Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
Essential oils are considered the most therapeutic portions of a plant and are valued for their antiseptic characteristics.
For thousands of years fragrant plants have helped maintain the health of Earth's citizens. Perhaps the best know ancient culture that took advantage of healing aromas were the Egyptians. They extracted botanical scents and utilized them in medicines and baths and combined them with oils to create massage oil. Their religious ceremonies were heavy with incense and cedar oil was one of the main ingredients used for embalming.
The Crusaders returning from the East introduced botanical oils to Europeans. In the tenth and eleventh century healers in southern Europe began extracting essential oils from plants. This process was achieved by mashing the plant and then distilling the liquid that was gathered. The end result was a potent, volatile, non-oily liquid that can penetrate the skin and will evaporate quickly if not immediately contained.
In the 1800's pharmaceutical houses began manufacturing and marketing synthetic compounds to replace botanicals and aromatics. The public was content with the newly created 'miracle drugs' and the use of plant extracts waned. Then in 1930, the chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, revived aromatic therapy and coined the word "aromatherapy". Europeans have greatly benefited from Gattefosse's research. It isn't unusual to find a drugstore or pharmacist that is trained in the correct use of aromatherapy and essential oils. But here in America we didn't begin to discover the health gift of fragrance and fragrance oils until recently.
Although essential oils are not used in perfumes, perfume is a prime example of the direct correlation between the stimulus of odors and their direct impact on the brain. Most every person has a favorite cologne or perfume that makes them feel good. Essential oils work on the same principles. Scientific research has documented that smelling jasmine increases the beta waves in the brain which create a stimulated or aware state. Lavender, however, increases alpha waves in the brain and creates a relaxed state. Inhalations of essential oils have aided in cases of anxiety, headaches, insomnia, allergies, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.
Aromatherapy isn't the only use for essential oils. They are also effective when used topically as they are capable of penetrating the skin. Most are relatively harmless when used on the skin, but there are always precautions to take. Test the essential oils for allergic reaction by dabbing a drop on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Keep it covered and dry for 24 hours, then, if no redness or irritation is present, the oil should be safe for use on your skin. Certain oils should not be used by pregnant or gestating women. These include calamus, mugwort, basil, hyssop, myrrh, pennyroyal, wintergreen and marjoram.
You can lift your moods or relieve stress with just a drop or two. To explore the power of essential oils and aromatherapy you might want to try a few drops of lavender in your bath; you'll be amazed at this stress-buster. On a hot summer day mix distilled water and lavender in a spritzer. If you are out playing tennis or working in the garden, give yourself a treat; spray your face. A few drops mixed with an unscented massage oil is way to treat yourself and experience the effects of the aromatics. Another way to discover the benefits of the fragrant oils is to use them in a diffuser or aroma pot. Essential oils can also be placed on a scent ring placed on a light bulb. When the oil is warmed it will fill a room with the fragrance of your choosing.
Scents affect us in many ways and experiencing the effect of essential oils doesn't have to be expensive. Trying new scents on lamp rings or in aroma pots may be the best first step as you can always open the windows if it isn't quite what you expected.
A Few Basic Essential Oils and Their Uses
Essential oils don't have to cost a fortune, but make certain they are pure. The following is a list of some of the basic oils that will allow you experiment with aroma therapy and essential oils. These six oils are generally considered safe, but should be tested for an allergic reaction before use. They are also versatile as they can be added to unscented massage oil, dropped into a warm bath or used to scent a room.
Lavender should be in everyone's first aid kit. It can be used to relieve small cuts, skin irritations and insect bites. In today's hectic world lavender oil is a must as it is a great aid to relaxation. Used as an aromatic, mixed with a massage oil or dropped into a bath, lavender is a useful tool for beating stress.
Peppermint Oil is considered a terrific mental stimulant when a drop is mixed with unscented lotion and placed under the nose. Peppermint oil is often used for relieving an upset stomach. Just add one drop, two teaspoons of honey to a cup of warm water or herbal tea and sip.
Tea Tree Oil is another wonderfully mild natural antiseptic. Applying a single drop to a cut will help speed the healing. Many people use Tea Tree Oil for athlete's foot and other fungal infections.
Citrus Oils (Orange, Lime, Lemon or Grapefruit) will help elevate your mood and make you feel more positive. Citrus oils used on a fragrance ring or in an aroma pot are excellent for removing other odors, such as cooking or pet odors.
Floral Oils are the scents we most relate to and take most comfort in; hence the saying, "Stop and smell the roses". Floral oils provide relaxing and comforting feelings because we generally associate flowers and their fragrances with a pleasurable experiences.
Rosemary is a treat when you just can't seem to find your energy. It is a stimulant and works well in a diffuser or aroma pot and can be inhaled directly without irritation.
For a complete list of essential oils and their characteristics, or to purchase essential oils, click here. Be sure to read about aroma therapy recipes. I often include essential oil recipes in my monthly newsletter, The ShirleyGram, too.