Do you remember entering your grandmother’s kitchen and being greeted by the aroma of fresh bread in the oven? How about the smell of a hot apple pie, the spicy pungency of your dad’s aftershave, or the scent of the earth right after a spring rain? I have a friend who has, with age, lost her sense of smell and she often tells me how much real joy has been lost in her life as a result.
For several years I taught a ten-week course on herbs for the various body systems and every time we got to the digestive system I asked, “Where does the digestive process begin?” Obvious answers are “on the tongue” or “in the mouth.” But the real answer is “in the nose.” That’s right. As soon as we smell our food, in anticipation, our bodies begin to secrete digestive juices in both the mouth and the stomach. That’s one reason it is so important to “prepare” to eat our meals. Smell the aromas. Savor the smells. Take time to chew and enjoy the food.
Well, there’s certainly more to aromatherapy than eating and smelling our food. Aromatherapy is all tied up in using aromas and the essences of materials to heal. The most common method of doing this is to use the essential oils that are extracted from plants. These essential oils are the very “essence” of the plants. And the oils will contain all the healing properties of the plant material is a very concentrated form. They are the vital energies from the plants and they help to heal us on all our levels – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Quoting from Common Scents by internationally renowned aromatherapist Lorrie Hargis, “Essential oils are therapeutic because they have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, analgesic, calming, soothing and revitalizing chemical constituents.”
It is extremely easy to extract the essential oils from some materials. For example, take a piece of orange peel and bend it double while holding it up to a window. See the “spray” from the peel? That’s the oil. And it’s so easy to extract that the cost of essential oils from most citrus products is very inexpensive. But it make take up to three or four tons of some rose petals to extract a single pound of its oil. So, pure, undiluted rose oil is very expensive. Not to worry! Most of the essential oils are used by the drop, diluted in carrier oils. Carrier oils are more common and inexpensive oils which contain very little (and easily overpowered) aromas of their own. A simple list of common carrier oils includes sweet almond, apricot kernel, grape seed, avocado, macadamia nut, hazelnut, and jojoba. Even common vegetable oils – olive, canola, and sunflower – may be used as carriers. Carrier oils dilute the more expensive oils (needed due to the potency of the essential oils), extend the uses of the essential oils, and “carry” all the benefits to our betterment.
Each essential oil can be placed into a chemical family such as phenols, ketones, etc. Each family has a number of chemical constituents, and each oil may contain a number of these constituents. Therefore, each oil is unique and has a number of healing properties. For example, lavender is commonly known to be relaxing and restful. But not so commonly known is that it is also antiviral, antibacterial, calming, soothing and refreshing. An exhaustive study of the healing properties of all the oils is a life’s work. But anyone (yes, you) can gain an understanding of common uses of many of the more common oils. And such knowledge can make your life more healthful AND enjoyable.
Here are a few of the essential oils with which you may be familiar. Eucalyptus, which is purifying and invigorating, is often found in your sauna and is used in cough drops. Citronella is vitalizing and is the scent you’ll recognize in most of your bug sprays. Grapefruit is refreshing, but did you know that many use it to shrink fat? Jasmine is sensual and is found in many costly perfumes. Myrrh is meditative and has been used for thousands of years to treat gum disease. Nutmeg is rejuvenating and is a major component of many spicy men’s fragrances.
The uses of essential oils are myriad. They made be added to baths or saunas, included as ingredients in lotions and cremes, used as delightful enhancements to massage oils, crafted into soaps, diffused in light rings and potpourris, or misted in vaporizers. Only your imagination and creativity limit their utility.
A boon to the soul and the spirit, a strengthener of all the body’s systems, and an exciter of the mind, a study of aromatherapy on any level can enhance your life. Talk to a knowledgeable friend or acquaintance, read a book on the subject, or attend a course offered by a practitioner. You and your senses will be delighted! Good health and God bless.