We have access to so many herbs and supplements internationally, that we often forget about the humble herbs that surround us in our own gardens and our neighourhood. I have a passion for growing and wildcrafting herbs and learning to use them in food and as medicines. There is a healing power in being in touch with the plants in our own environment, of going into the garden and picking some leaves or flowers, and preparing something healing for ourselves or our loved ones. It doesn’t always have to come processed as tablets in expensive bottles.
Here in Perth we have a Mediterranean climate, which means cold wet winters, and long hot, dry summers. While we unfortunately only have minimal knowledge of the medicinal qualities of native plants, we do have an extensive history or working with and understanding the plants from the mediterranean region which grow well here. These are often from the mint family, Lamiaceae, and include all the mints, sage, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, basil and thyme, however there are over 2000 Lamiaceae species. Other plants which grow well here are roses, grapes, tomatoes and figs, which all have wonderful, unique properties we can tap into. In this article I will talk briefly about three common mood lifting plants which live in your neighbourhood.
One of the main reasons these herbs are mood lifting, is because they are aromatic. Aromatic medicine is deeply entwined with our evolutionary history, and has a powerful effect on mood and nervous system activity.
Lavender is relaxing, and has been found in studies to be effective for stress, anxiety and depression. Inhaling the oil is understood to effect the limbic system, particularly the amygdala and hippocampus. It has been shown to benefit quality and duration of sleep, including in women with midlife insomnia, without causing unwanted sedative side effects. It has also been shown to help with pain, such as neck pain, and post-operatively.
You can buy essential oil of lavender and that is a wonderful tool. However, you can also go out into your garden when you are feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or in pain, and pick some lavender flowers, stand on the earth, squish them between your fingers, smell them, bring them inside and make tea with them (add honey because they are slightly bitter but quite drinkable), or make a lavender pillow by drying them and putting them in a small cloth bag under your pillow. Or just sit and meditate with them, allowing the smell to drift in and out of your consciousness. Watching the bees enjoy them is an added meditative bonus.
Rosemary is uplifting and can help clear the mind and increase mental awareness. It affects brain wave activity, autonomic nervous system activity as well as mood. When you are feeling foggy, or depressed, rosemary’s stimulating aroma can lift you out of a funk, cheer you up. It is not recommended for insomnia, but it is great for stimulating you into a more alert and positive state of mind.
Again, walk into your garden or anywhere where rosemary grows, which is just about everywhere when you start to notice, including sidewalks and parklands, and pick some rosemary to press between your fingers and inhale deeply the aroma. Rosemary makes a great addition to lamb dishes, as well as many others. I make a great rosemary salt which I share the recipe for below.
Roses have long been known for their relaxing, uplifting and anti-depressant effect. Just looking at roses is uplifting because of their beauty, and perceiving beauty can itself be relaxing, antidepressive and healing. However, the effect in the body of the oil applied to the skin, even without smelling it, is also relaxing. Many studies have looked at the medicinal effects of rose and it is more than just a pretty face- it is highly medicinal, being antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidant, antidepressant, pain relieving, relaxing and hypnotic. One study has shown that men suffering from sexual dysfunction associated with antidepressant medication use, can be helped with rose oil- hence its reputation as an aphrodisiac can be backed with some science. Rose extract has been shown to help reduce the degeneration of dementia, due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Roses have had an important role in the natural pharmacy of many countries, and has been highly valued for its beauty and versatility. I show you how to make rose honey below.
Strip rosemary leaves off their branches, and spread them and allow them to dry for a few days. Once they are dry, blend them to a fine consistency- it doesn’t not have to be powder but powder also works. Then mix with an equal amount of good quality himalayan or celtic seasalt. This is delicious and aromatic, wonderful for lamb dishes and on home made potato wedges or baked potatoes.
Rose or Lavender honey
Fill a jar to the top with rose petals or lavender flowers. Then fill the jar with raw honey. Allow it to sit for at least 2 weeks before straining off the petals. Or leave them in for tasty flower treats. This honey has the delicate aroma of flowers and is wonderful in herbal teas. The flowers are quite edible too.