3 Culinary Herbs To Cultivate Calm
What if I were to tell you that your kitchen herbs aren’t just delicious additions to sauces and stir-frys, but are actually useful for many of the modern nervous system challenges we face today?
As a nutritionist and herbalist, I often see culinary herbs overlooked in favor of less common medicinal plants to support nervous system challenges like anxiety, melancholy, or overwhelm.
Maybe culinary herbs are overlooked because we perceive familiar as less exciting or perceive simple as ineffective, but whatever the reason, when we overlook culinary herbs, we miss out on an accessible, affordable, easy way to support nervous system health.
Culinary herbs made it into our kitchens precisely because our ancestors were well aware of the plants’ many health benefits and they recognized the utility of having something both delicious and medicinal for regular use.
The three plants detailed here, rosemary, basil, and sage, though not exhaustive of what each plant offers, provide the unique ways that each plant engages with some imbalance in the nervous system, as well as safety considerations and how to use it outside of its culinary applications in daily life.
WHEN IN NEED OF UPLIFTING FORTITUDE AND FOCUS:
Rosemary — Rosmarinus officinalis
I once heard rosemary described by a fellow herbal student as having “big tree energy,” and if you’ve ever taken a deep breath of this small, but mighty plant, you understand the truth of this phrase. Just one whiff transports you to an evergreen forest — it is at once uplifting, strengthening, and fortifying.
And, while rosemary is perhaps most oft talked about for its ability to support memory, rosemary has a long tradition of alleviating anxiety, relieving stress, and improving energy levels.
Rosemary is particularly equipped for those days where we want and need to focus, but the day seems to be antithetical to our desires — just one of those overcast, sleepy, dreary, mood-dampening kind of days. In these moments, rosemary helps to enliven our spirit, focus our mind, uplift our mood, and ground and direct our internal resolve.
In terms of safety, rosemary used in cooking is safe for all (as long as you have no known allergies). Though among individuals that are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have high blood pressure, taking it in larger, therapeutic forms, such as a tea or tincture, should be avoided. Also, though it relieves feelings of anxiety in some folks, it can have a stimulatory effect that heightens anxiety in others, so like all new herbs, start low and slow to find what works best for you.
To take as a tea, measure 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh, muddled rosemary, add 1 cup of boiling water, steep for 15 minutes, strain, and enjoy. Rosemary can also be added to a bath or foot bath to refresh the mind and body.
WHEN IN NEED OF INTERNAL SUNSHINE AND GENTLE SLEEP SUPPORT:
Basil — Ocimum basilicum
Basil, a favorite in sauces like pesto, has a bright, herbaceous aroma that gives an indication of how it supports — through uplifting moods while calming stress and anxiety.
Basil is interesting because it is paradoxical, effective for both relaxation and stimulation. In Mediterranean countries, it was used both before bed to support relaxation and sleep, while it was also used upon waking to enhance alertness.
Basil is best suited for those who may be feeling melancholic, downcast, or a sense of nervousness, and who may struggle with insomnia or falling asleep. One of the traditional ways basil was prepared for sleep-support was in a cup of tea a few hours before bed, but because it is not strongly sedative, it can be taken any time throughout the day without causing a groggy feeling.
While the culinary use of basil is safe, similar to rosemary, large amounts of basil in therapeutic forms should not be taken during pregnancy.
To take as a therapeutic tea, measure 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh, muddled basil, add to 1 cup of boiling water, steep for 15 minutes, strain, and enjoy. And, of course, fresh garden basil can also be prepared into pestos that are frozen and eaten in the middle of winter when greens, and a hint of sunshine, are most welcome.
FOR TIMES OF OVERWHELM AND AGITATION:
Sage — Salvia officinalis
Culinary sage, though historically heralded for its many health benefits, has been all but forgotten today for its use in mental health. This herb, though, is particularly useful for modern states of overwhelm, mental lethargy, and melancholy.
Sage is particularly suited for those times when we have created a circumstance that results in feeling overwhelmed, such as overcommitting our time, or we are feeling overwhelmed by a situation that doesn’t necessarily need to be stressful. These feelings are then amplified by a sense of anger, frustration, or agitation about the overwhelm that we are feeling or creating for ourselves.
In these instances, sage helps us to metabolize our frustration, get grounded in reality to assess what does and does not need to be done, and transform the overwhelm into a sense of calm competence.
Sage, like rosemary and basil, is considered safe in culinary amounts, however larger, therapeutic uses should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. Additionally, sage is generally not recommended to be taken continuously for longer durations, so if you do decide to start drinking sage tea, intermittently or less than three weeks is ideal.
To take as a tea, measure 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh, muddled sage, add 1 cup of boiling water, steep for 15 minutes, strain, and enjoy.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Dirt & Bones
Andrea Rossi (she/they) is a community herbalist, nutritionist, and the founder of Dirt & Bones. She supports big-hearted, big-impact humans in nurturing nervous system resilience through individualized nutrition therapy and herbal support, nature-experience programs like Nurture by Nature (NxN), and community healing gatherings.