Question: I’d like to ask you about Tulasi in order to avoid using Her leaves for material purposes. I have often heard that Tulasi is called Ocimum sanctum by botanists. Other sources say that Ocimum tenuiflorum, too. Some expand this list even further, to other Ocimum species, for instance, Vana Tulasi (Ocimum gratissimum), etc.
In quotes from Shastra which are usually given to describe the glories of Srimati Tulasi Devi there is no description of an EXTERNAL difference between Tulasi and various species of Basil (which species are about 35 in number.) This means that either this exact description does exist in some other Vaishnava scriptures, or that any basil is Tulasi!
Because, if various species of basil are just some conditioned jivas in the bodies of plants, then the Shastra would give exact features by which we can differentiate between the body of Tulasi Devi and the ordinary plants – 35 various basil species – baddha-jivas (conditioned entities).
Answer: Shatra is definitely not talking about all the varieties of tulasiji but the ones which are commonly known. There is something called rudhi artha or a prevalent meaning of a word in sanskrit. For example the word krsna has many meanings but the rudhi artha or popular meaning is Bhagavan Krishna, the son of Nanada and Yashoda, tender of cows. The popular meaning is that which comes to mind as soon as people hear the word.
According to this understanding shatra is not talking about all the varieties of tulasi but the one we use in worship of the Lord, which is popularly worshiped by Vaishnavas in their homes. That is generally of two types namely, krsna tulasi and rama tulasi. That is my understanding.
Question: Thank you for your reply! Let me ask you about the details. When you need to take some Ayurvedic medicine or you buy some soap and you see it contains Tulasi (or whatever they mean by “Tulasi”), do you take this medicine / use this soap?
Answer: Better to avoid. After all there is always an alternative to them. So why take the risk of an offense.
Question: Another question: it’s clear that we use in worship Krsna Tulasi and Rama Tulasi. But what are the exact features by which we can differ Krsna Tulasi and Rama Tulasi from other varieties, which sometimes look very much alike?! For instance, if we search online for photos of Krsna Tulasi and Rama Tulasi, we will see that photographers often confuse Tulasi with tulasi …
If there is no exact way to differ one from another, people in general will confuse sat (true, real) with asat (false).
Answer: I think I can only show it by showing you the actual plants. I have no way to convey it in words. Some things are leaned only by direct experience.