WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: APRIL 2023: AROMATIC HERBS 101
WHY AROMATIC HERBS? Aroma has a powerful impact on physical and emotional well-being! Planting aromatic and fragrant herbs adds a sensory experience to the garden. Aromatic herbs and plants are used extensively as spices, flavoring agents, perfumes, and medicine. The aromatic herbs rosemary and lavender are used in a wide variety of culinary recipes and herbal remedies, and they produce essential oils that are released when touching the foliage and flowers. These essential oils are highly concentrated and volatile at room temperature. They are complex mixtures of secondary metabolites, phenylpropenes, and terpenes, and can be found in the flowers, buds, seeds, leaves, twigs, bark, wood, fruit, and roots of the plant.
Aromatic herbs and plants are rabbit and deer resistant because the aromatic oils are very bitter. They can attract bees and other pollinators, repel nuisance pests, promote relaxation by creating a calming effect, and invigorate the mood just by their scent.
WHAT MAKES AN HERB AROMATIC? Aromatic herbs and plants contain essential oils, a natural chemical component, that is responsible for their noticeable scents. These highly volatile compounds are mostly found in the leaves and stems and are released when the leaves are disturbed, crushed, or chewed. Aromatic herbs are also high in antioxidants which help the body combat free radicals which damage its cells and reduce the risk of disease.
Aromatic herbs are a delight for the sense of smell and are easily identified. Each aromatic herb is characterized by different chemical molecules that construct its smell. For example, peppermint contains menthol and mentone which give it a pungent and intense scent that is found in all parts of the plant. Rosemary is rich in camphor and bornyl acetate which gives it a penetrating, intense, and woody smell. Basil has discrete quantities of estragole and methyl eugenol which produce sweet and aromatic notes. The smell of fennel, with its anethole and fenchone compounds, brings sensations of sweetness and cleanliness. In perfumes, the essential oils of aromatic herbs are often used in combination with those of citrus fruit to obtain original, fresh and sparkling notes.
In the kitchen, aromatic herbs and plants enrich recipes and are an important component of the aromatic bouquet of some wines. For example, sage can be perceived with different intensity in many white wines such as prosecco, and wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, Muller Turgau, and Vermentino.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES OF AROMATIC HERBS: Most aromatic herbs are useful in healing wounds and bruises, and herbs such as lavender, lemongrass, and turmeric are useful as healing agents to cure wounds, injuries, bruises and burns. Turmeric is anti-cancerogenic, fights against cancer-causing cells, and is antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral. Its active ingredient is curcumin which is present in both the fresh and dried rhizomes.
Rosemary, lavender, marjoram, geranium, mint, and yarrow oil are extensively used in various health and beauty care routines.
Chamomile is an excellent herb for mood enhancement, and chamomile tea is prescribed as a home remedy for certain cases of mild depression.
Ginger and fennel are two herbs recommended as a remedy for a wide variety of digestive disorders.
Herbs like peppermint, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, lavender and chamomile are excellent herbs for reducing body discomforts, aches and pains, cough, cold, and fever.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): With a flavor comparable to anise, the herb anise hyssop is neither anise seed nor hyssop, and it isn’t even a blend of the two. A member of the mint family, it adds a mild, minty, licorice flavor to vegetable dishes and salads. The seeds are used as a substitute for anise when baking, and the leaves are used either fresh or dried to make herbal tea.
Anise hyssop grows well as a companion plant with most other herbs. Impressive spikes of lavender-colored blooms add a beautiful touch to the herb garden whether indoors or out.
Anise hyssop contains sesquiterpenes, phenolic acid, and essential oils that support respiratory and digestive health.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Known for its essential role in Italian cuisine, basil is the key ingredient in pesto, is paired often with tomatoes, and is used in a wide array of pasta dishes.
Basil plants enjoy hot conditions with full sun. Put plants in a sunny windowsill or a garden spot where they receive a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of direct sun daily. In the fall, when day lengths shorten, growth decreases, so it may be helpful to supplement plants with a grow light throughout the winter. Basil is very sensitive to cold temperatures, so it’s essential to keep plants away from draft windows in the winter or air conditioning vents in the summertime.
Basil supports digestion and relaxation, and its close relative, Tulsi, supports respiratory health, immunity, vitality, and emotional well-being.
Bay Laurel (Laurus noblis): Grown as an evergreen tree or shrub, bay laurel’s leaves are typically used to season many slow-cooked dishes like casseroles and stews.
The shrub is hardy and incredibly easy to grow, requiring little care. Grow them in containers indoors or outside as the containers restrict their overall growing habit and keep plants shorter and more manageable. When grown indoors, regularly prune plants, so they don’t exceed more than 5 or 6 feet in height. Keep plants in a brightly lit spot in your home, so they receive a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day.
Bay laurel leaves contain volatile oil that is comprised of several different micronutrients including tannins and resin, and terpenes, namely cineole, are present. Bay laurel leaf extracts have gastroprotective, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anticonvulsant effects. The leaves also contain vitamins A, B₆, B₉, folate, and C, as well as minerals like manganese, iron, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Bay laurel has been shown to settle the stomach by reducing contractions of the intestinal muscle and is particularly helpful for treating diarrhea. The antispasmodic and antitussive properties of bay laurel have long been used to eliminate mucus from the respiratory tract in infectious processes.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): Also known as catmint, catnip is a hardy perennial herb belonging to the mint family. It has a clump-forming growth habit with square stems and triangular to oval, gray-green leaves with toothed edges that stretch around 3 inches long. Flower spikes appear in the late spring to early fall, bearing clusters of small blooms that are white with light purple markings. The ideal garden location for catnip is in full sun and well-drained soil.
Catnip can be used by both cats and humans, and it contains the essential oil nepetalactone which mimics a specific feline pheromone, triggering brain receptors and the associated euphoric side effects. In humans, it doesn’t induce the same euphoric responses but has many medicinal uses. If catnip is consumed, it acts as a sedative, and if sniffed, it acts as a stimulant. Catnip is a top choice for indigestion, and is used to settle the stomach, and sooth flatulence and colic. It has a mild sedative effect and combines nicely with other sleepy time herbs. Catnip is anti-inflammatory and is effective for digestive related headache, gentle pain relief, and cooling a fever.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Is an herbaceous annual that grows as a bushy shrub, is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8, grows best in full sun or light shade, and can grow up to 3 feet tall. It should be planted in light sandy soil with good drainage and should be placed about eight inches apart.
German chamomile has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-allergenic, and sedative properties, and the flower heads are used to made medicine. It can be used to reduce anxiety and depression in adults, ease insomnia, treat stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, and colic. German chamomile tea can be used to treat lumbago, rheumatic problems, and rashes. It can also be used in a salve for hemorrhoids and wounds as well as a vapor to alleviate cold symptoms or asthma.
Lavender (Lavandula): One of the quintessential herbs and known for its revered scent, lavender is grown as a small, perennial shrub in most parts of the United States. There are five main types of lavender grown: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Lavandin, a hybrid. It can be challenging to grow, though, as it prefers hot and arid conditions. This means it is very temperamental when given too much water or grown in high humidity. When growing lavender, allow the top one or two inches of soil to dry out before watering, and go easy on the fertilizer.
Lavender is primarily used for its sweet and floral scent, and an infusion of lavender promotes relaxation and drowsiness. The essential oil is used to treat insomnia, alopecia or hair loss, anxiety, stress, and post-operative pain. Lavender has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, nervine, and vulnerary therapeutic actions and is used in inhalation therapy to treat headaches, exhaustion, skin ailments, and dementia.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): With a delicious lemony taste, lemon balm plant leaves are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Use it in place of lemon peel to flavor sauces and vinegars or add it to your homemade pesto for a bright, citrusy flavor.
Lemon balm loves a home on a sunny windowsill in your kitchen, where it can get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. The pot can be moved outside to enjoy the beautiful weather during the summer months in warmer climates. When the leaves are rustled, they release their aroma, which acts as a natural mood booster.
Lemon balm remedies are made from the leaves of the plant. Essential oils made from lemon balm leaves contain plant chemicals called terpenes, which play a role in the herb's relaxing and antiviral effects. Lemon balm contains tannins which are responsible for many of the herb's antiviral effects. Lemon balm also contains eugenol, which calms muscle spasms, numbs tissues, and kills bacteria.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus): Is a popular aromatic and culinary herb that adds a citrusy, mild, and spicy tang to recipes. It is native to the tropics, so it does require some protection from the cold, but it is otherwise fairly easy to grow. It grows in a clump with multiple stalks emerging from the same base and can grow to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Lemongrass gets its citrus scent from citral, one of the volatile oil compounds in the plant which also includes monoterpenes and monoterpene alcohols, and sesquiterpenes. These phytochemicals enhance nutrient absorption and help maintain a healthy metabolism. Lemongrass has antiseptic, antimicrobial, nervine, digestive, antipyretic, and diaphoretic properties, and is used as a tonic for the central nervous system, to promote a good night’s sleep, to soothe the mind and body by inducing the release of serotonin, to support the digestive system, and to manage fever.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana): Native to the Mediterranean, marjoram is well suited for growing indoors in containers since this tender perennial loves warm, sunny, arid climates. The plant spreads like a ground cover, so it grows best in wide and shallow containers with plenty of room for the trailing stems. Marjoram is drought resistant, so allow the potting soil to dry out before watering your plant. Too much water causes root rot and encourages both insect pests and disease problems. When plants are six inches tall, begin harvesting from the plant’s tips to keep it bushy and full.
As both a culinary and healing herb, marjoram benefits digestion when it is used in cooking, made into tea, or used in its most common therapeutic form, as an essential oil. Marjoram tea can help to improve the appetite and increase production of digestive enzymes that help to break food down, alleviate flatulence, stomach cramps and constipation.
Marjoram essential oil, often referred to as “Sweet Marjoram”, can be diluted in a pure carrier oil and massaged into the abdomen. Just the scent of this sweet and herbaceous essential oil can stimulate the salivary glands, begin digestive process, and stimulate the peristaltic movement of the intestines while soothing the digestive tract.
Mint (Mentha piperita): One of the most common herbs grown, mint plants, come in many different types that vary slightly in their characteristics and flavor. There are many varieties of this aromatic herb to choose from, including chocolate mint, orange mint, eau de cologne mint, apple mint, grapefruit mint, Moroccan mint, ginger mint, spearmint, and peppermint, and each has a subtlety different fragrance. All types have broad leaves in green shades that release a distinctive and minutely different menthol-based scent when bruised or crushed.
Mint can be a nuisance plant in your aromatic garden, taking over any free space it can infringe, which is why it’s a great herb to grow indoors as a container plant. The container forces it to stay in its area and keeps its growth in check.
Mint is used to soothe digestive issues, has a cooling effect on the mouth and throat, benefits respiratory health, and has antispasmodic properties.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare): Seasons many Mexican and Mediterranean dishes and is gaining popularity in indoor herb gardens. The plant is perennial, coming back year after year when grown outside. Indoors they prefer light, well-drained soils and little to no fertilizer. Allow the soil to dry out between watering.
The more the plant is harvested, the fuller the plant will be, continuing to put out new