ARCHIVAL COVID GARDENING W/ VIN
One from the archives, but one that was never published, and should have been. Family horticulturalist Jake 'Vinny' Vincent teaches us the medicinal properties of 'Tulsi' aka Thai Basil.
"With the obvious lack of travel and events due to an unforeseen pandemic it may seem like strange time to launch an online channel documenting the lifestyles of the people who make misfit, misfit. So we have had to think outside the box.
And so here we are, outside the box. At the start of this year I would have never guessed I’d be talking to you about plants, but hey weirder things have happened this year. And to be honest. I’m pumped! I’m going to give you a plant every week or so that I “dig.” They will more than likely be edible. And they will be either easy to grow in your garden or they will be already growing all around you. Yep we’re talking foraging and bush tucker.
But today we are going to kick things off in the garden with a perennial (at least in the northern rivers climate) herb called “Tulsi.” Tulsi is a funky herb I hadn’t heard of until about a year ago when my girlfriend's housemate planted a cutting in the garden. It sat there in the corner of the vege patch not really growing much for a month or so and I wondered what it was good for.
Then BAM! One day the thing was huge. Almost too big! It was taking over the small raised bed, we didn’t mind, it was majestic. My girlfriend started taking cuttings as gifts to friends based purely on its beautiful purple and green leaves, its breathtaking lavender like flowers and it’s divine scent, ahh what is that smell? I’ve smelt it before? ahh huh! Basil! Exclaimed my girlfriend in a joyful manner. The realisation that tulsi smelt like basil inspired me to dig a little deeper and figure out how to use this easy growing gigantic herb in our day to day life.
First thing I learnt was that our noses were right and tulsi is actually also known as “holy basil” or “thai basil.” I have found common basil frustrating to grow at times. My vege patch was exposed to full sun for most of the day throughout the rainless tail end of last year. My basil leaves constantly watering and going to seed as I struggled to give sufficient water to the demanding herbs. I had to start filling up 10 litre bottles of water at public taps when I’d go surfing as our tank was constantly empty. Meanwhile my girlfriend's tulsi bush continued to thrive.
Although my research shows that people generally use tulsi in Thai curry. I have found it goes great as a complete basil substitute and I use it in everything. Chuck a handful of tulsi leaves onto a pizza, into your tomato based pastas or even in an omelette. Go crazy. Put it in a salad or stir fry. Or yes, in a Thai curry.
I love making pesto’s with tulsi. Just grab a ton of leaves, some nuts, (I use pine nuts, cashews or macadamias) some olive oil or any oil of your choice (I like grapeseed) a squeeze of lemon and some parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast if you're dodging dairy. Mash it up in a food processor or mortar and pestle. And Viola! You got yourself a damn delicious and nutritious pesto that you can eat as a dip or ad to a pasta or my favourite use for the pesto is making a pumpkin pesto lasagne with pumpkins from the garden!
Another great use for tulsi is using it as herbal tea, just grab a handful of leaves and steep them in boiling water. I like throwing a couple lavender leaves in too. Tulsi has a squillion medicinal benefits, it’s considered an anti-stress agent, it reduces the risk of respiratory problems, and the leaves are used to treat acne and insect bites. It reduces blood cholesterol levels, fights kidney stones and is even beneficial against cardiac diseases. The list goes on. Bees love it too! There’s alway tons of bees buying around the bush which we all know is a huge plus for your vegetable patch.
You might be able to find tulsi at your local nursery or ask around, if a friend has some growing you could ask them to snip you a branch and then just stick the branch in a jar of water and aftera couple weeks it should start to shoot out some little roots. Once this happens you can just pop it in your garden and start enjoying the benefits of having basil all year round! (If you're in a cold climate, the leaves may die off over winter, but still going to have a longer growing season than common basil)
Happy gardening/ foraging.
Words and photos by Jake Vincent
15th Jul, 2020