Six scentsational plants every aromatherapy enthusiast should grow

These fragrant beauties have potent health benefits when used in simple aromatherapy-based preparations. Grown them in your garden or in pots

11 April 2021 - 00:01
By Chelsea Clark
Lavender and rosemary are great choices for an aromatherapy garden and can also be grown in pots on the patio or balcony.
Image: 123RF/serezniy Lavender and rosemary are great choices for an aromatherapy garden and can also be grown in pots on the patio or balcony.

The sweet smell of a garden in full bloom can be a powerful mood booster. Fresh air mixed with the intoxicating scents of flowering plants or herbs can help you unwind, relax and rejuvenate. There are also plants that not only look and smell great but also have potent health benefits when used in simple aromatherapy-based preparations.

"For thousands of years, the medicinal properties of herbs and aromatic plants have played a vital role in the history of humankind," says medical botanist Professor Stephanie Maxine Ross, a passionate advocate for DIY aromatherapy gardens who initiated the first course in herbal medicine to be offered in a medical school in the US.

"Even though the aromatic gardens of the ancients were often elaborate, with imagination and determination a small garden space or even attractive ceramic containers filled with soothing aromatic plants can still provide a calming and uplifting experience, a tranquil retreat from everyday concerns," she says.

Numerous studies have shown significant links between our sense of smell and our moods and emotions. In one study, people who were exposed to natural plant odours were calmer, more alert and in better moods than those in a fragrance-free environment.

In fact, Ross and other experts agree you don't even have to cut the flowers from the stems of these aromatic plants to enjoy their benefits.

"Just having the plants where you can smell their gorgeous aromas can go some way to having a positive impact on your emotions," says horticulturalist and aromatherapist Julie Nelson.

"While the effect might not be as potent as if you were to use an essential oil derived from these plants, the benefits for your mind and mood will still be noticeable."

There are simple techniques you can use at home to boost the effect of aromatic plants.

"Aromatherapy can be as simple as crushing a plant with your fingers to release the oils which you then breathe in or rub on your skin," says Anna Campbell, who runs her own aromatic garden.



How to grow it: 

Grown either as a hedging plant straight into the soil. If growing a smaller species, it can survive in a small pot with frequent pruning. Loves a hot, dry climate.

Image: 123RF/Mariia Voloshina Rosemary.

Uses in aromatherapy:

When you need to stay alert and focused, rosemary is the plant you want around. Studies published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found people who were exposed to rosemary not only demonstrated increased levels of alertness (compared to a control group), but also showed improvements in memory after sniffing the pine-like scent.

"If you're studying, keep sniffing rosemary to improve your memory and recall," says Campbell. "Steep rosemary in boiling water to make a tea or hair tonic, or just rub the fresh herb on your temples to give you a lift."


How to grow it: 

While generally grown as a tree, dwarf varieties can work in pots. Prefers warmer climates.

Ylang ylang.
Image: 123RF/Pitiporn Pramuansilp Ylang ylang.

Uses in aromatherapy:

The heady, sweet aroma of the tropical ylang ylang plant might not be to everyone's liking but this plant, traditionally used in Indonesia as an aphrodisiac, is often utilised by aromatherapists as an antidepressant and sleep aid.

A 2006 study found that simply inhaling it can slightly lower blood pressure.

Steeped in water and used as a skin and hair tonic, ylang ylang can also balance oil production on the skin and scalp. Simply drop some flowers in a warm bath for a soothing effect, or mix with orange blossom for a DIY potpourri.

Note: high concentrations of ylang ylang can cause headaches or nausea. Some people are more susceptible than others to this effect and will generally react immediately.


How to grow it: 

As these trees mature quickly they are best planted directly into the garden rather than pots. Protect from frost.

Image: 123RF/Iryna Denysova Orange.

Uses in aromatherapy:

Almost every part of an orange tree can be used for aromatherapy.

"The fresh smell of dried orange peel is incredibly uplifting, which is why the oil is used in aromatherapy as an antidepressant," says Campbell.

A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also concluded that the aroma from the orange blossom was effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Cut the leaves and flowers and make an arrangement to keep by your bed to relieve anxiety. Infuse dried orange peel and a simple carrier oil to rub on the skin for a DIY aromatherapy massage.


How to grow it: 

These plants do well in large pots in a sunny location or in partial shade. Several bee balm species including Monarda didyma, also known as bergamot, have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans.

Bee balm.
Image: 123RF/Melinda Fawver, Bee balm.

Uses in aromatherapy:

In aromatherapy, the flowers and leaves can be used to make an infusion or for steam inhalation to help with sore throats and mucus.

"This plant also has strong antiseptic properties and can also be applied topically to calm and soothe skin," says Campbell.

Place a handful of fresh leaves in a cloth and position under hot running water for a lemony-scented bath.


How to grow it: 

Works well as a hedging plant but can also be grown in large pots, provided the soil is kept well drained.

Image: 123RF/Nito500 Lavender.

Uses in aromatherapy:

One of the most popular essential oils, lavender can be used straight from the garden in simple preparations.

"Lavender is an all-rounder and a must-have in any aromatherapy garden," says Campbell. "The flowers can be added to a bath, made into an infused oil, and the fragrance enjoyed whether the plant is fresh or dried."

Often used as a sleep aid, lavender has been proven to help ease stress and anxiety.

A 1999 study also reported a slightly more efficient recovery to a resting heart rate in people who inhaled lavender directly after exercise.

"Lavender has long been used for relaxation, dispelling anxiety and increasing wellbeing," says Ross.

Rub a lavender flower between your fingers and inhale for an instant time-out, or crush flowers in a tissue and use throughout the day to relieve stress.


How to grow it: 

Best kept in containers as this plant can overtake your whole garden. Keep it well watered.

Image: 123RF/Sirichai Asawalapsakul Peppermint.

Uses in aromatherapy:

A study in the Stress & Health journal found the peppermint aroma may be useful for relieving stress - even more so than lavender. The study found that cortisol (one of the hormones responsible for high stress levels) was significantly decreased after exposure to peppermint.

"Chew a few fresh leaves and you'll be feeling fresh and ready to go," says Campbell. —