Orange Essential Oil May Improve Symptoms of PTSD, Say Researchers

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects around 8 million adults in the United States, but treatments for the condition are still limited. Orange essential oil may offer a nonpharmaceutical option to help reduce the stress and fear associated with the disorder, suggests research carried out by scientists at George Washington University.
[orange essential plant oil]
Early indications show that orange essential plant oil could help to diminish symptoms associated with PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder often triggered by exposure to stressful, distressing, or frightening events, or the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.

The person with the disorder tends to relive the traumatic experience through flashbacks and nightmares. The severe anxiety caused by PTSD may last months or even years, and it can have a significant impact on the person’s life.

Chronic stress is thought to play a role in activating and exacerbating inflammation in the peripheral immune system. Research has suggested that peripherally circulating immune cells may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation in the central nervous system, which may contribute to mental health disorders, including PTSD. However, the link between fear memory and the immune system is not entirely understood.

Furthermore, treatment for PTSD is currently limited to two FDA-approved medications and psychotherapy practices, including cognitive and exposure therapies.

Cassandra Moshfegh, a research assistant in Paul Marvar’s laboratory at the George Washington University, and colleagues sought to investigate the effect of orange essential plant oil on PTSD symptoms. Previous studies have shown that orange essential oil may have a depressant-like effect on the central nervous system.

The team presented the research at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 conference, held in Chicago, IL.

Essential oils are naturally produced by plants and can be used for therapeutic purposes. The aromatic compounds of orange essential oil are usually extracted from the peel of the orange. Essential oils can be inhaled, applied to the skin, or ingested in foods or beverages.

Orange essential oil significantly reduced fear-associated behavior

Orange essential oil was tested in mice to determine the impact of the compound on fear memory and immune cell activation. The researchers used Pavlovian Fear Conditioning – a behavioral mouse model – “to study the formation, storage, and expression of fear memories as a model for PTSD.”

Pavlovian Fear Conditioning pairs a tone with a negative stimulus, such as a shock to the foot, which provokes fear as a response in the mice. The mice form an associative memory between the tone and the stimulus. When presented with the tone alone, the mice exhibit a fear response and typically freeze. This response diminishes slowly as time goes on.

Moshfegh and team divided the mice into three groups. The first group of 12 mice was exposed to the audio tone alone, 12 mice received water and fear conditioning, and the remaining 12 mice were exposed to orange essential oil by inhalation 40 minutes prior to and after the fear conditioning.

The researchers found that the mice exposed to orange essential oil were significantly less likely to exhibit freezing behavior and stopped freezing altogether earlier than the mice that received water and fear conditioning. Moreover, the mice exposed to orange essential oil experienced a significant decrease in the immune cells linked to the “biochemical pathways” associated with PTSD.

The mechanism behind the differences in behavior between the two groups could be explained by the variations found in gene expression in their brains.

“Relative to pharmaceuticals, essential oils are much more economical and do not have adverse side effects. The orange essential plant oil showed a significant effect on the behavioral response in our study mice. This is promising because it shows that passively inhaling this essential oil could potentially assuage PTSD symptoms in humans.”

Cassandra Moshfegh

Further studies are needed to unravel the specific effects of orange essential oil on the brain and nervous system, says Moshfegh, and to uncover how these effects reduce “stress and fear in people with PTSD.”

Inhalation of Black Pepper Essential Oil May Reduce Pain

  • Black Pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae)
  • Pain
  • Analgesic Properties

In Chinese medicine, black pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae) is known to warm the body. Studies have also indicated that the essential oil of black pepper has anti-inflammatory effects. In particular, linalool, a monoterpene, is one component of black pepper essential oil that has demonstrated analgesic properties in preclinical studies. Little is known about black pepper essential oil beyond these effects. The aim of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was to evaluate the analgesic properties of black pepper essential oil in patients experiencing pain.

Patients were recruited from the physiotherapy unit at the Hospital-School of the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto, Portugal, between May 2015 and July 2015. Patients included in the study were 18 years and older, presenting with pain, and available for the study period. Patients were excluded if they were using pain medication 8 hours before the study period, were pregnant or nursing, had active infections in the superior respiratory tract, or were consuming medication that could interfere with the olfactory system (e.g., quinolones).

A total of 54 patients were randomly divided into 2 different groups and provided identical-looking vials containing either the experimental oil (group A, n = 25) or the placebo oil (group B, n = 29). Patients in group A inhaled the black pepper essential oil (manufacturer unknown), while patients in group B inhaled sesame (Sesamum indicum, Pedaliaceae) oil (manufacturer unknown), both for 15 minutes. Before and after the treatment, patients were provided a questionnaire where they indicated the intensity (scale of 0 to 10) and location of the pain.

The mean patient age in this study was 39.9 ± 15.3 years (age range, 18-73 years). There were a total of 35 (64.8%) females and 19 (35.2%) males in this study. More females were in group A (80%, n = 20) than in group B (51.7%, n = 15). In this study, the area of pain was divided into 3 different caloric regions based on the principles of Chinese medicine. Overall, the patients presented with pain in the upper caloric region (upper chest area, 37%), in the middle caloric region (middle abdomen, 3.7%), the lower caloric region (area between the navel and the feet, 53.7%), and both the upper caloric and middle caloric regions (5.6%). In particular, group A presented with pain in the upper, middle, lower, and upper and lower caloric regions (40%, 8%, 40%, and 12%, respectively). Group B presented with pain in the upper and lower caloric regions (34.5% and 65.5%, respectively).

The median value of pain intensity before inhalation was 6.37 for all patients, 6 for group A, and 7 for group B (for all groups, the minimum value [min] was 3 and the maximum value [max] was 10). There were no significant differences between the 2 groups. The median value of pain intensity after inhalation of the essential oil was 4 for all patients (min, 0; max, 10), 3 for group A (min, 0; max, 8), and 6 for group B (min, 3; max, 10). There was a significant difference found between the 2 groups (P = 0.00) after inhalation, which was further supported by the lower mean rank values for A (17.70) compared to the mean rank values for B (35.95).

Consistent with preliminary research on the volatile constituents of black pepper, the authors of this study found that inhalation of black pepper essential oil resulted in a significantly lower pain intensity score than the placebo oil. Due to the small sample size, pain region variability, and unbalanced gender of this trial, more studies will have to be conducted to not only confirm the study results but also to assess differences between gender and pain regions. The results of this study indicate that black pepper essential oil may be an untapped resource for pain management.

Resource:

Costa R, Machado J, Abreu C. Evaluation of analgesic properties of Piper nigrum essential oil: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. World Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2016;2(2):60-64.

 

Seven Herbs and Supplements for Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a widespread disorder affecting the blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. Managing the long-term consequences and complications of diabetes are as much of a challenge as the disease itself.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas produces no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common. With type 2, the body either does not produce enough insulin or produces insulin that the body does not use properly.

There are many treatment options for people with type 2 diabetes. Growing research suggests that some herbs and supplements may help with the condition.

Useful herbs may be great to combine with more traditional methods to find relief from many type 2 diabetes symptoms.

Seven herbs and supplements

Here are seven herbs and supplements that may be of benefit to people with type 2 diabetes.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera
Studies suggest an antidiabetic potential for aloe that may lower blood sugar levels.

Aloe vera is a common plant with many different uses. Most people are aware of the plant being used to coat the skin and protect it from damage caused by too much sun exposure.

However, the plant has many lesser-known benefits as well. These range from helping digestive issues to possibly even relieving type 2 diabetes symptoms.

One review analyzed many studies using aloe vera to treat symptoms of diabetes. Their results strongly suggested an antidiabetic potential for aloe. Subjects given aloe showed lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels.

Further tests showed that aloe helps to increase how much insulin is produced by the pancreas. This could mean that aloe helps to restore bodies with type 2 diabetes or protect them from further damage. The researchers called for more studies to be done on aloe and its extracts to be certain of these effects.

There are many ways to take aloe. The juice pulp is sold in many markets and added to drinks, and extracts are put into capsules to be taken as supplements.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a fragrant herb created from the bark of a tree and is commonly found in kitchens. It has a sweet and spicy fragrance and taste that can add sweetness without any additional sugar. It is popular with people with type 2 diabetes for this reason alone, but there is much more to cinnamon than just flavor.

A review found that subjects with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes who were given cinnamon showed positive results in many different areas such as:

  • blood sugar levels
  • insulin levels
  • insulin sensitivity
  • blood fat levels
  • antioxidant levels
  • blood pressure
  • body mass
  • time to process food

These are important markers for people with diabetes. From this research, it may be said that cinnamon is important for everyone with type 2 diabetes to take.

The researchers did note that the type of cinnamon and the amount taken does have an effect on the results, however. Only the highest quality cinnamon or cinnamon extracts in capsule form should be used as a complementary treatment method.

An experienced health care practitioner should always be consulted before starting to use cinnamon heavily as a supplement.

Bitter melon

bitter melon
Bitter melon is a traditional Chinese and Indian medicinal fruit. Research suggests that the seeds may help to reduce blood sugar levels.

Momordica charantia, also known as bitter melon, is a medicinal fruit. It has been used for centuries in the traditional medicine of China and India. The bitter fruit itself is cooked into many dishes, and the plant’s medicinal properties are still being discovered.

One discovery being backed by science is that bitter melon may help with symptoms of diabetes. One review noted that many parts of the plant have been used to help treat diabetes patients.

Bitter melon seeds were given to both people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to reduce their blood sugar levels. Blended vegetable pulp mixed with water also lowered blood sugar levels in 86 percent of the type 2 diabetes patients tested. The fruit juice of the bitter melon also helped to improved blood sugar tolerance in many cases.

Eating or drinking the bitter melon can be an acquired taste. Luckily, similar effects were noted with extracts of the fruit taken as supplements as well.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that bitter melon could be used instead of insulin or medication for diabetes. However, it may help patients to rely less on those medications or lower their dosages.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is a herb that has been used since ancient times for many different ailments and is considered a tonic for the liver. The most studied extract from milk thistle is called silymarin, which is a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is these properties that may make milk thistle a great herb for people with diabetes.

A review notes that many of the studies on silymarin are promising, but the research is not strong enough to begin recommending the herb or extract alone for diabetes care.

Many people may still find that it is an important part of a care routine, especially since the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help protect against further damage caused by diabetes. Milk thistle is most often taken as a supplement.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is another seed with the potential to lower blood sugar levels. The seeds contain fibers and chemicals that help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates like sugar. The seeds may also help delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A recent study found that people with prediabetes were less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while taking powdered fenugreek seed. This was caused by the seed increasing the levels of insulin in the body, which also reduced the sugar in the blood.

Researchers found that the seed helped to lower cholesterol levels in patients as well.

Fenugreek can be cooked into certain dishes, added to warm water, or ground into a powder. It can also be added to a capsule to be swallowed as a supplement.

Gymnema

Gymnema is a relatively new herb on the Western market. In the plant’s native home of India, its name means “sugar destroyer.” A recent review noted that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients given Gymnema have shown signs of improvement.

In people with type 1 diabetes who were given the leaf extract over a period of 18 months, fasting blood sugar levels were lowered significantly when compared to a group that received only insulin.

Other tests using Gymnema found that people with type 2 diabetes responded well to taking both the leaf and its extract over various periods of time. Using Gymnema lowered blood sugar levels and increased insulin levels in the body of some patients.

Using either the ground leaf or leaf extract may be beneficial for many people with diabetes.

Ginger

ginger sliced
Ginger has been used for many years to treat digestive and inflammatory issues. Recent research suggests that it may reduce insulin resistance.

Ginger is another herb that science is just discovering more about. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine systems.

Ginger is often used to help treat digestive and inflammatory issues. However, a recent review posted to shows that it may be helpful in treating diabetes symptoms as well.

In their review, researchers found that supplementing with ginger lowered blood sugar levels, but did not lower blood insulin levels. Because of this, they suggest that ginger may reduce insulin resistance in the body for type 2 diabetes.

It is important to note that the researchers were uncertain as to how ginger does this. More research is being called for to make the claims more certain.

Ginger is often added to food raw or as a powdered herb, brewed into tea, or added to capsules as an oral supplement.

Important considerations for people with diabetes

It is always best to work with a healthcare professional before taking any new herb or supplement. Doctors usually have patients start out on a lower dose and gradually increase it until a comfortable dose is found.

Some herbs can interact with other medications that do the same job, such as blood thinners and high blood pressure medications. It is very important to be aware of any interactions before starting a new supplement.

It is also important for people to get herbs from a high-quality source. Herbs are not monitored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products may contain different herbs and fillers, recommend an incorrect dose, or even be contaminated with pesticides.

Herbs and supplements should be seen as a complementary treatment option, and should not replace medications.

Working closely with a knowledgeable healthcare professional, herbs can be a great addition to many care programs for diabetes.

Horny Goat Weed: Health Benefits, Use

Horny goat weed is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb. It is also known by its many botanical names, including Epimedium, and its Chinese name, yin yang huo.

As a form of alternative medicine, the herb has been used to treat conditions from hay fever to atherosclerosis, nerve pain fatigue, osteoporosis, and erectile dysfunction.

Human research data to support the use of horny goat weed is limited at best. However, there is some anecdotal evidence for using the herb to treat certain medical conditions.

Uses and research

Epimedium or horny goat weed
Epimedium is a flowering plant that is also known as horny goat weed and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

There have been studies conducted on cells in laboratories that report evidence of several beneficial properties of horny goat weed. Early research suggests that it may have properties that can keep bones strong, protect the nerves, and support the immune system.

Other cell research has revealed the following possible effects:

  • anticancer effects
  • anti-HIV activity
  • radiosensitizing effects
  • reversal of multidrug resistance in some tumor cells
  • postmenopausal bone loss prevention

Atherosclerosis is a condition where the arteries in the neck harden. For people with atherosclerosis, a mixture containing horny goat weed may be beneficial and result in improved symptoms and clinical tests.

People with hay fever may experience symptom relief and a reduction in white blood cells that tend to increase with allergies.

Horny goat weed and erectile dysfunction

One study looked at rats with injured nerves and nerve cells grown in a lab. The researchers reported that icariin, the active component of horny goat weed, might show positive and promising effects in treating erectile dysfunction (ED) caused by nerve injury.

ED is a common problem affecting men, especially those aged 40-70 years old. Nearly 20 million men in the United States are affected by the condition, which can have many causes. At times, men may experience psychological conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that may cause or contribute to ED.

ED has 2 categories:

  • Primary ED: Men affected by this rare condition have never been able to have or sustain a penile erection. Primary ED is often due to a physical abnormality or a psychological cause.
  • Secondary ED: This form is typically caused by a physical condition. Causes range from conditions such as diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and physical injuries. This group of men will likely have had erections in the past.

Certain medications, such as those to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, cancer, and long-term pain, may contribute to the condition. Some of these medications include:

  • beta-blockers
  • clonidine
  • spironolactone
  • thiazide diuretics
  • alcohol and drugs such as cocaine
  • opioids
  • SSRI and tricyclic antidepressants
  • anxiolytics
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • amphetamines
  • 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors
  • anticholinergics
  • cimetidine
  • hormonal therapies

Although there is some evidence that horny goat weed may offer symptom relief in certain medical conditions, additional research is necessary.

Dosing

Chinese medicine draws
Before taking any herbs or supplements, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional who can assess an individual’s needs.

As with any medications, herbs, and supplements, it is important for people to speak to their doctor before using horny goat weed. A doctor can work out its safety and dosage based on an individual’s needs and medical history.

For the treatment of atherosclerosis and ED, the University of Michigan recommends taking 5 grams 3 times per day. For the treatment of hay fever, it is recommended to simmer 500 milligrams in 250 milliliters of water for 10-15 minutes and consume 3 times daily.

People should check with their doctor to see if seeping in water is required when treating themselves with horny goat weed. Typically, the herb is mixed in a tonic to decrease the risk of side effects.

Alternative medicine should not take the place of traditional medicine or be used in the place of recommendations from a doctor.

High doses of horny goat weed have been associated with breathing difficulty, vomiting, and nausea.

Side effects and interactions

As with any medication or herbal supplement, some people may experience side effects or adverse reactions when using horny goat weed. Possible side effects may include:

  • mood changes such as irritability and aggression
  • racing heart
  • increased energy
  • sweating
  • feelings of being hot
  • decreased thyroid function
  • nausea

It is important for people to speak to a doctor about these or any other side effects that occur with the use of horny goat weed.

Interactions

Horny goat weed may interact with certain medications that include:

  • cortisone
  • prednisone
  • prednisolone
  • methylprednisolone
  • dexamethasone
  • cytochrome P450 substrates
  • aromatase Inhibitors, such as anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole

People should not take horny goat weed if they:

  • have hormone-sensitive cancer, as the herb has been shown to promote estrogen production
  • have heart disease as it can potentially lead to a rapid irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and excitability
  • have a known sensitivity to Epimedium
  • are taking aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole
  • have been recommended not to do so by a doctor

Anyone who is considering using horny goat weed should discuss it with their doctor first. Health experts can determine if horny goat weed is right for someone and what the appropriate dosing would be.

There have not been enough studies to recommend the use of this herb and to ensure its safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies do not monitor the quality, purity, or safety of herbs and extra caution is recommended.

More studies are needed to guarantee safety and identify potential side effects. If anyone does purchase herbs, they should be sure to buy from a known and reputable source.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Selecting Containers, Soil Mixes for Containers

Selecting Containers:

Decorative pots, barrels, and tubs are beautiful and convenient, and there are multitudes of styles. They lend instant color and provide a focal point for space, whether indoors or out. The only tricky thing is getting a sense of how large a pot you’ll need for a particular herb, so check each herb to determine its mature size. For outdoor growing, keep in mind that it’s easier to grow plants in large containers than small ones because large containers hold more soil, which stays moist longer and is less subject to temperature fluctuations. For most herbs, the ideal container provides enough room for the herb to grow in one season. {For example, place a herb purchased in a 4-inch pot into a 6- to 8-inch pot.} Check the herb’s profile to see how big it’s going to get during the season, and use that as your guide.

You should also consider the size and shape of a plant’s root system, how rapidly it grows, and whether it is a perennial, annual, or shrub. It is especially important to check your pots occasionally to make sure the root systems haven’t outgrown their lodgings. Root-bound plants, which have filled up every square inch of the soil available, dry out rapidly and do not grow well.

Of course, the sizes of the containers you use will be limited by the space you have available {especially indoors}, what structures or furniture will support the containers, and whether the containers will need to be moved.

Whichever container you choose, drainage holes are essential. Without drainage, soil can become water-logged and plants will suffer. With the exception of ceramic-type pots, you can always drill drainage holes yourself. There are also self-watering, double-walled containers and pots on the market, and these are ideal for smaller plants that need frequent watering.

When choosing pots for herbs, you also need to take into account the differences between plastic, clay {such as terra-cotta}, glazed ceramic, and wooden pots. Plastic warms up fast {not an advantage outdoors in areas where summers are hot and dry} and thus dries out quickly, but it’s lightweight and inexpensive. Terra-cotta containers can be attractive and inexpensive; they do transpire moisture through their walls, but they also dry more evenly than plastic. You’ll need to protect terra-cotta pots in colder climates because they can crack or break as they freeze and thaw. Glazed ceramic will retain moisture but can keep plants soaked with water if the drainage holes are not adequate. Wood is natural looking in an outdoor setting and can protect roots from rapid temperature extremes. Polyurethane foam pots are gaining in popularity because they resemble terra-cotta pots but are considerably lighter. However, we do not recommend growing your medicinal plants in this type of material because the toxic hydrocarbons emitted by the foam can enter your herb’s roots. There is one thing to remember, no matter which type of pot you choose: Start with small pots when the plants are young and small, allowing for at least one season of growth.

Let’s Plant Herbs:

Once you’ve made decisions about the placement and possibilities of your setting, you’re ready to select soil mixes and plants. Maybe you already know which herbs you would like to grow or you’re inspired to try a new plant.

Soil Mixes for Containers:

A soil mix needs to do two things: hold the plant’s roots in place and retain the nutrients and moisture it needs. As you learn about herbs you would like to grow, you will notice that they differing nutrient and moisture needs. Herbs that originate in four-season climates and the tropics will appreciate rich soils mixes, and desert or Mediterranean plants will respond better to lean soil mixes.

You can create your own soil mix with just a few garden components. Start with a base of whichever you have on hand, either good topsoil or purchased potting soil. Mix the ingredients in a large tub or wheelbarrow, or on a tarp, and then transfer it to your containers.

Rich Soil Mix:

You can purchase all of these ingredients {except the garden soil} at garden or farm supply stores. Coir {shredded coconut hulls} is a great substitute for non-renewable peat, but coir dries out very quickly, so make sure it is moistened before adding it to your mix.

2 parts garden soil or purchased organic potting soil

2 parts compost

2 parts coir, composted fine bark, perlite, or moistened vermiculite*

1 part horticultural sand

Optional: 1 to 2 parts aged manure, for outdoor mixes

  • Reduce by half if you’re using potting soil

Lean Soil Mix:

2 parts garden soil or purchased organic potting soil

2 parts sand, perlite, or vermiculite

Optional: 1 to 2 parts coir or another tilth-building ingredient, such as coffee grounds or peanut or rice hulls

A variety of “soilless” mixes are available. They often contain peat, which is an endangered, nonrenewable resource {although it’s a superior component of soil mixes}. Check before purchasing soil-less mixes, and always buy a certified organic mix unless you trust the source. You can also make your own soil-less mixes.

Rich Soilless Mix:

2 parts coir, moistened

2 parts compost

1 part sand

1 part aged manure or a combination of blood meal, fish meal, bone meal, or seaweed meal

Optional: 1 part perlite or vermiculite

Lean Soilless Mix:

4 parts coir, moistened

2 parts sand

Optional: 1 part perlite or vermiculite

Moisten with fish emulsion, algae, or seaweed liquid {such as Maxicrop}.

Potting Up Herbs:

If you have purchased plants, fill your empty container half full of your soil mix and gently lift a plant out of its nursery pot by cradling the base of the plant stem between two fingers, turning the pot upside down or sideways, then tapping, squeezing, and easing out the plant. Set it in place in the container. Fill the pot with soil mix, making sure that the soil level is at least an inch or two below the rim of the container and the soil is even with, or slightly higher than, the original soil level of the plant. Firm the soil around the plant.

If you’re starting herbs from seed, fill seedling trays, nursery or paper pots, or clean, recycled containers with seed-starting mix, and directly sow seeds into the mix, following the directions for each herb profile.

Caring for Container Plants:

Once you’ve invested time in planting containers, you will want the herbs to grow well and look their best. Follow these tips for great results.

  • Do not place a layer of gravel or broken pottery at the bottom of your container, as many sources recommend. That practice actually worsens bad drainage, instead of improving it.
  • Water container plants thoroughly, but do not over-water! It is sometimes tricky to determine whether more is needed, but you should keep in mind that most herbs in containers should nearly dry out between watering. You can’t always tell by feeling the soil surface whether the soil throughout the container is dry, but you will want to let the plant get {almost} to the point of wilting before you douse it.
  • Container plants need regular feeding. If the herb likes rich soil, water it with a liquid fertilizer every week or two, just until the fertilizer begins to drain out of the bottom. If it thrives in poorer soil, feed it once a month.
  • Remove dead leaves and spent blossoms, and prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming. Do not be afraid to dig out or remove plants that do not grow well or that succumb to diseases or pests.
  • If the roots of a plant start to emerge from the drainage holes at the bottom of its container, it’s time to repot! Use a pot that is the next size up, fill it halfway with your soil mix, place your plant in the pot, and continue filling until the soil level is a little bit higher than the original soil level of the herb. Firm the soil around the plant. Sprinkle a little bit of compost on the soil surface, then drench it with a diluted fish emulsion, seaweed, or algae fertilizer; you can also apply compost or comfrey tea.
  • Plan to repot your perennial herbs every year. Each spring, remove the entire plant and its soil from the pot and shake off any soil that comes away easily. If no soil comes off easily {or if you see the plant’s roots coiled tightly around the edge of the root-ball}, it’s time for a bigger pot. Trim away any old, dead plant material and gently loosen any visible coiled roots. Put some new soil in the bottom of the pot [or, if you are transplanting into a larger pot, half fill the new container}, set the plant on the soil, and add more soil around the sides of the plant. Then water the new transplant with liquid fertilizer.
  • If your plant is too big to repot, tend and feed it yearly. Using a trowel, break up the surface of the soil and water it with comfrey tea, compost tea, fish emulsion, or other liquid fertilizer. Then apply a fresh layer of compost – as much as possible, while making sure that your soil level remains at least an inch or so below the rim of the container.
  • In autumn, cut back perennial herbs and reduce your watering schedule. Remove the top layer of compost from your pots and replace it. Bring your tender plants inside before the first frost date. You can leave hardy perennials outside, but group them together against a sheltered wall and mulch them. If severe weather is predicted, cover the entire group of pots with a thick layer of straw or leaves, string with non-LED Christmas lights, or use blankets or other protection.
  • Hanging baskets make great herb containers, but be sure to place them in an easy-to-reach spot so they do not suffer from neglect. They are best located where they will not get full sun all day and won’t experience high winds. Creeping herbs, such as Gotu kola and oregano, are the best choices for hanging baskets. Check them every morning and evening to see if they need water.

Create A Living Herbal Apothecary Outside Your Door

Whether you’re an experienced farmer or completely new to the world of gardening, medicinal herbs offer a unique growing experience. In this article, you’ll learn the steps you need to take to create a living herbal apothecary outside your door. If you have the area to cultivate and would like to grow your own herbs, start right here.

Herbs From the Ground Up:

Gardening begins with the soil; it’s the “ground of our being,” to borrow a phrase. If you take care of the soil, the soil, in turn, will nourish and feed the plants you grow for healing and health.

Soil Types:

An important first step in growing outdoors is to find what kind of soil you have. Take a handful of soil from a couple different places in your yard or on your land, make sure each one is somewhat moist, squeeze it gently in your fist, and then examine it. If the soil in your hand is somewhat sticky and holds together in a ball, it is clay soil. This type of soil is high in nutrients but can be heavy and waterlogged. If the herb you want to grow needs good drainage, you should add sand, gravel, or organic matter to the soil to lighten the texture. But if your herb needs rich soil and moisture, clay soil may be fine.

If your sample is grayish and gritty and falls right through your fingers, it is sandy soil. This soil type drains well, but it allows nutrients to wash away easily so it is considered the leanest soil. It warms up earliest in the spring so it may allow you to get a head start on the growing season. If the herb you want to grow needs rich conditions, you’ll need to add amendments {such as compost, organic fertilizers, and other sources of organic matter} to improve the texture of sandy soil and boost its nutrient content.

If your sample is a rich brown color, smells sweetly earthy, and crumbles easily, it is loam soil. This is the ideal soil type because it holds nutrients and moisture, yet it’s well aerated, so roots can easily expand and grow. Depending on the herb you are planting, you might add sand or gravel for better drainage or compost or aged manure to further enrich the soil.

Your site may have more than one type of soil or even a combination of all three types. But no matter which you have, you should pay attention to the level of organic matter your soil contains. Check to see if the sample in your hand looks like it contains bits of dark-colored humus {organic matter, such as composted plants, tiny pieces of bark, and worm castings}. If your soil is lacking humus, consider working in materials such as finely chopped leaves or compost.

pH levels:

Soil’s acidity or alkalinity is measured by its concentration of hydrogen ions or pH {the power of hydrogen}. You can test a soil sample yourself or send it away for testing to determine its pH level. Most herbs and vegetables prefer pH levels to be in the neutral range {6.5 to 7.5}, but some varieties are tolerant of more widely acid or alkaline soils. Excess acidity or alkalinity {below 5.5 or above 8} will make it difficult for a plant to take up nutrients. Sandy soils are often acidic {below 7}, and chalky or limey soils are alkaline {above 7}, but your local conditions play a role, too. You can buy fairly good, inexpensive testing kits at garden stores if you want to do it yourself, or you can ask your local Cooperative Extension Service about their testing service. They may perform several types of analysis, including measuring levels of organic matter and nutrients, and they will make recommendations for amending the soil to create ideal growing conditions for your plants. For example, if your soil is too acidic, you can add amendments to increase alkalinities, such as limestone, calcium, and wood ashes. If your soil is too alkaline, add sulfur, pine needles, leaf mold {composted leaves}, and even highly diluted urea.

Nutrients:

Plants have nutritional needs, just like we do. The three major nutrients, which are usually included in commercial fertilizers, are nitrogen {N}, phosphorus {P}, and potassium {K}. In purchased fertilizers, you’ll see them represented on the label as three numbers separated by dashes: 5-10-5 {meaning 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, and 5 percent potassium}. Plants need smaller amounts of other micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and molybdenum, and these are often included in fertilizer mixes, too.

Nitrogen is necessary for plants to develop healthy leaves, and you can provide it in several ways. Good sources of nitrogen include compost, aged manure, blood meal, grass clippings, and fish emulsion. Cover crops, also called green manures, are another.

Phosphorus is important for seed, flower, and root development in plants. Good sources are a bone meal, phosphate rock, compost, and fish emulsion.

Potassium {sometimes called “potash”} helps develop roots and fruits and helps plants take up nutrients. Good sources of potassium include wood ashes, comfrey tea {which is also high in calcium, iron, and manganese}, algae powders {such as Maxicrop}, granite dust, and fish emulsion.

How do you know if a plant needs fertilizer? Even without soil test results, you can follow these simple clues: If your herb is stunted and the stems are thin and stiff, or if the leaves are small, have yellowed, or have even begun to fall off, you may need to add nitrogen {N}. If your herb has leaves that are turning purple on the undersides or at the tips, or if the stems are thin and the plant is growing slowly, you may need to add phosphorus {P}. If your herb begins to look “scorched” at the leaf margins or has bleached spots, the stems are weak and wilting, the leaves are curling, and the growth is stunted, you may need to add potassium {K}.

We garden organically and always have. Over the years, we’ve experimented with various soil amendments, but we always come back to the tried and true, slow acting, self-generating superstar – compost. We apply a few inches of it each year. When you feed the soil according to the needs of the herb in question, the plants will be stronger and better able to stave off disease and pest issues.

If plants show signs of nutrient deficiency, that’s the time to top-dress with a few inches of compost or to water with liquid fertilizers, such as comfrey tea, algae liquid made from commercial powders, or fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizers. Start with a watering can full of liquid, follow the directions on the commercial product {if applicable}, and slowly water the soil around the plant until it begins to run off or the soil appears to be saturated.

If you’ve performed a soil test and you know that you have nutrient deficiencies, you can work in any of the dry nutrients at the rate recommended on the label, depending on the needs of the individual herbs. Or you can simply sprinkle the powder on the soil surface, cultivate the soil to work the fertilizer deeper into the ground, and water well.

Mulch:

Mulch is simply organic material that you lay on top of the soil around your plants. It can be wood or bark chips, dry leaves, straw, crushed rock, or grass clippings. Mulch provides a barrier between the soil and the air, which helps to keep moisture in the soil, and it gradually breaks down to provide organic matter to the soil. Keep in mind that different materials may have varying levels of acidity or alkalinity, and most should not come in contact with the stems or trunks of your plants. If your summers are humid {which means that fungal problems are an issue}, be judicious about adding mulch, because some organic materials can introduce pathogens. Sand, gravel, and stone may be better options for you. You can also use agricultural or landscape fabric; just fasten it down with stakes and cut holes for your plants. These fabric {and black plastic or polyethylene, which we do not recommend} are used as weed barriers and water conservation aids. They have their place, particularly if you live in a dry climate or need to discourage a massive preexisting population of an intractable weed or undesirable plant, such as Bermuda grass, but natural mulches usually do the job just as well.

Light:

Most herbs and vegetables need 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive, but this is a general guideline only. Some plants will tolerate a wide range of light exposure, and their sunlight requirements may vary in your local climate, as well. Each herb has its own individual needs.

Water:

drip irrigationHerbs require water to grow, but how much is enough? Growing powerful medicinal herbs is a playful dance between simulating wild conditions {giving plants the same environmental situations that they would encounter in their homeland} and providing cultivated amenities that might improve their potency and health.

Let’s look at essential oil content. Many of the herbs we grow for medicine {and food} are valued for that constituent, and we might want to pay attention to what increases it. Many members of the Lamiaceae, or mint family {basil, catnip, oregano, peppermint, and thyme} come from Mediterranean climates, where summers are hot and dry and winters are mild. They have adapted to dry conditions for much of the year. It stands to reason that, at some point, their essential oils can be diluted if they are over-watered. Yet research has shown that some supplemental water given to these plants increases their foliage yield and essential oil levels.

Where you, the grower, come in is in determining when you’ve given your plant enough water, but not too much. You’ll want to remember that clay soils hold water longer, sandy soils drain faster, and gardens on sloping hillsides lose moisture {which mulch can help retain}. You’ll have to assess water needs based on your conditions and the season, as well as the needs of the individual plants.

If you plan to garden on a larger scale or have limited garden maintenance time, you may want to consider an automatic watering system that consists of overhead sprinklers, drip irrigation, or a combination of the two. These systems are both time- and work-savers, relatively inexpensive, and often sold in easy-to-use kit forms. Overhead watering mimics nature, of course, and we’ve noticed that plants in a hot, dry environment appreciate the humidity it provides. But overhead watering in the later part of the day can set up ideal conditions for fungal diseases to develop, and it also tends to waste water. Drip irrigation can deliver water where it is needed – at the roots of the plants – through a series of tubes and emitters, but the equipment can be easily damaged and requires a fair amount of maintenance. Talk with a garden center about your needs and read product reviews online to be sure that the system you’re considering is a good match for your needs.

Temperature:

This element comes into play in several different ways. How do you know when to sow seeds or set plants into the ground?

First, of course, there’s the temperature of the soil. Some herbs germinate best in cold soil, some in warm. Then there’s timing: You’ll want to learn the last frost date for your local areas so you’ll know when you can safely plant those tender spring seedlings. You can ask your local Cooperative Extension Service or, of course, do an online search. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to choose herbs from our recommendations wisely.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Propagation

Seeding is our favorite form of propagation. A seed is a repository for all the genetic diversity of the ancient wildness of these potent medicinals. When you are looking for medicine in a herb, you want to use the purest, strongest strain of the species you can get; in other words, you want the original, unchanged, wildest form available. So you will not, in most cases, choose a hybrid, which is indicated by a multiplication sign between a plant’s genus and species name or by a proper name within single quotes, like ‘Jenny’. And you won’t choose varieties developed for a wide array of flower colors or disease resistance. Seeds of unselected, wilder species will give you the full range of biodiversity possible for the herb – which makes it perfect for use as herbal medicine.

Most of the herbs featured in this website can be easily sown from seed. You will find instructions for the propagation methods {stem cuttings, root cuttings, root division, and layering} within this article. Our favorite seed sources are listed in the page ‘Buying and Ordering Plants’. We recommend that you seek out certified organic sources or get to know the seed company’s practices personally. We support small, local seed exchanges and regional seed houses whose activities are transparent, and we avoid those that trade in genetically modified or engineered seeds or plants.

Starting Seeds:

There are a few herbs that germinate best when they are seeded directly in the garden. However, most get a better start when sown indoors or in a greenhouse. You can start seeds in purchased seed trays or flats, recycled plastic nursery pots, or just about anything you have available that’s an appropriate size and shape: egg cartons, half clamshells, or paper cups, for example. If you can, start seeds in containers with individual cells. That way, when it’s time to transplant, you won’t have to disturb the seedlings’ roots as much as you would while separating seedlings started in a large container.

Seed-Starting Mix Recipes:

You can purchase an organic seed-starting mix at most hardware or garden stores, or you can make your own. Here are a few sample recipes.

Seed-Starting Mix 1

1 part organic potting soil

1 part perlite or vermiculite

Seed-Starting Mix 2

1 part garden soil

1 part well-sifted organic compost

2 parts horticultural sand or a combination of sand, perlite, vermiculite, and coir

Seed-Starting Mix 3

1 part well-sifted organic compost

1 part perlite or vermiculite

1 part coir

How to Plant Seeds:

Follow these instructions for sowing and nurturing your newly planted seeds.

  1. Make sure your mixture is moist but not soggy. Fill your clean, disinfected containers with the mix, and lightly tamp it down to settle and firm it.
  2. Make a shallow indentation with your finger or a pencil or chopstick and drop several seeds. Unless you’re planning a huge garden, do not sow all of the seeds in a packet; save some for a second sowing or the next season. In most cases, the average individual or family will only need 5 to 20 plants of a particular herb.
  3. Cover the seeds lightly with the seed-starting mix to a depth of two to three times the diameter of the seed. Very small seeds will get just the barest cover or will be pressed into the soil surface.
  4. Water or mist the flat or container gently, label it with the name of the herb and the date and place it in a warm location. If you are starting seeds early in the spring and the seeds need warm soil to germinate, you may want to purchase heating cables or pads {available online} or place the containers near a radiator or heater. A bright east- or west- facing windowsill with indirect light can suffice for germination. Most seeds germinate best between 60 and 80 degrees F.
  5. Label each herb container or tray with the herb name and the date. Keep the seedlings gently watered or misted so they remain moist but not soggy. {And if you will be gone for the better part of each day, cover the containers or trays with sheets of plastic wrap or plastic bags to keep in warmth and moisture. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the covering.} Make sure new emerging seedlings get 6 hours of sunlight daily. If they do not, you will need to supplement with fluorescent, LED, or grow lights. Germination times vary from several days to several weeks.
  6. The first leaves that emerge with germination {called the cotyledons} will be followed by the “true leaves,” which will look more like the mature leaves of the herb. You can transplant a plant to its own container or an outdoor bed after the true leaves have appeared, but it’s best to wait until there are several sets of true leaves and the plant looks healthy and strong.

Transplanting Outdoors:

If you are starting seeds indoors, sow them 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your area. Once the frost date has passed, you can safely transplant seedlings into outdoor pots or beds.

As you notice that the young plants are ready, take them outdoors in their seed-starting trays or containers for a few days, and bring them back inside before nightfall. This process is called “hardening off,” and it helps the plants become used to the temperatures and conditions outside. After several days of hardening off, leave the plants outside overnight. Then transplant them into beds or containers, preferably in the late afternoon or on a cool day. If they are going into the ground, dig a hole bigger than the seedling and place a handful of compost or aged manure at the bottom. Place the seedling into the depression and firm the soil around it, burying the main stem slightly deeper than it had been growing in the seed-starting medium. Water it gently.

Stem Cutting:

If you have access to a mature plant of the species you would like to grow, in many cases, you can propagate by stem cuttings. Cuttings will result in a new plant in a matter of weeks, and you’ll have a success rate of 50 to 90 percent, depending on the herb. Cuttings are best taken in spring or early summer.

Here is how to propagate from stem cuttings.

  1. Make a mixture of 1 part sand and 1 part perlite, or 1 part sand and 1 part moistened coir, with an optional smattering of compost tossed into the mix, and moisten it until it is wet but not soggy. This will be your rooting medium.
  2. Fill clean, sterilized pots with the mixture, leaving an inch or so at the rim of the pot. Use your little finger, a pencil, or a chopstick to poke a 2-inch-deep hole in the mix for each cutting you will be starting.
  3. Snip a 4- to 6- inch section of a healthy stem, and remove all leaves from the bottom one-third to one-half of the cutting, leaving the only naked stem on that portion. You may also pinch off the tiny tip of the cutting.
  4. As an option, you can dip the lower half of the stem cutting into rooting hormone or a strong tea made from willow bark or twigs. Insert the cutting into the hole you have poked in the rooting medium. Make sure the area you stripped of leaves is below the soil.
  5. Check the moisture level of the rooting medium once or twice daily. You can also place a plastic bag over the stem cutting, making sure it doesn’t touch the leaves. {Insert a bent coat hanger, chopstick, or another support around and above the cutting.} Then cut slits in the bag to allow fresh air to reach the plant.
  6. Place the cutting in the bright but indirect light. If the air temperature is going to fall below 65 degrees F, consider adding bottom heat {in the form of heating coils or pads} for greater success.
  7. Stem cuttings will form roots in 2 to 4 weeks. After 2 weeks, check to see if the cutting has rooted by gently tugging on its top leaves to see if there is resistance, which is a sign that roots have formed.
  8. As soon as possible after you verify that the cutting has rooted, transplant the seedling into a pot or its permanent location in the ground.

In the fall, you can take hardwood cuttings from woody plants during their dormant period. Mid-autumn id often the best time to collect and plant cuttings, because the plants will have time to form roots before buds begin to grow.

  1. Make a mixture of 1 part sand and 1 part perlite, or 1 part sand and 1 part moistened coir, with an optional smattering of compost tossed into the mix, and moisten it until it is wet but not soggy. This will be your rooting medium.
  2. Fill clean, sterilized pots with the mixture, leaving an inch or so at the rim of the pot.
  3. Collect 4- to 8- inch cuttings from vigorous, 1-year-old wood, a few inches below the tip of the branch or stem. Make a sloping cut at each tip, slightly above a bud, and a straight cut at each base, slightly below the bud.
  4. Place the cuttings 2 to 4 inches apart in the medium, with the top bud of each about 1 inch above the rooting medium’s surface. Be sure the cuttings point upward, and double-check that you have stuck the ends with straight cuts into the medium.
  5. Place the cuttings {along with their rooting medium mixture} in a “nursery” trench that you have dug in the ground soon after you harvest them from the mother plant. This trench will allow them to overwinter before they are planted individually in the ground. Cover the cuttings with 6 to 8 inches of mulch.
  6. Keep the cuttings moist over the winter. Remove the mulch and move your rooted cuttings to their new homes in the spring.

Root Cuttings:

Plants that have taproots {like carrots} are best divided by actually taking slices from the root of the mature plant. This method also works well for plants that have long, creeping roots, rhizomes {underground stems with a root-like appearance} or runners.

  1. Dig the root carefully and gently brush off any excess soil.
  2. If the plant has a taproot, cut off 1-inch slices. If you have a thin creeping rhizome, notice the growing nodes {bumps or lines on the root} and divide the rhizome into sections that each has at least two of these nodes.
  3. Using the same potting mix that you would for stem cuttings, fill a pot one-half to two-thirds full. Lay the taproot or thin root sections on the surface and cover it with more potting mix, to just below the rim of the pot. Do not compress the soil.
  4. Label your new starts and water them well.
  5. When you notice a new plant emerging from the soil surface, you can transplant it into its permanent home.

Root Division:

Sometimes the best way to gain a new plant is to take advantage of someone else’s excess! There are quite a few plants that expand and spread by runners {underground stems} and others that self-seed profusely and form massive plantings. These can be lifted out of the soil and divided, and the resulting sections can be replanted. The same process can renew an older plant that has died out in the center. It’s done with perennial herbs that have fibrous roots {as distinguished from taproots} anytime during the growing season, but is perhaps best done in the fall, when the plants are beginning to die back, or in the early spring, when growth is starting to explode. Of course, check the individual herb to make sure that the herb you are working with is suited to this technique.

  1. Carefully dig and lift up the whole plant, making sure to get as much of the rootball as you possibly can. If the plant is large or unwieldy, you may want to prune it to a manageable size first.
  2. Shake off any excess soil and gently tease the root mass apart, sensing where it most easily wants to separate.
  3. If the root is large, hard to separate, or very dense, you can use a weeding tool, a digging fork, or even clippers or scissors to separate the roots.
  4. Replant all sections immediately, either into pots or in the garden. If the herb likes a richer soil, fill the new holes with compost to give the divisions some nutrition for the journey to maturity.
  5. If you haven’t already, prune the above-ground portions by at least half so that the newly disturbed roots won’t have to feed as much plant matter.
  6. Water thoroughly.

You can also use the same technique to separate offsets and side shoots from parent plants. Remove younger, smaller shoots from the outer edges of a rootball by breaking or cutting them off, making sure that each piece you remove has its own root system. Replant the offshoots immediately to the same depth as the original plant, and water it thoroughly.

Layering:

This is the oldest method of propagation, and it’s one that happens naturally as certain herbs age. The long, leggy stems of some plants droop down and rest on the soil, and when they touch at a node {a raised area on the stem where the leaf attaches}, roots will form. You can mimic this process by layering selected plants to create offspring.

  1. Choose a strong, healthy stem, and notice where it will easily dip to the earth. Remove all the side shoots and leaves from a 6- to 12- inch section at the point of soil contact.
  2. If you wish, you may use a knife to gently scrape the underside and outer woody portion of the stem for 1 to 2 inches at the point of soil contact.
  3. Fluff or rough up the soil where you plan to bring the stem into contact with it, mixing in a thin layer of compost or watering with liquid fertilizer.
  4. Press the stem to the earth. Anchor the stem with a stake, a U-shaped piece of wire, a stone, or something similar. Mound a layer of soil over the anchored section of the stem.
  5. Keep the area moist. Layering is a long process, but if you start in the spring, you should be able to separate your new plant in the fall.
  6. When roots form, snip off the portion that connects the new plant to the mother plant. Pot up the new plant immediately. If it’s going into the ground, transplant it in the fall, or keep it in a sheltered spot and wait until the following spring.

You can use this same technique to layer potted plants, too. Pull a runner or a long stem from the mother plant, and set it on top of the soil of a new pot. Make sure it is secure, as directed above. When it roots, you have a new potted herb already nestled in.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Explaining Propagation Terminology

Seed-starting is one of the easiest and enjoyable parts of herbal gardening, but some seeds require special consideration and procedures to ensure germination.

Cotyledon: The first leaf or one of the first pair of leaves to unfold as a seed germinates. Cotyledons generally do not resemble the plant’s actual leaves.

Damping Off: A fungal disease that causes seedling stems from shriveling and collapsing at the soil level.

Dark-dependent germination: Seeds that need a light barrier in order to germinate. Most times, if there’s not quite enough darkness, the germination level may be reduced, but many seeds will still germinate.

Germination: The initial growth of a seed.

Inoculant: A bacterial microbe, usually found in powder or liquid form, that is applied directly to seeds in the Fabaceae {legume} family to improve germination.

Light-dependent germination: Seeds that require light to germinate. These seeds are pressed onto the surface of the soil and kept moist until germination occurs.

Multi-cycle germination: Seeds that require a warm cycle, a cold cycle, and another warm cycle before they germinate. This can sometimes require more than a year for germination.

Rooting hormone: A synthetic version of a natural plant hormone that can encourage root formation on stem cuttings. Commercial rooting hormones are available in garden centers and online in powder form, but they are not approved for organic use.

Scarification: The process of abrading the seed surface to make it more permeable. Some seeds have hard seed coats that need to be broken down so that they can germinate. In nature, this happens when they pass through the digestive tract of an animal or are exposed to rough, changeable weather conditions. You can mimic this process by gently rubbing the seeds with sandpaper, nicking them with a sharp knife {if they are large enough} or dropping them in boiling water and then letting them cool to room temperature.

Seed: A plant embryo and its supply of nutrients, often surrounded by a protective seed coat.

Seedling: A young plant grown from a seed.

Stratification: Exposing seeds to a period of cold to break dormancy. Cold stratification helps germinate seeds that would naturally go through freezing temperatures in the winter. You can either sow in the fall and leave the flat outdoors, where it will experience the natural rise and fall of the seasonal temperatures, or, if your winter is not frigid, you can artificially create those cool conditions: In a plastic bag, mix the seed with moist sand or vermiculite, label the bag, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 weeks. You can also place the bag in the freezer occasionally to simulate winter weather.

Growing An Aromatic Herb Garden

The first or original aromatic herb gardens were developed by the Persians sometimes over 2,000 years back in the courtyards of their residences. Generally, these herb gardens were of square or rectangular shape and usually they were separated into four by streams that originated from a centrally located fountain. These enclosed scented herb gardens were called pairidaeza, which was derived from the word ‘paradise’. The Persians are known to be outstanding gardeners and their ‘paradise’ essentially included three major features – running water, aroma, and shade.

In fact, the Byzantine church was mainly instrumental in making the concept of such scented herb garden popular in the western regions of Europe, earlier in the structure of cloister gardens, which were soon found in all monasteries in the region. The concept of a walled, scented garden was readily accepted by the traditional Christianity during the medieval times. In effect, it was something familiar to observing the entire creation in a representational term. By now, the references in the Bible, since the Garden of Eden to the Song of Songs, had corroborated gardens like these in the form of illustrations of the Paradise itself.

Way back in 1260, a Dominican monk Albertus Magnus spelled out the prerequisites for developing ideal pleasure gardens. He specified that the scented herb gardens ought to have a fountain plus a lawn, comprising all perfumed herbs, for instance, sage, rue and basil and similarly, include every type of flowers, counting lily, violet, rose, columbine, iris and those similar to these blooms. In addition, Albertus also recommended that there ought to be a vast assortment of aromatic and therapeutic herbs at the back of the lawn. At the same time, he emphasized that the flowers should not be there just to please the sense of smell by their fragrance, but also to enliven the sense of sight by their color and beauty.

The crusaders had already introduced the rose into the western regions of Europe. Actually, the original connotation of the term rosary is said to be an encircling rose garden that is devoted to the Virgin Mary. While the initial rosaries were developed on the sacred or hallowed ground, paintings from the 16th century depict that the pattern was espoused in gardens owned privately, wherein the rose gardens, as well as arbors (retreats), were developed by the rich and royals.

Lilium candidum (Madonna lily), attractive and extremely perfumed, was among the other blessed flowers that were grown by the Christian church in the earliest times. On the other hand, in the gardens of the monastery, lilies and roses were grown in concert along with particularly fragrant herbs like rosemary and lavender. Historians who specialized on gardens are of the view that the medieval romance garden, as well as the Renaissance love garden, were mainly rose plus herb gardens, which were held in high esteem both for their visual features as well as their efficacy.

The era of Queen Elizabeth I’s sovereignty is considered to be the prime of such scented herb gardens. During this period, people took delight in pleasantly aromatic food, clothes, and rooms. It is documented that the mistress of one manor house during the Elizabethan reign cultivated aromatic flowers as well as fragrant plants in a private formal garden generally fenced by rose briers plus fruit trees for enjoying a walk as well as sitting in the garden. In addition, the aromatic herb garden was also utilized to supply the ingredients for the mistress’ still room. In her still room, the mistress made ‘sweet waters’ using rose petals and flowers of rosemary as well as curative lotions using the stems of the spikes of lavender and the Madonna lily. Scented herbs, such as rue and hyssop, were cultivated to cover the floors of rooms with a view to disinfect the air, while they’re dried up flowers were packed into pillows and cushions to support sound sleep.

A contemporary herb garden also comprises herbal plants, which are esteemed for their fragrant attributes. In fact, a scented herb garden is a place which you may possibly want to visit to relax yourself following a hectic day. Such a garden may perhaps be made up of a small number of pleasingly aromatic herbs grown in containers and placed in one corner of the porch, a vast garden having sitting area, or simply comprise numerous aromatic herbs grown along a preferred pathway in your courtyard.

It may be noted that the majority of the aromatic herbs usually emit their fragrance more when someone brushes against them or touches them. In addition, a pleasant waft will also transport the fragrant scent of the herb throughout the yard and to you. Remember this aspect when you are deciding on the place where you desire to have your scented herb garden. It would surely be an excellent idea to have it close to your home.

When we are talking about aromatic herbs, you may choose from a wide variety of them. Take into account that simply for the reason that a herb is aromatic, it does not imply that you will alone take delight in its fragrance. Prior to selecting as well as planting your desired scented herb garden, you need to take the aroma of every plant with a view to ensure that its scent gives you pleasure.

Fragrant Herbs for the Garden

As mentioned above, there are assortments of aromatic herbs from which you may choose for your scented herb garden. Below is a list of such scented herbs which most people believe have a delightful fragrance. However, this list should never be considered to be a complete or final catalog of scented herbs, as there are a great many amazingly aromatic herbs which may be compiled in a list in this article. It is advisable that before you purchase any herb, you should personally examine every herb by rubbing a leaf of the plant and inhaling its aroma to ensure that it releases an aroma that you may find to be delightful. The fact remains that the same aroma is not preferred by everyone and this is something which makes the world revolve.

Generally, people consider basil to be a herb that is mostly used for cooking. However, the irrefutable fragrance of this herb is pleasing as well as comforting. Catnip is another herb which emits a pleasant aroma, you ought to be conscious that the kitties in your neighborhood would also get pleasure from this plant and may perhaps result in some kind of a untidiness in your desired scented herb garden.

Cultivating catmint has a special reward and that is the loaded scent of cinnamon. This herb is really an attractive addition to any scented garden. While Nepeta Grandiflora comes to flower first and is generally incorporated in early collections, Nepeta siberica flowers during the later part of summer and is generally incorporated in the later classifications. Following the blooming of both these herbs, cut them to a height of a couple of inches, as this will encourage fresh growth as well as flowering for a second time. Several beneficial butterflies and insects visit these plants, which are frequently used in the form of an under planting for white as well as pink roses.

While most people usually think that the herb chamomile is used for preparing tea, it may be noted that this herb is also attractive and the flowers, as well as foliage, have a marvelous scent enlivening your garden.

Special mention needs to be made regarding Roman chamomile, which is among the small plants that are loaded with the aroma. Having the aroma that has a resemblance to a Jolly Rancher bitter apple candy, Roman chamomile makes a fragrant vivid green cover for the ground in places having cool summer climatic conditions. In England, this herb is frequently used to jam the fissures between the blocks of the pavement. In addition, Roman chamomile, which is also known as the English chamomile, is also used in the form of a path cover or maybe in the form of a soft cover for a bench.

In addition, you may also use Roman Chamomile to prepare an aromatic alleyway or a pleasant scented amaze grown among other plants in the garden. In case the herb is able to push its way against other plants in its vicinity, Roman Chamomile may even grow up to a height of a foot when it is in bloom.

Feverfew is another herb that has gorgeous flowers, but the majority of the plant’s aroma is released by means of its foliage and making it a pleasant inclusion in any scented herb garden. On the other hand, lavender has always been a preferred herb for gardeners growing scented herbs. The leaves, as well as the flowers of lavender, give off a potent, but comforting aroma.

The herb lemon balm derives its name from the plant’s leaves, which possess an aroma similar to that of lemons. Numerous herbal gardeners actually admire the fresh fragrance of this plant. Recognize the value of the fact that lemon balm multiplies very fast and has the aptitude to invade your garden rapidly provided its growth is not kept under control.

Mint is also an aromatic herb which may be somewhat invasive, but still, it is favored for its fresh fragrance. There are various species of mint and you may choose from spearmint, peppermint, orange mint or chocolate peppermint for growing in your scented herbal garden. Provided you restrict the growth of the different species of mint in different areas of your herbal garden, each species will be capable of releasing its distinct aroma.

Scented geraniums do not blossom very frequently nor are they eye-catching like their cousins, which are just known as geraniums. However, they emit an amazing fragrance which makes this species among the most excellent plants to be grown in any scented herbal garden. In fact, there is an assortment of scented geraniums for you to choose from for your garden. The wide variety of scented geraniums comprises cinnamon, apricot, lemon, apple, ginger, orange, nutmeg, rose, strawberry, and peppermint are only among a few of them. One needs to touch the leaves of this plant for them to emit their rich fragrance, therefore ensure that you grow these scented plants close to the boundary of your scented herbal garden. It may be noted that scented geraniums are subtle plants and in most places, they would require moving indoors during the winter months.

Anise hyssop is neither a mint nor a genuine licorice, but this herb certainly enhances the fragrance of licorice candy to your scented herbal garden. In addition, licorice mint (anise hyssop) is a wonderful culinary herb and may be used for cooking or dried up to prepare a tea. You may try to infuse some amount of this herb in milk and freeze it to prepare an ice cream. Usually, shear licorice mint returns to the ground following flowering during mid spring and again appears in the form of a small green hedge for the remaining growing season. Alternately, you may allow the plant to provide for little birds and disperse the seeds of the plant for a crop of seedlings to appear voluntarily during the subsequent spring. Whatever you may do, this plant will keep on enhancing the aroma of the herbal garden till frosting. Generally, the plants wither away and return to the ground when it frosts. Ensure that you mark the place where you are growing this plant so that it is not removed prior to its re-emergence during the next spring.

This list is likely to help you to start work on your scented herbal garden. However, always bear in mind to spend some time to personally inhale the smell of the entire herbs that are obtainable from your neighborhood gardening center prior to deciding on the specific herbs you would like to grow in your personal scented herbal garden. In fact, it will not be a very easy task choosing the herbs you would prefer to grow because there are far too many varieties available.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Ideas for Space

Maybe you already know which herbs you’d like to grow. First, you need to look at the individual herb and make sure the ones you’re interested in growing are suitable for your region. {The USDA Plant Data Base in the pages section can prove to be quite resourceful}. Even if you’re unsure about a particular herb, it’s often worth a try. In some cases, you may be able to adjust your environment and provide comfortable growing conditions for a variety of herbs, by amending your soil and by carefully choosing planting locations for their different light and exposure conditions, their preference for shady or sunny spots in the garden, water needs, and soil preferences.

After you make your plant selections, you’ll need to decide whether to buy plants or start them from seed.

Preparing the Bed or Row:

Before you plant anything, you will want to prepare {and possibly amend, or feed} the planting area. The best time to do this is in the fall because it allows the winter snow, rain, and the wind to work their magical alchemy, along with the soil microbes and the tunneling creatures. But spring can be just as good a time for preparations, particularly if you live in a colder region.

First, clear all “weeds.” {In the process see if any of them are “medicinal weeds,” if they are, harvest them!} Using a shovel or digging fork, break up the soil in the bed or row to a spade’s depth. Next, armed with your analysis of the nutritional or textural needs of your garden, spread several inches of compost, aged manure, or fine mulch on the surface. If you know that your soil needs to be adjusted for pH level or a plant’s nutritional needs, now is the time to add your organic, slow-release fertilizers. Work them into the soil. If you know you will be growing herbs that achieve their best medicinal potency in lean soil, omit or go easy on amendments.

If you need to loosen heavy clay soil, add compost, perlite, vermiculite, coir {shredded coconut hulls}, or sand. To firm and enrich sandy, poor soil, add sterilized topsoil, compost, or aged manure.

Raised Beds:

There are advantages to growing herbs in raised beds. If your drainage is poor, a raised bed will give you a lot of room for excess water to drain away from plant roots. If you have a tired back or use a wheelchair or are otherwise differently-abled, you will find the extra height provided by a raised bed helpful. In addition, raised beds to allow you to vary the soil mixes and fertilizers used for different plants, and you can even add rodent netting under raised beds to block tunneling animals.

A framed raised bed keeps soil from eroding and creates a tidy area for growing. Many growers make wood frames from 2 x 4’s, wooden boards, concrete blocks, or recycled materials such as bricks, broken up concrete, and rocks. After you have set your framing, line the bottom with a few inches of gravel for drainage, if needed, and fill the bed to within several inches of the top of the frame using the soil you’ve collected, a purchased planter’s mix, or a mix of compost and soil. Raised beds are easiest to care for when their maximum width is between 4 and 5 feet so that you can comfortably reach the middle of the bed without having to stand or walk on the soil.

Vertical Gardening:

If your outdoor space is limited, grow up! There are many ways to grow vertically, from living wall installations to free-standing columns, arbors, suspensions, and trellises. Vines, such as honeysuckle and hops, are ideal for vertical gardening. Living walls allow you to set non-vining, clumping plants along the length of your support, resulting in a lovely cascading effect.

Cold Frames:

A cold frame is like a mini-greenhouse that can be used to protect tender plants from the biting cold or a possible frost or can protect seedlings in the early spring. Portable cold frames are generally low, bottomless boxes, with sides made of wood and a glass or plastic top that allows light to enter and warmth to collect inside. You can further insulate the sides with hay bales or other thick materials when temperatures drop. The back of the cold frame should be 4 to 6 inches higher than the front, so the lid sloes forward and maximizes the amount of light that reaches the plants inside. Face the cold frame toward the south for the greatest sun exposure and thus the greatest amounts of heat and light. It can be moved around your garden and can be as large or small as you find useful. As the weather warms, you can prop open the lid, swing it open fully, and eventually remove the frame. A cold frame can often add a month or more to each end of the growing season, and in warmer climates, it can enable gardeners to grow plants outdoors throughout the winter.

The Potted Garden, Indoors or Out:

If you have a rooftop corner, a sunny breakfast room, a warm sun porch, an attached greenhouse or atrium, a deck, a porch, or a kitchen windowsill, you can grow herbs successfully. There are a number of medicinal herbs that do remarkably well in pots and planters. In fact, growing this way can allow you to cultivate botanicals that you couldn’t otherwise grow in your climate and can dramatically extend your season.

Choose Your Space:

Naturally, your type of residence may determine the type of potted garden you can create. But don’t limit yourself; think creatively when designing spaces to incorporate herb growing into your daily care routine.

Windowsills:

herbs on a windowsill, Gardenista Houseplants Photo GalleryAs long as you have enough sun streaming in through your window or can provide artificial light suspended directly over your plants {for when the sun’s angle is low, in winter, or if the window is on a northern wall}, you can successfully grow herbs. You’ll have to pay attention to the sun-pattern, noticing when the light is direct and indirect. More than 2 to 3 hours of direct sunlight on the herbs daily will mean that you’ll need to water and feed the plant more often. Without enough light, however, your herbs will become leggy and their growth will be soft and lax. Believe it or not, the biggest mistake people make with windowsill growing is neglect.

In a very sunny window, you can experiment with setting pots of herbs in a tray filled with stones and adding water to the tray. {The stones prevent the water from soaking directly into the pots, so take care that the water level doesn’t reach the pots themselves.} This technique provides some humidity, which cuts down the dramatic effects of direct sunlight. Check your pots morning and evening, and let them dry out before watering, but don’t allow the plants to wilt.

Decks and Porches:

Lucky you – you have the closest thing to a land-based garden and can style it any way you wish with containers. You might want to place a potting bench in one corner of the space, so you have somewhere to work on your plants.

Decks and porches have sun and shade patterns that can be stark and change rapidly, which can create a challenge for plants until they adjust to the new space. Reflections from walls, glass, and water features can add to the effect of sun and shade, so spend some time closely observing the changing patterns to determine where on your deck or porch the shade-loving herbs should go and where to place the sun lovers.

If you work outside the home or are gone for long periods of time, you’ll have to pay special attention to your plant’s watering requirements. Some people set up drip irrigation tubes with timers to allow for consistent moisture and lessen plant maintenance time.

Greenhouses, Atrium’s, Sun Porches, and Four-Season Rooms:

dee2e-winter-garden-1These indoor growing areas are full-service rooms, where you can grow in containers or make use of beds, benches, tables, or boxes. Having a true greenhouse is a luxury. If you are blessed with enough space to construct a greenhouse {or can purchase a ready-to-assemble kit online}, you’ll have flexibility and variety in your gardening activities. You’ll be able to start seed in very early spring, long before you would be able to plant outside, and you’ll be able to house tender perennials over the winter months. Greenhouses do have ongoing costs – such as heating, ventilation, and lighting – that should be factored into your buying decision. But if you live in a warm climate, you may be able to make use of an unheated greenhouse. For enthusiastic gardeners, greenhouses are indispensable, but the costs of building and maintaining one can be considerable. If you’re considering a greenhouse, you could start with a temporary or “pop-up” model; they’re available as lightweight kits that snap together, and they can be assembled and disassembled easily.

A more practical approach to indoor growing may be an atrium, or attached greenhouse, built onto an outside wall of your home. It will allow you to heat and light the growing area separately from the rest of the house, and it will bring in extra solar heat in the winter as an added benefit. It’s ideally positioned on the south wall, and it may be less expensive to build and maintain than a traditional greenhouse.

The next best indoor option is a roomy sun porch or glass-walled room, as long as you can provide supplemental heat and light when needed. Light is the only limitation to indoor growing; without enough light, your herbs will become leggy and start to topple. The most ideal setting will be a south-, east-, or west-facing window, although you need to factor in shade from outdoor trees and neighboring buildings.

Rooftop Growing:

If you’re living in a high-rise, you’ll find an enthusiastic club to join – a whole set of rooftop gardeners enjoying the benefits of vegetables and herbs in planter boxes, wine barrels, old bathtubs, and even plastic kiddie pools. The possibilities are endless. Before attempting a rooftop garden, you’ll need to research any local restrictions your building or town may have in place, and you should check with an expert who can advise you about structural issues that may arise from the extra weight you’ll be adding to the roof. So proceed cautiously. Once those steps have been taken, you’ll need to make decisions about water sources, bed and container design and placement, and drainage, as well as determine how to deal with weather extremes your plants may face {such as high winds or intense heat} and how to bring your supplies to the rooftop.