Herbalist Tish Streeten speaks about the amazing health benefits of Tulsi
Filmmaker and herbalist Tish Streeten shares how tulsi continues to heal and empower humans and animals over centuries
Since the age of 16, Oxford-born Tish Streeten has passionately worked with herbs and herbal medicines. It was much later that her studies and profession as an herbalist and a filmmaker made her travel across the world, and one of the destinations was India. On one such trip in 2000, folk herbalists in Rajasthan known as Gunis introduced Streeten to tulsi. Tulsi also happens to be the name of her adopted daughter from India.
"While thinking of possible names for my future daughter, Tulsi came to mind. But since when translated into English it is basil, which is a boy's name, I found it inappropriate. So you can imagine my surprise when after a year or two of the adoption process, the orphanage I was working with in Pune called me to say there was a baby girl called Tulsi who they had matched with me!" recalls Streeten in an email interview from New Jersey, USA, where she runs Queen Mab's Herbs, a community supported medicine healing centre for people and their pets.
Streeten's fascination with herbs led her to making films about herbal healing and traditional culture. More specifically, because of her daughter, Streeten began researching the stories, myths and healing properties of tulsi, and started to work on the film Tulsi, Queen of Herbs around 2008. Streeten continues to work on it, for which she has also collaborated with author Chitra Divakaruni, who is writing the stories of the goddess Tulsi for the film.
Streeten's thoughts on the cultural, mythological, mental and physical importance of the holy basil:
Science linked with mythology
Most of the stories I've heard originate in the Vedas. One of the famous ones is about the Krishna Tulabharam. The story recounts how two of Krishna's queens had to make an offering equal to Krishna's weight. So Krishna sat on one side of the scales and Satyabhama heaped all her gold and jewels onto the other side. The scales didn't move. Even after piling on more gold, Krishna hadn't moved an inch.
In extreme exasperation, she appealed to Rukmini, the more humble queen. She heard the rustle of the tulsi plant behind her and went over and plucked a leaf, then took it to the scales. She removed all the gold and jewels and laid just the one leaf of tulsi. Immediately the scale with the tulsi leaf moved down until Krishna's weight was perfectly balanced. This is tulsi's key medicinal quality - she is a great balancer, what scientists and others call an adaptogen today.
Many Hindu homes, across India, keep a tulsi plant in their courtyard or just outside their home. Sadly, these days, the tradition is fast disappearing, and this is one of the reasons why I want to make the film. Every morning and evening, usually the woman of the house offers flowers, songs and holy water to the plant. In return, Tulsi gives her leaves for healing and purifies the air. This age-old tradition nurtures a reverence for the plants, because twice a day humans are acknowledging the divine nature of a plant that shares their home with them, and the daily worship keeps our ancient connection to nature alive.
3 cool facts about tulsi
* Tulsi is a lovely skin tonic. I make a face spray with tulsi for my teenage daughter and myself. It helps clear up pimples and acts as a skin toner.
* For nursing mothers, Tulsi is a galactagogue, meaning she stimulates milk flow. Also, if the mother is taking tulsi, her baby will get the digestive, immune and other benefits too.
* I give my 101-year-old father tulsi, as a general tonic, in tincture or tea form, and to help his memory.
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