Plants With Scented Leaves

Published on June 29th 2019
A close up of a flower
Flowers may take centre stage in our summer borders, but many plants also have deliciously scented foliage.
Brushing your hand over a lavender bush or geranium leaf and having the scent linger on your fingertips can be an evocative, multi-sensory experience. Other scented plants, such as the curry plant, cause a big divide between those that love it and those that loathe it.
Aromatic foliage often has a pungent quality to it. And for every plant that smells good, there is a repellant alternative like elder, stinking iris and tree of heaven.
This is because plants evolved scents not to please our nostrils, but to repel insect pests and hungry herbivores – somewhat ironic in the case of herbs, which we grow to add to our food and beverages!
A close up of a plant
Houttuynia has leaves that smell strongly of orange rind, though it is a little too pungent for some noses!


Teas, sauces, sweets, cocktails, toothpaste, liqueurs, mouthwash, chewing gum... mint is arguably the most famous and versatile herb.
There are many different types, some of which are very invasive. See below for a list of some varieties to try, but don't let them overgrow each other or you'll lose the individual scents.

Scented-leaf geranium/pelargonium

Somewhat gaudy, pelargoniums (often called geraniums) are a family no summer garden should be without.
Perhaps the classiest are the scented-leaf varieties, which come in a vast array of fragrances, including rose, apple, strawberry, peppermint, lemon and my personal favourite 'Orange Fizz'. Leaf shape and colour also vary widely, and small flowers add to the charm.
A white flower on a plant
Common myrtle is a beautiful little Mediterranean shrub with aromatic leaves and delicate white flowers.


Thyme is a delightful low-growing plant with strongly-scented leaves and little purple flowers which act like bee-magnets. Outside of the herb garden, thyme works well in a rock garden, at a border edge or in between paving where its scent will rise as you brush past it.


Is there anything more rustic than a lavender border humming with the buzz of honeybees on a midsummer afternoon? A real gem of a plant, lavender has a soothing fragrance and is a fantastic garden plant.
There are a few different types to look out for if you fancy growing your collection. The Canary Island lavender is an exotic, stunning option for sheltered southern gardens. Cotton lavender is not related, however it has silvery scented foliage and likes similar growing conditions.

Lemon balm

Similar in appearance to its mint relative, lemon balm makes a pleasant contrast in fragrance. There are gold and variegated varieties to choose from and like mint, lemon balm can be used to create a soothing tea infusion.
A yellow flower
Chamomile can be planted as a lawn, and its gentle, soothing fragrance is famously used in tea to relieve stress and help with sleep.


Not to be confused with the bergamot citrus fruit used in Earl Grey tea, bergamot has a plethora of other names, including bee balm, hare mint, Indian feathers, rose balm and Robin-run-around. The aromatic leaves are topped by whorls of vivid pink and purple flowers during the summer. Great for a cottage garden border.


Rosemary has a real depth to its fragrance and the narrow leaves coupled with dainty blue flowers make for a beautiful plant. As well as being an asset in the herb garden, rosemary looks excellent in a Mediterranean border and is tolerant of hot, dry conditions.

Lemon verbena

If you want full-on fragrance, you’ve come to the right plant. The lime green leaves of lemon verbena are so strongly lemon-scented they’re almost like the real thing. The only downside is that the plant is barely hardy, needing winter protection or a very sheltered position to thrive.
A close up of a plant
Sweet bay is often used in recipes to add flavour, but not all the plants listed here are edible, so always check first.


There are many (MANY!) types of salvia which are commonly grown in the garden. A lot of them have aromatic leaves, though common sage is the go-to plant for a herb garden. There are also variegated and purple-leaved varieties, but keep an eye out for mildew.


The oil from the gum tree, or eucalyptus, has long been used in alternative medicine. The pungent, bracing aroma of the leaves is a common ingredient in cough medicine and chest rubs. There are many species, many of which are fast-growing. In the wild, the flammable oil helps trees burn quickly in bush fires to make way for new growth.
A close up of a plant
Sweet flag is a pond plant which was once used as a 'strewing' herb. In the past, it was placed on the floor to release its scent as visitors walked over it.

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