Growing a relaxation garden can be a tranquil and soothing experience. By providing a calming background (like sounds of moving water and wind chimes), you’ll enjoy the soporific effects of herbs even while working in the cool earth. But the true benefits of your garden will come from the teas, sleep pillows and bath bags you can make from your herbal harvest.

Sleepy pillow herb bags

Immerse yourself in herbal pleasure with the convenient bath bag, or release sweet dreams from a calming sleep pillow.

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Tea

Brew a relaxing tea by boiling water and pouring over a teaspoon of dried or fresh leaves or flowers. Sip slowly in a tranquil setting.

Photo Credit: Aubrey Hicks

Hops

Hops is a tall perennial vine that grows well in a wide variety of soils, but it needs a tall pole or trellis system to climb.

Photo Credit: Aubrey Hicks

Some herbs to consider for your special garden include chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) and lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis). These can be found in your average culinary garden and can be put to use if you don’t have room for a separate relaxation garden. Hops (Humulus lupulus) makes a wonderful addition to any relaxation garden, too. Its cone-like female flowers are a useful sleep remedy, though they have a bitter taste and aroma. For happier dreams, combine these flowers with sweeter, more fragrant ones.

All of these herbs are perennials outdoors in USDA Hardiness zone 5 and warmer, except chamomile, which is an annual. Some lavender isn’t very hardy in Zone 5 or above, so do check before you buy. Lemonbalm will grow in Zone 4 or higher, and hops can withstand Zone 2 temperatures.

Lemonbalm needs a little extra attention but is well-worth it for its calming properties and wonderful scent. In dry, hot climates, this herb grows best in partial shade. Be sure to harvest the lemony leaves before the plant flowers, and dry them quickly to retain as much fragrance as possible. If the foliage takes more than two days to dry, it’ll turn black.

One of the best concoctions to make from your relaxation garden harvest is herbal tea. But do remember such teas are for short-term use only. Don’t drink them every day, all day. With that in mind, brew up some delicious and calming cups of tea with herbs like chamomile and lemon balm. Chamomile is purported to have a relaxing effect on the digestive and nervous systems. (You’ll want to steep the chamomile flowers for no more than 10 minutes to avoid a bitter taste). Lemonbalm adds a nice citrus flavor and aroma that’s good for calming tummy aches, and it’ll relax your on-the-go brain with its mildly sedating effects.

Sleep pillows are another relaxing treat to make from your herb harvest. Called swooning pillows in the Victorian era, they’re easy to make and have absolutely no side effects (other than to relax you). Just sew together some small squares of soft, decorative fabric (4-12 inches in size), leaving one side open to stuff in the dried herbs. Consider using a mix of lavender, hops, chamomile and lemonbalm, among others. Once your pillow is stuffed (and don’t overstuff it), sew the remaining side shut. Then tuck your pillow in bed with you at night. As you squeeze it or turn your head, the herbs will release a sweet, calming scent. (If you don’t have a sleep pillow handy, you can just add a few sprigs of lavender inside your pillowcase to release a relaxing floral aroma.)

Any of the aforementioned herbs combine wonderfully for terrific bath bags, too. Mix a cup of each (using less of the hops) in a small bag of permeable fabric (like muslin or cheesecloth) and tie shut. Use the tie to loop the bag over the faucet as you fill the tub with warm water. Then enjoy a good soak to relax your mind and body.

These are all wonderful stress remedies. And if they work for you, don’t stop there – make a pillow for a stressed-out friend or invite an overworked chum over for tea in your relaxation garden. After all, in today’s 24/7, plugged-in world, it’s nice to have a quiet way to shut off all the noise and spend time relaxing time with a loved one.