An Introduction to Aromatherapy
by Brigitte Mars
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. The word perfume is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning “through smoke.”
Essential oils, also known as volatile oils are distilled or pressed from plants. Their fragrance reaches the nose and is taken into the air we breathe and eventually enters into our bloodstream.
Humans are said to have an estimated ten million cells for detecting scents. It has been said, “The nose is the gateway to the brain.” Our sense of smell is our most primitive sense and what we smell can affect health and consciousness. Women often prefer floral smells that evoke pleasant memories: gardenia, rose and jasmine. Men are often most responsive to woodsy, citrus and “cooking smells” like cinnamon and ginger.
Essential oils repel predator insects and attract beneficial pollinators. Essential oils do not contain pollens, but in some cases can trigger allergenic or sneezing reactions in some sensitive individuals. Scent travels along a neurological pathway, bypassing the blood brain barrier. When essential oils are smelled they can stimulate neurotransmitter production. And have the ability to calm fear, anxiety, stress and insomnia. Essential oils kill germs, bacteria, fungi and viruses but not friendly intestinal flora. Bacteria do not appear to grow resistant to them essential oils. Some essential oils contain phytosterols, substances that are similar to hormones. Essential oils are liposoluble allowing for quick absorption by the skin.
Be sure you are using pure essential plant oils and not synthetic fragrances. Synthetic fragrances are often allergenic and though you might not be able to tell the difference, your body will. Quality is imperative. Be suspicious of clear bottles and companies where each essential oil is the same price, as these are most likely fragrances, and not necessarily natural or therapeutic.
Essential oils are precious and use many resources to be produced. Use them wisely and with appreciation. Keep them out of the reach of children and away from light and heat. Some oils can 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. Keep essential oils 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 unless properly trained in how to safely use them in such a manner. They are very powerful and if overdone internally can be very toxic.
Most essential oils are too strong to use alone. They should be diluted in carrier oil. Look for good quality, cold pressed oils, such as almond, grape seed, and apricot kernel oil because they are light and don't have a strong smell, lending them well for blending. Essential oils 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.
Be sure to use a different pipette when measuring out essential oils. Dipping the same hollow tube into different bottles can cause cross contamination.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens, P. odorantissimum) is a member of the Geraniaceae (Geranium) Family. It calms anxiety, reduces stress, improves fatigue, and stimulates sensuality. Geranium is antidepressant, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, cell regenerator, and hormonal balancer for men and women.
Lavender (Lavendula officinalis) is 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 of the essential oils. It can be applied directly to prevent bug bites.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. It is antiseptic, mildly stimulating, and antidepressant. When used diluted on the skin, it has an effect that cools and warms at the same time.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is also a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. Rosemary 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.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral. It is used topically on acne, athlete’s feet, cuts, and bites. It is included in soaps, shampoos against dandruff, deodorants and mouthwash. It is also effective against head lice and combs; brushes can be soaked in a solution of one-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.
Take a workshop or read a book on aromatherapy and learn more about this ancient fragrant art. Aromatherapy doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as smelling the flowers.
Here are a few ideas of what to do with essential oils.
Baths: Add two to eight drops to a hot bath after filling.
Compress: Soak a cloth in a clean basin of hot or cold water to which five drops of essential oil have been added.
Facial spray: Add one teaspoon of vodka to 1/4 teaspoon essential oil and four ounces of distilled water in a clean spray bottle. Shake and mist the face with eyes and mouth closed.
Foot bath: Add five to ten drops essential oil to two gallons very warm water.
Steam Inhalations: Place five 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 one ounce of your favorite carrier add fifteen drops total of essential oil.
Mouth Wash: Add one or two drops of essential oil (peppermint, tea tree) to 1/4-cup water. Use to swish in the mouth before spitting out.
Shower: Eight drops maximum of oil can be added to a washcloth and used to scrub the body.
Tooth powder: In 4 ounces baking soda and 1 ounce sea salt at 15 drops essential oil (Peppermint or tea tree oil are good choices.)
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