When I was 18, I moved from New England to Northern California for college. There were lots of things to marvel over, but the plants and the herbs amazed me. It was common to see rosemary hedges and lavender bushes in yards that looked like they had not been attended to in years. They were utterly irresistible, and soon everything I owned with a pocket wound up holding a little piece of an aromatic herb. When I found them later, in class or at work, their smell would bring a smile to my face. It turns out I was casually practicing the most basic, most ancient form of aromatherapy. Aromatic herbs simultaneously relax the body and invigorate the senses, stimulating mental clarity and feelings of calm focus. These luscious smells open the nervous system and help to dissolve stress and tension.
If you have ever made pesto you know that cooking with basil is enough to uplift your spirits; the smell is intoxicating, relaxing, and invigorating all at the same time. This means that the healing properties of culinary herbs have begun to work their magic before you even eat the final results – just smelling them as you cook is medicinal.
Whether it is rare and intermittent or chronic and recurring we all have a relationship with tension and stress, especially during transitions, big life changes, and around the holidays, when we are supposed to be relaxing and having fun. I know I don’t want to spend my precious time off stressed out! When we hold onto tension in our body, it can lead to achy and sore muscles, pinched nerves, digestive unrest, feelings of lethargy, agitation, lack of motivation, and headaches.
When it comes to asking our plant friends for help with tension, your spice shelf at home likely has all the tools you need (yes, you are more prepared than you even know!). Culinary herbs are excellent for the nervous system, helping to sooth and release tight muscles, ease stress and anxiety, and uplift the heart and the mind. Some of my favorites are basil, lavender, mint, sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. What all these plants share is that they are wonderfully aromatic. Volatile oils give each herb a unique and intoxicating scent that makes magic in the soup pot and also holds powerful medicine for our body, mind, and spirit.
I strongly believe these aromatic bouquets belong in every home. Easy to make with herbs from your garden, the farmers market, or your regular grocery store, the aromatherapy that these culinary herbs offer will fill your house and your heart with joy! You smell them as you naturally move through the space, but if you want some extra tension dissolving power, put your face right into one of these magical bundles and breathe in.
If you have a headache, pull a leaf off of the bouquet, crush it between your fingers to release the aroma and put it on your forehead, then lie down and take some depth breaths. If you experience tension or headaches during your work day, bring a bouquet with you to the office; your co-workers will thank you. Be careful in the kitchen, as they also inspire cooking projects – my basil bouquet hardly lasted two days before it ended up in a delicious soup… not that I’m complaining!
Aromatic bouquets also make great gifts. As soon as you give one of these bundles away the magic begins – if your recipient doesn’t instinctively smell the bouquet, encourage them to, then watch their face light up or watch them take a deep sigh as if they have not truly breathed in weeks. This year, decorate your home with aromatic bouquets or offer one as a gift to your host when you arrive. Sometimes I still channel my college days and hide sprigs of fresh herbs in my pocket or slip them in my hair!
The bouquets hold up well and will last at least a week in water. If you prefer, the bundles can be hung to dry upside down and then put into a vase or hung about as decorations to be enjoyed longer term.
About the author: Brittany Wood Nickerson is a practicing herbalist, author, and the owner of Thyme Herbal in Western Massachusetts. She brings her background in herbal medicine to her love of the garden and the wild, and her devotion to making delicious magic in the kitchen. Brittany is the author of a series of herbal posters and books including the Kitchen Medicine Poster, The Herbal Homestead Journal and The Healing Herbal Kitchen, to be published by Storey in Spring 2017.
Aromatic Herbal Bouquet
- 12 to 18 stems of culinary herbs (rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, savory, mint, basil)
- Strip the leaves from the lower third of the stalk (save for a pot of tension dissolving tea!).
- Divide herbs into 3 piles, with a good selection of colors and textures in each.
- Arrange the piles of herbs nicely into bouquets.
- Keep in water until gifting unless you plan to dry it.
- Kraft paper, cut into a square
- 3 pieces of twine, hemp, string or yarn
- Lay the paper diagonally in front of you. Place the bouquet centered on the paper.
- Fold in each side of the paper around the herbs, leaving the top of the bouquet exposed.
- Wrap the twine around the paper-covered bouquet several times before tying.
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