The world’s five major religions are, for all intents and purposes, defined by their geography, the latitude and longitude by which they were first developed. To the west, there’s Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; to the east, you’ll find Hinduism and Buddhism. It has been this way for thousands of years.
But aside from their positioning on a map, there’s one essential difference between the two “types” of religion: Western religions share an overarching theme of monotheism, the faith or belief in one god, your Christ or your Allah or Yeshua, subscribing to a holy book and unquestionable religious authorities. Eastern religions, on the other hand, are characterized more so by a kind of philosophical openness, a deep-rooted sense of spirituality and time-worn tradition without hard-and-fast rules. Gurus, deities, mythology, rituals, yajna (or sacrifice), meditation, and rebirth — even the worship of plants or herbs is fair game.
And in Hinduism, which is considered a Dharma or “way of life” rather than what we think of as organized religion, that’s where tulsi comes in. Also known as holy basil, tulsi is a sacred Indian herb; you’ll find it growing in temples, in homes, in the courtyards of families who wish to display it as a form of worship. “One of the oldest surviving things in the main Jaipur fort,” the seat of Indian royalty, “is a 700-year-old tulsi plant that the queens would pay daily homage to,” says Ayurveda expert and Uma Oils founder Shrankhla Holecek. The herb’s topical and internal medicinal value is highly celebrated, both in traditional holistic preparations and the kind you can now buy at Sephora or Whole Foods.
“Tulsi is used quite broadly for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” Holecek explains. “It most benefits skin that is prone to inflammation and blemishes.” Those benefits are also responsible for why we’re seeing it used more and more in formulas that aim to combine Ayurvedic tradition with newer skin-care science. Recent research shows that the herb even has adaptogenic properties, meaning it actually helps strengthen the body’s natural ability to resist stress — and who doesn’t need that?