What the Fork?: Heavenly herbs at Thai Elephant

By Wynter Holden

Holy basil. I giggled like a schoolgirl when I saw this heavenly sounding herb on the menu at Thai Elephant in downtown Phoenix. You know when something you see or hear just makes you bust a gut laughing -- and no one else at your table seems to get the joke? Yeah, that was me.

I imagined Buddhist monks spending hours praying and chanting over little plant sprouts, infusing them with love. "Om, mani padme grow. Om, mani padme grow." Or...wait! Maybe it's basil that's loaded with round crevices, like Swiss cheese. No, that would be "holey" basil. Perhaps the plant, when ingested, is reputed to fill you with the holy spirit. Cure all wounds. Cause you to have angelic visions. Of course, if the latter were true, I'm thinking more people would be growing holy basil (instead of other green, leafy plants) in their basement.

So what's the real deal? Holy basil, or Tulasi, is a spicy purple or green-leafed plant native to India. Tulasi is hairier than it's cousin, the standard bright green Thai Basil found in many ethnic restaurants. Sadly, the cultivation of holy basil doesn't involve monks or exotic chants, but the plant is considered sacred in the Hindu culture and is known to have antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties. And it is used in Hindu ceremonies, which involve chanting and rituals. Guess I wasn't that far off after all.

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