which is a traditional system of medicine that includes yoga therapy that originated in India. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, the word “Tulsi” means “the incomparable one”. 

This blog post will explore the integrative nature of Tulsi and how it can benefit your overall health and well-being.  We’ll review the integrative biochemical properties as well as an Ayurvedic health and metaphysical perspective.  Tulsi’s natural rhythms and abilities can synchronize with your own internal biological clocks, much like nature’s timekeepers, the solstice and equinox. Each of these aspects of The Incomparable One can help you to maintain a calm balance in our hectic modern world. 

Biochemical & Genetic Properties of Tulsi

Tulsi holds immense spiritual significance. It also possesses a range of powerful biochemical properties. Let’s delve into Tulsi’s composition and explore its health-enhancing properties.  Those properties create an impressive array of effects on your physiological systems.

Chemical & Genetic Composition of Tulsi

Sacred Basil contains numerous bioactive compounds that contribute to its therapeutic potential. It contains essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, phenolic compounds, and vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Its essential oil is a rich source of bioactive compounds, such as camphor, eucalyptol, eugenol, alpha-bisabolene, beta-bisabolene, and beta-caryophyllene. The complex composition of the plant taken in the whole form is what provides Tulsi’s unique range of benefits. The whole genome of Holy Basil is available, and sequence analysis suggests that compounds in the herb interact with genes for metabolite synthesis pathways in a variety of helpful ways. 

Tulsi the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant & adaptogen

Holy Basil leaf extract has topical and systemic antimicrobial-antibacterial properties. Due to the great variety of phytonutrients (plant nutrients), it acts as an adaptogen, meaning that it works in a variety of ways in a variety of pathways to establish or maintain homeostasis (balance).

A key reason for Tulsi’s widespread use is its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids and phenolic phytocompounds have antioxidant activity, which helps combat oxidative stress and the damage caused by too many free radicals (oxygenated species naturally created by metabolism that the body clears – in part with an antioxidant-rich diet) in the body. By neutralizing excessive free radicals, Tulsi supports cellular health and so helps prevent various chronic diseases.

In addition to its antioxidant effects, Tulsi also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. The active compounds (eugenol and linolenic acid, among others) in Tulsi help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. This anti-inflammatory action can help calm symptoms associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and promote overall well-being.

Like other whole foods, Tulsi’s complex nutritional phytochemistry (plant-chemistry) creates a multifaceted profile of health-promoting properties. That’s what food-as-medicine is all about. 

Tulsi in Ayurveda

The Ayurvedic system recognizes the holistic nature of health and well-being.  Ayurveda and other holistic indigenous systems are the original integrative medicine – and the original food-as-medicine science. The elegant system of Ayurvedic nutrition relies on mindful seasonal whole-food eating and uses tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent & astringent) to balance the elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) within an individual.  Tulsi is valued for its medicinal properties to support the mind, body, and spirit in a food-as-medicine approach

Ayurvedic classification & actions

In Ayurveda, Tulsi is thought to promote longevity and rejuvenation, so it’s classified as a “rasayana” herb. It is also classified as a “tikta” herb, which means it has a bitter taste. It is considered “ushna” (hot) in potency. 

These qualities make Tulsi beneficial for balancing the Kapha and Vata doshas (Ayurvedic constitutions).  Doshas are the energies derived from elemental makeup responsible for an individual maintaining physiological, psychological, and whole-being balance. Tulsi is known to pacify (balance) excess Kapha and Vata. The plant is said to enhance the flow of prana, or life force energy, through the body, helping to promote physical and emotional well-being.

Metaphysics of Tulsi

Sacred Basil is believed to have metaphysical (beyond or outside material reality) properties and is a potent integrative medicinal herb. In Ayurveda Tulsi is considered to have a divine essence that can purify the mind, physical body, and soul.

Tulsi is a powerful tool for meditation as it helps to clear the mind and increase focus. It is associated with the element of fire, which represents transformation and purification in Ayurveda and other indigenous traditions.

Tulsi & Lakshmi

The plant is believed to have originated from the tears of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and is an earthly embodiment of her divine energy of abundance, healing, beauty, and goodwill. It is often used in rituals to honor Lakshmi and to seek her blessings for wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. Sacred Basil is also associated with Lord Vishnu (the protector and defender of the universe in balance), who is believed to reside in the plant in the form of his consort, Lakshmi.

The story of Tulsi is closely linked to the important Hindu epic, Ramayana. In the story, Lakshmi is the wife of a demon named Jalandhar, who is eventually and dramatically defeated by Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi is heartbroken by the loss of her husband and curses Lord Vishnu. As a result of her curse, Vishnu is forced to take birth on earth as Lord Rama and undergo the trials and tribulations of mortal life. Later, Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu fall madly in love. So yes, it’s complicated but passionate. 

Here they are. 

Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu

Effects of Tulsi on Physiological Systems

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi system benefits

Tulsi in Integrative Medicine 

Holy Basil’s complex biochemistry as well as its metaphysical benefits make it a compelling adjunct to a number of Western integrative therapies, in addition to being a central herb in Ayurveda. 

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi & Immune Health

One of the key benefits of Tulsi is its ability to strengthen and regulate the immune system. This herb contains powerful bioactive compounds that enhance the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Tulsi is rich in antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenols, which help to neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. By reducing oxidative stress, Tulsi supports a healthy immune response and helps to protect against infections and diseases.

Additionally, Tulsi possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that can help fight against various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It acts as a natural immunomodulator, regulating immune function and promoting a balanced immune response. Regular consumption of Tulsi can strengthen your immune system and possibly improve your body’s ability to ward off illnesses.

Anti-cancer Properties of Tulsi

Research suggests that Tulsi may also exhibit anti-cancer properties, making it a valuable herb in cancer prevention and management. Studies have shown that Tulsi extracts can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells, and even induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in certain types of cancer. The active compounds found in Tulsi, such as eugenol, rosmarinic acid, and apigenin, possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help protect cells from DNA damage and inhibit tumor formation.

Additionally, Tulsi has been found to enhance the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while also minimizing their side effects. Its natural compounds can help protect healthy cells from damage and improve overall treatment outcomes. While more research is needed, Tulsi shows promising potential as an adjunct therapy in cancer prevention and treatment.

Tulsi, Stress & Cortisol

In our fast-paced lives, stress and anxiety seem to be the price of the full and busy lives we often lead.  Fortunately, Sacred Basil can help us find balance and serenity amidst the chaos. Let’s delve into the use of Tulsi in managing stress and anxiety, exploring its impact on cortisol levels, weight management, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and blood pressure.

When we experience stress, our adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone with far-reaching effects on many of your body’s systems. Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to various health challenges, including weight gain, hormonal imbalances like PCOS, and high blood pressure. Tulsi’s adaptogenic action assists in regulating cortisol levels, promoting a healthy stress response, and restoring neurological and metabolic equilibrium. 

Sacred Basil is also known to have an uplifting effect on mood and cognitive function. It can help improve focus, concentration, and mental clarity, making it an excellent herb for supporting healthful behavior change and overall mental well-being.

Additionally, Tulsi has shown promise in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Tulsi’s adaptogenic properties aid in reducing stress and its impact on blood pressure, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.

Beyond medicine, Sacred Basil also has benefits for skin, hair and overall beauty. You’ll find it in a range of beauty products. Given its myriad actions, it just makes sense. 

Awarenesses & contra-indications 

Tulsi is not to be taken by individuals who are pregnant or lactating.  If you plan to take it to address an imbalance, it’s important to work with a qualified nutritionist or health professional who can advise you on how to use Tulsi within a comprehensive protocol. Generally, starting with a small amount to test your tolerance and gradually increasing the dose minimizes gastrointestinal or other potential issues. It’s important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating Tulsi into your routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions (like diabetes or heart disease) or are taking medications.

How to take Tulsi

The best time to take Tulsi is before any health issues discussed in the article begin. Like Ayurveda itself, Tulsi is a fantastic preventive agent, helping you stay calm and balanced in a world that’s anything but.

Incorporate Tulsi into your daily routine by enjoying a cup of Tulsi tea or adding fresh Tulsi leaves to your meals. If you make tea, remember to steep the leaves for 5-10 minutes to make a potent cup. Tulsi is delicious with chicken, and you can add fresh leaves to salads, dressings, soups, and stews.  

You can also find Tulsi supplements or extracts available in various forms. A 4% Holy Basil extract has been used in dental health, sometimes in combination with other botanicals. 

Tulsi is often offered in a compound with other botanicals for a specific aim, be it weight management or cancer prevention. 

Holy Basil in supplement form (usually as a capsule) is most often used in a 500-900 mg daily dose and used for 1.5 to 3 months. You can find or make a tincture of Tulsi – meaning the leaves were soaked in a solvent like alcohol to extract the oils – and you take the liquid. Tinctures are often taken as drops under the tongue, but can also be added to water or made into an herbal cocktail.

Finally, the flower essence. A flower essence is an energy medicine often made by setting the plant in clean water in the sun for a period of time, then making dilutions with a solvent (brandy or vinegar) and water. Tulsi makes an especially lovely flower essence given its metaphysical profile.

We use flower essences in our meditative Plant Initiation Weekends.

Examples of Tulsi Products

Here are a few examples of products from a good manufacturer that a qualified nutritionist might suggest you try for either daily use or to address an imbalance. These products are from my Emerson/Fullscript supplement formulary (where you always get 25% off & free shipping with over $49). 

Your Next Steps

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, clearly encompasses a wide array of metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties that make it a truly remarkable herb. From its profound spiritual symbolism to its scientifically substantiated benefits, Tulsi has captured the attention of health enthusiasts worldwide. 

So, the real question now is – how are you going to use it? 

As you reflect upon Tulsi’s metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties, remember its profound value as a flexible holistic herb. It prompts us to slow down, reconnect with nature, and nurture ourselves on multiple levels. I hope Tulsi guides you in the pursuit of wellness, encouraging you to honor your body, nourish your mind, and cultivate a deeper sense of harmony in your lives.

Plant Initiation Weekends

Sources for this post

Upadhyay AK, Chacko AR, Gandhimathi A, Ghosh P, Harini K, et al. Genome sequencing of herb Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) unravels key genes behind its strong medicinal properties. BMC Plant Biol. 2015 Aug 28;15:212. doi: 10.1186/s12870-015-0562-x. PMID: 26315624; PMCID: PMC4552454.

Hasan MR, Alotaibi BS, Althafar ZM, Mujamammi AH, Jameela J. An Update on the Therapeutic Anticancer Potential of Ocimum sanctum L.: “Elixir of Life”. Molecules. 2023 Jan 25;28(3):1193. doi: 10.3390/molecules28031193. PMID: 36770859; PMCID: PMC9919305.

Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554. PMID: 25624701; PMCID: PMC4296439.

Nature’s Timekeepers: Solstice & Equinox, Breath & Circadian Rhythms

Nature’s Timekeepers: Solstice & Equinox, Breath & Circadian Rhythms

Noticing Rhythms

My Ayurvedic friends often say “honor the rhythms of life and nature”. From the rhythm of your breathing to your sleep, wake and meal schedule, cultivating your awareness of nature’s rhythms – the flow of moments, days, seasons – provide a life-affirming dance. Re-attunement to nature’s timekeepers – solstice & equinox, and your internal pulse of breath & circadian rhythms is, in my humble opinion, one of the most health-enhancing gifts (from Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Native American Traditions and other nature-based cultures from which we all descend) that we have remembered. The latest science agrees!

Solstice & Equinox, Breath & Circadian Rhythm

Nature’s timekeepers, including solstice & equinox, synchronize the rhythms of life on earth. The earth’s tilt towards or away from the sun, the length of daylight and darkness, and the fluctuation between summer and winter are earth rhythms. These natural phenomena are in perfect sync (or can be) with your inner biological clocks.

A circadian rhythm (from Latin: “about a day”) is a physiological cycle that repeats itself about every 24 hours. That clock is in mammals, plants, and even in the fungi and bacteria populating the earth’s soil and your own gut. These rhythms are endogenously generated, meaning they originate from within an organism as part of its natural physiology rather than by an external stimulus such as light or temperature. These rhythms allow adjustment to regular variations in the environment at predictable times.

In this post, I’ll explore some of nature’s timekeepers and why they are so important for your well-being.  I’ll share some science and what you can do to align or re-align with them. Solstice & equinox, breath & circadian rhythm connect what’s outside to what’s within.

Why does it matter?

If you have a digestive or metabolic condition, trouble sleeping or low energy, understanding your natural circadian rhythms and your breath can likely help. Natural rhythms are the daily and seasonal cycles of nature that affect our mindset, mood, energy, and sleep. Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycles of light and dark, and they help to regulate our hormones and energy levels. Finally, your breath is a powerful tool for stress relief and relaxation. Taking slow, deep breaths cultivates rest and recovery and can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to relax and feel more grounded. 

Solstice and Equinox:

The Dance of Time, Darkness & Light

For two moments each year – the solstices – the Earth’s axis (the centerline around which earth spins – once daily)  is tilted most closely toward the sun.  The hemisphere (top or bottom half of the earth) tilted most toward the sun experiences its longest day, while the hemisphere tilted away from the sun sees its longest night.

Solstice (from the Latin “sol” for “sun” and “sistere” for “to stand still”) is a natural moment of pause for the earth. 

Summer & Winter Solstice

The summer solstice marks the longest brightest day of the year. The sun is at its highest noontime point in the sky, and for several days before and after the sun feels bright and intense. The whole hemisphere feels it! 

The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night. The sun rises late and sets so early – darkness and stillness in nature are at their height. 

Ready for a visual? Here’s a good one from the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Winter solstice happens in about the third week of December in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer Solstice occurs about the third week of June. Find Northern Hemisphere solstice times here

Spirit of Solstice

The solstices are obvious pauses in nature. The summer solstice is a celebration of full light, warmth and all that brings – nature is at its fullest point, and the activity – of plants, fireflies, and most of us is at its height. Dancing, rolling down the hill laughter, lawn games, flowers, and evening parties are in order. 

Winter solstice is a time of dark velvet quiet. It’s a moment of pause in the silent depth before we begin to see and feel the return of the light. Days begin to get longer and lighter. It’s a time of reflection. The fall harvest is in, and we are usually in winter. That’s the going-in season. Winter solstice is a lovely time to take stock of the year that has been and to reflect on what went well, and not so. It’s a time of integrating lessons. You can reflect on the major events that unfolded, and when your own choices and actions were in alignment with your higher self. Or not! 

Celebrations of winter solstice around the world often involve gatherings, gift-giving, candles or other lights in the darkness, and honoring of what nature has provided for the year. 

Breath & Circadian Rhythms:

Your Internal Timekeepers

You and I are organic beings, so we have a collection of internal clocks. Modern science is showing us that, just like Ayurveda has been saying for thousands of years, honoring the rhythm of nature and life can take you far in healing your energy & stress levels, improving digestion, and regulating your metabolic health.

The Rhythm of Your Breath

Breathing is your only physiologic action that is both voluntary and involuntary. That is, you can control how deeply, how fast, and the way you breathe, but, if you don’t try to control it, you’ll continue to breathe.  Happily.

The yogis have a whole complex science and practice of breathing as an energy-enhancing practice. That practice – called Pranayama in Sanskrit – entails regulating the level and quality of our energy through practice.

Below I’ve included an easy exercise (in the pink box!) to begin to entrain your breath in nature’s time – the cycle of a day, and the cycle of a year.

Your Inner Circadian Rhythms

We humans naturally have a number of internal rhythms – you are more deeply connected to nature than you may feel!  You have circadian rhythms of sleep, and regular mealtimes (meal timing; energy, micronutrient (like vitamins & minerals),  and macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat, and water) balance) can also have biological rhythms. Even your digestive bacteria are most active in the middle of the day, when the sun is highest, for example. So, eating your largest meal toward the middle of the day makes biological sense.

There is a master circadian clock in your brain, in your hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), which is sensitive to light, and syncs with other bio-clocks in your tissues. Chrono-nutrition – the study of how these rhythms interact with sleep, foods, and the timing of meals to impact metabolic health (like fatty liver), and digestion – is a young but exciting area of research. Intermittent fasting (IF, eating at certain times, or limiting your eating window) is a related practice, but the science of IF is still young and from what I see, different meal timing patterns may work for different people (so, work with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian…hmm, who might that be?).


Your Internal Timekeeper: Breath

The rhythm of your breath is deeply connected to time and to nature. Tuning into your breath is an easy first step to creating more awareness of your internal clock and its connection to all of life.

Here is an exercise to help you feel your breath connection.

1. Sit up (on the floor on a cushion or blanket, or in a chair where you can place your feet on the floor), and if you’re in a chair, sit forward from the chair back. Your spine can then be nice and long, and your breath can expand the front, sides, and back of your body.

2. Now, notice your natural breathing. Let your hands rest at your sides, and on an inhale, reach through your fingers as the inhale lifts your arms to shoulder height, then overhead. On the exhale, reach through your fingers and bring your arms back down. Continue this “sun breath”, reaching up on an inhale and back down on the exhale.

3. Now, let’s entrain with time. One cycle of your breath (inhale (I), pause (P), exhale (E,) pause) is akin to day, where the pause at the top of the inhale is high noon, and the pause at the bottom is midnight. As you consider this, notice which of the beats of the breath (I, P, E, or P) feel most familiar or easeful and which is more mysterious or a little more challenging. Extend and lengthen each beat of the breath as is comfortable.

4. Now, think of your breath as the wheel of the year. The pause at the top of the inhale is – you guessed it, the summer solstice. Feel the fullness, perhaps brightness, and vibration. The pause at the base of the exhale – the winter solstice. Feel the stillness, the rest with a tinge of anticipation. Notice which of the beats of the breath feel most easeful and does that relate to the current time of year, perhaps your birthday or something else.

This energy (pranayama) practice can help you tune in to solstice & equinox breath & circadian rhythm – they are entwined. You might begin for 5 minutes daily. Slowly increase it to at least 10 minutes most days. Twenty is even better! This can also be a centering part of your morning ritual. 


 Breath & Circadian Rhythms:

Entrain Yours for Wellbeing

When your circadian clock is off – due to artificial light at night, an irregular schedule like shift work, eating at night or even a digestive issue (it’s a little like the chicken and the egg – which came first?). Your sleep can get interrupted or shortened, which in turn can impact your stress and energy level, digestion, and metabolism. You might feel generally crummy. A chronic condition that runs in your family may come knocking.

These past several years when we all worked at home or were taking time away from regular schedules, many folks are out of whack. I haven’t seen too many folks getting back into regular schedules yet. Still, there is quite a range of recovery. So, if you have not been feeling well, have gained weight, or are working with a chronic issue, thinking about a reasonably regular schedule – sleep, meals, movement, and rest – can be helpful. Helping you to reconnect with your natural rhythm is one of the first things I do when I work with you as a nutritionist and yoga therapist.

Breathe, Feel, Allow…

There are a number of ways of reconnecting with your internal rhythms and re-synchronizing them with nature and life. Certainly joining my community by signing up for the newsletter if you don’t yet receive it – it comes out twice monthly – will help. I’m all about seasonality and reminders for you to honor the flow of time and nature.

What Can You Do Right Now?

Simply beginning to notice the regularity (or irregularity) of your schedule – of getting to bed, turning off electronics, getting up at close to the same time, have usual regular mealtimes, if you have a morning contemplative ritual like meditation or breathing – these are all opportunities to reconnect with and shift your rhythms. Just notice.

Then, look to nature. The night is for sleeping and rest for most of us. If yours is different – it may be OK, or may not be OK for your energy level and well-being. Experiment.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule and limiting exposure to light at night can help to keep your circadian rhythms in tune.

Likewise, look at meal timing, composition (what), and how you eat. All these things can be adjusted and personalized to address your health and well-being. For some, IF works well, for others not so much. Find a guide for support.

Know when the solstice is. Then, find out what it means to you.

…and Connect

Mostly, know that you are indeed connected to nature. Your very body is filled with clocks that want to sync with your natural environment. Can you see the challenge of our modern life? You don’t need to be perfect to benefit. Just experiment and notice what happens.

Modern science is yet again finding data suggesting that the yogis were pretty much right all along. It matters. Everything is connected. There is a rhythm that you are an integral part of. There is a web of nature and life that you operate within, that is speaking to you in a thousand quiet ways. If you can learn to listen, they will teach you.

So if you’ve been feeling out of sync with life, and want to enjoy better physical and mental health, tune in to these natural rhythms, your own circadian rhythms, and your breath. Taking a few moments each day to connect to your rhythms and breathe deeply can have a huge impact on your well-being, particularly if you have a digestive, mental health or metabolic health condition.

Let’s chat!

Are you aware of nature’s rhythms? Do you re-entrain with nature’s rhythms? I want to know! Leave a comment.

Do you have a ritual for the solstice or equinox – or birthdays – that you celebrate? Let’s talk about it!

May you dance to your own music within and without.



If you liked this article, here’s one on Healthy Mindset you might also like.

Ashwagandha Sesame Oil

Ashwagandha Sesame Oil

Ashwagandha Sesame Oil by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
Tis the season to begin to think about making my fall batch of Ashwagnada sesame oil to warm our way through the fall.
Bows to my colleagues in the Kripalu School of Ayurveda (KSA). Several years ago I got to sit in on part of their training for Ayurveda Health Counselors and got a lovely intro to the Ayurveda way of herbs from Rosie Mann and the KSA faculty.
My husband and I both love this oil, and he has noticed how it is soothing and quiets his mind like it did mine the first time I practiced abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil self-massage) with it during my training. It does have a musky manly scent in sesame oil. We rub it on our feet at bedtime, and more widely when our minds get chattering too incessantly and we have time to relax (it can be a sedative, so I haven’t tried it on a workday yet).


Ashwagandha is a root used in a number of Ayurvedic preparations. It’s a little famous for its aphrodisiac properties, but it is also calming and strengthening (ashwagandha means horse-smell in Sanskrit, after the musky scent of the root itself). Vata-pacifying, it is great for both my husband and I as we enter our hopefully wise Vata years of life.

Ashwagandha Sesame Oil Recipe


  • 1/2 cup dried ashwagandha root
  • 8 cups filtered water
  • 2 cups organic sesame oil


IMG_0887You will need a strainer and cheesecloth, as well as a medium-large saucepan and a container for the oil.
1. Gather all ingredients and bless them. I say a little prayer over them like the one my teacher Pam taught me, then ask the root to bless us with its healing gifts.
2. Pour water into the saucepan, and add ashwagandha root. Gently stir clockwise (only clockwise) with a wooden spoon or whisk.
3. Heat medium-low until reduced to 2 cups. This takes 2-3 hours. There is a point where the ashwagandha will thicken into the fluid – the texture will shift.
I like to let my botanical concoctions spend some time on the alter. Prayers, alters, it is all about infusing what I am making with love and intentions.
IMG_09274. Rinse saucepan. Strain the fluid through a sieve, then strain several additional times through a cheesecloth until you have a thick fluid.
5. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, and add sesame oil. Heat at low-medium, occasionally gently stirring clockwise. Again, you will see the oil change as it absorbs the ashwagandha root. I found it became richer and a smidgen cloudy (but, if I had strained more thoroughly it may be more rich yet clear)…the batch I have from the experts is more clear.
6. Once you see the oil change (this took about an hour), let it cool, then strain the oil off of the remaining root-water, into a clean glass jar.
7. Enjoy as a daily oil massage (I would do a test on the weekend!), or rub on your feet and/or top of your head before bed.
Ashwagandha Sesame Oil by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com


Hail Tulsi – Green Mahadevi

Hail Tulsi – Green Mahadevi

Hail Tulsi - Green Mahadevi by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
My garden right now is filled with the sweet green goddess known as tulsi.
Tulsi is a type of basil that originated in India. There are several types, like sisters in a family. If you ‘do yoga’, love botanicals, AND you haven’t met tulsi yet, I’m happy for you. Your future includes meeting one of the most sweetly powerful and healing herbs in the canon. I have great sisterhood with this plant and feel that I am introducing you to one of my coolest and best friends. When I refer to her, I am referring to the big T – the green goddess herself – tulsi.
A distinguishing feature of tulsi is its fragrance – it’s rich, buttery and flowery with an undertone of funk. Tulsi (which translates as “incomparable one” in Sanskrit) occupies an auspicious place in yogic/Ayurvedic tradition. It is thought to be an embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi, she of abundant good fortune, of being held in esteem in a community, and of generosity. In India, many homes have a tulsi plant at their doorstep, and women (and I’m sure men) have a tulsi plant near their bed so that the gentle breeze carries the scent of tulsi to them as they sleep, bestowing them with ageless beauty.

In the Garden

Much like the goddess, my tulsi seems to have a mind of her own. She goes where she wants, comes up really late (late June this year – thank goodness I held her space!). I have not been successful at growing her from seed so that I can get a jump on the season – nope, not how she’d prefer to roll. Yet, tulsi comes rolling back, year after year in her own preferred manner my garden. I often smell tulsi and then oh, there’s a plant popping up amongst the roses or corn.
I never needed tulsi seeds, though I’ve purchased many packets. My original tulsi plant came to me auspiciously – from Sweetwater Sanctuary in VT. Pam Montgomery gave me and my fellow apprentices plants (in 2013), and mine has happily multiplied into tulsiville.

Culinary & Preserving

I’ve tried for years to make a good oil infusion of tulsi but have been only modestly successful at capturing that unique fragrance in oil. Drying, I find, works best for me. I’ll then drink it as tea through the cooler months. If I have a gathering of gal herbalists I may attempt herbalist Brittany Wood Nickerson’s yellow cake which she served once incorporating dried tulsi….magnificent. She’s just come out with a cookbook filled with scrumptious herbal fare, but the way, which I strongly recommend.
You can also make a pesto with tulsi.
To dry tulsi or any herb (I have mugwort, cilantro, lemon balm and mint drying now), gather a bunch of it, tie it into a bundle at the stem, and hang in a place that will be warm and dry. Attics are great if they are reasonably well ventilated, and you can find a place to hang your crop. After a couple dry weeks (challenging this year), cut the bundle down. For plants that I intend to use as a tea of spices, I pull the dry leaves off the stem and place them in glass jars. Between Mason and jelly jars, you have a jar for any quantity of herb.

Medicinal & Energetic

From a Western medical perspective, tulsi is an adaptogen and has been studied for a variety of uses. Adaptogenic activity means that, like ginseng, it contains a complex array of phytonutrients that act in different ways but tend to overall support homeostasis – or healthful balance. So, tulsi tea is a terrific drink through the fall when back-to-whatever stress and cool winds conspire to give us colds and other crud.
Energetically, I’ve done a number of shamanic journeys with tulsi and here’s what I learned. Tulsi embodies all the goddesses of tantra – she’s Lakshmi, Deva, and yes Kali and all the rest – all rolled into one. She just might be the MahaDevi – the mother goddess. This is my own perspective colored, no doubt by my study of the goddesses of tantra. I know and love them, and draw on them often. In my study, these goddesses represent parts of ourselves (even if you are a man – we each contain both divine masculine and feminine within us). So, interestingly, I’ve found tulsi is energetically adaptogenic as well. From my discussions with other herbalists in my tradition who work energetically with plants, my view is not unique.
You can increasingly find tulsi plants and seed at your local garden shop. If not, try Mountain Rose Herbal or Horizon Herbs.
Have a beautiful day.
Hail Tulsi - Green Mahadevi by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com


Bold, Spicy, Indian Cuisine Book Review

Bold, Spicy, Indian Cuisine Book Review

Bold, Spicy, Indian Cuisine Book Review by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
I’ve worked at Kripalu (the largest yoga center in the country) for seven years, so I have enjoyed my share of Indian food. I love the flavors of India – spicy curries, sweet-piquant chutneys, yogurt and lots of creative plant-based proteins. Indian cuisine in its original form is naturally healthful – filled with plants (often vegetarian) and aromatic spices.
I also love the work of the American Diabetes Association (bias alert – they published Yoga & Diabetes, which I co-authored). They have put together a collection of beautiful cookbooks that reflect a fresh range of ways of cooking and eating for health. If you have not yet looked at their growing collection – check them out! You don’t have to have a diabetes diagnosis to enjoy them – they are simply accessible healthful fare for everyone.
Indian Cuisine Diabetes Cookbook by May Abraham FridelMay Abraham Fridel’s Indian Cuisine Diabetes Cookbook has an authenticity and accessibility that are the hallmarks of a great cookbook. It practically smells like cumin – must be the beautiful red-brown of the two-color interior and beautiful four-color photos of select dishes. If you love the smells and tastes of India food and want to bring a bit of that into your own kitchen, this is a book for you.
The book begins with an overview of the philosophy behind India cooking, including the ancient nature-based wisdom of Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga.
There is a Spice Guide, a Pantry List, and some How-To Recipes to introduce you to the staples of healthful Indian Cuisine.
This is the book I will consult the next time I make Dal (spiced lentils). There are three easy tasty recipes and tons of advice to guide me. There’s a healthy version of my favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer (cheese in spinach sauce) – this one uses tofu instead of cheese and skips the heavy cream that often turns that healthy sounding dish into something that while filled with nutrients is also calorie-dense. There is a chapter on street food and one on elegant dishes, a chapter on curries, a chapter on grilling, a chapter on Indian flatbreads, one pot meals, sides including slaws and salads, and drinks (I love me some lassi – India’s yogurt smoothie).
Ms. Friedel is a food literacy advocate, philanthropist and the founder and CEO of an organic spice company (www.passionforspices.com). She clearly knows of what she speaks when it comes to the flavors and spices of India.
I’m grateful for her offering, happy to add it to my cookbook shelf and look forward to continuing to sample and to learn about Indian cuisine.
Bold, Spicy, Indian Cuisine Book Review by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com