Valley Bounty: Tulsi

Last week, Susan Pincus hosted a tour group of 20 teenagers on Sawmill Herb Farm, the farm she owns in Florence. “I was walking them around to all the different plants and they were kind of like ‘Oh, whatever.’” But when the group reached the tulsi, Pincus told me during a recent conversation, she felt the demeanor of the group completely shift. The kids were enthralled by the plant. “There’s something special about tulsi,” Pincus explained. “It can bring people together, bring them closer to the earth. That’s clear to me when I see these teenagers when they’re with the plants.” Pincus and the visitors to her farm are far from the first people to be struck by this aromatic herb. Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is native to the Indian subcontinent and has played a central role in Hindu worship and medicine for generations.

On Sawmill Herb Farm, the early harvests of tulsi began back in June but it’s during these hot mid-summer days when the tulsi truly thrives. Right now the tulsi is flowering and drawing pollinators to the farm. “When I walk through the beds, the tulsi is just full of bees. It feels really alive,” Pincus told me. “Walking with the tulsi on either side of you, everything is humming and the plants feel so vibrant … It feels like a part of a healthy ecosystem.” Pincus and her crew have been gathering the bounty from the tulsi beds, careful to harvest the plants above the bottom nodes so that they will continue to grow all the way through September. Tulsi is a moist plant, Pincus explained, so it often takes five full summer days to dry in her greenhouse after harvest. Once the herb is dried, the crew drags the stems through a wire mesh to garble the tulsi. Garbling separates the vegetation from the stem, leaving behind just the usable leaves and flowers.

Brewing tulsi iced tea has helped Pincus get through the recent heat wave. In the evening, she chops up a few handfuls of fresh or dried tulsi leaf and flower, tosses them in a jar, then covers them with half a gallon of just-boiled water. She lets the mixture steep overnight, then strains the leaves and cools the tea. For a day of working out in the hot sun, Pincus likes to add a splash of apple cider vinegar. “It’s almost like adding a squeeze of lemon, it’s more hydrating during the hot days.” Pincus recommends tulsi for staying focused during a day of work and keeping an even keel during stressful times. “Tulsi is one of those plants that can both be relaxing and stimulating.” If the heat is getting to you, track down a local herb farm near you and take refuge in a cold, refreshing glass of tulsi iced tea!

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)