Herbs to Relieve Holiday Stress

There are many herbs that can help you relax when the holiday shopping, baking, wrapping and planning get to be too much.  While it’s too late for this year, three of them are easy to grow and harvest to be ready for next year’s holiday rush.  All three can be dried for tea or potpourri or infused in bath water.

Lavender is an almost universally loved scent.  It is a perennial herb that enjoys a dry, sunny location.  Lavender is difficult to grow from seed, so purchase a lavender plant at the nursery.  With almost 30 lavender species, that’s a good idea anyway so you can smell the plant and be sure you are satisfied with its scent.

Plant lavender in the ground at the same level as it was in the nursery pot.  Water it only until it is established; after that it should be fine on its own.  Clip any flower stalks that form the first year so that it puts its energy toward developing strong branches and roots, but note that lavender’s leaves are just as aromatic as its flowers.   Beginning the second year, harvest flower spikes just as they begin to open and hang them in bundles upside down to dry.

Lemon balm is the second herb to keep you calm.  It provides a bright green accent to a sunny or shady spot in the herb garden or flower bed.  White tubular flowers appear in the leaf axils, but aren’t especially noteworthy.  What is noteworthy is the leaves’ lemon minty scent.  Just brushing past the plant on a warm day evokes a sense of wellbeing.

Lemon balm is propagated by division in spring or by spreading seed atop the soil.  Like other members of the mint family, lemon balm is a spreader.  It is best planted in a large container sunk into the ground.

To dry lemon balm’s leaves, cut stems two inches above the soil before flowers appear.  Lay them on a screen or newspaper in a shady, airy spot to dry.  You may get three harvests in a single growing season.  Lower parts of the plant harvested late in the season are the most potent.

The third herbal relaxer is chamomile.  Roman chamomile is a perennial plant that grows to nine inches tall, while German chamomile is an annual that may reach two feet.  Both share the same calming properties and have the classic yellow-centered small, white flowers with a scent reminiscent of apples.

Both chamomiles grow easily from seed spread atop the soil.  Roman chamomile seed should be planted in spring, while German chamomile is best planted in fall, although spring will work too.

In mid-summer, rake your fingers through the plants and tug gently on the blossoms just as the petals begin to turn downward to harvest small handfuls of blooms.  Dry the flowers on paper and store in glass jars.  Be sure they are entirely dry before storing.  Flowers left unharvested will reseed themselves.

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