soil for aromatic herbs

Soil for Aromatic Herbs

Left: Soil for Aromatics Herbs, photo copyright Sharon Falsetto Chapman. All rights reserved.

This short article introduces you to soil for aromatic herbs and why it matters. By gardener, herbalist and aromatherapist Sharon Falsetto Chapman.

As Earth Day is just around the corner, an article on soil feels highly appropriate. Soil, the literal earth beneath our feet, is perhaps one of the most important aspects of growing aromatic plants, and ultimately the production of essential oils for aromatherapy. Yet not much thought is given to what is undoubtedly one of the lesser interesting subject areas of aromatherapy. After all, it’s just soil, isn’t it?

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In this short article, I will introduce you to the basics of soil for aromatic herbs and why it is one of the most important factors at the start of an aromatic herb’s life.

What Soil for Aromatic Herbs is Made From

Soil is made up of so many different elements but, in short, soil is composed of air, water, minerals and organic matter. In fact, it’s very easy to make your own soil with patience and the right materials. Lots of things decompose naturally – such as cardboard, kitchen scraps, pet hair (and your own hair!), weeds, eggshells, and more – and given time, temperature, and water, you can turn these “waste products” into the ultimate black gold for your aromatic herbs.

Yet “natural” soil can be anything from alkaline to acidic (loamy, sandy, clay, etc.) depending on its environment, altitude, terrain, and weather patterns. That’s why some aromatic plants do well in some areas but not others, unless you can boost aromatic plants with soil amendments. But, more interestingly, left to find their own way, aromatic plants will produce different essential oils within the same species (and even chemotypes from different aromatic plants) due to these contributing factors. So how do you know if an aromatic herb will grow well in your garden?

Simple Soil for Aromatic Herbs

Some aromatic herbs grow well in plant pots on the patio. Some need to spread out more in raised beds or garden soil. The easy option is to purchase ready-bagged soil from the local garden center. But if you want to add amendments (or make your own), the general consensus is that most aromatic herbs like loamy soil (which is a mix of sand, silt, and clay). Peat used to be a go-to amendment to adjust for different plant needs, but with the environmental impact on damaged peatlands due to overexploitation (among other factors),1 coco coir is now becoming a popular alternative. There are all sorts of other amendments as well, depending on your needs (more water retention, less water retention, enhancing microbial activity etc.), which is beyond the scope of this article.

Start simple if all you have in mind is growing a few aromatic herbs to see how you get on.

Which Soil for Which Aromatic Herb?

Again, this article is just a simple introduction to soil for aromatic herbs but here’s a quick look at the types of soil some aromatic herbs prefer. Remember that soil is just one factor in the contribution to growing healthy aromatic herbs:

  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus): Loamy, slightly acidic. Rosemary does well in my garden in natural soil which has a tendency towards a more dominant clay make-up of loam, so I believe that rosemary is not too fussy with soil requirements in general. I mulch twice a year as well.
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare): Rocky and sandy soil which is well drained. Oregano, which has escaped the “luxury” of my garden pots, has flourished better in the rocky, sandy soil of my wild garden. So, yes, it knows where it likes to grow best! That’s not to say that it won’t grow in other types of soil, though.
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Not one to be contained by a garden pot, yarrow does best where it can spread out in the garden. Yarrow likes dry, loamy soil, and will do well in clay soil if it drains well. That’s where it is situated in my garden, although I am known to be the queen of overwatering!
  • Mint (Mentha): Due to their original parentage, the mints tend to like moist, well-drained, loamy soil. However, I have a suspicion that as long as mint is well watered, it will pretty much grow anywhere, and spreads accordingly.

Soil and Essential Oil Production

If you’re growing a few aromatic herbs in your garden, you might not be thinking about essential oil production. But given their usage in aromatherapy as essential oils, it’s interesting to note that different types of soil in which the originating plant was grown does affect essential oil production.

In a study conducted to determine the Impact of Soil Types on Chemical Composition of Essential Oil of Purple Basil it was found that:

“The highest essential oil yield according to soil types was obtained from the plant samples that were grown in the loamy sand soil.”2 It was also found that chemical composition percentages varied between growing areas.

Learn More About Botanical Aromatherapy™ with Sedona Aromatics

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our Botanical Aromatherapy™ School. At the sunflower level, we are continually adding aromatic gardening resources, and you also have access to many other benefits including aromatic Materia Medica, blends and recipes, eclasses and more!

References:

  1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Peatlands and Climate Change. Accessed from: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-brief/peatlands-and-climate-change#:~:text=They%20store%20more%20carbon%20than,restoration%20can%20reduce%20emissions%20significantly.
  2. Tursun AO. Impact of soil types on chemical composition of essential oil of purple basil. Saudi J Biol Sci. 2022 Jul;29(7):103314. doi: 10.1016/j.sjbs.2022.103314. Epub 2022 May 22. PMID: 36313387; PMCID: PMC9614565.

About the Author:

The author of this article has been working in the health care industry since the 1990’s and in the aromatherapy industry since the 2000’s. She is a UK-certified aromatherapist, a NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist®, a gardener, and a certified herbalist with several years of study. She is also a botanical perfumer.

Sharon is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, and custom blend formulator. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. Sharon works from her garden studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she gardens and distills plants from her own aromatic gardens, surrounded by natural fauna and flora on an original pioneer homestead property.

 

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