Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential plant oils for healing body, mind, and spirit.
One of the most ancient methods of aromatherapy was to burn aromatic branches and inhale the smoke. In fact, the word perfume is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning “through smoke.”
Our Relationship With Smell
Humans are said to have an estimated 10 million cells for detecting scents. Our sense of smell is our most primitive sense, and what we smell can affect our health and consciousness.
While women often prefer floral smells, such as of gardenia, rose, and jasmine, which evoke pleasant memories, men are often most responsive to woodsy, citrus, and “cooking smells” like cinnamon and ginger.
Essential oils, or volatile oils, are distilled or pressed from plants, where they repel predator insects and attract beneficial pollinators. While they do not contain pollens, in some cases, they can trigger allergenic or sneezing reaction.
Scent travels along a neurological pathway, bypassing the blood brain barrier. When the fragrance of essential oils reaches the nose, it is taken into the air we breathe, and eventually enters our bloodstream. It then stimulates neurotransmitter production.
Important Characteristics Of Essential Oils
Essential oils have the ability to calm fear, anxiety, stress, and insomnia. They also kill germs, bacteria, fungi, and viruses but not friendly intestinal flora since the bacteria do not grow resistant to essential oils.
Some essential oils contain hormone-like substances called phytosterols.
Essential oils are liposoluble, allowing for quick absorption by the skin.
A Few Useful Essential Oils
1. Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens, P. odorantissimum)
A member of the Geraniaceae (geranium) family, it calms anxiety, reduces stress and fatigue, and stimulates sensuality. Geranium is an antidepressant, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, cell regenerator, and hormonal balancer for men and women.
2. Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)
A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, lavender is an antidepressant, decongesting to the respiratory system, and antiseptic. It is one of the most versatile essential oils. It can be applied directly to prevent bug bites.
3. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, it is antiseptic, mildly stimulating, and antidepressant. When used diluted on the skin, it has a cooling and warming effect at the same time.
4. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It is included in massage oils to relax muscles and in hair formulas to stimulate hair growth.
Rosemary is antiseptic and has long been inhaled to improve memory.
I taught my kids to smell rosemary oil while studying, and then again, when taking a test to recall information.
5. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
This is antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral and is used topically on acne, athlete’s feet, cuts, and bites.
It is included in soaps, shampoos to treat dandruff, deodorants, and mouthwash. It is also effective against head lice and combs.
Brushes can be soaked in a solution of 1 pint alcohol with three drops of tea tree oil to help delouse hair care tools.
For nail fungus, the affected area is soaked in undiluted tea tree oil twice daily.
Uses Of Essential Oils
- Baths: Add 2–8 drops to a hot bath after filling.
- Compress: Soak a cloth in a clean basin of hot or cold water to which 5 drops of essential oil have been added.
- Facial spray: Add one teaspoon of vodka to 1/4 teaspoon essential oil and 4 ounces of distilled water in a clean spray bottle. Shake and mist the face, with eyes and mouth closed.
- Foot bath: Add 5–10 drops essential oil to 2 gallons very warm water.
- Steam inhalation: Add 5 drops essential oil in a basin of just boiled water. Place a towel over head and pot of water and breathe in the steamy aroma to clear congestion.
- Massage oil: To 1 ounce of your favorite carrier add 15 drops total of essential oil.
- Mouth wash: Add 1 or 2 drops of essential oil (peppermint or tea tree oil) to 1/4 cup water. Swish in the mouth before spitting out.
- Shower: 8 drops maximum of oil can be added to a washcloth and used to scrub the body.
- Tooth powder: In 4 ounce baking soda and 1 ounce sea salt, add 15 drops essential oil (peppermint or tea tree oil).
Use With Caution
- Be sure you are using pure essential plant oils and not allergenic synthetic fragrances.
- Stay away from clear bottles and companies where each essential oil is the same price. These are most likely fragrances and not necessarily natural or therapeutic. Essential oils are precious since they use many resources to be produced.
- Keep them out of the reach of children and away from light and heat. Some oils can even stain clothing and damage the finish on furniture.
- It is best to smell essential oils in a well-ventilated area, as headaches and nausea can result from too much exposure. Also keep them away from mucus membranes such as the eyes, mouth, and genitals, as well as broken skin.
- Refrigerate citrus oils as they have a shelf life of only about a year. Essential oils of angelica, citrus (including bergamot), petitgrain, and Saint John’s wort can cause photosensitivity and increase the risk of sunburn from even moderate sun exposure.
- Do not ingest essential oils without proper training on such usage. If overdone, these powerful oils can be very toxic.
- Since most essential oils are too strong to use on their own, dilute them in carrier oil. Good-quality, cold-pressed oils such as almond, grape seed, and apricot kernel oil are light and without a strong smell, which helps them blend better. They can also be diluted in warm water.
- Lavender and tea tree oils are among the few oils that can be used undiluted, being excellent for burns, insect bites, and cuts.
- Use a different pipette when measuring out essential oils to avoid cross contamination.