10 Happy Plants That You Can Plant in Your Garden Right Now
by Stacy Thomas | July 3, 2020, updated over 2 years ago
With summer arriving while many of us are still experiencing the limits of social distancing, we could all use a little help in the mental wellness department. You may be searching for ways to get outside—at a distance—and brighten up your life. If you’re like many others who have been experimenting with gardening this year, here are a few ideas for some plants that you can grow that can help you lighten up your mood, raise your spirits, or just chill the heck out.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
When phytotherapist and registered clinical herbalist Tony Oakworth bathes his newborn, he puts a couple of handfuls of this wonderful plant in the water for its soothing effect.
Oakworth notes that plant baths have been used in indigenous cultures for thousands of years. Holding and touching the plants while it’s in the water is a great way to interact with your medicine. “Melissa is one of those plants that is actually better fresh,” he says. “It’s kind of a nice way to have that close relationship with that plant.”
This tough, useful plant is a member of the mint family. Lemon balm is a perennial cold hardy plant, so you can grow it in colder climes and it will die off during winter and grow back from roots in the spring. To experience the benefits of lemon balm, all you have to do is gently rub the plant in your hands, and then smell. The potent, citrusy scent is uplifting on its own, but, Oakworth says if you grow it in a large enough quantity (six to 12 plants) you can brew a strong tea that you can drink or put in your bath. For a low effort health iced lemon balm tea, put a couple handfuls of leaves in a pitcher of room temperature or hot water, then place it in the fridge to infuse overnight.
Be careful when you plant lemon balm in your garden—lemon balm is a member of the mint family, and plants from the mint family tend to be vigorous. The roots can spread and take over! Planting it in a container will help keep things under control.
German chamomile/pineapple weed (Matricaria chamomilla (recutita)/matricaria matricariodes)
No discussion of calming plants is complete without talking about chamomile! This plant is well known for its ability to support sleeping and relaxing. Chamomile has been used for centuries for a reason…it works! Chamomile has a wide range of uses, from easing insomnia to soothing menstrual cramps, to calming muscle spasms and hemorrhoids. Chamomile is best known for its relaxing qualities. In fact, chamomile is so well known, that across the world, a million cups of chamomile tea are consumed per day.
A member of the daisy family, German chamomile can grow up to two feet high and has cheery white-petaled flowers with bright yellow pistils. Just the sight of this plant growing happily in a row in your garden can give you a boost on darker days.
Chamomile is easy to grow and drought tolerant. It self-seeds too, so if you let it, it will spread all over your garden, sprinkling your yard with its happy little flowers.
To make a tea out of your chamomile, harvest the blooms when they are full, and even slightly on the decline. Dry them and then store them in a dark spot. Steep and enjoy!
Keep an eye out for pineapple weed which grows pretty much anywhere where there is disturbed or compacted soil. Otherwise known as false chamomile, pineapple weed has a similar calming effect to German chamomile. If you squeeze its flowers it gives off a sweet, pineapple smell. As it tends to grow as a weed, you’ll frequently find it in sidewalk cracks, or in driveways. Be careful about harvesting these plants – it’s not always easy to know what the plant has been exposed to when it grows in an urban environment. This lovely little plant may have been peed on by a dog, or exposed to oil runoff from the neighbourhood cars. You can grow pineapple weed in planters, just make sure you compact the soil. It’s also so easy to consume, just steep the flowers in boiling water for an uplifting tea.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
“Catnip, specifically for children, is a nice, safe therapeutic herb,” says Oakworth.
Otherwise known as catmint, it is a member of the mint family and has a similar taste. Yes, it is commonly known for the weird, narcotic effect it has on our feline friends, but it’s good for humans as well. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which can have a naturally sedating effect, much like valerian which has a similar compound.
Catnip is another member of the mint family, and therefore grows prolifically and vigorously once it finds its feet. It grows wild in many areas. You can plant it in sunny areas, and it will self-seed and spread, so be careful if you don’t want it all over your yard. Due to the gentle nature of cat-nip, its leaves and flowers are useful for calming excitable children and elderly people. Brew it fresh or dried into an herbal tea, or blended with your chamomile flowers for a relaxing, fresh herbal tea.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. John’s Wort is a wonderful plant, to grow and to use. It is extremely versatile and will grow in almost any condition—from sunny warm spots to fairly cool areas, and in all sorts of soil conditions, from sandy to loamy. With lush green leaves and bright, happy, yellow flowers the plant is a joy to look at, as is the rich red oil it produces.
The best way to harness the uplifting, thymoleptic benefits of St. John’s Wort is to harvest the cheery tops and let them wilt for a few hours to let them release some moisture. Then put the tops in a glass jar, cover with olive oil, and let them soak for one to two weeks. The beautiful red oil that results is a joy to behold.
Oakworth recommends using this oil for soothing foot massages, as the feet are a very absorbent area of the body. Another preparation is blending the oil with beeswax to make a salve that can cure all sorts of skin ailments.
Before using St. John’s Wort, it is important to know that it interacts with almost all pharmaceutical drugs, including over-the-counter painkillers. This is particularly important for those seeking St. John’s Wort’s antidepressant qualities, as the herb may affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are also affected by SSRIs and other antidepressant medications. These interactions can have serious side effects. Be sure to check the interactions of St. John’s Wort with any medications you may be taking, and consult with a doctor, pharmacist, or other professional if you’re not sure.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
“Valerian is my favorite nervine plant—a relaxing sedative for the nervous system,” says Oakworth.
Sometimes referred to as “nature’s Valium”, Valerian has a multitude of compounds that have been proven in clinical trials to reduce stress and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, while also promoting better sleep, and relaxation. Valeric acid has been shown to inhibit the breakdown of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which is similar to how prescription antidepressants work.
If you are going to grow valerian in your garden, you’re going to have to be patient, but it’s worth the wait for the smell of the plant’s blossoms alone. “Smelling valerian flowers would pull me out of a funk for sure,” says Oakworth. Valerian is a happy and easy growing plant once it’s established, and can be grown in pots as long as they are deep enough to accommodate the plant’s prolific root system. “These plants grow so well unattended, that’s the beauty of a lot of medicinal plants, they almost do better the less you fuss with them.”
Let your valerian flower and die back for one year, and in the second year, harvest the roots and make a decoction or a tea out of them. Here are some detailed instructions.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Did you know that basil is one of the oldest herbs on the planet? It is also one of the most common, and it’s easy to grow. You can grow it in your garden in a sunny spot, in a pot on your patio, or even in a little herb container on your kitchen window.
Basil contains linalool, an organic compound which scientists have discovered reduces anxiety in stressed out mice. Linalool is a floral fragrance and has been used in folk, ayurvedic, and Chinese medicine for generations. All you have to do is sniff it to experience its relaxing effects, so grab that basil and sniff, sniff, sniff!
Basil likes to grow in sunny spots with lots of drainage. Water your plant when the soil is dry to the touch, and be careful about letting your basil get too cold. Basil is a tender plant—if it gets hit with cold or rained on too much, it won’t do well. Cover it up if you’ve planted it a bit too early in the spring.
The best way to consume basil is raw, and in large amounts, which is great because a basil plant (once established) loves to be clipped. It’s a generous little plant! You can propagate your basil easily. Cut a four-inch branch, plunk it in some water with the lower leaves removed, wait for roots to show—which will take about a month—and replant them in pots. After they’re established you can put them in the ground.
Snip leaves off at their base and use it in a salad, or you can make a delicious fresh pesto and put that stuff on everything.
Rose/nootka rose (Rosa/rosa nutkana)
“Rose isn’t necessarily a nervine plant, but it is indicated for the heart and for grief, and the kind of sadness that can come in with an overworked nervous system,” Oakworth says. “I tend to put rose in almost everything.”
Rose has many uses, both medicinal and aesthetic; in fact, the beautiful appearance of roses have been proven to improve mood.
You can steep rose petals in honey for a deliciously flavoured rose-infused honey. Nootka rose is especially lovely in raw honey, or dry them to use in tea blends. After the petals are harvested, the fruit, or the hips, of the rose can be harvested for their high vitamin C content and antioxidants. Spend some time luxuriating in the beauty of this glorious flower, and please, do stop to smell them.
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
“California poppy is an amazing plant. All the aerial parts, everything above ground we can use,” Oakworth says. “It’s anxiolytic so it’s generally calming for the entire nervous system. It’s a mild sedative and has analgesic properties so it’s actually pain killing, and it’s known as hypnotic.”
It’s hard to not feel happy when you see these bright orange, floppy-petaled flowers waving in the breeze on their tall, tender stalks. Herbalists use all of the above-ground parts of this plant for medicinal use, mainly for their calming, almost sedative effects. Make a simple tea out of these parts by steeping them in hot water for twenty minutes.
California poppies need lots of sunlight to bloom and thrive, so make sure they are planted in a spot that gets a full day of exposure. If you’re thinking you can get away with planting in a shady spot, don’t bother, because it won’t work. They do best in dry, untended areas and grow most successfully the less care you give them, which is why they grow like weeds along roadways.
Of course, lavender.
“Lavender is a wonderful nervine, and it can be used in so many different ways,” says Oakworth. Lavender oil is effective in sleep and relaxation tinctures and teas, but it doesn’t have to be ingested to be effective.
Just dry your lavender and put it in sleep sachets to be placed under your pillow, or tuck it into your drawers to scent your clothes for an uplifting all day treat. You might want to keep it simple—you can simply caress the live plant with your fingers, and inhale lavender's famous scent for an instant pick-me-up.
Lavender prefers dry, hot climates, so plant it in your garden accordingly. If it is in a shady, cool, or wet spot, it won’t thrive and will be prone to fungus.
“Lavender is so strong you don’t need a lot of it,” Oakworth says. Any variety will do—you can even place a few sprigs of lavender blossoms in a vase to enjoy its aromatic benefit.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary is one of the best-smelling herbs out there. Besides reminding everyone of delicious spaghetti sauce, it is also known to be a mood enhancer.
You need lots of space to grow rosemary because it’s an evergreen shrub that will spread out both above and below ground. It doesn’t like to get too wet—it likes similar growing conditions to lavender.
The best way to enjoy rosemary is the simplest—just cut a sprig from your plant and steep it in your cup for a wonderful smelling, uplifting tea. Plant it near a walkway, so you can brush it with your hand as you walk by and enjoy its fresh, heady scent all year round.
Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.