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"For one’s health it is necessary to work in the garden and see the flowers growing."
Vincent Van Gogh, summer 1889, on his time spent at the Asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole, Saint Remy, France
Historical Use of Aromatic Plants in the Garden
"If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature’s way."
Gardens, or "yards" as they are more commonly known in the United States, have been around for literally thousands of years; they are a place of tranquility and relaxation, a place to unwind from the stresses of life. Whatever shape, size or form gardens take, they all have many things in common; the visual stimulation of a bright array of flowers, the feel of the cool shade of a welcome tree in the heat of the midday sun, the sound of a trickling fountain or waterfall or the fragrant aroma of roses. All of these things touch one or all of our five senses.
The Egyptians show evidence of gardening on tombs dating back to 1500 BC. The Egyptians used many aromatic plants and herbs for both medicinal and perfumery uses. Kyphi was a well know Egyptian fragrance blended from plants such as juniper, peppermint, myrrh, cinnamon and saffron.
Persia was also renowned for its fragrant gardens as far back as 2,500 years ago. Indeed, the most famous of these gardens must surely be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. They were built in the 6th century BC by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife, Mayitis, who was apparently homesick for her native country, although other writings suggest that they were built by another Persian King, Cyrus, for a courtesan. Whichever of these stories is true, descriptions concur that these gardens were visions of water, cool terraces and an exotic blend of fragrant trees, flowers and herbs.
The Romans learned about gardens mainly from the Greeks, notably from Discorides, but were also aware of the Egyptian ideals. They were in the habit of building large gardens and devoted a lot of reverence to the rose. Banqueting guests were showered with rose petals in an attempt to combat any drunken shenanigans; Nero apparently had his banqueting floors strewn with rose petals. The rose was seen as somewhat of a "status" symbol in the Roman garden. The ancient wall paintings in Pompeii in Italy, lain undiscovered under the lava of Mount Vesuvius for centuries, also show the elaborate gardens that were prevalent at that time and the number of aromatic plants and herbs that were in everyday use.
The Roman Empire extended to the conquest of Great Britain and consequently the Romans introduced a number of now well known plants and trees such as cherry, peach, parsley, fennel, rosemary, sage and thyme. The herbs that the Romans introduced to Great Britain became an essential part of the medieval monastery gardens and remain today an integral part of an English country garden.
Gardens in England varied over different historical periods; for example, the Tudors were heavily influenced by the Italians, whereas the Stuarts were more influenced by the French style. Large gardens were normal for huge, stately country piles; however even small cottage gardens were crammed with herbs and aromatic plants, used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It was only with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, when people left the country for the cities in search of their "fortune" that gardening declined to a lesser scale and the medicinal value of plants were forgotten for a period of time.
Hospitals are realising the benefits of providing a garden for their patients’ recovery and many are putting money into providing a garden because of this. One study, the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals Organization, found: "Patients and visitors need connections with nature through exterior spaces, plants, halls and TL (therapeutic landscaping)" (1999). (Source: Journal of Mediterranean Ecology Vol. 8 2007)
An aromatherapy garden focuses on the scents of the plants and flowers in it. The scents released from plants, trees and flowers are the basis for the essential oils used in aromatherapy. Essential oils are volatile (from the Latin volare, meaning to fly), which means they evaporate at or above room temperature. Heat releases the fragrance of the oils (essentially the plant's perfume or flavor), hence the more noticeable fragrances generated by a walk through a summer garden. In the winter these fragrances are less noticeable as the cooler air prevents easy evaporation of the oils from plants.
Flowers for an Aromatherapy Garden
"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."
There are lots of flowers that you can choose for an aromatic garden, depending on your location, size of space and personal preferences. These are a few of my favorite flowers for an aromatherapy garden.
Rose (Rosa damascena) - rose is perhaps my most favorite flower as it reminds me of England; however, rose is actually a true native of the Far East, brought to England in the trading of spices and other exotic goods. Some hardier varieties of rose tolerate the sub-zero temperatures of our Arizona winter and provide lasting color throughout the summer and fall. Extraction of rose essential oil is difficult and thus costly, making it subject to adulteration by some suppliers. It takes about 60,000 rose petals to produce one ounce of essential oil, so take advantage of the natural fragrance of a rose in your backyard for a fraction of that cost!
The Healing Power of Scented Gardens
"The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses."
All of our senses are stimulated by the sights, sounds, smell, touch (and even taste!) of a garden.
Vincent Van Gogh spent time (at his own admission) at the Asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint-Remy, France and this was where he painted one of his most famous series of paintings, Iris. He was apparently inspired and healed by the surrounding gardens of the Asylum.
Trees for an Aromatherapy Garden
"Of the infinite variety of fruits which spring from the bosom of the earth,
the trees of the wood are the greatest in dignity."
Susan Fenimore Cooper
There are also a large number of fragrant trees from pine forests and cedar woods to the more exotic fruity fragrances of the citrus trees to choose from for your aromatherapy garden; here's a couple of my favorite trees for an aromatherapy garden:
Orange (Citrus sinensis) - orange is my favorite citrus tree, simply because it is so uplifting and nearly every part of the tree is used for aromatherapy (leaves - petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var amara), flowers - orange blossom/neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara) fruit - sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)). You can also both eat and drink the fruit!
Orange reminds me of Spain, where there a lot of orange trees growing, but it is also grown in other Mediterranean countries as well as world wide, including several states of America (Florida and California). However, orange was an original native of China. An orange tree grows to about 2 ft. Sweet orange essential oil is usually liked by children, pregnant women and the elderly due to its gentle nature.
Pine (Pinus sylvestris) - there are a number of varieties of pine tree but the Scotch pine is usually the favorite for aromatherapy use. Pine is a native of Eurasia; it is also found in the cooler climates of Eastern United States, Europe, Russia and a number of the Baltic States, in addition to Scandinavian countries such as Finland. Pine trees can reach 131 ft. Pine takes it name from Scotland, where it is thought to have covered a lot of the countryside at one time. The fragrant aroma of the pine tree is known for its many healing properties including respiratory, sinus, anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
Cyprus (Cupressus sempervirens) - cypress is an ancient species of tree; it takes its Latin name (sempervirens, meaning evergreen) to heart, as some cypress trees are thought to be over 2,000 years old. Consequently, a number of folklore and traditions are associated with it. Cypress is a highly aromatic tree found in a number of European countries, although other species of the cyprus tree are found throughout the world, for non-aromatherapy purposes, including the Arizona cypress tree. The properties of cypress in aromatherapy use include calming the nervous system, circulatory problems, antiseptic and astringent properties.
Plants for an Aromatherapy Garden
Other plants for an aromatherapy garden inlcude:
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) - peppermint is cultivated worldwide and is a favorite in many herb gardens; it has been used for centuries. The uses of peppermint in aromatherapy include a treatment for respiratory and digestive problems. It is also used in skin care, as well as being useful for the nervous system.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) - geranium is often referred to as the poor man's rose because of its similarities in fragrance of true rose; however, geranium is a worthy plant in its own right. Geranium essential oil is actually extracted from the leaves of the plant and not the flowers. It is a popular choice for women in treating a lot of "women's" problems (including PMS, menopausal problems and excellent for skin care for all ages). Geranium is available in a large variety of colors and species for the garden and will continue to bloom throughout the summer and right through fall in the state of Arizona.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) - there are a number of species of thyme but sweet or common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) was one of the earliest known medicinal plants in Western herbal medicine. It grows extensively throughout the world including the Mediterranean region, the United States, China, Russia and Turkey. Thyme leaves emit a pleasant aromatic aroma and is used in culinary dishes too. Thyme is used in aromatherapy for digestive, respiratory, antiseptic and antibacteria lproblems. It grows to a height of 18 inches.
"A garden is a friend you can visit any time."
copyright © Sharon Falsetto 2008 All Rights Reserved
Lawless, Julia (1995) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils Thorsons: UK
Lawless, Julia (2001) The Aromatherapy Garden Kyle Cathie Limited: UK
Squire, David (2002) The Healing Garden Vega: UK
Journal of Mediterranean Ecology Vol. 8 2007
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) - lavender is probably the most well known essential oil and a popular addition to your backyard. There are many varieties of lavender (including hybrids) and the best plants for extracting lavender essential oil are still grown in the South of France. However, purely for scent purposes in your backyard, you can choose any of the fragranced varieties available at your local garden center. It will provide you with a "feel good" fragrance all summer long. It is a good choice for the hot and dry climate of an Arizona summer too.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - the Latin name for rosemary (Rosmarinus) literally means dew of the sea, as it was commonly found growing by the ocean, particularly in the Mediterranean region of Europe. However, the aromatic scent of rosemary has been popular throughout the centuries, as quoted by English playwright William Shakespeare: "There's Rosemary, that's for remembrance."
Rosemary prefers the sun to cooler climates. It is good for mental alertness, so is a good addition to the garden for stimulation of the senses!
... Inspire, Educate, Create
By Sharon Falsetto
Author of Authetic Aromatherapy
Approved Provider for NAHA & NCBTMB