The tulasī is a small plant considered extremely sacred by the Hindus, especially by the Vaiṣṇavas (followers of the Viṣṇu cult). Its botanical name is Ocymum sanctum.
Three major varieties of this plant are: rāmatulasī, kṛṣṇatulasī and śrītulasī.
According to another classification, there are six varieties: śrītulasī, kṣudrapatratulasī, raktatulasī, bilvagandhatulasī, kṛṣnātulasī and varvaritulasī. Only experts in the field can recognise them.
Tulasī is said to have been born out of the tears (of bliss) of Viṣṇu at the time of the emerging of the amṛtakalaśa (pot of nectar) from the ocean which had been churned by the devas (gods) and the dānavas (demons).
The tulasī leaves are extensively used in the ritualistic worship of Viṣṇu and deities associated with Viṣṇu. The dried wood of the plant is shaped into beads and rosaries are prepared out of them to be used in japa (repetition of the divine name).
The dried sticks of this plant are also used in homas (fire-sacrifices).
While cremating a dead body, a few dried wood pieces are also used along with the fuel. It is believed that the soul of the deceased will go to higher regions by this holy act.
Almost every Hindu house has a bṛndāvana (See BṚNDĀVANA.) with a tulasī plant. It is worshipped daily by married women and unmarried girls.
Tulasī leaves as also the juice extracted out of them have many curative properties.
Tulasī is also one of the goddesses considered as a consort of Viṣṇu.