Tulsi : more beneficial than thought

Eugenol, popularly known as clove oil, which gives clove its distinct flavour, has a host of medicinal and industrial applications. It is widely used in perfumery, aromatherapy as well as in the processed food industry, as flavoring agent and preservative. Anti-microbial and antiseptic, it is an inevitable part of a dentist’s cabinet. Currently, eugenol is highly priced in the global market (the purest quality of eugenol costs around $40 for 100 ml). Tulsi may be able to replace expensive clove and cinnamon as a cheaper source of eugenol, a natural substance found to be effective in fighting everything from tooth ache and food spoilage to stomach ache.

A team of researchers at Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s (ICAR) Directorate of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research (DMAPR) at Anand in Gujarat, may have found a better and cheaper way of producing eugenol. DMAPR researchers, led by Parmeshwar Lal Saran, who tested 10 different accessions of tulsi collected from different parts of the country for two seasons, have been to able to identify a particular variety of tulsi (Holy Basil), codenamed DOS-1, that has very high eugenol content. however, was quick to add that DOS-1 is not available commercially and it would take a while before it is released. Currently, tulsi in different States is mainly sold as fresh leaves or dry leaves by farmers, for use in Ayurveda or herbal medicine or in beverages such as herbal tea.

Besides leaves, farmers also sell tulsi seeds, which command a price of about ₹10,000 per quintal. From one hectare of farm a farmer gets 7 to 8 quintal of tulsi seeds, on average. Extraction of essential oil from tulsi leaves, particularly eugenol, can be a game changer for farmers. Moreover, it will also increase the availability of eugenol, whose demand is seldom met through natural sources, leading to its artificial synthesis.

One of the reasons for the shortfall in production is that the maximum possible production of eugenol from cloves is a mere 20 kg per hectare. Leaves and the bark of cinnamon, too, yield the aromatic chemical, but it is relatively less popular.

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