Aromatherapy: The Power of Essential Oils
Note: These articles are not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.
By Anna Wiens
Whether it’s the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, the warning odor of a skunk, or the first flower bloom of the spring, scent has an impact on our mood and behavior. Out of all of the five senses, smell is the only one whose neurons bypass the integration and sorting centers of the brain and instead are connected directly with the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for memory, emotions, and hormonal control. Therefore, smell is directly and uniquely linked with our memory and mood. That is why a scent can trigger a sense of nostalgia or impart a distant feeling. The sense of scent is said to be as much as 10,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. In fact, most of what we perceive as taste is actually produced by smell. That is why you can’t taste much of anything when you have a stuffy nose. Modern science is just catching on to the traditional notion of using scent therapeutically. Here we will explore some scent profiles and their traditional uses. We will explore three different scents used to calm, uplift, and focus.
Lavender is probably the most known and used essential oil and for good reason. For our fast-paced, overly stressed, high functioning world, lavender scent has an amazing ability to sooth, calm, and nourish an overworked and overstressed individual. It helps to soothe anxiety and nervousness and can act as a sleep aid for those with an overactive or worried mind. It can help sooth irritation and ease mood swings. It is a great sleep aid for children as it is safe and effective (as long as it is used in the right dilution). The essential oil is very concentrated and should be diluted in oil before adding to the bath or put on the skin. Add 20-30 drops in an ounce of a carrier oil and add to your child’s (or your own!) bathtub or rub on their feet at bedtime to help them sleep. Lavender is also helpful in relieving a headache or fever. Simply brew a strong batch of lavender tea, dip a rag in the concentrated lavender water, and lie with the compress on your forehead. Feel free to sip the tea as you lie there.
If you have ever peeled an orange or have been around someone that has peeled an orange, you know that immediate refreshing and uplifting smell that permeates the air. Before you even taste the orange, you can feel the effects of its aroma. For this reason, you will often find orange essential oil added to blends with the label of “cheering”, “refreshing” or “energizing”.
Because of its uplifting and revitalizing qualities, orange essential oil is one of the best oils to put into an air spray. Most bathrooms sprays are scented with orange as it not only uplifts the mood, but it is also effective at covering odor. And on top of that, orange essential oil also has disinfection qualities (which is why it’s often added to cleaning products). Orange essential oil is lovely on its own, but also mixes well with cinnamon, clove, coriander, and sandalwood.
Peppermint oil is great for focus and concentration. Diluted (the full concentration oil can burn the skin) peppermint oil is great to rub onto the temples during class or when studying in order to stay focused. It is also stimulating and revitalizing, so this essential oil is perfect for the student who tends to “zone out” or lose focus. It can also be used for those who feel overworked or get tension headaches. It’s good for relieving tension in general. It is often used in muscle rubs and creams for sore and overworked muscles or put into a foot bath for overworked feet.
Mouth infections and canker sores are eased with peppermint. That is why it is often found in mouthwashes and toothpastes. In small amounts, peppermint oil can be added to food or to baked goods. A little goes a long way here- just one or two drops can flavor an entire dish.
Peppermint is one of the best go-to herbs for digestive upsets. It soothes and eases the stomach and helps with distention. A lot of enteric-coated peppermint in pill form or in liquid extract form not only includes medicine from the plant alcohol extract, but also from the essential oil. The essential oil distillation process is different than that of a liquid plant extraction process or powdering process.
The main way to extract an essential oil is by steam distillation. Distillation basically captures the steam of a gently heated herb and then condenses the steam into a liquid form that separates into oil and a hydrosol. The essential oil is skimmed off the top and then bottled. For every 50 pounds of peppermint plant, just one pound of peppermint essential oil is produced. The essential oil contains the volatile components of the plant and concentrated proportions of the plant’s medicine. Due to their potency and scarceness, essential oils are not to be used carelessly.
Essential oils are named such as they capture the “essence” of the plant. They are very concentrated plant materials that hold a strong aroma. Once inhaled the scent of the essential oil travels down the olfactory neurons and directly trigger the memory and mood centers of the brain. They can have a strong to subtle effect both mentally and physically. In a world where our meadows have been paved into parking lots, deforestation running rampant, and our dwindling biodiversity, essential oils can be used to bring back the healing power of plants. Our modern world has found a way to capture a field of lavender flowers or the resins of a tree in a bottle. I encourage you to explore the potentials of these powerful plants and create your own medicinal bath and body oils, room sprays, massage oils, laundry detergents, and whatever your heart desires.
The Health Genie