Using essential oils to alleviate both physical and emotional symptoms is one of the most popular of all the complementary therapies. Aromatherapy utilises plant oils extracted by a process of distillation. Today, over 300 oils are used by professional practitioners.
Although touch, in the form of massage, is the main tool of the aromatherapist, there are many other ways of delivering essential oils to the nervous and circulatory systems of the body and olfactory centre of the brain.
Oils can be added to a bath or footbath, inhaled from a bowl of hot water, applied in lotions or compresses, used in a mouth-wash, vaporised on an oil burner, and, very occasionally, applied directly to the skin or taken orally, although this is not advocated by all aromatherapists.
Sense of smell is also very important in aromatherapy and is reflected in the name. Although smell seems to be generally con-sidered as the least important of our senses, odours, both good and bad, can affect mood and behaviour and can be tailored to have very positive effects on emotional and physical health.
Research to validate aromatherapy is still incomplete, but aromatherapists say that the esters, aldehydes and other chemicals the oils contain can have a powerful effect on our emotional state, relaxing us, energising us or relieving stress, anxiety or depression.
Essential oils may also relieve physical complaints. For example, lavender essential oil has been found to have analgesic properties and can be used to treat headaches, and tea tree is a proven antiviral, making it useful for cold sores and warts.
Using Essential Oils at Home
Aromatherapy is a natural therapy that can be practised quite easily at home. There are, however, some simple rules that you should apply for best results:
• Never apply an undiluted oil to the skin —they are extremely concentrated and may cause irritation. The exception to this rule is tea tree essential oil.
• If you are pregnant, or suffer from high blood pressure, epilepsy or skin allergies, consult a qualified aromatherapist before using essential oils.
• Essential oils should always be stored in dark, well-stoppered containers to keep them fresh and prevent evaporation. They should be kept out of the reach of children.
This method of using essential oils simultaneously cleanses your skin and helps to clear lung and sinus congestion, catarrh and ease sore throats. Add 3 drops of an essential oil to 600 ml (1 pint) of boiling water. Cover your head and the bowl with a small towel and inhale the vapours deeply and slowly. Repeat when necessary.
Mix your chosen essential oil with a carrier or base oil, such as sweet almond, jojoba, wheatgerm or peach kernel oil. Mix 20 to 25 drops of essential oil with 50 ml (2 fl oz) of the carrier oil (enough for a full body massage). Warm your hands and apply the mixture to the skin with gentle massage strokes.
Add 3 or 4 drops of an essential oil to a hot bath after it has been run. Make sure the oils are well dispersed. The oil is absorbed via inhalation as well as through the pores of the skin. Essential oils can also be added to hand baths, sitz baths and footbaths.
Fill a bowl with hot or cold water and add six drops of essential oil. Take a piece of soft cloth and place it on the surface of the water so that it takes up the oil. Wring out the excess water and apply the compress to the affected area. If the compress is hot, the heat can be retained by covering the cloth with a bandage or plastic.
Put a little water in the dish at the top of the burner and add three drops of an essential oil to it. Light the candle in the base of the burner and the oil’s aroma will be released as it vaporizes over the heat. These burners are available in most health food shops.