Planting fragrant herbs and blossoms can lift mood

Planting fragrant herbs and blossoms can lift mood

Photo courtesy of Ellen Goff – The essence of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is said to be stimulating and uplifting.

by Ellen Goff

As yoga and meditation have become common practice for relaxation, so too has aromatherapy become an accepted mode of holistic soothing. It has entered daily life in many forms, from bathing products and room fresheners to household cleansers. But do these scented products actually work? What is true aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy dates back thousands of years to the Egyptians and ancient India as a medicinal practice using highly concentrated plant extracts. The term "aromatherapy" has been around since the 1920s, when French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé began experimenting with essential oils for healing soldiers' battle wounds. Modern studies have tested the positive effects of inhaling essential oils on medical conditions such as weight loss, anxiety, stress management and memory disorder. While researchers at facilities such as the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia are exploring how individuals perceive and respond to scents, there's limited scientific evidence to support claims that aromatherapy effectively prevents or cures illness.

It does, however, appear to have an impact on our mood and outlook, which are reasons why it's grown so popular. Dr. Alan R. Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago has written more than 100 articles on the psychological power of smell, taste and how these senses affect human behavior. Perhaps the best place to take in some of these beneficial scents in their purest form is in your garden. Scents from the oils in leaves and the heady fragrance from flowers can reduce stress, promote calmness and send your spirits soaring.

There are many scented plants suitable for the heat and humidity of southeastern gardens in hardiness Zones 7B through 10A. Some of the most popular simply require sun, average to poor soil, good drainage and minimal care. If direct sun is limited in your garden, plant in pots and move them to the best exposure.

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): This small, woody evergreen shrub with essential oil on the leaves and stems produces small lavender and blue flowers. Its essence is said to be stimulating and uplifting.

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): A small, woody evergreen shrub with very fragrant flower spikes and essential oil on the leaves and stems, lavender is one of the most popular aromatic plants. It can help with relaxation, especially before sleep, and also soothe depression with its uplifting effects.

  • Rose Geranium (Pelargonium capitatum): A garden perennial in frost-free zones, its leaves contain a delicious, pungent rose scent. The heady scent is relaxing and emotionally uplifting.

  • Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile): A low-spreading perennial groundcover with small daisy flowers, the sweet, herbal scent of the leaves is soothing and relaxing.

  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita): A useful perennial herb that, like most mints, can be invasive. It's best grown in a pot. The refreshing scented leaves aid in soothing mental fatigue.

Editor's note: In this article, we explore aromatherapy through inhaling the essential oils and fragrances from garden plants. For other applications, consult a qualified professional.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She is passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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