There are over 150 varieties of basil in the world. Regular basil, often referred to as Genovese basil or sweet basil, is the most popular. It is the one generally referred to when people talk of basil.
Holy basil differs from sweet basil in many ways, including appearance, uses, and taxonomy. In this “Holy Basil vs Basil” comparison, we will examine the differences and similarities between these two herbs.
Let’s jump right into it!
Holy Basil vs. Basil: Naming
Holy basil and sweet basil are like cousins. Think of them like lemons and limes. They belong to the Lamiaceae family and the Ocimum genus. However, they belong to different species.
Holy Basil is also known as Tulasi or Tulsi. Its botanical name is Ocimum tenuiflorum or Sanctum, while sweet basil is known as Ocimum basilicum.
What Are Its Uses?
Holy basil is deeply rooted in Hinduism, Ayurveda, and traditional Hindu medicine. In Hinduism, holy basil is a sacred plant. It is worshipped, as they consider it the Mother Medicine of nature. In ancient Hindu societies, people used it to treat various ailments; this includes sore throat, memory loss, fever, headaches, cuts, and acne, among others.
Furthermore, it has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Its essential oil has proven to soothe respiratory issues, such as bronchitis. It also helps aid concentration among people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
People believed holy basil to heal not only the body but also the mind and the spirit. It is an adaptogenic herb, which means it serves the body parts that need its benefits once consumed. Adaptogenic herbs are also stress relievers.
The University of New England did a study on holy basil. The findings showed that holy basil helps with mental health conditions. The study revealed holy basil could help relieve depression and anxiety. It also helps regulate blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.
We use regular basil for cooking. People often use it in Italian recipes, like pesto sauce, as well as in Asian cuisine. It offers some medicinal benefits, but people mainly use it to flavor food or garnish.
Holy Basil vs. Basil: Physical Features
At a glance, you may not be able to tell holy basil apart from sweet basil. However, if you look closely, you will see some noticeable differences. The most striking difference is the texture of their stems. Holy basil has a hairy stem, while regular basil has a smooth, hairless stem. The hairs in holy basil are more pronounced in older plants.
Other differences are in the color, margin, and texture of the basil leaf. Holy basil is light green, while sweet basil is dark green. Holy basil leaves are straight, but those of sweet basil tend to curl downward and inward. The holy basil leaves have tooth-like edges with tiny hairs, while sweet basil leaves have smooth edges with no hair. Also, sweet basil leaves can seem shiny especially when exposed to a lot of light.
Both holy basil and sweet basil produce tubular-shaped flowers, and holy basil produces pink, purple, or white flowers. Sweet basil produces white flowers only.
Holy Basil vs. Basil: The Taste
Holy basil has a peppery, clove-like taste; some people liken its taste to that of Jamaican peppers. Sweet basil has a licorice-clove flavor. The holy basil flavor is more potent than its counterpart. It becomes even stronger when exposed to heat while cooking.
Method of Consumption
We can consume both holy basil and regular basil in a variety of ways. Their leaves and flowers are edible and non-toxic. We can steep them in water to make infused basil tea. We can also infuse the herbs in olive oil or red wine or white wine vinegar to make salad dressings. The leaves or flowers can also be added to salads, to improve flavor, or sprinkled on top for garnish.
People use sweet basil in cooking, for the most part. Because of this, it finds a broader range of applications in different cuisines than holy basil. In most cases, even when people cook with holy basil, it is for its medicinal benefits.
Holy basil is most famous for making holy basil tea. People claim this tea has many health and medicinal attributes. There have been countless studies carried out establishing holy basil’s benefits.
Sweet basil is an annual crop. It lasts for a year before flowering, and it seeds towards the end of the year. Holy basil is a perennial crop. It lasts for many years with cycles of dormancy and blooming. It all depends on the weather conditions.
More often than not, holy basil goes dormant in the cold season. During that season, it flowers and seeds, the stems become woody, and they shed its leaves. The plant then enters a growing season in early spring that lasts through the summer.
During the growing season, it has abundant foliage that you can harvest for use as you please. But in the dormant season, the leaves lose their flavor and may become bitter. So, it is best not to harvest them at that time.
This cycle repeats year after year. If the holy basil plant is in a controlled environment, it does not go into dormancy. You can harvest throughout the year, if the plants are kept in a greenhouse or indoors. Be sure to add compost or organic fertilizer to the soil periodically, to keep the foliage thriving.
Both holy basil and sweet basil depend upon similar conditions for healthy growth. You can propagate them from seeds, cutting, or seedlings. Once planted, they need regular watering. Be sure to water, whenever the first few inches of soil dry up. If growing either type of basil indoors, in dry air, you will need to water up to twice a day.
Holy basil and sweet basil require six to eight hours of daily light to thrive. They can survive in partial sunlight, but they will be less productive. If you are growing them indoors, substitute with grow lights. Generally, they require warm temperatures of 72 to 83 Fahrenheit. They will die or go dormant in cold weather.
Both varieties of basil are prone to pests and disease. These diseases include root rot, mildew, snails, slugs, mites, and fungal infections. To prevent pests and disease, you must maintain sanitary conditions; ensure proper air circulation; and apply an organic pest repellant, such as neem oil.
Basil requires timely pruning to prevent the plant from seeding too soon. As soon as you notice flower buds beginning to emerge, you can pick them. You may use them in your recipes as you would basil leaves. Harvest on demand, but do not harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time.
Holy basil and sweet basil have similar macronutrient profiles. Yet their micronutrient profiles vary. Holy basil contains high levels of vitamins A and C, while regular basil does not.
Holy Basil Varieties
There are six main varieties of holy basil: Vana Tulsi, Rama Tulsi, Krishna Tulsi, Amrita Tulsi, Kapoor Tulsi, and Temperate Tulsi. They vary in appearance, chemical concentration, and flavor.
- Vana Tulsi, Ocimum gratissimum, is native to East Africa and India. It is a tree basil that grows wildly on roadsides and near waste. It has large leaves and can grow up to five feet tall. It can grow both indoors and outdoors. Vana Tulsi resembles lemon basil, and some people misidentify lemon basil as vana. It has a strong clove-like scent and produces white blooms.
- Rama Tulsi, Ocimum Sanctum, is a tropical perennial variety of holy basil. Its distinguishing characteristic is the purple stems. It is grown in India, more than anywhere else.
- Krishna Tulsi, Ocimum Tenuiflorum, is a close relative of the Rama Tulsi. They both belong to the same species. It is also a tropical perennial that grows in India. It also has a purple stem and has a black pepper-like taste. One difference is that Rama Tulsi has green leaves. The Krishna Tulsi’s leaves start green but become mottled purple as the plant matures.
- Amrita Tulsi. It also belongs to the Ocimum Sanctum species, and it grows in Southern India. It is bushy, and the leaves turn reddish when almost mature.
- Temperate Tulsi, Ocimum Africanum, is an annual plant with a fruity aroma. It grows quickly in the warm spring and summer seasons. As such, it is loved by American gardeners. You can plant the seeds directly in early spring and have them ready for harvesting in summer.
- Kapoor Tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum, is the most popular variety of holy basil in the US. It grows within a short time but bolts within a year. It has less flavor and potency than other varieties, which diminishes its medicinal properties.
Both holy basil and sweet basil have some similarities, but they vary in certain aspects. You can identify holy basil by its light green leaves that have tooth-like edges and a hairy texture. On the other hand, sweet basil has smooth, curly, dark green leaves.
Holy basil is primarily medicinal, while sweet basil is mainly used for culinary purposes. When planting or buying basil plants, determine the primary reason you want them. Be sure to purchase the appropriate basil variety. You can grow both types of basil in your garden and use them as needed!