Integrating Aroma 1.2
By Mary Kathleen Rose
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2004.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals.
All rights reserved.
continued from... Integrating Aroma1.1: Essential Oil Cautions
Natural Scent Therapy
So how is it possible to take advantage of our sense of smell to enjoy life more fully? Keeping the above cautions in mind, let's explore other ways to incorporate essential oils into our daily routines.
Live plants: Enjoy the scents of living plants in the garden. There is nothing more invigorating and sensual than the smell of fresh honeysuckle flowers as their scent wafts in through an open window on a warm summer evening. Fresh roses of many varieties are delightful to see and smell. Artemisias provide a stimulating, pungent scent, and valerian flowers give a gentle, sweetly encompassing aroma. Surround your home with mint -- easy to grow, they smell great and can be dried for herbal teas and infusions. There are many varieties of mint -- peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemonbalm. Other members of the mint family provide great additions to raw and cooked dishes -- oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and garden sage.
Live plants can be a welcome addition in the winter months as well. Rosemary works well as a potted plant, as can basil or garden sage. The best essential oils can be very expensive. Because of their concentration, they usually should last a long time, but for the self-reliant individual, it can be very satisfying to surround yourself with aromatic plants you grow yourself.
Culinary herbs and spices: The best part of making chicken soup is simmering the herbs. Use any of the following in a combination to suit your taste: onion, garlic, ginger, rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley. The herbs and spices used in cooking are the everyday natural scent therapy of many traditions. The smell of curried dishes or tangy spices awaken the senses and start the flow of digestive juices. Cilantro and mint are refreshing additions to salads. The spices used in baking -- cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and chocolate -- give taste and flavor to many foods. Just to enter a home with fresh gingerbread cooking is an uplifting experience. And what can beat the smell of fresh baked bread? It's natural scent therapy at its finest.
Herbal teas and infusions: Many herbs make enjoyable beverages. Try any of the mints, chamomile, ginger, or raspberry leaf. A tea is an herb brewed in a relatively short time, strained, and enjoyed. Use one or two varieties at a time, savor the smell, and notice its effect on your mood. An infusion is a stronger version of an herbal beverage. (Generally 1 ounce of dried plant material is brewed in a quart jar to which boiling water has been added. Let sit for 3 to 4 hours, strain, and drink.) A brew of peppermint tea simmering on the stove is a great way to deodorize your home. Or try cinnamon and cloves for festive holidays occasions. Simmer them alone or add to hot apple cider.
Fresh and dried arrangements: A dozen flowering stems of lavender can be tied with a ribbon and hung on the wall or laid on a shelf to impart its pleasing scent for many months. A basket of rose petals is beautiful and evokes a feeling of luxury and romance. Citrus peels can be placed on wood stoves to release their scent as they dry.
Sachets and pillows: Lavender flowers can be placed in small muslin bags to scent a drawer. Each time you reach in, you can be gently stimulated by their scent. Sachets can also be filled with damiana, a very sensual smelling herb, or other herbs of your choice. A classic dream pillow is filled with subtle smelling mugwort. Hops strobiles can be a pleasant, mildly intoxicating scent for an herb pillow. An easy sachet can be made by putting the herbs or flowers in a plain envelope and sealing it. A sprig of artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush) or white sage provides powerful purifying scents to influence the mood of a room.
Herbal steams: An herbal steam is another way to enjoy the aromas of fresh or dried herbs. Place a handful of herbs in a quart-sized bowl. Pour boiling water over the herbs. Sit with your face a few inches above the bowl and cover your head with a towel, letting it form a kind of tent. Breathe in the moist aromatic steam. This can be a wonderful treatment for sinus congestion, hayfever allergies, or just to relax after a hard day at work. Experiment with different herbs: chamomile to relax or peppermint for stimulation.
Herbal baths: Whole herbs can be added to a hot bath. Place the herbs or flowers in a large teaball or a muslin bag. Here are some herbs to try for different effects: eucalyptus leaves, pine needles, rosemary, roses, chamomile, and spearmint.
Natural candles: Many commercially-available scented candles contain chemicals and/or wicks that are toxic when burned. Rather than being aromatherapy, they may be detrimental to your health. Sensitive individuals even exhibit allergic responses to the unlit candles. I prefer natural beeswax candles. Beeswax has a wonderful scent and conveys an expansive, yet soothing, effect when burned. Look for beeswax that is rich in yellow color and imparts a definite scent even when unlit. It loses its color and scent over time.
Infused oils for cooking and skin care: Whole plant material may be infused in olive oil to extract its medicinal qualities, as well as impart its scent. Use fresh plant material that has been allowed to dry for a day or two. For example, place finely chopped rosemary in a jar, fill it with pure olive oil, and cap it with a canning lid so no air gets in. Let it sit on the counter out of sunlight for 2 to 3 weeks. Do not refrigerate. Room temperature is necessary to the process. Strain the oil through a handkerchief and store in a cool, dry place. It can be left unrefrigerated for several weeks, it will keep for several months to a year in the refrigerator.
This infused rosemary oil is great as a base for salad dressing. Simply pour over greens and vegetables along with some lemon juice for a great and satisfying taste and smell. Rosemary oil can also be used as a hair conditioner. Massage it into the scalp and leave on for 20 to 60 minutes. Wash hair as usual.
Lavender flowers and/or leaves can also be used this way to make an infused oil that is great for skin care and massage. You can use either extra virgin olive oil or "pure" olive oil. Like coconut oil, olive oil is a stable oil and is very good for the skin.
A Way of Life
Plants underscore the rhythm of life. I love gathering fresh plants in the fall and drying or infusing them, enjoying them throughout the seasons, and returning them to the compost the next summer, as new plants are sprouting. We can enjoy plants through a fuller range of experience by including the senses of sight, touch, and taste.
It's important to remember that, while essential oils may be the pure distilled oil of the plant, they are not the whole plant. In herbal medicine, there are benefits to using the whole plant that are not derived from using the essential oil alone. For example, a sprig of lavender stems and flowers, tied with a ribbon, is a delightful addition to the décor of a room, subtly imparting its scent over time. A basket of rose petals is a beautiful sight as well as sensual treat to smell.
Natural scent therapy is a way of life. With an educated approach you can safely enjoy its benefits. Pleasant scents in our environment encourage us to inhale deeply, allowing the benefits afforded by full and deep respiration. Aromas can be soothing or stimulating, often evocative of images and other associations. A scent can be uplifting and mood altering. As you open yourself to the world of aromatic herbs, spices, and oils, you open yourself to the possibilities of greater enjoyment of life and better health.
Mary Kathleen Rose, C.M.T., has more than 25 years of active involvement in the holistic health field, focusing on nutrition, herbalism, massage, and expressive arts. She has a bachelor's degree in integrative healing and is certified by Susun Weed in the Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition. She is the author of The Gift of Touch: Comfort Touch Massage for the Elderly and The Ill and Bereavement: Dealing with Grief and Loss. For more information, visit www.comforttouch.com.
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