Healing aromas and olfactory nerves: Aromatherapy as alternative medicine

Years ago, alternative medicine meant something that was below-the-average, that was not-that-effective and that which was crippled all over. It was something that was frowned upon by traditional practitioners and their loyal followers. Only a few innovators were interested and only a very few knew the benefits of alternative medicinal systems. But things have changed now. Alternative medicine is no more looked down upon. Alternative medicinal systems have evolved as full-fledged systems with capabilities to operate on their own. Aromatherapy is an alternative system of health care which uses essential oils in curing ailments, skin disorders and other ill-health conditions.

What is aromatherapy, what are essential oils: Aromatherapy is all about essential oils or plant oils extracted from various plants or parts of a plant – from bark, stem, wood, resin, spices, herbs, seeds, kernels, flowers etc. The life-blood of plants, essential oils are the immune-shields which protect plant life from all types of infections. When extracted and used, they do the offer the same protection in human beings. Essential oils have a strong aroma and are often inhaled through the nose in aromatherapy. Sometimes, they are mixed with carrier or base oils and used for massaging or other topical applications.

Do essential oils work? Yes, they do. They have been in practice for 4000 years though only in the 20th century, the term aromatherapy came into being. Essential oils work because they contact the brain directly. The aromas inhaled by the nose reach the limbic system of the brain through the olfactory nerves. Since the limbic system is directly connected to parts of the brain which control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels and blood circulation, the aroma of essential oils affect all these parts to a great extent. Scientists have discovered that essential oils are the easiest and quickest ways to galvanize physical and psychological changes in the body. For instance, oils of lavender, rose, orange and jasmine have a tranquillizing effect (as they regulate the brain waves to form a rhythm), while that of basil, peppermint and cardamom yield a heightened energy response.

Aromatherapy origin and existence:
Essential oils existed right from the ancient times. It is considered as the first of medicines, and was prevalent even before the use of herbs. The French chemist Rene Gattefosse was the first one to coin the term ‘Aromatherapy’ in the 20th century. The medicinal practice was widely used in ancient civilizations like Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, Persia and China.

Types of aromatherapy: There are no distinct types, but commercialization and modernization has brought in two different kinds of aromatherapy – essential oils for therapeutic purposes and essential oils for fragrance, pleasure, recreation or hygiene. Essential oils can be fragrances or perfumes and still lack in therapeutic value. For an essential oil to be therapeutic, it has to be within the therapeutic grade of aromatherapy. Also, an essential oil has to be extracted, prepared and stored well to be therapeutic.

Uses of aromatherapy: Aromatherapy has emerged from a fledgling science to a fully-developed system of alternative medicine. Essential oils are used in pain relief, as stress de-busters, in treating skin infections, in hair care, in several ailments and inflammatory conditions, as antivirals and in reducing symptoms of chronic diseases. Since the work of any aromatherapeutic product depends on the molecular structures of the oil used and its absorption into the body cells, aromatherapy works only if you use the right oils in the right measures. The whole science of aromatherapy is natural and herbal, hence, side effects are out of question.

What can ruin aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is a complementary form of medicinal system that treats symptoms of diseases. It cannot cure major illnesses like cancer or AIDS. Commercialization of all fragrant products as aromatherapeutic is abuse of the very term of aromatherapy. Any practitioner or user of aromatherapy should understand the limitations of the system of medicine and act accordingly, instead of being carried away by false promises of companies.

Toxic essential oils: 11 hazardous oils you need to avoid

Essential oils are definitely wonder oils that can treat many ailing conditions. They bring about a miraculous cure when applied on body parts or inhaled through the nose. They can treat and alleviate viral infections, skin conditions, pain and aches, symptoms of various chronic illnesses etc. They also calm an individual’s mental state, promote cell regeneration and relieve stress, anxiety and pain – physical, psychological and emotional.

Toxic essential oils: Though essential oils can do all these, one has to remember that they are potent compounds that are highly concentrated. Some essential oils can be toxic to the human body. When used in massage therapy or ingested internally, they can produce hazardous and allergic reactions, resulting in fatal conditions. There are a list of pure essential oils which are not used in aromatherapy owing to their ill nature. Some oils carry a high risk of oral or dermal toxicity and hence no essential oil should be taken internally without guidance from a qualified and licensed medical practitioner. Some oils need to be diluted for practical use or to avoid side effects like skin irritation.

Below is a list of essential oils that are harmful and should be avoided in aromatherapy:

1. Sweet Birch oil: This oil has the same ingredient found in drugs like aspirin (methyl salicylate) and hence should be avoided. If you are already on aspirin, then, using this oil could mean an overdose.

2. Bitter Almond oil: Cyanide or Prussic acid is the main constituent of bitter almond oil. Just like the cyanide, taking small amounts of the oil can have lethal effects.

3. Calamus oil: Though the oil is used topically for a lot of ailments like headaches, vertigo and nerve problems, oral intake of it can be dangerous. It has asorone which has carcinogenic properties and can result in convulsions, kidney or liver damages.

4. Camphor oil: Camphor oil is a single compound monoterpene which is toxic to the nervous system, causing mental confusion, nausea and vomiting if taken internally. However, the oil is used in treatment of nasal congestion, chest problems and in pain relief.

5. Tansy oil: Tansy oil can be fatal to anyone. It contains thujone, a highly poisonous substance which causes convulsions, uterine bleeding, vomiting, respiratory problems and cardiac arrest.

6. Mustard oil: Mustard oil contain allyl isothiocyanate which is a toxic skin and mucus membrane irritant.

7. Pennyroyal oil:
The herb is used in treatment of irregular menstrual cycles, PMS etc. But the oil, which is toxic, is an abortifacient that can result in lung and liver damages.

8. Wormseed oil: Earlier wormseed oil was used to kill round and hookworms in children and adults. But later it was found out that the oil caused liver and kidney damages, suppression of heart beat, neurotoxicity and general toxicity in the body.

9. Wintergreen oil: Like the Sweet Birch oil, this too contains methyl salicylate which is similar to aspirin. Though it is used in relief of pain and aches due to arthritis or rheumatism, it is highly toxic and can be a poisonous skin irritant.

10. Savin oil:
Savin or Juniperus sabina is toxic due to the presence of sabinene, sabinol and sabinyl acetate, which are skin irritants and abortifacients.

11. Wormwood: With thujone, neurotoxin and convulsant as active ingredient, wormwood is abhorred by aromatherapists due its abortifacient properties and absinthe constituents.

It’s no child’s play: Harmless essential oils for babies and children

Essential oils can be used in babies and children, but caution should be a constant in such usage. Though essential oils are regarded high for their therapeutic value, they can play havoc with a child’s life or health if not used properly.

Essential oils for babies: According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), it is best to avoid use of essential oils in children under the age of two due to a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are:

1. Liver and kidney damages: A baby’s liver and kidneys are still under the stage of development when the baby is below 2 years old. Since essential oils stay in the body for a longer period of time, babies may have problem excreting them in case of a heavy dose.

2. Silicone and mineral based: Essential oils may bind to the components in silicone and mineral based baby products, making it difficult for absorption of oils by the body. Also, the body loses its ability to eliminate such oils.

3. Skin barriers: A baby’s skin pores are smaller than in adults. When too many lotions, soaps and oils are used on it, the skin pores may get clogged, making it difficult for the skin to eliminate body wastes. This is why it is advised that babies, toddlers and children should be given only oils with lesser dilutions.

However, the TGA does not rule out the use of essential oils in babies under medical supervision. Before you plan to subject your baby to aromatherapy, consult a licensed aromatherapist on the options available. Essential oils can remove diaper rashes, cure skin disorders, colic problems, common cold and a wide assortment of ailments or conditions in a baby or child.

Safest essential oils: Due to the above reasons, it is better if you operate on well-known safe oils. To start with, you need to experiment with one or two oils on your baby. Also, you need to ensure that you know the proper application techniques and dilution methods. Essential oils should not be applied without diluting them with carrier oils, however over-proportion of carrier oils can result clogging of pores. So, use the right kind of oils in the right measures. Below are a few safe essential oils you can use for your baby or child:

1. Jojoba oil: Both a carrier oil and an essential oil, jojoba is safe for skin and is highly recommended for babies. It is effective in treating skin disorders in children, including diaper rashes, skin sensitivities etc.

2. Lavender oil: Most of the baby products have lavender oil in their ingredients. A mild and delicate oil, it has a pleasant and soothing aroma and produces a relaxing effect on the baby’s nerves. It can be used to cure sleeping disorders in babies.

3. Almond oil: Ideal oil for baby skin care. It can protect the baby from possible skin conditions by regular usage, by adding to your baby’s bath or regularly massaging after bath. The nut ingredients in the oil can be allergic to certain babies, so ensure that your baby is not allergic to almond oil by doing a skin patch test before application.

4. Chamomile oil: This oil provides skin care and pain relief in infants. Several baby products have chamomile as their main ingredient owing to its natural healing properties. It prevents dampness in baby’s bottom and cures diaper rashes. It also heals sores, inflammations and other serious skin conditions.

5. Rosemary oil: A popular herb, it can be used in skin care in babies and children. The oil also stimulates the immune system and enhances digestive and circulatory functions of the body.



Latin Name: hibiscus esculentus
Alternative Name: gombo, bendee
Forms Available: leaf, fruit

Okra – hibiscus esculentus – This plant has demulcent and emollient properties. Also said to stimulate blood flow and aid the control of blood pressure. The fruit is rich in vitamins A,B,C and G.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: A soothing plant, dumulcent and emollient properties.

[Purchase Okra Based Products]

[Essential Depot]

Pharaohs, cosmetics and essential oils: Egyptian influence on aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has a history that is as old as the history of medicinal practices itself. Though no one is certain as to when aromatherapy was first used, the fact that it has a revered history dating back to 4500 years is accepted by all. Experts believe that aromatics were the first medicines and they pre-dated even the use of herbs for medicinal treatment.

If one has to go to a recorded time when one can be sure of the prevalence of aromatics, one has to time travel to ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were the first (in recorded history) to have widely used aromatherapy in their daily life, religious rituals and medical substances. The Egyptians were the first to discover that fragrances are effective and can be used for religious practices, illness treatments and other physical and spiritual needs. They used essential oils, herbs, perfumed oils and spices extensively in skin care, body massage and to cleanse physical impurities.

Egyptian cosmetics: Perfumes, sunscreen lotions, exfoliants, depilatories, lip-glosses, anti-wrinkle creams etc. may sound like a cross-section of the current cosmetic and skin care industry. But the ancient Egyptians too knew about all these. They used a lot of skin care products and fragrances to keep their bodies clean, fragrant and to ward off diseases. In no culture or civilization has cosmetics played a vital part in social living like in Egypt. And the source of all this cosmetic industry were the essential oils. Egyptians transported valuable, aromatic and healing herbs and spices from other lands (like Persia) to be steam-distilled into essential oils.

Their love for perfumery made them keep perfumed cones under their headdresses during festivals. The cones, consisting of aromatic oils, would melt into the head and release sweet fragrances. After bathing, they would anoint their bodies with oils to moisturize their skin cells and replenish dead cells. They had formulated eyeshadows, eyeliners and other cosmetics from essential oils way before the western world could pack them and give them names and labels.

Pharaohs and mummification:
In their quest for immortality, they buried their Pharaohs with lots of oils inside the pyramids. When the tomb of King Tutankhamen was explored in 1922, it contained about 50 alabaster jars designed to hold about 350 liters of essential oils. Thieves had looted all the oils instead of gold and stones, which show the value the ancient Egyptians gave to essential oils. Oils made from frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard were buried with the Egyptian dead. This was in practice from 2650 to 2575 B.C., illustrating the advancement of Egyptians in aromatherapy as a science.

Egyptian essential oils:
Myrrh was the most popular herb used for producing essential oils. Apart from Myrrh, other oils made from frankincense, spikenard, cedarwood, cinnamon etc. were also in popular use. Masters of cosmetics and perfumery, the Egyptians slowly brought aromatherapy into medicinal practice also. Ebers Papyrus (discovered in 1817 by Ebers), dating back to 1500 B.C., is a medical scroll that lists over 800 different medical remedies and prescriptions of which most of them used essential oils. Many mixtures used myrrh and honey with myrrh serving to alleviate skin and throat infections and for regeneration of throat tissue. The temple of Edfu has hieroglyphics depicting the use of Kyphi, an aromatic substance to induce sleep, alleviate anxieties and as an antidote of toxins.

In brief, Egyptians were first to master the art of aromatherapy. Many of the systems and methods followed by them have influenced aromatherapists down the ages.

Essential Oils, Base Oils, Carrier Oils, Hydrosols: Where lies the difference?

Aromatherapy is a unique science that demands great care and attention from the practitioner. And not everyone can master it. Anyone new to essential oils can be confused with the name tags associated to groups of oils. A beginner can be baffled by terms like Base Oils, Carrier Oils, Hydrosols, Vegetable Oils, all and sundry. If you are illiterate about essential oils, you may assume all these oils to be of one variety or may think they fall into different categories. You may even confuse essential fatty oils with aromatherapeutic oils. To avoid all such confusion, this article will brief on the differences (and similarities) between Essential Oils, Base Oils, Carrier Oils and Hydrosols.

Essential Oils: As you must have by now known, essential oils are extracts from the root, bark, stem, leaves and aromatic portions of the plant. There are several extraction methods in practice like the steam distillation method, cold-pressing method and solvent extraction method to produce essential oils of absolute or concrete kinds. Essential oils are thin oils with strong aromas. They evaporate pretty quickly and are classified into Top Notes, Middle Notes and Base Notes based on their evaporation levels. Essential oils do not go rancid over time, but they can oxidize and often lose their therapeutic properties. Every essential oil should be within a particular therapeutic grade to be effective. Very diluted oils yield no sort of therapeutic benefit and are no better than aromatic fragrances. Essential oils should be stored in tinted glass bottles in dark, cool places to avoid evaporation and oxidization.

Carrier Oils: Carrier Oils are vegetable oils that are used to dilute Essential Oils. Since essential oils can cause skin irritations or itching when used in undiluted forms, Carrier Oils are used as base oils to dilute them. Also called as Base Oils, Carrier Oils are derived from the fatty portion of plants like seeds, nuts and kernels. Since each Carrier Oil has its own set of therapeutic benefits, an essential oil’s value, worth and effectiveness depends on the proportion and properties of Carrier Oils used in the blend.

Natural skin care products, body lotions, bath oils, lip balms and other skin products are produced using Carrier Oils. From a simple oil to a complex blend, Carrier Oil can make huge differences to the properties of Essential Oils with which they are mixed. They can change the aroma, color, texture, shelf life and quality of essential oils in aromatherapy. Carrier Oils are either odorless or have faint, nutty odor. They turn rancid in a short period of time and hence have to be bought and used immediately. They do not evaporate readily as Essential Oils and hence are mixed with them during massages and topical applications.

Base Oils:
Base Oils or Fixed Oils are nothing but vegetable oils, used as Carrier Oils. However, it should be noted that not all Base Oils/Fixed Oils are vegetable oils. Especially, animal-based oils are not used in aromatherapy work.

Hydrosols are floral waters that are byproducts of the distillation process of plants. First used by American herbalist Jeanne Rose in 1990, Hydrosols are referred also as distillate waters. Anti-inflammatory and water soluble, Hydrosols are used in general skin care. They are also free of irritants and hence can be used in children and adults as well. Sometimes, they are even ingested into the body owing to their antiseptic, styptic and refreshing properties. They serve as natural substitutes of tonic lotions used in the cosmetic industry.

Antiviral oils: Immune-supportive properties of essential oils

The medical world has gradually warmed up to the functions of essential oils as antibiotics. Though essential oils have been in practice for ages, it is but recently the scientific, especially the antibiotic properties of essential oils have been recognized and recommended for use in treating viral diseases and acting as disinfectants. These essential oils do not just cure viral or bacterial infections, but rev-up the immune system also.

Essential Oils as Antiviral Oils: You may wonder how can an oily substance that is but a plant extract be effective in treatment of several ailments. Essential oils are not just ordinary plant extracts. They are the life-blood of plants. They support a plant’s immune system and prevent it from infections and viral attacks. Since essential oils are basically concentric absolutes, they are highly effective plant extracts. With oxygen, carbon dioxide and so many common nutrients between plants and essential oils, these plant extracts act as antibiotics in the human body. There are several essential oils with antiviral properties. These oils prevent and cure viral infections when massaged or applied topically or when used in aromatherapy.

How do antiviral essential oils work? Many essential oils work by the following ways: They stop virus replication; they improve efficiency of white blood cells; they change the electrical potential of cell walls and make them immune-supportive. Some essential oils are highly antimicrobial, owing to their bactericidal and antiseptic properties.

Antiviral essential oils: There are a few essential oils which have the reputation of treating viral infections like herpes, skin disorders, influenza etc. Below are a list of such oils:

1. Strong antiviral oils:
Melissa, Ravensara, Clove, Cinnamon, Oregano and Thyme are some of the well-known essential oils with antiviral properties and immune-supportive characteristics. Of all of them, Melissa and Ravensara have strong abilities to combat viral infections. If you have to deal with virus or pathogen, you can rely on Clove, Cinnamon, Oregano as they are high on phenol and reduce inflammation or infectious conditions. However, these oils can cause skin irritations if used without carrier oils. So, dilute them with appropriate, therapeutic base oils before aromatherapy.

2. Cold sores treatment:
Melissa oil, peppermint oil, spearmint oil and bergamot oil are effective in fighting cold sores. They reduce the inflammation and pain drastically when applied immediately after outbreaks.

3. Immune-supportive oils: Some essential oils help generate more white blood cells. They stimulate the body to produce more immunity resistance. Such essential oils are lavender oil, bergamot oil, lemon oil, niaouli, rosemary, tea tree, and ravensara.

4. Influenza and respiratory infections: Eucalyptus, Radiata, Rosemary and Ravensara can be used as complements to regular medical care. These oils do not just relieve the patient of infection, but also speed up the recovery process and protect from further damage. These oils can also be applied regularly to lymph nodes for better results.

While using essential oils as antiviral oils, it should be understood that different plant families exhibit varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the virus strain. Healing depends on the molecular structures of the oils, the extent to which they penetrate the human body and structure of the virus strain. So, cure is possible only when appropriate, therapeutic grade oils are used in the right measures.

Homemade Essential Oils: 5 essential materials and how-to-do tips

If you are an avid user of essential oils and know all about various carrier oils, absolutes, including their therapeutic properties and aromas, you can start making them at your home. By making homemade essential oils, you could save a lot of money and have loads of fun in knowing more about healing oils. Joys apart, essential oil making demands great patience and care. As a novice, you may have to have a few materials and know about the right measure of herbs, spices and oils you need to use.

Below are a few essential tips you need to know with regard to making essential oils at your home:

1. Learn about essential oils: You maybe an expert with regard to essential oil usage. But you can suck when you venture to make a preparation on your own. As a basic rule, get to know everything you can about essential oils. Know about the home preparation methods suggested and choose the best that you can afford. Instead of starting on a large scale, start with a small experiment. Try making small ounces of oil and test it to verify the results. You can even take it to a local aromatherapy apothecary to check the quality of your preparation.

2. Possible sources of essential oils: You need to know from where you can extract which oil. A general information search on the Internet or a trip to a local, alternative medicine library would help a lot. Since plant materials are the basic substances from which essential oils are made, parts of plants form the possible sources. Depending on the nature of your oil, you can extract from flowers, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, kernels, stem, bark etc. Possible flowers are rose, lavender, jasmine, neroli, marigold, lotus, vetiver, orange blossom etc. Possible sources of herbs are thyme, peppermint, basil, marjoram, rosemary, lemon balm etc. Coriander, cloves, cinnamon and cumin form the best kind of oil sources in the spices category. Even the zest of citrus fruits can be used in essential oil preparation.

Materials you may need: Essential oil preparation is easy if you have the right materials. Here is a list of materials you may require:

3. Measuring Devices: Must for any kind of preparation, more so for essential oils. Since essential oils are highly concentrated, you need to use the right measure of oils when mixing or in combination with carrier oils. If your measure exceeds the right dose, you may feel skin irritation or the oil may go rancid quickly. You may get a different aroma too.

4. Containers, jars, Vitamin E caps: This is required to hold the oil once extracted from plants. You will also need a tinted bottle with a tight lid to store the prepared oils. Vitamin E gel caps can be used as a natural preservative to prevent oils from getting spoilt.

5. Enfleurage:
Enfleurage and maceration are the processes by which oils can be prepared at home easily. Enfleurage is a method which involves steeping of essential oils in cool olive oil. The extracted oil is purified or heated to get the desired quality. Sometimes the enfleurage container is kept in hot water to speed up the extraction process. This is called maceration. Since enfleurage may involve repetition and take about 24 to 48 hours time, better to get the detailed measurements of the carrier oils and plant extracts you need to add.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Latin Name: olea europaea

Forms Available: oil

Olive Oil – olea europaea – Olive oil has the properties of being calming, demulcent and emollient and can be used pure or in blends for burns, sprains, bruises, insect bites, to relieve itchy skin, and to massage the gums of those suffering from pyorrhoea -periodontal disease.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Calming, demulcent and emollient and can be used pure or in blends for burns, sprains, bruises, insect bites, to relieve itchy skin, and to massage the gums of those suffering from pyorrhoea.

[Purchase Olive Oil Based Products]

[Essential Depot]



Latin Name: commiphora guidotti

Forms Available: essential oil, resin

Opoponax – commiphora guidotti – steam distilled wildcrafted resin, Ethiopia. Opoponax is a resin from the Myrrh family native to eastern Africa and the Middle East. Opoponax, along with Myrrh, has been a component of incenses, perfumes, insect repellents, and herbal remedies since biblical times. The Egyptians also used myrrh to help preserve their mummies. May cause sensitization. Opoponax is known as “scented myrrh”. Its scent is sweet, spicy, balsamic and warm. It’s an excellet fixative for blends or perfumes which use Neroli in the mix. Opoponax has muscle relaxing properties. Due to its drying action is effective against excessive mucous in the lungs. Recommended in cases of bronchitis, colds, sore throats, and coughs. Blends well with patchouli, orange, lemon, frankincense and sandalwood.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Due to its drying action is effective against excessive mucous in the lungs. Recommended in cases of bronchitis, colds, sore throats, and coughs. Blends well with patchouli, orange, lemon, frankincense and sandalwood.

[Purchase Opoponax Based Products]

[Essential Depot]