Decoding 'Queen of Herbs'
The sacred basil or tulasi is a much-cherished plant in Assam, as it is throughout the country. It is grown on meticulously cleaned, earthen altars in family courtyards and worshipped daily. In temples and mghars, the tulasi is ubiquitous as part of offerings made and blessings received. No Kati bihu is complete without lighting an earthen lamp before the tulasi plant in paddy fields. tive to the Indian subcontinent and cultivated for almost 3000 years, tulasi (ocimum tenuiflorum) has been referred in ancient texts as the ‘queen of herbs’ because of its many medicil properties. Used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, tulasi is said to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and many other properties. If it is used to cure common cold, it is also thought to be efficacious against cancer and some other deadly diseases. Now a team of researchers from the tiol Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru has lifted the veil slightly from the mystery that is tulasi. The entire genetic make-up of the plant has been mapped and its first draft genome made available. This is expected to help in the identification of the genes responsible for production of compounds that make tulasi a wonder plant. Prelimiry studies have already indicated the presence of some 40 special chemical compounds with diverse medicil properties. Notable among these are Eugenol that helps fight cancer and the highly efficacious Ursolic acid. The scientists are now tracing the various pathways through which the sacred basil developed these chemicals as part of its strong defence mechanism. The study is expected to help synthesise a range of new medicines. Tulasi is but the latest example of the traditiol knowledge that the country must safeguard and use for public benefit, with over two lakh medicil formulations already transcribed in a huge digital database under the CSIR and department of Science and Technology.