Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote health and general wellbeing. Aromatherapy has gained in popularity over the last twenty years and is now available as a course in many colleges and is a reasonably well-accepted alternative therapy. It was first discovered here in the UK by a man named Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54) who studied herbalism, botany, and astrology. His use of herbalism was significant in the development of what came to be known as modern pharmaceuticals. Culpeper had enough of a heart to make sure his work was readable by even the poorest members of society and resented the greed of the doctors who reserved treatment for the wealthy. His book, The English Physician, has been in print since the 17th century.
There is no doubt some people are more receptive to the power of scent and the smells we are drawn to and repelled by are matters of personal taste. Scent has the power to alter our moods and behaviour, and I personally think smell plays an important part when opening doorways in the mind.
The following list is a basic guide only and some recommended reading is listed at the end should you wish to explore things further. Care needs to be taken as certain oils are more irritating to the skin and must be diluted with a carrier oil before use. By all means, do your research online but check a number of sources first. It’s also worth mentioning to only buy oils which have good reviews and a good history of being high quality.
Aniseed – Latin: Pimpinella anisum – The oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant. Can cause irritation to those with sensitive skin. Useful for increasing the flow of breast milk, relieves period pain, stimulates respiratory tract so helpful for coughs, colds, and asthmatics. Used to relieve colic, indigestion, and wind.
Basil – Latin: Ocimum basilicum – The oil is extracted from the flowers. Helpful in clearing the airways and lungs so a good one to use for coughs and colds. On a mental level, basil can clear and strengthen the mind. A powerful tonic for lifting the spirits.
Bergamot – Latin: Citrus aurantium sub bergamia – The oil is extracted from the fruit peel and is phototoxic so must not be used before exposure to the sun as it can cause pigmentation in the skin. One of the most popular and useful oils treating many skin conditions; eases symptoms of chickenpox, and urinary infections. Antiseptic and anti-depressant.
Caraway – Latin: Carum carvi – The oil is taken from the seeds of the plant; another skin irritant so use with care. Can help with mange in dogs! It can also help milk flow for breastfeeding mums. Calms the stomach, so is useful for wind and indigestion.
Cassia – Latin: Cinnamonum cassia – Oil is distilled from the twigs and leaves and can cause irritation to sensitive skin. It is useful for diarrhea, headaches and stomach ache. Use in inhalations for coughs and colds. Anti-bacterial and anti-viral.
Cedarwood – Latin: Juniperus virginia – Must not be used during pregnancy or taken internally. Irritant to sensitive skin. Good for the lungs; bronchitis responds well to this oil. It is useful for cystitis and kidney infections, and also a good insect repellent.
Chamomile – Latin: Chamaemelum nobile – The oil is taken from the flowers and can cause irritation is sensitive skin. Good for the stressed and nervous. Used in inhalation it can help respiratory infections. Anti-inflammatory and astringent. Hemorrhoids respond well (don’t forget to dilute). Can speed healing in wounds.
Cinnamon – Latin: Cinnamomum zeylanicum – The oil is distilled from the bark. Use with care on sensitive skin. It can help to stimulate appetite for those who are too thin and struggle to eat. It has good antiseptic properties and can be used to treat colds when inhaled.
Citronella – Latin: Cymbopogon nardus – Oil is taken from the grass. Most well-known as an insect repellent but also useful for migraines and headaches. Neuralgia responds well. It may help with insomnia but is most often used as a form of nerve pain relief.
Clary sage – Latin: Salvia sclaria – The oil is obtained from the flowers and leaves. It should not be used during pregnancy but is a great oil to help regulate periods and will soothe period pain during that time of the month. It has a strong calming effect and will aid in relaxation.
Clove – Latin: Eugenia caryophyllus – The dried flower buds provide the oil and it’s another one which can cause irritation if used in high concentration on sensitive skin. Used in many natural-based toothpastes. A strong antiseptic and anti-spasmodic. Can be used to calm coughs and bronchitis.
Eucalyptus – Latin: Eucalyptus globulus – The leaves provide the oil and because this is a very strong oil only 1 or 2 drops need to be used. Strongly antiseptic and anti-viral; it will kill airborne germs. Can be used to bring the temperature down by using in a cold compress for the head. Acts as a local painkiller. An excellent oil to have.
Fennel – Latin: Foeniculum vulgare – Oil comes from the seeds. Do not use on sensitive skin at all or before going out in the sun. It can help stimulate breast milk production and is good for baby colic. Fennel is another appetite stimulant. It is said the seeds can help regenerate the liver.
Frankincense – Latin: Boswellia thurifera – Oil is taken by invasion of the bark of the tree. Frequently used in perfume. Good for relieving any excess fluid in the body. The oil has strong soothing abilities and can help those who are stressed or anxious to calm down. It’s a useful uterine tonic and can benefit women in labour.
Geranium – Latin: Pelargonium graveolens – The oil is distilled from the leaves and flowers and can cause irritation to sensitive skin. It has antiseptic properties and can also help to reduce bleeding (not sure if I’d use it for the latter). More importantly, it can aide in regulating the hormones as it stimulates the adrenal cortex.
Jasmine – Latin: Jasminum officinalis – The flowers are used to make the oil. Very expensive to buy but a beautiful scent. Very beneficial for all emotional states. Jasmine can help to balance the feminine energies. Good for skin care preparations. I personally love this smell.
Juniper – Latin: Juniperus communis – Oil comes from the dried berries and it must not be used during pregnancy or by those who suffer from kidney disease. For hemorrhoids and missing periods use in the bath. Can also help to relieve water retention. Juniper will help to clear the mind.
Lavender – Latin: Lavandula officinalis – Oil is extracted from the flowers. Lavender is one of the safest oils. Known to help many skin conditions; it stimulates cell growth and limits scarring. Good for aches and pains. Has strong relaxing properties and can be used for sleep. During labour it will strengthen contractions yet reduce pain.
Lemongrass – Latin: Cymbopogon citratus – The grass itself is used to make the oil. It is particularly useful for conditions brought on by stress as it acts as a sedative on the central nervous system. It has strong antiseptic qualities, and will also help ease aches and pains when used in massage.
Mandarin – Latin: Citrus reticulata – The fruit peel is used to make the oil. Take care with using before exposure to the sun. Quite a gentle oil that stimulates digestion. Mandarin can also help to strengthen the liver. It is said to prevent stretch marks. Will help to relieve wind and stomach upset if massaged into the belly.
Neroli – Latin: Citrus aurantium – Also known as orange blossom. The oil is taken from the flowers. Neroli is said to be one of the most powerful stress relievers and can help conditions such as diarrhea, insomnia, and anxiety. It’ll help a person to relax on all levels; physical, mental, and emotional.
Nutmeg – Latin: Myristica fragrans – The oil is taken from the kernels. Used in high concentration or over long periods this oil can cause hallucinations and must not be used during pregnancy. Nutmeg is used to stimulate circulation and digestion and is an anti-inflammatory. I’m sure I remember an old wives’ tale about a whole nutmeg in the pocket being helpful for arthritis – and quite frankly, who cares if it’s just a placebo if it works.
Parsley – Latin: Petroselinum crispum – Oil is taken from the seeds. It must not be used during pregnancy as it can stimulate the womb in cases where periods are absent. Although, it can be useful during labour to strengthen contractions. Another good one for treating the old hemorrhoids. Can help to lower temperature.
Patchouli – Latin: Pogostemon patchouli – The oil comes from the leaves. It is the smell of hippy juice. Patchouli is one of those smells which is very distinctive and is often too heady for most occasions. It is anti-fungal and an anti-depressant. Used to treat skin conditions and will help improve the appearance of older skin.
Peppermint – Latin: Mentha piperita – Leaves are used to extract the oil. Must not be used by pregnant women. It is used traditionally to benefit the stomach, but can also be helpful if you need mental clarity. Can aid in colds and cough to relieve congestion. Headaches and migraines can be treated with a cold compress.
Petitgrain – Latin: Citrus bigardia – The twigs and leaves are used to make the oil. Mainly used as a deodorant; used in the bath it will leave you feeling refreshed. Used frequently in perfume as it is a cheaper alternative to more expensive similar smells.
Pine – Latin: Pinus sylvestris – The oil is made from the twigs, needles and cones. It is a very strong antiseptic and can stimulate circulation. It is used to treat nervous disorders, arthritis and rheumatism, muscle aches and pains. Use with eucalyptus or tea tree and you will have one kick-arse disinfectant.
Rose – Latin: Rose centifolia – The flowers are used to make the oil. Like jasmine, it is incredibly expensive. Another one that is very beneficial to balance the feminine energies; it will lift any mood and can be effective in treating pre-menstrual tension.
Rosemary – Latin: Rosemarinus officinalis – The oil is distilled from the leaves of the plant and must not be used during pregnancy. It is a good oil to use for muscle pains, aches, arthritis and bad circulation. Mentally, rosemary will stimulate you into action. A popular choice in creams for athletes as it helps to prevent muscle injury.
Sage – Latin: Salvia officinalis – The whole plant is used to make the oil. Must be avoided during pregnancy. It can help to reduce excess sweating. Sage is an astringent. Helpful in relieving period pains and other aches as it has good anti-inflammatory properties.
Spearmint – Latin: Mentha spicata – The fresh flowers give us the oil. Use with caution on sensitive skin. This is has a more gentle action than peppermint and is used to treat stomach aches and wind. Used extensively in herb form to flavour food, toothpaste and teas.
Tangerine – Latin: Citrus nobilis – The oil is taken from the peel and like all other citrus oils care must be taken before exposure to the sun. It is a mild laxative and can aid digestion. A pleasant smelling room freshener. Tangerine is indicated for helping to prevent stretchmarks.
Tea tree – Latin: Melaleuca alternifolia – Oil comes from the leaves. One of only two oils which are safe to use undiluted (lavender being the other). It is the second most antiseptic of all oils. Anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Use on cold sores, spots, mouth ulcers, athletes foot. If had to choose only one to have in the cupboard, it would probably be this one.
Thyme – Latin: Thymus vulgaris – The flowers are used to get the oil. Must not be used during pregnancy or on children. The most powerful antiseptic..more so than any man-made version. It stimulates the immune system and is an excellent oil for coughs, bronchitis, and asthma.
West Indian bay – Latin: Myrcia acris – The leaves of the plant provide the oil. Antiseptic and also a good decongestant; it can be used for coughs and colds to get rid of excess mucous. Has astringent properties and can be useful for reducing inflammation.
Ylang-ylang – Latin: Cananga odorata – The oil comes from the flowers. A lovely sickly sweet smelling oil and one of my favourites. It is beneficial for palpitations and tachycardia thanks to its calming effect. Use on the emotional level as an anti-depressant. Ylang-ylang will aid sexual problems which are emotional in nature.
For use in massage – As a general guide you need 5 drops per 10 mls of oil.
For use in oil burners – Add 3 – 4 drops to the water in your oil burner.
For use in the bath – Add 5 – 10 drops directly to the bath water, if the oil is a known irritant mix into a teaspoon of oil before adding to the water to be on the safe side.
For use in inhalation – Add 3 or 4 drops to a bowl of very hot water and breathe in; not so common any more thanks to health and safety but a good way to treat yourself if the lungs are affected. The old method involves covering your head with a towel over a bowl.
Tea tree, eucalyptus and pine are all very good disinfectants and you can use them to clean kitchens and bathrooms.
It is fine to mix oils together but recommendations say to blend only two or three at any one time. Oils are graded as to whether they are base, middle, or high notes and for a balance it is better to blend accordingly. Some oils will simply overpower others but you need to experiment to see what is good for you. Carrier oils (to mix the essential oils in) can be found in most health food shops/chemists and include peach, evening primrose and sweet almond oil. Soya oil is a good one to use if you have allergies to wheatgerm oil which can also be used in small quantities with other base oils as it has healing properties of its own.
Recommended reading and research.
Aromatherapy and Massage for Mother and Baby – By Allison England – For during and after the pregnancy for both mother and baby.
The Fragrant Mind – By Valerie Ann Worwood – Emotional, Psychological and Mood-Changing effects of essential oils.
Essential Oil Safety – By Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs – Based on up-to-date research a hardback guide for healthcare professionals includes info on over 400 essential oils. It includes oil toxicity and contraindications. At £50 it’s not the cheapest book available but it does contain extensive scientific information.