A chemistry class in perfume-making at Homemade London

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There was a strange light as I walked around the corner from Marble Arch to Seymour Place. I was on my way to an Introduction to perfume-making workshop at Homemade London, and shafts of sunlight were streaking through darkened clouds that threatened to burst at any moment.

Like a rainbow in the storm, Homemade London is a sanctuary in the busy heart of London where you can stop, be still and get creative. I had visited a few years ago for a beauty workshop: The secrets of beauty masks at Homemade London and after three wedding weekends in a row, I had decided to treat myself to a perfume-making class before getting back to the bees.

Nicola, our teacher, likes to keep the evening workshops small and cosy – there were only four of us. This promised to be an intimate and intense journey through scent, with drinks and nibbles. ‘Sugar revives the sense of smell,’ said Nicola wryly, as she served rose lemonade and offered mini cupcakes.

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During the two-and-a-half hour workshop we would learn what goes into making a perfume and takeaway our own signature scent. Working with a range of organic, or wild, ethically sourced essential oils, rather than synthetic scents, we would tune into our likes and dislikes to find out what suited our skin and personality.

As a relapsed aromatherapist, smelling and identifying the essential oils felt like being reacquainted with old friends. Mandarin, petitgrain, ylang ylang, clary sage and frankincense – my aromatherapy had been put on the shelf for the past couple of years, because of those demanding little bees, but this was the perfect way to revive my interest in scent.

Although, all that smelling did require a mini cupcake or two.

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The art of blending for perfumery was quite different to blending for aromatherapy, I was to discover. Nicola passed around paper testing strips so we could give each scent a mark out of 10 on how much we liked or disliked the smell. I had to forcibly remove my likes and dislikes from aromatherapy bias of what I knew were the therapeutic actions of an essential oil, and focus only on how the fragrance made me feel and would work on my skin.

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‘You’re probably familiar with top, middle and base notes,’ said Nicola, ‘But I’m going to introduce you.’ She gave a delightful description of the notes of perfume as the pub goers across the road stole curious glances in our direction:

Top notes are light and sparkly, they are what you notice first in a blend, although they bubble off the top quickly. They are usually citrusy, though some are woody and spicy.

Middle notes, or heart notes, are the heart of the blend and bring everything together. They are floral, green and woody or warm and spicy.

Base notes are what lingers. They are the remains of a perfume when you can still smell it on your scarf a few days later. They are often dark, woody and foresty.

There was such a range of essential oils to smell and choose that after a while my nose couldn’t tell the difference between citrus, floral, wood and spice. Nicola had a great tip for ‘clearing the palette’ and told us to inhale the coffee grounds placed on the table. This cleared my nose ready to start smelling again.

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‘If you like a smell then it will probably work well on your skin,’ though Nicola admitted this wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Perfumes are fickle creatures and randomly choose people they like or don’t like. Chanel No.5 smells fantastic on my mother, but stinks on me. But Nicola’s rule seemed a good place to start, so I wrote down my marks for the smells I liked best in the notebooks provided.

My choice of perfume friends were grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, rose, benzoin, cedarwood and vetiver.

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To create a bespoke perfume from our selection of scents we needed to mix the top, middle and base notes to smell how well they worked together and in which quantities. This was a careful and precise process of ‘layering’. We wrote our choice of oils in a table and with Nicola’s guidance added one or two drops at a time to our blends. Nicola gave our measures based on how highly we had scored each oil and used our individual likes and dislikes to make those the focus of each fragrance. As I hadn’t liked the smell of vetiver very much, but still found it interesting, Nicola provided cocktail sticks to add the oil at a quarter of a drop.

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My blend was taking shape as I tested the perfume on places that I would wear it, my inner wrist and elbow (not behind the ears which is an old wives’ tale, said Nicola). However, it smelt (to me) dangerously close to an aromatherapy blend and what I wanted was a dark, smoky and green forest-like perfume. Nicola helped rescue my recipe by adding some black pepper, geranium and vanilla, and adjusting the measures of the other oils in my final two ‘layers’. The fragrance was left to ‘marinade’ on my wrist until we were both satisfied that the perfume smelt more ‘interesting’ and less ‘therapeutic’.

I finally had my first signature scent and I was impressed by how much more complicated it was to blend for perfumery than aromatherapy. But I wasn’t put off, in fact, it made me want to explore it further.

Nicola provided labels and gift-wrapped our perfumes in tissue paper. As it had been raining today and I now had a fresh green smelling perfume with a slight smokiness, I called it ‘AfterRain’.

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If you’re curious about what my perfume smells like, here’s the recipe so you can try it yourself:

Top notes

  • Bergamot 3 drops
  • Grapefruit 2 drops
  • Black pepper 1 drop

Middle notes

  • Neroli 11 drops
  • Jasmine 3 drops
  • Rose 3 drops
  • Geranium 1 drop

Base notes

  • Cedarwood 4 drops
  • Benzoin 2 drops
  • Vetiver 3 quarter drops
  • Vanilla 1 drop

The essential oils were blended in a base of coconut oil, around 20-30 ml.

I would highly recommend Homemade London’s Introduction to perfume-making and any of the other workshops that they run for much-needed time out and a burst of creativity for weary Londoners!

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Tea tree – I hate the bush!

Get on the right side of the road you pelican!

Tea tree is a familiar old friend. You have an unspoken connection. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, you can pick up your friendship where you left off and talk.

Tea tree was one of my first essential oils, along with lavender, and so it seems appropriate to wrap-up my aromatherapy repertoire with this well-known oil. In fact, tea tree is so well known that it needs no introduction. It is one of the few essential oils, again, like lavender, that can be used undiluted on the skin and it is often used as an ‘on-the-spot’ spot treatment!

Little tree, big post

Australian aborigines have known about the medicinal properties of tea tree for centuries (note, I never use the word ‘medicinal’ lightly when talking about aromatherapy or other complementary therapies) and would crush its leaves to drink as a tea to relieve colds and headaches. Tea tree oil has earned its reputation as a medicinal oil – it really is powerfully anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal, and still remarkably safe to use on skin.

Tea tree vs super-bugs

Tea tree oil has been getting a lot of attention recently for its effective anti-microbial action against staph infections (Staphylococcus aureus) and even the hospital super-bug MRSA. Warnke et al state:

‘First used by the Australian Aborigines, Tea tree oil and Eucalyptus oil (and several other essential oils) have each demonstrated promising efficacy against several bacteria and have been used clinically against multi-resistant strains… As proven in vitro, essential oils represent a cheap and effective antiseptic topical treatment option even for antibiotic-resistant strains as MRSA and antimycotic-resistant Candida species’

Warnke PH, Becker ST, Podschun R et al. The battle against multi-resistant strains: Renaissance of antimicrobial essential oils as a promising force to fight hospital-acquired infections. J Craniomaxillofac Surg. 2009 Oct;37(7):392–7. Epub 2009 May 26.

While more research is needed, use of tea tree oil against increasingly antibiotic-resistant staph infections and MRSA looks very promising. Thompson G et al state:

‘Washing with 5% tea tree oil (TTO) has been shown to be effective in removing MRSA on the skin. However, to date, no trials have evaluated the potential of TTO body wash to prevent MRSA colonization or infection. In addition, detecting MRSA by usual culture methods is slow. A faster method using a PCR assay has been developed in the laboratory, but requires evaluation in a large number of patients’

Thompson G, Blackwood B, McMullan R et alA randomized controlled trial of tea tree oil (5%) body wash versus standard body wash to prevent colonization with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in critically ill adults: research protocol. BMC Infect Dis. 2008 Nov 28;8:161.

Other essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, thyme and lemongrass have also been studied for efficacy against staph and MRSA. Research suggests that certain blends of essential oils work synergistically for increased anti-microbial action against super-bugs.

Tea tree blends for staph infection

Staph infections are quite common and often affect the skin. I have deliberately not listed the likely causes or symptoms of staph infection because online information cannot be used to diagnose illness or disease. The primary source of treatment for a staph infection, and certainly for MRSA, is from a GP or hospital doctor who will first diagnose and then prescribe antibiotic ointments or oral antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection. Despite wide-spread media coverage of growing antibiotic resistance, in most cases a minor staph infection will respond well to one, or perhaps two, courses of antibiotics.

Tea tree oil may be used to complement primary medical treatment without reducing the effectiveness of prescribed antibiotics. If you have a staph skin infection use a 5% dilution of tea tree oil to disinfect the area twice daily, ie morning and evening. The following blend uses olive oil as its base, which also has anti-microbial activity:

  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 drops tea tree oil

If your staph infection is persistant, try a synergistic blend to disinfect your skin twice daily:

  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 drops tea tree
  • 10 drops lavender
  • 10 drops eucalyptus

These are extremely powerful blends, so please patch test before using liberally on your skin.

Avoid antibiotic resistance – listen to your doctor

It is important that you complete your prescribed course of antibiotics even if it appears that the infection has improved or has gone away. Failure of patients to complete antibiotic courses or failure to take the treatment as instructed by the doctor can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics and may reduce the effectiveness of subsequent prescriptions.

Tea tree oil in skin care

The beauty industry is getting wise to the awesomeness of tea tree oil. Research by dermatologists suggests that tea tree is as effective against acne as over-the-counter treatment benzoyl peroxide, but without the undesirable side effects of skin reddening, dryness and irritation. Some studies suggest that tea tree oil must be used at 5% dilution or more to have efficacy against acne and the essential oil has long been used neat to dab on spots. However, tea tree may irritate more sensitive skins, so remember that patch test! It should also be noted that, like most natural remedies, the essential oil’s actions may require a little more time than over-the-counter or prescribed treatments to take noticeable effect.

Clear skin facial wash

  • 20ml aloe vera gel
  • 10ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 drops tea tree

Whisk the aloe vera and olive oil in a bowl until a white gel is produced. Add the tea tree oil and whisk again. This should make 2–3 applications of a facial wash.

Anti-aging facial oil

Tea tree has been discovered to be an effective anti-aging oil. It conditions, moisturises and renews skin, encouraging a higher turnover of skin cells that leads to a fresher, brighter and more youthful-looking complexion. It is even thought to help heal skin from sun damage and promote a more even tone.

  • 30ml rosehip oil
  • 8 drops tea tree
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 4 drops neroli

The list of blends for which you can use tea tree is endless. Experiment. You can add tea tree oil to almost any cosmetic base – add a couple drops to unscented body washes or face creams for clear skin or to shampoos and conditioners to tackle dandruff or oily hair. Tea tree also blends well with many other essential oils: clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, manuka, myrtle, marjoram (sweet and spanish), pine and rosemary to name a few.

A complete list of the medicinal properties of this remarkable essential oil is provided in the profile below. For example, tea tree is highly anti-fungal which makes it a useful treatment for athlete’s foot.

Strengthening and fortifying

A lesser-known property of tea tree is its strengthening effect on the mind and emotions. The essential oil is uplifting and can help to relieve depression. However, its scent is quite medicinal and it is less popular as a vaporising oil than essential oils such as grapefruit or rose.

Living with aromatherapy and a bit of bees

As an aromatherapist, I studied over 80 essential oils but in practice I only regularly use the 23 oils listed in ‘Living with essential oils’, and that is sufficient. I occasionally dabble with basil, thyme, yarrow, lemongrass, bergamot and others, but usually to complement a blend of my primary oils. There are over 100 essential oils for an aromatherapist to choose, such as manuka, plai and may chang, even vanilla. I recently discovered pineapple essential oil online and hope to try that soon. I am not sure about the therapeutic properties, but I bet it smells divine. Mmm, pineapple-scented coconut hair oil… My next posts on aromatherapy will be blended with those on beekeeping as I start my series on ‘Living with bees’.

This post is dedicated to Anna, a familiar old friend

Profile of tea tree

Latin nameMelaleuca alternifolia
Plant family: Myrtaceae
Plant type: medicinal
Perfume note: top
Extraction: steam or water distillation of the leaves and twigs
Botany and origins: small tree with needle-like leaves and yellow or purple-hued flowers native to Australia, mainly New South Wales
Chemical properties/active components: high in alcohols, which is attributed to the oil’s both powerful and gentle actions; its constituent 1.8 cineole is attributed to its anti-fungal action; terpinen-4-ol is attributed to its anti-microbial action
Blends with: clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, manuka, myrtle, marjoram (sweet and spanish), pine and rosemary
Key actions: broad spectrum anti-microbial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi; analgesic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant
Common conditions: efficacy against Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA; acne, abscess, athlete’s foot, blisters, burns, cold sores, dandruff, herpes, insect bites, rashes (including nappy), verrucae, warts, wounds, spots; colds, chickenpox, fever, flu; asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, sinusitis, mouth infections; thrush, vaginitis, cystitis, pruritis; varicose veins; depression
Contraindications: non-toxic and non-irritating; tea tree received bad press a few years ago for causing skin sensitisation although this was found to be caused due to excessive use, if you have sensitive skin patch test before use. Avoid during first three months of pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © Monika Adamczyk

Ylang ylang – welcome to the jungle

It's a little bit Hakuna Matata

Ylang ylang is your exotic friend. She is passionate and seductive, radiant and beautiful. Enter her intoxicating world.

Ylang ylang has a strong, warm, sweet and heavy fragrance that is unmistakable. It is extensively used in perfumery and is complemented by jasmine, rose and neroli – all the most luxurious and expensive essential oils.

Summer evening body oil

This is one of my favourite summertime blends. Coconut oil nourishes skin and makes it amazingly silky and smooth, while the essential oils cocoon you in a delicious and irresistible fragrance. If your coconut oil is solid gently warm and allow it to melt to liquid, leave to cool off a little then add the essential oils.

  • 30ml coconut oil (melted liquid form)
  • 4 drops ylang ylang
  • 4 drops jasmine
  • 5 drops rose
  • 5 drops neroli

Exotic hair perfume

Ylang ylang and jasmine were traditionally used to fragrance hair and both are thought to be beneficial to hair, nourishing the scalp and helping hair to appear shiny and strong. Coconut oil is also wonderfully nourishing and moisturising. This blend can be used overnight as a deep conditioning oil. Massage a teaspoonful into your scalp and gently comb through your hair, then wrap your head in a warm towel. Shampoo out in the morning, you should not need to use conditioner. Your hair will be glossy and sweet-smelling.

  • 30ml coconut oil
  • 9 drops ylang ylang
  • 9 drops jasmine

Intoxicating fragrance

Ylang ylang is remarkably soothing and calming – burn this oil to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and frustration – it banishes negative emotions and induces a state of tranquility. Try these blends in your oil burner:

Uplifting

  • 3 drops ylang ylang
  • 1 drop grapefruit
  • 1 drop sweet orange

Balancing

  • 3 drops ylang ylang
  • 2 drops cedarwood

Romantic

  • 2 drops ylang ylang
  • 3 drops rose otto

This post is dedicated to Lauren, who is the most beautiful and sweetest-smelling baby

Profile of ylang ylang:

Latin nameCananga odorata var. genuina
Plant family: Annonaceae
Plant type: flower
Perfume note: top
Extraction: steam or water distillation of the flowers; the first distillate of ylang ylang is ‘top grade’ and considered the most superior – referred to as ‘ylang ylang extra'; the next three distillates of the extraction process are grades 1, 2 and 3 – grades 1 and 2 are often combined to produce a complete oil; an absolute of ylang ylang may be produced by solvent extraction of the flowers
Botany and origins: originating from Asia, the essential oil is mainly produced in Madagascar, Reunion and the Comoro Islands
Chemical properties/active components: high in sesquiterpenes (about 40%) which are anti-inflammatory, soothing and calming; alcohols (about 20%) which are powerful but gentle acting, including linalool which is stimulating and toning; esters (about 15%) which are anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, balancing and soothing, including benzyl acetate which is antiseptic and anti-viral and is thought to contribute to ylang ylang oil’s strong, warm, sweet aroma
Blends with: bergamot, cedarwood, citrus oils, clove, floral oils, jasmine, neroli, patchouli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, verbena
Key actions: anti-infectious, anti-depressant, anti-seborrhoeic, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, balancing, calming, euphoric, sedative, softening, toning
Common conditions: regulates sebum production, dry and oily skins, acne, toning, soothes irritation, insect bites, hair growth and conditioning; high blood pressure, palpitations and rapid breathing, regulates heart beat and breathing; shock, anxiety, fear and anger, depression, frustration, frigidity, nervous tension, insomnia, stress; aids meditation and promotes tranquility
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising, although may cause nausea and headaches if used excessively due to its heady scent, and skin sensitisation in some. Avoid during pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cedarwood – ‘I’ll have half a gram’

'No it's half of four hundred and fift... shit'

Cedarwood is the friend you need in a crisis. She is steady and calm, confident and strong. Cedarwood brings balance, strength and comfort.

It is not often I have the urge to yell at my TV and throw it out the window, but I came close during The Apprentice‘s Great Sandalwood Scam. What a shame that none of them knew about cedarwood – a relatively inexpensive and perfect substitute to sandalwood. Sorry Paula, you’re fired.

Atlas cedarwood is often used in aromatherapy as a substitute to sandalwood both because of its similar fragrance and qualities. Some aromatherapists make an ethical choice to use cedarwood instead of sandalwood which, like rosewood, is an endangered species of tree. Neal’s Yard Remedies stopped stocking sandalwood and rosewood while I was training to become an aromatherapist, thus I have rarely used these oils. Our tutor had one bottle left of Neal’s Yard’s sandalwood and she treated it like gold dust. If you do want sandalwood it is best to buy Australian sandalwood which is ethically harvested.

Atlas cedarwood is most commonly used in aromatherapy. The essential oil is primarily known for its anti-inflammatory, balancing and decongestant actions.

Stimulating hair shampoo and conditioner

Atlas cedarwood is reputedly a scalp stimulant and is thought to encourage new growth of hair. I had positive feedback from family and friends for this shampoo and conditioner blend. After three month’s of use, hair starts to look noticeably thicker and fuller. Regular massage of the scalp (encouraged when using aromatherapy shampoo) also stimulates circulation, which helps boost hair growth, and makes hair look shiny and healthy. Cedarwood is also good for treating dandruff.

  • 250ml unfragranced shampoo / conditioner
  • 38 drops cedarwood
  • 40 drops rosemary
  • 40 drops lavender
  • 32 drops thyme linalool

Remember, that’s 38 drops cedarwood, not sandalwood! If you are suffering hair loss over a period of time, do check with your GP for underlying health causes.

Skin regulating oil

Cedarwood is antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and balancing, which makes it helpful for oily skin and acne. Use the facial massage blend below at night to help regulate your skin’s production of oil and to help skin problems. The aroma of cedarwood is comforting, strengthening, good for low morale and sedative, which will help aid a restful night’s sleep.

  • 30ml jojoba oil (also regulates skin oil)
  • 6 drops cedarwood
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 3 drops cypress
  • 3 drops frankincense

Aches and pains

Cedarwood’s anti-inflammatory action makes it good for treating inflammation of muscles and joints. Add it to blends for rheumatism, arthritis or simply backache. I found this oil a useful part of my repertoire when making blends for male clients – it is important that an aromatherapy treatment is aesthetically pleasing as well as therapeutic. Creating a masculine blend can be challenging but men often prefer woody or spice oils. This subtle blend smells mostly of cedarwood with a touch of roman chamomile, which has an apple-like scent that most men find surprisingly lovely!

  • 30ml sweet almond oil
  • 9 drops cedarwood
  • 6 drops roman chamomile

Antiseptic douche

Cedarwood is also known to be effective for urinary tract infections because of its antiseptic action. If you are prone to cystitis add cedarwood to your bath oil – after your bath has run, swish 1 tbsp olive oil and 6 drops cedarwood oil thoroughly in the water.

Clear your mind

Remembering the origins of cedarwood essential oil – the tall and lofty pine tree – it is unsurprising that one of its effects is to clear your head. If you have a stuffy cold, burn cedarwood to help unblock your nose and ease breathing.

This post is dedicated to Uncle David who is strong and true

Profile of Atlas cedarwood:

Latin nameCedrus atlantica
Plant family: Pinaceae
Plant type: wood
Perfume note: base
Extraction: steam distillation of the wood, stumps and sawdust
Botany and origins: grow wild in Lebanon and Cyprus (thought to originate from Lebanon), C. atlantica is a pine not a cypress like Virginian cedarwood
Chemical properties/active components: the pinaceae family are antiseptic; C. atlantica is also high in sesquiterpene ketones (7–10%) which are anti-inflammatory and decongestive, and sesquiterpene alcohols (7%) which are anti-inflammatory and mucolytic
Blends with: bergamot, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, juniper, neroli, rosemary, rosewood, vetiver, ylang ylang
Key actions: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, aphrodisiac, bactericidal, balancing, decongestant, diuretic, expectorant, fungicidal, insecticide, sedative and stimulant
Common conditions: cellulite, oedema, oily skin, acne, balances sebum, dandruff, hair growth (reputedly); bronchitis, coughs, catarrh, congestion; urinary tract infections; arthritis, rheumatism; confidence and low morale
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. Avoid during pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © Dmitri Zakovorotny


Geranium – it’s a bit like Marmite

‘Lieutenant Dan, I got you some ice cream’

Love geranium? You want to slather it from head to toe and rub it all over yer face! Hate geranium? You’d rather eat a marmite-and-cheese sarnie! Rich in alcohols. 100% vegetarian. Geranium essential oil – you love it or hate it.

Forget Parsley Island, geranium divided my aromatherapy class into ‘lovers’ and ‘haters’. Those who loved its rosy scent added it liberally to blends, while those who hated it held their noses and turned green. I confess to being a splitter – I don’t love the smell but I have come to appreciate the therapeutic properties of this essential oil.

Geranium is the great ‘balancer’ of aromatherapy, ironic but true. Its primary action is to balance moods and emotions, and it has a harmonising effect on the body that is particularly useful in skin care.

Balancing skin care range

Geranium essential oil is extremely versatile for use in skin care and it is widely used by the beauty industry. Its balancing effect makes it useful for dry, oily and problems skins. It is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent which makes it good for skin conditions such as acne and eczema. Its gentle action means that it can usually be tolerated by sensitive skins.

Geranium and lavender in particular complement each other in a blend and make an effective skin care duo. Lavender also helps counteract the pungent scent of geranium. The simple blends below show how you can include geranium essential oil in your daily skin care routine.

Sebum-regulating facial wash

  • 30ml unscented foam face wash*
  • 9 drops geranium oil
  • 9 drops lavender oil

*Alternatively blend 20ml aloe vera gel and 10ml jojoba oil in a bowl with a hand blender to make your own face wash base.

Wash your face with this foam wash each morning if you have skin that is too dry or too oily, or prone to spots and acne. The essential oil blend will help to regulate your skin’s production of sebum (oil) and restore balance to your complexion.

Balancing make-up remover oil

  • 30ml jojoba oil
  • 9 drops geranium oil
  • 9 drops lavender oil

As above, remove your make up daily with this blend if you suffer from an over- or under-production of sebum. Massage a teaspoonful over your face and remove with a hot damp face cloth. Repeat for effective deep cleansing.

Geranium and lavender moisturiser

  • 30ml unfragranced base cream (available from aromatherapy suppliers)
  • 9 drops geranium oil
  • 9 drops lavender oil

To reap the benefit of geranium and lavender all-day or all-night long, use this simple face cream blend. The cream is best used as a night cream during spring and summer months, because it does not contain an sunscreen or sunblock. (I am fastidious about using and recommending proven and effective sun protection for skin!)

The three blends above have a shelf life of 3 months if stored in dark glass containers and in a cool place out of direct sunlight, because sunlight can oxidise the vegetable oils or base creams of the blends and shorten their shelf life.

When you start using these blends, allow at least one week to start to see improvement and at least one month for significant results. Natural remedies often work slower than prescription or over-the-counter products. If your skin condition is moderate to severe, consult your GP for your primary treatment and use these natural remedies to complement.

Clarifying face mask

  • 3 tsp kaolin clay (available from aromatherapy suppliers)
  • 1–2 tsp water
  • 1 drop geranium
  • 1 drop lavender
  • 1 drop palmarosa

Blend the kaolin clay and water first into a paste. Add the water slowly, a drop at a time, blending to desired consistency, then add the essential oils and blend well. The mask will be a bit lumpier than shop-bought products but it will be just as effective. Smooth over cleansed skin and leave for 15–20 minutes, then remove with a warm damp flannel. Use once a week to maintain a clear complexion.

Geranium and grapefruit body scrub

Geranium is often used to treat cellulite because of its diuretic and detoxifying properties, it helps to drain excess body fluids. Combined with detoxifying and clarifying grapefruit, this body scrub exfoliates and clarifies to leave skin unbelievably soft and smooth.

  • 450g glass jar (use a washed-out jam or honey jar)
  • soft brown sugar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 drops geranium oil
  • 30 drops grapefruit oil

Pour brown sugar into the glass jar until it is two-thirds full, then fill the remainder of the jar with olive oil. Stop before reaching the rim to allow you to stir the contents without spilling. Use a teaspoon to stir the olive oil into the brown sugar. Once the oil and sugar are thoroughly mixed, add the essential oils and stir in. The sugar scrub has a shelf life of three months, but be sure to store it away from direct sunlight.

To use, scoop a dollop of the scrub out of the jar and into the palm of your hand. Massage from foot to shoulders all over your body. Use firm upward stroking movements but be gentler over tender areas of skin. Robust massage around thighs and buttocks can really help to improve the appearance of cellulite and help to tone and tighten skin. Use regularly, at least three times a week.

If you have hard skin on your feet, use this as a foot scrub daily followed by a myrrh rapid-healing heel balm.

Using the scrub can be messy, so apply in the shower then rinse off with warm water.

Harmonising room fragrance

Finally, if you are a ‘lover’ burn geranium essential oil as a room fragrance or add a couple of drops to your bath oil to bring harmony to your mood and emotions. Geranium is thought to be a ‘mothering’ oil that comforts and reassures.

As it is Mother’s Day, this post is dedicated to my mum xxx

Profile of geranium:

Latin namePelargonium graveolens
Plant family: Geraniaceae
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Extraction: steam distillation of the leaves, stalks and flowers
Botany and origins: a perennial hairy shrub growing up to 1m with pointed jagged-edged leaves and small pink flowers. It is native to South Africa, but cultivated in Russia, Egypt, Congo, Japan, Central America, Spain, Italy and France. The three main producers of geranium oil are Reunion (Bourbon), Egypt, Russia and China
Chemical properties/active components: 63% alcohols (citronellol, geraniol, linalool) which are attributed to the oil’s powerful but gentle-acting properties. Alcohols are also antiseptic and uplifting
Blends with: clove, bergamot, clove, citrus oils, jasmine, juniper, lavender, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood; geranium is often added to blends with rose to enhance the fragrance of this more expensive essential oil
Key actions: anti-bacterial, anti-depressant, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, balancing, comforting, detoxifier, diuretic, sedative, stimulant, uplifting
Common conditions: cellulite, circulation (lymph and blood), fluid retention, oedema; anxiety, depression, nervous tension, stress; acne, eczema, dry and oily skins, problem skin, mature and most sensitive skin types, congested skin, dermatitis, psoriasis, insect repellant (particularly mosquito), ringworm
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. It may cause dermatitis in some individuals so it is recommended to avoid over-use. Avoid during pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Myrrh The Merciless

‘You pitiful fool! My life is not for any Earthling to give or take!’

Myrrh is your humble friend. Her hidden inner beauty reveals many virtues and strengths. Her presence will free you from worry and bring stillness and peace.

I love movies and Flash Gordon was a childhood favourite. An impossibly implausible plot – idiot football star defeats 1,000-year-old emperor of the universe – that is brilliantly redeemed by Ming the Merciless, Brian Blessed and Queen.

I liked Ming best, because he was the only character who wasn’t stupid. Sure, he was evil, but is it any wonder he was compelled to rule the universe? He was surrounded by unbelievably stupid people! Ming had presence, confidence and the best lines. If I had an evil nemesis, I’d want it to be Ming.

Brian Blessed as Voltan was a close runner-up for favourite character by virtue of his immortal catchphrase ‘Gordon’s alive?’, which is the only line that he doesn’t SHOUT.

What does any of this have to do with myrrh? Nothing except that ‘Myrrh The Merciless’ has a certain ring to it (no pun intended to Ming fans). I also felt that this humble and often overlooked essential oil needed some bigging up. Ok, it’s a tenuous link, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use a great movie quote since eucalyptus.

Just because.

‘Flash, I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!’

When remembering the therapeutic properties of essential oils I find it useful to think of where the oils come from. Myrrh is extracted from the resin of a tough little tree growing on rocky terrain in desert regions of Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia. The tree exudes the resin when its bark is damaged to seal the wound and to heal itself.

The essential oil has similar properties. Myrrh was traditionally used for wounds that were slow to heal, and it is extremely beneficial to dry, cracked or damaged skin because of its remarkable fast skin-healing actions.

I made a myrrh foot balm for a client to treat their cracked heels. The heels were so painfully cracked and dehydrated that they caused pain when wearing shoes and discomfort when walking. The client was advised to massage their feet, focusing particularly on the heel area, with the balm twice daily and then cover with clean cotton socks to allow maximum absorption of the balm into skin.

Significant improvements were seen within one week. The cracked heels were completely healed within one month. I recommended continuing treatment by massaging feet at night for a further two months and thereafter one to two times a week as a top-up to maintain results.

If your feet are in need of saving fast – follow the recipe below for a myrrh foot balm.

Myrrh rapid-healing heel balm

Ingredients

  • 20g beeswax
  • 80ml sweet almond oil
  • 40ml distilled water
  • 50 drops myrrh essential oil
  • 50 drops benzoin essential oil

You will need:

  • 2 heat-resistant glass bowls
  • glass measuring jug
  • measuring scales
  • large saucepan
  • wooden spoon
  • hand blender
  • 100ml dark glass jar
  • labels

Method:

  1. Stand the jug of distilled or flower water in a bowl of boiled warm water to gently warm it
  2. Put the beeswax and oil in the heat-resistant glass bowl and place the bowl in a saucepan of shallow water
  3. Slowly melt the beeswax in the oil over a low heat, gently stirring
  4. Remove the bowl from the saucepan once the beeswax has completely melted in the oil
  5. Use the hand blender to blend the distilled or flower water one drop at a time into the oil mixture
  6. Mix the water and oil mixture thoroughly with the hand blender at the lowest setting
  7. As the water and oil start to set (be quick as this will happen rapidly) pour in the essential oils and blend quickly
  8. Before the mixture completely hardens into a balm pour and scoop it into a dark glass jar
  9. Leave the jar open to allow the balm to completely cool and avoid condensation trapping in the lid. Then seal with a lid and label with the ingredients used and a three-month expiry date
  10. Store in a cool dark cupboard or drawer out of direct sunlight to preserve the blend. The balm will melt on contact to body heat and can be scooped out with fingers to massage on your heels

Tip:

Distilled water or flower water can be bought from health food stores or you can make your own flower or herb water. For example, weigh 25g dried rose or orange blossom petals into a bowl and pour over 100 ml boiling water. Cover the bowl to ensure the volatile chemical constituents are not lost to evaporation and leave to cool. Filter into a dark glass bottle for use in the blend above, the remaining flower water can be stored in the fridge for a week and used as a facial toner.

‘Oh well, who wants to live forever? DIVE!!’

Myrrh is an excellent anti-aging oil, but frankincense is often a more popular choice because its smell is more appealing. The secret is all in the blending. Make the anti-aging facial oil below and massage on skin before bedtime for an overnight beauty treatment (avoid contact with eyes). Myrrh is also cooling and calming to skin which makes this blend particularly useful for hot summer nights.

Myrrh beauty sleep oil:

  • 30ml rosehip oil
  • 4 drops myrrh
  • 4 drops frankincense
  • 5 drops neroli
  • 5 drops mandarin

As with all blends, store in a dark glass jar and out of direct sunlight. It has a shelf life of three months.

‘Later. I like to play with things a while before annihilation’

Patricia Davis states that myrrh has long been renowned for its anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions. A tincture of myrrh, available from health stores, is recommended for mouth, gum and throat infections. Apply a drop to the gums or gargle. You can also buy myrrh toothpaste or mouth wash from health stores or online to help treat gum infections. If symptoms do not improve within four to five days, see your GP.

‘Long live Flash, you’ve saved your Earth. Have a nice day’

In ancient times frankincense and myrrh were believed to have spiritual properties and were burned as incense during religious rituals. This may be because the vapors of both frankincense and myrrh slow and ease breathing, encouraging deepness of breath which aids meditation.

Burn the blend below to promote tranquility and stillness of mind:

  • 2 drops myrrh
  • 2 drops frankincense
  • 3 drops mandarin

Myrrh is also beneficial for colds, coughs and bronchitis, and will help stimulate your immunity to fight respiratory infections.

This post is dedicated to my dad, because he is my superhero! Flash – aha!

Profile of myrrh:

Latin nameCommiphora myrrha
Plant family: Buseraceae
Plant type: resin
Perfume note: base

Extraction: steam distillation of the resin
Botany and origins: a shrub or small tree reaching 10m with sturdy knotted branches, trifoliate leaves and small white flowers; resin is exuded from the trunk as a pale yellow liquid that hardens into a reddish brown resin. Native to north east Africa and south west Asia, found particularly in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia
Chemical properties/active components: comprising 40% alcohols, indicating powerful but gentle-acting stimulating properties and anti-fungal and bactericidal action. It is also high in sesquiterpenes (39%), indicating antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties
Blends with: benzoin, cypress, frankincense, geranium, juniper, lavender, mandarin, neroli, patchouli, peppermint, pine, sandalwood
Key actions: anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic (meaning reducing inflammation and fever), antiseptic, astringent, anti-viral, aphrodisiac (said to stimulate sexual desire), bactericide, calming, tranquilising
Common conditions: wounds (particularly those that are slow to heal), ulcers, weepy eczema, athlete’s foot, cracked, chapped skin, ringworm, mature skin; thrush; colds, flu, bronchitis; worry, mental restlessness and distraction
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. Myrrh has been classified as an arbortifacient since ancient times, although there is no scientific evidence base. However, many aromatherapy texts advise to avoid this oil during pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9


Lemon and lime – not to be underestimated

Your lemon and lime friends are sparkling, confident and positive. Their energy and enthusiasm are irrististable. They uplift your emotions and revitalise your outlook on life.

Lemon and lime have similar therapeutic properties, although lime is gentler in action and often chosen over lemon for this reason. Both are powerful-acting essential oils.

Skin care oils

I prefer skin care that is gentle-acting and which works with your skin rather than against it. Lemon and lime essential oils – and bergamot – are too harsh for my skin except in very low dilutions, although others may tolerate them.

Lemon and lime are antibacterial, antiseptic and astingent – excellent properties for treating oily skin, spots or acne. Lemon can cause skin irritation and worsen your skin condition, so anti-inflammatory lime may be the safer choice. Lime oil is helpful for over-production of sebum and can help to prevent or treat acne.

Both lemon and lime essential oils should be used sparingly on skin and in dilutions of 1% or less. Patch test a blend that has lemon or lime before general use on skin.

Lemon and lime are also toning to skin and anti-aging, but there are other essential oils that have anti-aging properties and which are safer to use on skin, for example: lavender and tea tree.

Lime facial wash

If you are experiencing over-production of sebum that is making skin oily and spot prone, wash your face every morning with this lime facial wash:

  • 3 drops lime
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 6 drops geranium
  • 30ml unfragrance cleansing gel or lotion (available from aromatherapy suppliers or health food stores)*

*Try this DIY cleansing gel base. Blend 2 parts aloe vera gel to 1 part olive oil. Whisk with a hand blender in a bowl until a white creamy gel forms. Transfer to a dark glass jar and add essential oils of your choice, stirring in with the handle of teaspoon.

Lemon treatment for warts and verrucae

Patricia Davis states that lemon oil can be used neat for warts or verrucae applied directly to the spot with a cotton bud. I recommended this for a colleague who had a stubborn verruca that had persisted for a year. Within three days the verruca had shrunk half in size, it was gone within a week and, as far as I am aware, has not recurred. Use this treatment with care – apply only to the wart or verrucae and be careful not to apply to unaffected areas of skin.

Phototoxic oils

Both oils are thought to be phototoxic – they may cause skin reaction in sunlight. For this reason it is best to use lemon and lime in low dilutions, or not at all, 24 hours before exposure to strong sunlight. If you are prone to hyperpigmented skin conditions or burn easily, avoid using these essential oils in spring and summer.

Stimulating and uplifting

Lemon and lime have are energising and reinvigorating. Both oils are ideal for a tired mind and may also be helpful for anxiety and depression. Burn two drops each of lemon and lime in an oil burner for a revitalising and uplifting room fragrance.

Lemon oil is also thought to stimulate the immune system, which makes it a useful oil to burn during winter months to stimulate the body and strengthen it against colds and flu.

This post is dedicated to Sophie – who is sparkliness and sunshine personified

Profile of lemon:

Latin nameCitrus limon
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: citrus
Perfume note: top

Botany and origins: small, thorny evergreen reaching 6m with serrated oval leaves and sweetly fragranced flowers; unripe fruit mature into yellow
Extraction: cold expression of the peel
Chemical properties/active components: high in monoterpenes (87%) which are antiseptic, analgesic and rubefacient; a key constituent is limonene (a monoterpene)
Blends with: benzoin, citrus oils, chamomile, eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense, geranium, lavender, lavandin, juniper, neroli, sandalwood, rose, ylang ylang
Key actions: anti-microbial, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, astringent, bactericidal, detoxifier, diuretic, clarifying, lightening (to skin and moods!), toning, strengthening
Common conditions: colds, flu, fever, infections, bronchitis, thought to stimulate immunity by promoting production of white blood cells (although unlikely to do this through inhalation alone, and concentrations required on skin to achieve this effect would be high risk), observed in vitro to kill Diptheria bacteria in 20 minutes at 0.2% dilution; cellulite, obesity, acne, oily and congested skins, over-production of sebum, aging skin, boils, warts, verrucae; tones blood vessels, varicose veins, broken capillaries, nosebleeds, poor circulation; throat infections, bronchitis, catarrh; rheumatism, arthritis; lifts the spirits, mental fatigue, mentally stimulating, aids decision making, relieves stress
Contraindications: slightly phototoxic – do not use in concentrations of more than 2% if exposed to sunlight 12 hours after application; can cause irritation, inflammation and sensitisation; avoid in first three months of pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Profile of lime:

Latin nameCitrus aurantifolia
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: citrus
Perfume note: top

Botany and origins: small evergreen reaching 4–6m with wide canopy of 7m and irregularly spaced branches with drooping short spines (some cultivars are spineless); Key, West Indian and Mexican cultivars, and Persian limes; it is native to northern India and Burma, and is thought to have been transported to Central and South America by migrating Polynesian tribes via the Pacific Islands
Chemical properties/active components: high in monoterpenes hydrocarbons (72%) of which its key constituents are limonene, camphene, cymene, sabinene, myrcene; these are analgesic, antiseptic, anti-viral, decongestant, general tonics and stimulating, and also thought to have hormone-like actions
Blends with: benzoin, citrus oils, chamomile, eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense, geranium, lavender, lavandin, juniper, neroli, sandalwood, rose, ylang ylang
Key actions: anti-microbial, anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, astringent, bactericidal, calming, decongestant disinfectant, insecticide, refreshing, sedative, stimulant (mood and appetite) tonic, uplifting,
Common conditions: fluid retention, cellulite; varicose veins, nosebleeds, arthritis, rheumatism, poor circulation; over-production of sebum, oily and problem skins, brittle nails, boils, chilblains, corns, cuts, insect bites, skin infections, herpes, warts; throat infections, catarrh, bronchitis; fatigue, apathy, anxiety, depression
Contraindications: very phototoxic – do not use in concentrations of more than 2% if exposed to sunlight 12 hours after application; expressed lime is more phototoxic than any other citrus oil due to chemical constituent bergaptene; avoid in first three months of pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image (lemon): Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image (lime): Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Sweet marjoram – off to bed, sleepy head!

Sweet marjoram is stillness and silence. She brings calm to a busy mind and quiet to restless thoughts. She is serenity and peace.

Sweet marjoram is a wonderful remedy for insomnia. In my experience, the sleep-inducing effects of sweet marjoram are more powerful than lavender and chamomile, which are more often used to aid sleep. A couple of drops of sweet marjoram on a pillow will help even the most frustrated insomniac drift into sleep. I have recommended this remedy to people who have tried everything else (other essential oils, herbal teas, a warm bath, relaxing music, even over-the-counter sleeping tablets). Sweet marjoram has worked for all but one, and even in that case it caused drowsiness.

Sweet dreams

If you are lying in bed wide awake, pour a couple of drops of sweet marjoram oil on the corner of your pillow. As you inhale the fragrance it will slow your breathing and still your thoughts. You will become drowsy, your head will feel heavy… Before you realise, it is morning and you have slept through the night.

After a stressful day, vaporise 3–4 drops of sweet marjoram in your bedroom an hour before bedtime. This will ensure a good night’s sleep.

Save the best for last

Lavender and chamomile (particularly Roman chamomile, I find) are also effective remedies for sleep. If you only rarely suffer from a sleepless night, I would recommend trying these oils first. If these essential oils have no effect, use sweet marjoram.

This post is dedicated to Lydie – my favourite scary little ghost girl of Cornwall who gave me one sleepless night!

Profile of sweet marjoram:

Latin name: Origanum majorana
Plant family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: a perennial or annual plant growing 60cm high with a hairy stem, dark green oval leaves, and clusters of grey-white flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean, Egypt and North Africa, and the essential oil is also produced in France, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Bulgaria, Hungary and Germany
Extraction: steam distillation of the flowering herb
Chemical properties/active components: high in monoterpenes (40 %) which are antiviral and bactericidal, and alcohols (50 %) which are powerful but gentle acting and indicate bactericidal and fungicidal properties
Blends with: bergamot, chamomile, cedarwood, cypress, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, tea tree
Key actions: analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, bactericidal, fungicidal, sedative
Common conditions: insomnia and sleeplessness, nervous tension, anxiety, stress, headaches; colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma; muscular aches and stiffness, rheumatism, sprains and strains; thought to be an anaphrodisiac – diminishes sexual desire – and thought to have a ‘deadening’ effect on strong emotions which can be useful for grief, sorrow, depression or loneliness
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising; do not use in pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Sweet fennel – ‘We are Spartans!’

Fennel is single-minded and determined. She is courageous and does what needs to be done. She is practical – no frills, no fuss. Fennel clears away clutter and provides a fresh start.

Fennel is one of the best detoxifying essential oils in aromatherapy. It is also excellent for treating fluid retention and cellulitis. I use fennel in massage with other powerful detoxifiers like juniper and lymph-draining oils like geranium.

Fennel decongesting oil

Blend this massage oil and use on areas of the body to relieve fluid retention or to improve the appearance of cellulite:

  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 6 drops fennel oil
  • 6 drops geranium oil
  • 3 drops grapefruit oil
  • 3 drops juniper oil

This is a powerful and effective blend, so do a patch test first to check for skin sensitivity.

Massage on cellulite three times a week, or daily, to help improve the appearance of orange-peel skin and to treat fluid retention. Expect to start seeing results after 6-8 weeks.

Combine this treatment with a cellulite-busting regime:

  • body brush twice daily before showering or bathing
  • drink 6–8 glasses of water
  • eat fresh fruit, vegetables and fish
  • cut back on caffiene, alcohol, salt, and avoid processed foods
  • don’t smoke!

Try to exercise for 30 minutes every day to boost circulation. Within a couple of months you will notice a remarkable improvement in your cellulite and in the overall appearance of your skin.

Fennel tea

I drink fennel tea to cleanse, purify and energise my body. It has an invigorating aroma and a revitalising effect. The herb is also a digestive and soothes your stomach after you have over-indulged – a perfect Boxing Day remedy.

Buy fennel tea in health food stores or infuse half a teaspoon of dried fennel seeds in a cup of boiled water.

This post is dedicated to Dail – no frills, no fuss, she gets the job done!

Profile of sweet fennel:

Latin name: Foeniculum vulgare
Plant family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: a biennial or perennial herb growing up to 2 m and bearing feathery leaves and bright sunny-yellow flowers. Thought to be native to Malta, but now grown in France, Italy and Greece
Extraction: steam distillation of the crushed seeds
Chemical properties/active components: high levels of phenols (62 %) which are antibacterial, antiviral, immunostimulating and tonic, but toxic if used over prolonged periods. Contains fenchone (a ketone) and phenol anethole which may stimulate upper respiratory tract secretions. Avoid bitter fennel which has toxic levels of fenchone
Blends with: basil, clary sage, cypress, geranium, lemon, juniper, melissa, peppermint, rosemary
Key actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, detoxifier, diuretic, expectorant, lymphatic decongestant, stimulates circulation,
Common conditions: fluid retention, cellulite, obesity, oedema, rheumatism; dull and oily complexions, mature skin, bruises; flatulence, anorexia, constipation, nausea, urinary tract antiseptic
Contraindications: non-irritating, low levels of toxin; do not use if you have sensitive skin, high blood pressure or epilepsy, and avoid during pregnancy; do not use bitter fennel
Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Ravensara – kind to bogmonsters

When you are a bogmonster – runny nose, scratchy throat, red eyes and sneezy – you need ravensara. Ravensara is the friend who clears your head. She lets you breathe and she strengthens your soul.

One Sunday I caught a cold before my aromatherapy massage class at Neal’s Yard Remedies. My head felt like a balloon, my eyes red and streaming, nose blocked and voice hoarse – my transformation to bogmonster was complete. The aromatherapy tutor was delighted, ‘Perfect’, she said, ‘I was just about to demonstrate the powers of ravensara essential oil in facial massage!’

I was ushered onto a couch and given a facial massage that can only be described as heavenly. Skilled fingers drained my sinuses while the scent of ravensara wafted to unblock my nose and soothe my breathing. I sat up and felt instantly lighter and brighter.

The tutor gave me a vial of ravensara oil to take home after class, instructing me to pour one or two drops on the corner of my pillow at night until my cold was gone. Ravensara is also slightly sedative and helped me to sleep easy.

On Monday morning my cold was gone. By Tuesday the bogmonster was a distant memory.

Anti-viral facial massage oil

Ravensara is reputed to have anti-viral properties, which makes it a useful weapon in the armament against the common cold. I burn it regularly from late autumn to early spring to help fight off colds. I also take echinacea tincture, zinc and vitamin C supplements, and make sure to eat well and rest sufficiently – I hate being ill.

Next time you get a cold, be kind to your bogmonster and soothe the symptoms with this facial massage blend:

  • 10 ml olive oil
  • 5 drops ravensara oil

In children and babies, I recommend substituting ravensara essential oil for myrtle essential oil, which is gentler in action but still effective at clearing congestion and easing breathing during sleep. Do not use as a facial massage oil for children and babies. Instead, pour a drop of myrtle oil on a cotton wool pad and place inside the pillow, or vaporise two drops of myrtle oil one hour before bedtime.

Mind-clearing room fragrance

Ravensara makes you feel remarkably clear headed and focused. If you are feeling indecisive or need to concentrate on an issue, burn a couple of drops of ravensara in an oil burner.

This post is dedicated to Joyce, who introduced me to the wonders of ravensara.

Profile of ravensara:

Latin name: Ravensara aromatica
Plant family: Lauraceae
Plant type: wood
Perfume note: middle

Botany and origins: red-barked tree growing up to 20m. Native to Madagascar and also cultivated in Reunion and Mauritius
Extraction: steam distillation of the leaves and twigs
Chemical properties/active components: rich in oxides (60 %) which exhibit good properties for the respiratory system. The Lauraceae family has a powerful stimulating action
Blends with: woody and medicinal essential oils, eg eucalyptus, myrtle, rosewood
Key actions: antiviral, bactericidal, expectorant, stimulating,
Common conditions: colds, chills, shivers, flu (preventative and treatment of), bronchitis, sinusitis, glandular fever, herpes virus, chicken pox, shingles; insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome; muscle aches and pains
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitising; do not use during pregnancy

Further reading: This profile is based on my own experience and knowledge of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9