|The Power of Essential Oils|
The Power of Essential Oils
Try the uplifting scents and therapeutic benefits of essential oils of Aromatherapy this Autumn.
By Tanja Van Wie
Our favourite smells are often those from the natural world around us. The earthy odour of a forest, freshly cut grass, wood fires burning, aromatic scents of herbs and of course the perfume of flowers. Often our personal favourites are linked to happy memories associated with a particular smell. There is almost nothing more powerful to bring memories rushing back to our minds in an instant, than catching a whiff of a familiar scent associated with a particular experience. And there is a good physiological reason for this.
Odour travels across the olfactory nerves in your nose stimulating its sensory cells which pass on electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb situated in the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system controls behaviour, mood and memory. This makes scent intrinsically linked to our emotions. Stimulating the olfactory bulb can also release ‘feel good’ chemicals such as endorphins which lift your mood, all through the power of scent.
Therapeutic art of essential oils
The ability of a scent to alter our mood, sense of wellbeing and promote health is an important aspect of Aromatherapy. This complementary and natural therapy uses volatile plant material in essential oils and other aromatic compounds to treat a wide range of conditions through various applications.
The healing properties of plants in essential oils can be harnessed in three ways, according to the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. The first is through inhalation and vapourisation. The aroma alone can have a subtle but memorable effect on the mind, and subsequently on the body. Inhaling the oils in a vapour bath is more effective on the body, as the plant molecules are absorbed via the lungs into the bloodstream.
The second way is through topical application of essential oils, diluted with carrier oil directly onto the skin. This can be through massage, baths, compresses or skin preparations.
Aromatherapists also treat patients with essential oils via ingestion. Self-treatment and experimenting with essential oils needs to done with caution, since some oils are contra-indicated under certain circumstances such as hypertension and pregnancy. Certain oils also have side-effects that need to be balanced with other oils. Essential oils should never be taken internally without consulting a qualified practitioner.
Relaxation and upliftment
The easiest and most accessible application of aromatherapy oils is to enhance your mood aided by the fragrance of an essential oil. Your basic aromatherapy kit should include a good oil burner with an ample supply of small tea lights or similar candles. You can also invest in an electric burner, which can be left on for some time.
Mix one or two tablespoons of water with 6-7 drops of your chosen blend of essential oils and allow the scent to diffuse throughout the room. Keep topping the burner up with oil and water as it slowly evaporates.
Alternatively you can make a spray. Use a glass or ceramic container, as oils may react with plastic and become contaminated if left for a long time. Make your own aromatherapy spray with your chosen blend of 5% essential oils, a little pure alcohol (or Vodka), mixed gently together. Then fill the solution up with distilled water, and shake vigorously before use. Spray the scent just in front of you and inhale, don’t spray it directly in your face. Rinse your eyes out with cool water should any get into your eyes. Premixed spray’s such as Burgess & Finch’s Strains & Sprains are available in store.
Treating respiratory ailments
A very effective way to use aromatherapy oils to treat ailments such as colds, flu and congestion is through inhalation. To do this pour boiling water into a large bowl and add up to a capful of your chosen essential oil or blend. Use a towel to cover your head over the bowl as you gently inhale the vapours for a few minutes at a time, being careful not to get to close as the steam can burn the skin and nasal passages. Lift the towel for some fresh air when you start to feel uncomfortable before breathing the vapours in again for a few minutes.
Essential oils that contain anti-bacterial, anti-viral properties, treat respiratory problems or that have proven to stimulate the immune system response to infection include Eucalyptus, Ginger, Cypress, Benzoin, Peppermint, Lemon, Cedarwood, Tea Tree, Thyme, Lavender, Myrtle, and Pine among others. In addition to inhalations, massage into the throat and chest area.
Relieving aches and pains
There are a number of essential oils that contain powerful anti-inflamatory, analgesic and circulatory and detoxifying properties that can bring pain relief to muscle spasm and inflammation such as sports injuries as well as relief of PMS symptoms and treating joint and muscle pain.
US-based Aromatherapist of 20 years, Shellie Enteen, reports in an article “Essential oils for pain relief”
When applying essential oils in massage, bath or as a compress, remember that essential oils are too concentrated to be used directly on the skin. Use 10 – 12 drops of your chosen essential oil blend diluted in 30 ml of carrier oil. A range of vegetable-based carrier oils such as Sweet Almond, Jojoba, Grapeseed or Coconut oil are available in store and carry the added benefit of being excellent skin moisturises when used in massage. You can then use this diluted blend to massage the affected area or add a capful to your bath. If using a compress, add a capful to a basin of water and use a cloth to soak and apply to your skin.
Origins of Aromatherapy
In the early 1900s, René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, considered the father of modern aromatherapy, coined the term “aromatherapie” to describe the use of volatile essential oils as a form of clinical treatment. The principle of aromatherapy, in all its many forms and applications, is however ancient, dating back about 6 000 years.
Source: The Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa
Clean air blend
Some essential oils have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. This is useful to disinfect the air. Prepare your home or office this autumn with the clean-air blend recommended by Registered Phytotherapist – Herbal Medicine Jennifer Davis, (in Burgess & Finch Essential NewsVol.9 No1, March 2008). She states this blend will help ward off cold and flu germs in the air:
For a spray: For an oil burner:
25 drops Eucalyptus oil 4 drops Eucalyptus oil
15 drops Juniper oil 2 drops Juniper oil
10 drops Lavender oil 1 drop Lavender oil
Muscle ache relief blend
5 drops Lavender
4 drops Marjoram
3 drops Rosemary
Dilute in 30 ml carrier oil
Use for massage or bath
Source: Burgess & Finch Aromatherapy brochure
PMS cramp rub
5 drops Clary Sage
4 drops Chamomile
3 drops Geranium
Use in a bath or massage abdomen in clockwise direction
Source: Burgess & Finch Aromatherapy brochure
Top mood oils:
Lavender’s pleasant herbal and floral scent has a relaxing, calming effect. It can be used as part of a blend for headaches and to aid sleep. Lavender also has excellent antibacterial and antiviral properties to disinfect the air.
Chamomile has powerful calming properties that is a great stress reliever and can also calm irritable children and infants. It is also good for treating PMS.
Vetiver has a deep earthy-woody odour and is said to balance and restore the nervous system and is useful for physical and mental burnout. It helps to regulate hormones in easing symptoms of menopause and PMS and can also help muscular aches and pains.
Rose is calming and supportive. It is a good antidepressant and is used in treating emotional trauma. It is also useful in treating conditions like asthma, and bronchitis.
Look out for Dis‑Chem’s newly branded range of essential oils and carrier oils available in store countrywide.
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