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Holiday stress-relief

by Timber Press on November 10, 2016

in Craft, Food, Natural History


Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.

The most important herbs on your shopping list aren’t for dinner—chamomile, clove, basil, and orange provide powerful stress-relief aromatherapy. This holiday season, step into the garden or the pantry for a few cleansing breaths with a few of the fragrant plants featured in Kathi Keville’s bestselling book, The Aromatherapy Garden: Growing Fragrant Plants for Happiness and Well-Being.

Chamomile, lavender, lemon, marjoram, orange blossom, and other citrus scents have been shown to enhance relaxation, encourage sleep, reduce depression and anxiety, and lower the body’s response to pain. It takes just a few whiffs of any one of these scents to calm the body physically and mentally. Most lemon-scented plants, such as lemon grass, and lemon itself, help the nervous system overcome stress, nervous exhaustion, and especially sleep disorders.

A relaxed, happiness response is produced in the brain by clove-like scents. This may be one reason why clove-scented roses, clove pink, wallflower, and especially stocks became such well-loved garden flowers. Basil also has clove buried in its scent with the aromatic compound eugenol. University of Arizona psychologist Gary Schwartz, PhD, has had hundreds of people participate in studies on scent. He showed how clove produces relaxation and reduces stress, mental fatigue, and nervousness, as well as memory loss. The scent does this by moderating brain neuro-transmitters and reducing adrenal cortisol levels that rise when we are stressed.

Herb-like scents that are identified by perfumers as “green odors” help protect the body from the negative impact of stress. The green scents of fennel, oregano, and marjoram appear to improve feelings of general well-being by adjusting neurotransmitter activity. Many green scents, such as German chamomile, gardenia, lemon grass, rose, and sweet flag have been shown to be calming because they enhance a brain chemical called GABA that encourages relaxation and sleep.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Photograph by Jengod.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Photograph by Jengod.

Chamomile: Make a cup of tea or wear infused oil

Matricaria recutita
Aster family: Asteraceae

Chamomile is an antidepressant that aromatherapists recommend for emotional and physical oversensitivity. Studies show that it helps with anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Marie Curie Cancer Care in London found that patients felt less anxious when massaged with oil containing Roman chamomile than with unscented oil. In a Chiba University study, Japanese women’s studious alpha brain waves relaxed when they sniffed German chamomile. The women said they were more “comfortable” and relaxed. The tea calms both new mothers and hyperactive children.


Clove pink (Dianthus caryophyllus). Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.

Clove pink (Dianthus caryophyllus). Photograph by Caitlin Atkinson.

Clove pink: Cut a bouquet of clove pinks or smell clove spices

Dianthus caryophyllus
Carnation family: Caryophllaceae

Much like cloves, the scent of clove pink flowers is both energizing and relaxing, helping to overcome mental fatigue, nervousness, and poor memory. Clove pinks are distinctively clove-like because they contain eugenol, the same fragrant compound in cloves. Smelling them produces a response of happiness in the brain. Studies, such as those from the Kagawa Prefectural College of Health Sciences in Takamatsu, Japan, indicate that eugenol reduces stress by moderating neurotransmitters and GABA receptors in the brain and reducing adrenal cortisol levels that typically increase during stress. Most people rate clove’s scent as very pleasant, although it appeals to women more than men, making it a common component of many men’s colognes. A small amount of carnation essential oil is produced by chemical extraction, but it is expensive, so most carnation-scented colognes use clove instead.


Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens). Photograph by Karen Callahan.
Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens). Photograph by Karen Callahan.

Basil: Harvest a bundle of basil from your garden to use fresh or dried

Ocimum basilicum
Mint family: Lamiaceae

Basil’s spicy clove scent, with its hint of mint and pepper, makes it delightfully sweet, hot, and sharp all at the same time. It is often referred to as sweet basil. Basil’s uplifting fragrance improves mental work and decision making, but also reduces stress. Japanese researchers have found that the aroma stimulates the brain’s beta waves, which increase alertness. Aromatherapists also suggest basil for those who tend to be tense and hold in anger. In Greece, it has a reputation of helping those who are in mourning. Sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard said it “taketh away sorrowfulness.”


Neroli comes from bitter orange (Citrus ×aurantium). Photograph by Miwasatoshi.
Neroli comes from bitter orange (Citrus ×aurantium). Photograph by Miwasatoshi.

Bitter orange: Spritz on citrus body spray or peel and eat an orange

Citrus ×aurantium
Citrus family: Rutaceae
Tender perennial

Bitter orange blossom’s antidepressant fragrance treats nervous strain, confusion, shock, fatigue, and insomnia. International Flavors and Fragrance Inc. has been investigating aromatherapy for years. They patented a blend of neroli, valerian, and nutmeg after studies showed all three scents help reduce stress, anxiety, fear, and blood pressure. Similar to oranges, the flowers may affect the brain’s neurotransmitters and balance stress levels of cortisol. I experience an almost disorienting relaxation when walking through orange orchards in full bloom. Flowers from the edible, sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis) are not as deeply scented, but an essential oil is produced from its peel. The trees are commercially grown in Brazil, where the Universidade Federal de Sergipe found their tranquilizing scent helps relieve anxiety.


Kathi Keville is an internationally known aromatherapist and herbalist. The author of fifteen books, she conducts seminars in North America and Europe, and operates Green Medicine Herb School in Nevada City, California, where she grows nearly five hundred species of medicinal herbs and fragrant plants. Kathi is the director of the American Herb Association. She received honors from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, is a founding member of the American Herbalist Guild, and a member of United Plant Savers.


Click on image to look inside this book.


“Kathi guides you to all the joys of an aromatic garden with wonderful tips, fascinating facts, and sumptuous photos.” —Mandy Aftel, acclaimed natural perfumer and author of Essence and Alchemy and Fragrant

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