When stress or anxiety try to ruin your day, relief can be as close as your garden when you grow calming herbs like lemon balm, catnip and tulsi basil. Sometimes called nervine herbs, these worthwhile garden plants act upon the nervous system to produce a mildly relaxing effect, turning down tension while providing pleasing flavors and aromas.
Growing calming herbs can benefit the garden, too. Bees and other pollinators love the blossoms of catnip and mint, and bushy mounds of lemon balm become refuges for juvenile spiders. And, should you need a quick insect repellent while working in the garden, a handful of any of these calming herbs crushed and rubbed on the skin will provide temporary protection.
Best Herbs for Anxiety
Native to India and sacred to Hindus, tulsi basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is also so known as holy basil, and sometimes classified as Ocimum sanctum. Tulsi basil is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce the impact of stress on the body, and several research studies have validated its value in the management of anxiety and depression. A delightful herb with a citrusy, slightly musky bouquet, dried tulsi basil perfumes the kitchen when added to a hot teapot.
Like culinary basil, tulsi basil is a warm-weather annual that is easy to grow from seed. The seedlings transplant easily, and insects and animal pests never cause serious damage. Tulsi basil plants do rush to bloom in midsummer, but the leaves and flower spikes are easy to dry for off-season use. If growing calming herbs has caught your interest, you must try tulsi basil!
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) gives rise to euphoria in most cats, but in people it reduces tension and soothes frazzled nerves. A tea made of catnip and mint is often used as a sleep aid, though it is more of a mood-changer than a sedative. Catnip grows as a short-lived perennial in the garden, and mature plants usually shed seeds that give rise to volunteer seedlings in subsequent years. The little plants are easy to pull out or dig and move to where you want them to grow. Established catnip plants start growing first thing in spring, with a large flush of leaves ready to cut and dry in early summer. Plants that are cut back halfway quickly regrow and start blooming. The little pink flowers are irresistible to big bees.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been used as a calming herb for thousands of years, and it is one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow. A mint family cousin, lemon balm produces such bushy growth that I often crush a handful to deter insects that find me of interest. Lemon balm has a strong lemon fragrance, but the leaves lose some of their citrus tang when made into a tea. The best way to bring out lemon balm's bouquet is to cold-steep it to make infused water.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) has a proven track record of soothing the digestive system, which in turn relaxes the body and promotes sound sleep. Chamomile is at its best when grown as a hardy annual planted in fall or early spring, and its ferny foliage makes it a good fit for the flower garden. Pinching and crushing the little flowers to inhale their green apple scent is pure pleasure, and collected blossoms dry in no time when arranged on a plate in a dry, well-ventilated room.
These and other nervine herbs are often at their best when mixed with various types of mint. Uplifting and refreshing, mints can change irritability to composure with only a few whiffs. Teas or tinctures made with mints do have relaxing effects, and mints are ideal for mixing with other nervine herbs. But mints are not unique in their ability to soothe us by scent. When linalool compounds from lavender are inhaled, they can even reduce the anxiety felt in the dentist's chair.
As a gardener, I think the best part of growing calming herbs comes when they are picked fresh, and their aromas explode into the air. It's a primal pleasure we get to experience many times over as we begin or end our days with calming herbs.