Have you ever been somewhere and observed a familiar smell, and all of a sudden you were reminded of something from long ago?
When I was about 10, we were at our church’s “Harvest Party”, their alternative to Halloween. There was a game we played, it was a relay race. The first person had to run up to the table, and eat a cracker. The second, a banana, and so on. I don’t remember all the foods, but I remember the second to last person had to take a bite out of an onion slice, and the last person had to chug an entire can of Coca-Cola. When it was my turn, I had to eat a jar of peas baby food. It was years before the smell of peas didn’t make me want to gag.
Hopefully you have scent memories more pleasant than my peas baby food story, but most of us have smells that we love, because they evoke some kind of memory, emotion, or story. There is an entire field dedicated to studying scent, aromas, and how they affect our bodies. It is called aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is a kind of medicine that uses plant materials, like essential oils, for the purpose of altering the mood, or one’s cognitive, psychological or physical wellbeing.
And it’s not a new practice. Aromatherapy dates back thousands of years. The Egyptians burned incense to honor their gods, and infused oils for use in religious ceremonies and mummification. Moses burned incense in the tabernacle as a symbol of the people’s prayers being sent to the heavens.
Aromatherapy was used long before the technology to distill essential oils was invented. In the present day, aromatherapists continue to prepare infusions and hydrosols with plants to treat various conditions, because scent and odor have a profound impact on both a person’s physiology and psychology. It’s truly fascinating.
Along with infusions and hydrosols, we can use essential oils in aromatherapy. The earliest recorded mention of the methods used to produce essential oils is believed to be that of Ibn al-Baitar (1188–1248), an Andalusian physician, pharmacist and chemist. Since then, the process has been refined and we are currently experiencing the highest quality essential oils the world has ever seen.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
There are three ways we can use essential oils: aromatically, topically, and internally. Aromatherapy deals with using essential oils both aromatically and topically. Today we are going to learn more about using them aromatically.
Aromatic use of essential oils is generally regarded as the gentlest way to use them. It is also one of the simplest, and carries many benefits. It is the quickest way to change the mood in a room, and when using a diffuser it is also a great way to clean and purify the air.
Aroma Effects our Mood
You already know that certain smells remind you of things. The “hospital smell”. Freshly cut grass. Burning food. It’s likely that even thinking of those things brings some kind of feeling to your mind. This is because the olfactory nerves are linked directly to the central nervous system. Aroma is powerful.
Companies have invested in studies to find out whether fragrance can be used as a stress relief agent, and the Department of Nursing at Keukdong College in Korea studied the effect of lavender on sleep and depression.
Aroma Affects our Emotion
You might be asking, aren’t mood and emotions the same thing? Not necessarily. Your mood is your state or quality of feeling at a given time. Your emotion is a state of mind that often is derived from your mood. Emotions are subjective and more specific than moods.Essential oils can help to support one’s emotional wellbeing. The description of the book, “Emotions and Essential Oils” says the book “introduces essential oils as powerful emotional healers. This groundbreaking manual bridges the gap between the physical and emotional aspects of essential oils and creates a user-friendly guide for taking charge of emotional health.”
Aroma Affects our Memory
Our olfactory system is linked right into our central nervous system. It isn’t surprising then, that certain essential oils can be invigorating to our system, while others slow it down.
For years lavender has been marketed in sleepy time lotions and bath washes for infants. Lavender is a gentle oil and generally considered safe for use with children, and it also is calming. Another study looks at the cognitive performance of volunteers, comparing ylang ylang and peppermint.
Peppermint essential oil is energizing, and can affect alertness. I know when I’m alert, I remember things more clearly than when I’m sleepy.
How to Use Oils Aromatically
Now you know why you might want to use essential oils aromatically, now let’s talk about practical ways to do that.
The key to successful use of essential oils is to make it easy and convenient. These are the main ways we use them in our home: with a diffuser, direct inhalation, and preparing spray bottles.
There are a lot of diffuser options on the market. The most important thing when choosing a diffuser, is to make sure it’s an ultrasonic diffuser. Ultrasonic diffusers are a great choice because they don’t use a lot of essential oil, and the oils are not denatured in the process.
Some diffusers use heat, which can destroy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. Ultrasonic diffusers use a small metal plate that vibrates quickly and breaks the oils down into tiny particles that say suspended in the air. Ultrasonic diffusers depend on the air current in the room to disperse the scent throughout the room.
Diffusers are a great way to not only change the mood, but to clean and purify the air. This is particularly handy in times of illness, or in the middle of a long winter or summer where you can’t open the windows for fresh air.
Here are a few of my favorite diffuser blends:
- For Sleep: Vetiver and Serenity for calming and sound sleep, add Juniper Berry for disturbing dreams
- For Working: Peppermint and Wild Orange for invigoration and positivity
- For After School: Lemon and Lavender for calm positive moods
Another way of using essential oils aromatically is to directly inhale the oil. You can simply open a bottle of oil and breathe it in right from the bottle. One of my favorite ways to directly inhale is to put a drop in the palm of my hands, rub them together, then cup my hands over my mouth and nose and breathe deeply. I like to inhale 5 times to get a quick change of mood.
One more way to use essential oils is kind of a hybrid between direct inhalation and diffusing. Simply warm a cup of water to boiling, and add a couple drops of essential oil. Put your face over the cup and breathe. If you are under the weather, a good recipe to use is sometimes called the “Breathy Cup of Stuff”.
Breathy Cup of Stuff
- Oregano, Melaleuca, Lemon, and Peppermint essential oils
- Cup of boiling water in glass or ceramic mug
Add one drop each of Oregano, Melaleuca, Lemon, and Peppermint essential oils to the water, and breathe in carefully. Especially that first breath, as oregano and peppermint oils are both very strong.
Making your own sprays is a great way to use your oils. A couple drops of lavender in a bottle of water makes a great linen spray. Spraying your sheets before bed is a great way to smell the oils all night long.
Essential oils can also be used to make air fresheners instead of using commercial sprays. I keep a bottle in the bathroom for… fragrant events. Here is a great spray recipe.
Rosemary and Lavender Air Freshener
- 10 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
- 10 drops Lavender Essential Oil
- 2-4 oz distilled water
Place essential oils in a glass spray bottle and fill with distilled water. Shake before using. Spray any time you would use air freshener.
There are many ways to use essential oils aromatically, and endless oil combinations. Which will you try first?