These surprising hacks show herbs are so much more than garnish.
We love that herbs make food prettier, tastier, and healthier, but we’re currently obsessed with herbs’ throwback uses as disinfectants and natural beauty treatments. In 19th-century Europe, fragrant lemon balm was strewn over floors to freshen rooms. Ancient Egyptians used herbs and essential oils to soften and perfume their skin. Herbs are just as eco-friendly, economical, and effective today—and they’re super easy to add to your household and beauty routines.
Herbs as household helpers
“Most people enjoy the relaxing effect of a cup of herbal tea, but the same infusion can perform double duty as a surface-cleaning spray,” says Karyn Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning. “Certain herbs, such as lavender and sage, can go straight from the kitchen cabinet to a bowl of baking soda destined to become a soft scrubber when mixed with water,” she advises.
For a simple all-purpose cleaner, Maier recommends filling a large spray bottle with water and adding a capful of liquid Castile soap and 15 to 20 drops of herbal essential oil, such as basil, rosemary, lavender, or sage.
Herbs can also help clear your home of pests. Katolen Yardley, medical herbalist and owner of Alchemy & Elixir Health Group, suggests growing fragrant herbs, such as rosemary, comfrey, and mint, to ward off mice as well as insects.
“These are aromatic plants … and the smell is what repels a lot of insects,” she explains. “If it’s not possible to grow the actual herbs, crush up dried herbs with a mortar and pestle.” Lavender powder, for example, could be sprinkled on your bedding to help repel mosquitoes.
For a mixture that’s anathema to clothes-loving moths, combine equal parts camphor basil, lavender, and rosemary in a small cheesecloth bag and place in closets. Yardley also lauds lavender on its own as a moth repellent. “Growing lavender in a flower pot … or even putting [bundles of lavender] in clothing will help to protect them from moths,” she says.
While the scent of certain herbs might be repellent to pests, most herbs smell soothing to humans—and they’re far better for us than conventional air fresheners, which can be chemical minefields. A test conducted by the Environmental Working Group found that scented products contain an average of 14 secret chemicals. For those seeking a more sensible air freshener, Maier recommends a DIY option.
“To make [your own herbal air freshener], fill a small spray bottle with organic witch hazel and eight to 12 drops of your favorite essential oils,” she says. If you’re not sure which essential oils to choose, try one of Maier’s suggested combinations: lavender and peppermint, sweet orange and vanilla, or vetiver and bitter orange. (Bonus: This fragrant mixture can double as a deodorant or body spray!)
For crafty, Pinterest-loving types, calendula, or pot marigold, has a sunny hue that makes it a natural choice for eco-friendly dye projects. Beyond crafts, calendula can be added to the food of ornamental koi and other vibrantly colored fish to brighten their scales.
Herbs as beauty boosters
Natural shampoos with antifungal ingredients such as sage, rosemary, and thyme may combat the flaking and scaling of dandruff. Yardley notes that herbal rinses can also promote healthier, more lustrous locks.
“Nettle, rosemary, and horsetail prepared as a tea and then used as a hair rinse are really good for strengthening the hair and making it shinier,” she says.
Decorating with herbs
Herbs can add rustic beauty and fresh scents to almost any space.
- Brighten any bouquet with fresh herbs, such as basil, mint, parsley, and rosemary.
- Rather than top presents with a bow, attach a sprig of rosemary.
- For an eye-catching centerpiece, group together a few different-sized pots that house a variety of herbs.
- Decorate doors with herbal wreaths (rosemary and thyme work well).