6 Herbs to Grow for Emotional Health

These easy-to-grow herbs serve to benefit mental and emotional well-being.

| July / August 2017

  • Making our own dried herb teas is among the easiest of homegrown health solutions.
    Photo by iStock; robertprzybysz
  • Hops have a mild sedative effect.
    Photo by iStock; osoznaniejizni
  • Lavender has a strong, relaxing scent.
    Photo by iStock; anna1311
  • Lemon balm is a relative of mint, but has a distinctive lemon scent.
    Photo by iStock; scisettialfio
  • Woody, fragrant rosemary can boost mood and protect the brain.
    Photo by iStock; Volosina
  • Sage is an easy-growing perennial traditionally used to improve memory.
    Photo by iStock; 5PH
  • St. John's Wort is a well-known plant for mental health.
    Photo by iStock; simonidadjordjevic
  • Sweet-smelling valerian has roots that can be used as a mild sedative.
    Photo by iStock; Gregory_DUBUS

When we think about medicinal herbs, our first associations may be about healing the body — herbs are commonly used to boost the immune system, relieve pain, improve digestion, soothe skin and support physical health in many other ways. But we can also deploy herbs to support our mental and emotional health. Various herbs can be used to help relieve anxiety and mild depression; promote relaxation and sleep; or improve focus and mental clarity.

So many herbs have been used for these purposes that it would be difficult to provide a complete list. However, those listed on the following pages stand out as particularly easy and appealing to grow and use at home. Altogether, these picks offer an assortment of gorgeous, sweet-smelling plants that are great choices for your garden, and can be made into easy-to-prepare herbal teas.

While the herbs included here are generally safe to use in teas and other herbal products, consult with your health-care provider before using these herbs in large amounts, for long-term use and/or to treat specific medical conditions. It’s a good idea to get professional guidance to determine an appropriate dosage and to be sure you’re aware of potential drug interactions or other side effects. This is especially true for women who are pregnant or nursing, or for anyone taking prescription medications.

Lemon Balm

(Melissa officinalis) is a green leafy perennial that resembles its relative mint, but with a distinctive lemony scent. This herb has a long history of being used to reduce stress and anxiety.

To Grow: Start from plants in late spring. Lemon balm is usually considered hardy to Zone 4. The plants can grow to 2 feet or more in height, and are a nice addition to a perennial bed, with prolific green leaves and small white flowers when in bloom. Relatively fast-growing, it takes only about 70 days to reach maturity. Harvest the leaves for use fresh or dried in tea.



For Health: Traditionally used for insomnia and anxiety, lemon balm is often consumed as a tea. Several studies support these medicinal uses, although lemon balm has been combined with other calming herbs such as valerian in some of this research. In fact, lemon balm may have additional benefits for mental health. While more research is needed, one intriguing recent finding is that treatment with lemon balm extract may help improve cognitive function and reduce agitation in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Rosemary

(Rosmarinus officinalis) is a drought-tolerant, aromatic perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean, usually with small blue flowers. While best known for its culinary uses, it may also boost mood and protect the brain.

To grow: Start as plants in spring, choosing well-drained soil and full sun. Select rosemary varieties carefully as they can be very different: upright or trailing, compact or sprawling, and with different levels of cold hardiness, although few are advertised as hardy beyond Zone 6. In warm climates, you may be able to grow rosemary as a hedge. In cooler climates, the safe bet is to grow it in a pot and bring it indoors in winter. However, some rosemary varieties (such as ‘Arp’ or ‘Hill Hardy’) may overwinter in cooler climates, especially given heavy mulch or other protection. Reaching maturity in about 100 days, rosemary produces narrow, needle-like leaves that can be clipped off throughout the year, and enjoyed fresh or dried.



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