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The Best Herbs to Grow for Reducing and Relieving Stress and Anxiety

Updated on February 13, 2013
Butterfly visiting passion flowers
Butterfly visiting passion flowers | Source

Introduction

Planting your own garden can be a satisfying, cost-effective way to harness the natural stress-relieving properties of many herbs. Not only will you be able to reap the benefits come harvest-time, but the act of gardening itself is also a great way to help soothe nerves and relieve depression. Whether you live in a small apartment, a suburb, or a rural area, it's possible to successfully grow at least a modest if not lavish herb garden of your own.

Note: With the exception of St. John's Wort, all of the herbs suggested below have a calming or sedating effect (St. John's Wort has more of an energizing effect), and often can be mixed together safely in small quantities. **However, if you have a condition or are on any medication and are unsure whether these herbs may have an adverse effect on you, consult your doctor before using them. This is especially important with Passion Flower, Kava Kava, Valerian Root, Anise Hyssop, and St. John's Wort.

Choosing Herbs for Your Garden

The first step in planting a stress-relief herb garden is selecting which herbs you want to grow. There are a few factors at work here that may affect which ones you'll ultimately select. The first two factors are location and available space. Before you make your selection, think about where you will want to put your garden. Will you be putting them in containers or in the ground? How much natural light will they be able to get? And how much space do you have for them? If you're thinking about planting your garden outdoors, you should also take into consideration your USDA zone (if you're in the United States), which you can find here. When you begin choosing plants, make sure they can survive in your zone. If they can't, you can always grow them in containers if you absolutely must have them.

Several of the plants on the suggested list (see below) will require full sun to partial shade for several hours a day. Be sure that's something you can provide before you order seeds or take a plant home with you. If not, don't despair. There are other herbs which do well in medium to low light. Each suggestion I make below will be labeled for light and zone requirements.

You also need to be mindful of space. Some herbs, like chamomile, will not do well in containers, so unless you have a large front or backyard in which to sow chamomile seeds, you may want to skip that one. There are plenty of other plants that do wonderfully in containers, such as passionflower and several members of the mint family. That said, if you're planning on having an outdoor garden, keep in mind that plants like lemon balm, spearmint, and passionflower can be invasive and quickly take over a garden. You'll want to space them correctly, according to the instructions on the sticker or seed packet. Alternatively, you can put plants in the ground, container and all, to keep the roots from spreading.

One last consideration is odor. This may sound strange, but there are a couple of plants on this list that give off a smell that's not for the faint of heart. St. John's Wort and Valerian root can be particularly horrendous, so I wouldn't keep them indoors, and if you live in a tightly-packed suburb, your neighbors might not appreciate it much either. Then again, if you have the space and the olfactory fortitude, go for it.

Lavender and California Poppies
Lavender and California Poppies | Source

Suggested List of Herbs

This list is certainly not exhaustive, and it's certainly not meant to suggest that you need to plant most or all of them. Feel free to make your selection based on the criteria I outlined above, especially regarding location and space. Also, check out my article on the Ten Best Herbs that Help You Relax for more details on some of the herbs listed here. Beside each item on this list is its light requirements, hardiness zone, and whether or not it does well in containers.

1. Peppermint and Spearmint

  • full sun to partial shade (a sunny window will work)
  • hardiness zone: just about anywhere
  • does well in containers

2. Lemon Balm

  • full sun to partial shade
  • hardiness zone: 4-9
  • does well in containers

3. Basil

  • full sun (some species can handle partial shade)
  • hardiness zone: just about anywhere, but protect it from freezing temperatures
  • does well in containers

4. Lavender

  • full sun preferred (a little shade is ok)
  • hardiness zone: 5-9
  • does well in containers

5. Chamomile (German or Roman)

  • full sun/ must be outdoors
  • hardiness zone: 4-9
  • does not do well in containers

6.California Poppy

  • full sun
  • hardiness zone: just about anywhere, but it does not like overly hot climates
  • does well in containers, but you must plant the seeds in a permanent pot; transplanting shocks them; and believe it or not, they prefer poor soil because they are wildflowers

7. Hops

  • must have full sun/ be outdoors
  • hardiness zone: between the 35th and 55th parallels (much of the USA, Europe, Asia)
  • may do ok in containers, but should be kept outside. They're a vine, so you can arrange them side by side and let them climb a trellis or the side of your house.

8. Valerian Root

  • full sun/ should probably be outdoors
  • zone hardiness: 4-9
  • may do ok in large containers, but should probably be kept outside

9. St. John's Wort

  • full sun to partial shade
  • hardiness zone: 3-9
  • may do ok in containers, but should probably be kept outside, unless you don't mind the strong odor; they are invasive, so you could plant them in containers, then put them in the ground to keep them from spreading

10. Kava Kava (probably not the best choice for beginners; it's also very slow-growing)

  • full sun to partial shade
  • hardiness zone: in tropical climates, it can be grown outdoors; everywhere else, you'll need to keep it in a warm, humid greenhouse
  • does well in containers; the plant takes 3 years to mature, and will require several repottings to accommodate its massive roots. If you live in a tropical climate, you can also plant it outdoors in a spot that has very deep soil.

11. Passion Flower (make sure you get passiflora incarnata; this is the only species with medicinal qualities!

  • full sun (maybe a little shade)
  • hardiness zone: 5-9
  • does well in pots but will require a trellis or somewhere else to climb as it is a vine

12. Bergamot orange (this is the "true" bergamot used to make bergamot extract and Earl Grey tea. However, unlike the other items on this list, bergamot orange grows on a tree; so maybe skip this one if you live in a studio apartment)

  • full sun (it's going to be outdoors anyway)
  • hardiness zone: like its other citrus cousins, it doesn't like freezes. It does best in warmer climates and is native to the Mediterranean.
  • can you grow it in a container indoors? Well, maybe. If you have massive skylights and want a tree in your living room. Ooh, how avant garde...

13. North American "Bergamot" or "Wild Bergamot" (does not have the exact same properties as its authentic namesake above, but if you want a space-saving alternative, it still makes a lovely tea)

  • full sun to partial shade
  • hardiness zone: it's native to North America, and it does well just about anywhere
  • does well in containers, just put it in a sunny spot

14. Rosemary

  • full sun or a little shade
  • hardiness zone: prefers warmer climates; if you grow it above zone 7, keep them in pots
  • does well in containers (they'll need at least 12" pots); avoid transplanting them once they've settled, and like California poppy, it likes poor to average soil

15. Anise Hyssop

  • full sun, but will tolerate shade fairly well
  • hardiness zone: 6-9
  • does well in containers, well suited for apartments with a sunny or slightly shaded window

mint tea
mint tea

Maintenance, Harvesting, and Usage

Pay careful attention to the individual care instructions for each plant you select. If you intend to plant several of them together in an outdoor garden, be sure that you're selecting plants with similar lighting and climate needs, and keep an eye on plants that are known to be invasive.

Of course, you can also choose plants with widely different needs and plant them in several locations, indoors and out. If you grow them in containers, your options will often open up considerably as well.

Each of these plants will have different harvesting specifications, and the usable parts of each plant will also vary, so keep a log or a notebook to help you remember if you're planning on having a large, diverse garden.

As far as applications, most of the items listed above make excellent teas, the only exception being Valerian root because of its bitter taste and strong odor. However, all of them can be preserved as essential oils, and most of them can also be dried and stored in air-tight containers until they're ready to be used. Many of them, notably mint, lemon balm, bergamot, lavender, basil, rosemary, and anise hyssop (licorice) also lend themselves to culinary uses and mix well when added to potpourri.

Best of luck, and happy gardening!

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    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Lovely photos and excellent clear guidance. Thank you. Voted up and interesting.

    • Jojosi profile image

      Gillian Namele 5 years ago from Complicated

      Interesting hub. You are right, if you turn your back on your mint, it will take over the whole place and become established.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      I agree with Jojosi - an interesting hub. I hadn't heard of Kava Kava before - what is it commonly used for?

    • Liz Lilith profile image
      Author

      Liz Lilith 5 years ago from Florida, USA

      @SidKemp, Jojosi, Kris Heeter - thanks for the comments! And to Kris, Kava Kava is a plant native to the Pacific islands and is a really versatile herb. It's used topically to treat infections, and it's ingested to combat everything from stomach upset to inflammation to headaches, anxiety, and depression. Here in the West, it's best known for its calming properties.

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