Monday, January 24, 2011

Aromatherapy Basics

Thoughts from a suburban Greenmom with a medicine cabinet full of awesome-smelling glass vials...

In wintertime it’s a little depressing to write many herbal posts, especially when one lives (as I do) in the frigid North where nothing really grows from November to April…but I feel a little badly that I abandoned my “First Friday Focus” posts about herbs here at the Booth. (Of course, now that I write on Mondays, it’s all sort of moot, isn’t it?)

I miss my herbs. I miss my garden. But it’s in the winter months that I take greatest advantage of that other plant-derived medicinal wonder, the distilled essential oil. So I’d like to take a few weeks to talk about my experiences with essential oils, kind of share what I know, and invite you to do the same in the comments.

Essential oils (or EOs) can be used in a variety of ways, but let me start by mentioning how they should not be used: do not take them internally, and do not use them undiluted on your skin. These are extremely extremely potent concentrations of the alkaloids in plants—it takes 5000 pounds of rose petals to make 1 pound of rose essence. By extension, where any given plant might be very “safe” in its normal plant form, its essential oil might be deadly in fairly small doses. Keep these away from kids, treat them as you would any potentially lethal medications you have in your house. And do your homework.

How they can be used: in diffusers (sending the scent molecules throughout a room), diluted in carrier oils, in baths, compresses, household cleaning products, bath salts and sugar scrubs, and so forth. (Nature’s Gift has an excellent page of suggestions.)

Over the past few years, I’ve amassed a fairly good collection of oils—since you generally use them only a drop or two at a time, a single 15ml (1 oz.) bottle lasts a while; the only oil I’ve ever needed to buy the 4 oz size of is lavender, and that was a good year ago, and it’s still 2/3 full—and I am a heavy user of lavender oil. Many of the basic oils aren’t too expensive; still, it can really add up if you’re not careful. Below is my own list of what I think the most essential of the essential oils are--If you’re interested in starting your own set of oils, this might be a good place to start (listed in no particular order):

· Lavender—this is an amazing all purpose oil. Relaxing, antibacterial, and just plain nice-smelling. It is also said to harmonize with whatever purpose the oils its blended with are there to accomplish, and strengthen their effectiveness.

· Lemon—great antiseptic and cleaning oil. I use it to clean the kitchen and bathroom (a few drops in my vinegar/water cleaning solution), as well as adding it to my favorite antidepressant blend. I also use it for my homemade hand sanitizer, although the citrus oils can be sensitizing and aren’t always a great idea to use on the skin.

· Ginger—great for funny tummies, and one of the very few oils I feel comfortable even after all this time taking internally. (A drop or two in a spoonful of honey, dissolved in a cup of hot water, is a lovely remedy for nausea or overindulgence. Adding a drop of fennel makes it even better.) (Again, go very easy on the oils if you're even considering internal use--and bear in mind that I am not a licensed ANYTHING, so do anything you do at your own risk, and do your homework.)

· Peppermint—good for headaches and nausea; a good cooling oil, for helping with fevers and flashes and such. For headaches, mix a couple of drops with a neutral carrier oil like olive or grapeseed, and rub it on your temples.

· Eucalyptus—good for coughs and congestion; we often give our pillows a spritz at bedtime when we’re stuffy-nosed.

· Tea Tree—I’ve blogged before about this super-oil; it’s a champ antifungal and antibacterial oil, one of the few oils that’s mostly considered safe to use undiluted on the skin (though not all aromatherapists agree--generally diluting it in a carrier oil is considered safest). I use it in diffuser blends, deodorants, salves—this is a must-have.

· Clary Sage—this maybe isn’t one to put in the “basics” list, but it’s also one of the oils I’ve used most, and one of the few I’ve actually emptied a bottle of and needed to buy more. Clary is a “woman’s” oil, effective (usually in a blend) against PMS, cramps, and a lot of hormone-y ickiness. Combined with lavender and lemon, clary is the main ingredient in my anti-post-partum-depression blend.

There are lots more, of course, and over the years I’ve picked up a bunch more oils. I actually have a fairly good-sized collection at this point—Rosemary for hair and astringent recipes, thyme to mix with eucalyptus for those really nasty cold-coughs, fennel to pair with ginger in anti-nausea blends, sweet orange for anything lemon is too strong for (plus it just smells lovely), pine for the same kinds of cleaning jobs I use lemon for, chamomile for anything soothing or in diffuser blends for the kids, cedar and lemongrass for insect repellents…once I hit the jackpot when our local Wild Oats was switching over to Whole Foods, and they put this whole line of essential oils on sale for ridiculously cheap, and I pretty much bought two of everything. And I have my splurges—one tiny little vial of pure jasmine essential oil, and a slightly larger one of Helichrysum, and a precious bottle of sandalwood, none of which get used except for very special occasions. I still haven’t brought myself to buy any rose absolute, because it’s just plain too expensive and I can’t bring myself to cough up that kind of money. (I use rose geranium instead; not the “real thing,” but very nice nonetheless.)

Any other essential oil lovers out there? What are your favorite oils, the ones you come back to again and again?

--Jenn the Greenmom


Anonymous said...

I've never used any essential oils before (other than tea tree oil).! This post was very inspiring to give some of it a try

k said...

I keep a very basic oil collection (tea tree, lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus). This is a great post for a beginner like me. Thanks for the ideas. I'm still deciding which oil to try next. You've piqued my curiosity about lemon.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Lemon ROCKS. When my current bottle runs out, I'm going to buy a 4 oz. one of that too. Anyone who likes to clean with vinegar and water but who can't stand the smell--this is your oil!

I'll often even, in a (ahem) Really Stinky Bathroom, drip a couple of drops right into the toilet bowl; it helps disperse the ickiness very quickly. And it's a great grease cutter for kitchen cleaning. And it just smells so...happy.

Daisy said...

I brought a few herbs inside for the winter. They're not doing the best, but they are still growing. There just aren't enough hours of sunshine in the day to keep them thriving.

essentialoilsite said...

That is very helpful. It presented me a number of ideas.

Essential Oils


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