Farm to (Massage) Table

By Angela England

Just as restaurants are learning the many benefits of growing their own food or finding it locally, massage therapists and spas are also embracing this trend. You can set your sessions apart, save money, and source high-quality materials by providing your clients with a garden-to-session experience. 

Growing your own herbs and plant material for your massage therapy clients to enjoy can give you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. You’ve planned your spa treatment or use for the herb, nurtured the seed or new transplant, and raised a beautiful harvest. In the era of pre-packaged everything, you have tapped into the art of days past. When you create a unique and personalized  treatment for your client that took you months to bring to fruition, there is a rewarding sense of achievement. 


 You know the saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? As massage therapists, we are concerned with the quality of the products we use in our sessions. In fact, we worry about the quality of the entire experience, taking care to plan the atmosphere, lotion or oil, music, scents, sheets, and every other detail from entrance to exit. 

Quality Assurance

Finding the freshest, highest-quality ingredients is sometimes a difficult process. Labels can be confusing or downright misleading, and unless you are buying organic you can’t be sure what pesticides or chemicals have been used on the plants. What better way to be absolutely sure about the chemicals used (or not used) on the herbs than to grow them yourself? 

Competitive Edge

Marketing expert Seth Godin writes about finding your purple cow: nobody stops to take a picture of a cow in a grassy field, but everyone would stop to take a photo of a purple cow because it is remarkable. In a tough economy, you need a competitive edge to stand out, something unique that will attract potential clients. 

Growing your own herbs for a particular treatment or massage experience is a memorable, extra element your clients can become emotionally invested in that will capture the imaginations of potential customers as well. 

I know one massage therapist who grows her materials in her city’s community garden. Her garden plot has a sign with the name of her business and the phone number. That little wooden sign has resulted in additional clients for her business. 

Earth Friendly

Finding your herbs locally means fewer fossil fuels wasted shipping your herbs thousands of miles. Modern, large-scale agricultural methods also apply petroleum-based fertilizer to grow the plants. Most crops are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals you wouldn’t want to apply directly to your skin (or your clients’ skin). 

At every step of the process, commercial agriculture introduces more chances to be exposed to harmful toxins, while also using up nonrenewable resources. I think we can all agree that stepping out the back door of your home and harvesting herbs for that day’s clients is a much more earth-friendly system. There are options available for community-supported agriculture, even for therapists living in urban areas—farmers’ markets, community gardens that will rent or give you a space, and container gardening are some options. 

Controlling the gardening process gives you the ability to make sure organic, earth-respecting methods are being used at every step. From composting to using heirloom seeds to organic pest control, you can use the methods you feel comfortable with—that extra layer of control can be invaluable. 

Economic Savings

There can be an additional cost-saving benefit with some of the most popular herbs and plants as well. When I’m counting the cost of my own garden, some of the most economical plants for me to grow at home are my herbs. Fresh basil can cost more than $4 for a small sprig, while a $1 packet of seeds will provide fresh basil for the summer months, as well as enough basil to dry and use in the autumn and winter. Plus, you can find varieties of basil via seed you
simply can’t purchase otherwise (think lemon and even chocolate basil), creating a one-of-a-kind experience for pennies on the dollar. 

Other herbs that grow easily from seed include chamomile, lemon balm, sage, and thyme. These plants will readily grow from a few scattered seeds to produce full-grown plants in a few weeks time with minimal financial investment on your part.
I even grow more plants than I need without guilt, using the extra for gift giving, preserving, or using as a seasonal massage special. 

Some herbs, however, do not grow well from seeds, including lavender, lemon verbena, and mint. Lavender, though, is an economical plant in another way—it is a perennial plant that will come back year after year, such as rose, sage, and thyme. 

Easy-to-Grow Herbs  and Plants  

Here are some of my favorite herbs or plants for a massage therapist or bodyworker to grow. They are either valuable for their health benefits, easy to grow, or both. Hopefully you’ll see a familiar friend on this list, or be intrigued by a new potential favorite. 


A useful herb that blends well with a variety of fragrances and herbs, basil is available in a variety of cultivars. Lemon, sweet, and chocolate basils are especially useful in massage therapy and spa treatments. 


The tea is often used to calm and relax, and when applied to the skin, chamomile can have a similarly relaxing effect (but see Allergies, Overstimulation, and Common Sense on page 63). 

Try this: Create an oil or lotion infusion with chamomile to create an anti-inflammatory massage blend. 

Hint: The daisy-like flowers grow nicely as a drought-tolerant addition to the landscape and reseed themselves with ease. 


It may not be an herb, but cucumber is an easy-to-grow and prolific vegetable that deserves a place in any spa garden. Cucumber is a cooling, hydrating, and skin-soothing staple that can be used to flavor water and star in a variety of spa treatments. You can create cooling cucumber blends and freeze already-sliced extras year-round. 


A familiar, popular, and fragrant herb with scented leaves and flowers, lavender is known to relieve anxiety. It is perfect to use with a first-time client who may be feeling nervous or unsure of what to expect. 

Try this: Wrap a fresh sprig in a damp towel before placing it in a towel warmer, infusing the towel with a delightful fragrance before using with the client. 

Hint: Lavender needs good drainage to grow well, so it performs well in container plantings. 

Lemon Balm

In addition to its invigorating, citrus scent, lemon balm has proven antianxiety effects, making it great for a calming, mind-clearing massage session. Lemon balm is easy to grow and has tiny, attractive flowers as well. 

Try this: Create a lemon balm hydrosol (floral water) to lightly scent the sheets on your massage table and help your clients relax. 

Hint: Lemon balm tolerates lots of pruning, so don’t be afraid to harvest and use it regularly. Just give it a little extra mulch and compost so it can continue growing lovely, fragrant leaves for you. 


Lemongrass grows in large clumps up to 3 feet tall and wide. The green foliage is strongly lemon scented, and the edible base of the grass stalks is used in many Asian cuisines. In the massage room, lemongrass can be soothing and stimulating at the same time, making it great for overall balancing. 

Try this: Steep fresh or dried lemongrass in warm water for a calming and unusual foot soak prior to a foot massage. 

Hint: Lemongrass will grow quickly from divisions, so try to pick up some starts from a fellow gardener instead of purchasing a brand-new plant. 


While typically thought of as a culinary herb, marjoram also has therapeutic benefits for pain relief and easing tension, such as the kind that can trigger tension headaches. In the garden, marjoram is a prolific herb that takes frequent pruning and harvesting. 

Try this: Use marjoram in a pillow for headache relief when the client is lying face up during a session. You can blend it with lavender and rose petals for a soothing, pleasing scent. 

Hint: Marjoram prefers quick drainage, so grow it in a raised bed or container garden, or mix the soil with a portion of sand. 


The unmistakable fragrance of mint is familiar to many people and considered cooling, energizing, stomach-soothing, and stress relieving. Mint is popular in tea blends and potpourri. 


While roses are usually grown for ornamental purposes, they also have benefits for the massage therapist as well, providing fragrant and edible flower petals, as well as healthful rose hips. 

Try this: Float rose petals in a bowl of water under the massage table to provide a sensory experience for clients while they are facedown. Dry your rose petals to add to scrubs, body wraps, or other treatments. You can even create one-of-a-kind client gifts with homemade potpourri sachets.

Hint: Grow the most fragrant varieties to reap the most health benefits from your roses, as fragrance is drawn from the essential oils within the rose. 


This shrubby, perennial herb is one of my favorites and has a sharper fragrance that stimulates, invigorates, and aids in concentration. Rosemary is also popular as a hair or scalp treatment. 

Try this: Infuse oil or water with fresh rosemary for 24–48 hours before using the liquid in a scalp massage. 

Hint: Never harvest more than half to two-thirds of the shrub in any given year if you want it to survive until the following year. 


Strawberries are used therapeutically thanks to the antioxidant properties of the berries and the health benefits of the leaves. In fact, strawberry leaves are one of the best sources of vitamin C available and have astringent properties. 

Try this: Create a facial massage treatment using strawberries and strawberry leaves in a salve or cream. 

Hint: Alpine strawberries will grow in pleasing clumps that make a nice border along a path or sidewalk and will bear smaller fruits year-round as compared to other types of strawberries. 


Thyme has a warming, restorative scent and can be used for disinfecting. It’s also known to help lift the spirits of those struggling with moodiness. The herb is an easy-to-grow perennial in many climates, making it one of the best choices for massage therapists. 

Try this: Infuse a base oil with fresh, chopped thyme leaves for use in your oil warmer to create an uplifting atmosphere in the massage room. 

Hint: Use thyme under and around other larger perennials in the garden landscape, as it makes an excellent ground cover. 

  Angela England lives with her husband and five children in rural Oklahoma. Author of Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) and founder of, she stays busy empowering others to live more intentionally. Find out more about her writing at


Engaging the Client

Libby Staples, spa director at Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire, maintains an herb garden with basil, lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage, and other herbs for clients at the spa. The spa’s Herbal Cleansing Ritual and Herbal Body Treatment use herbs, grown from seed or purchased from nurseries within a 20-mile radius, that the client selects straight from the spa garden, giving them “an authentic experience that is relevant to the area and its rich history,” Staples says.

Before each session, massage therapists walk the garden with clients, explaining the benefits of the various herbs and allowing time to enjoy the plants before clients select what they want to use. This orientation leads to a more educated client and greater engagement in the massage session. The experience also offers the therapist and client an opportunity to form a connection before the hands-on treatment begins.

The herbs are used in aromatherapy steams or added to scrubs. Though the spa only offers these treatments seasonally (May through September are the peak months), Staples says it’s worth the effort to plan and maintain the garden.  


Allergies, Overstimulation, and Common Sense 

When we use herbs for a particular benefit, we are saying that they have an effect on the body. We have to use caution then, because not every effect is desired at every time. Chamomile, for example, can induce an allergic reaction in clients with allergies to ragweed. Eucalyptus may be too stimulating for clients with epilepsy, and those prone to anxiety may want to avoid energizing herbs as well. Use common sense and always let the client know what you’re using in a session. When working with a client with potential contraindications, get preapproval from the client’s primary health-care provider. 

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