Palmarosa – sweet!

A rainbow personality – palmarosa essential oil

Palmarosa is the friend who gives you the freedom to change. She does not expect you to be as you were yesterday or the day before. She accepts who you are in the present moment and who you will become in the next.

Palmarosa is one of my favourite essential oils. It is lovely to use for skin care. It has a sugary, sweet fragrance – if using in a perfume blend, add sparingly.

Palmarosa is one of the most useful essential oils for skin care. It is antiseptic and bactericidal, which makes it an effective treatment for acne and minor skin infections. It balances the production of sebum (the skin’s natural oil) and so helps to prevent breakouts. It is hydrating and toning, which makes it useful for dry, dehydrated or undernourished skin. It is cicatrisant, which means it can stimulate cellular regeneration and can be used to treat scars or wrinkles. It is an all-round beauty oil!

Palmarosa cleansing oil for problem skin

After a long hot summer’s day, I use this blend to cleanse my skin. It cools as well as deep cleanses and helps prevent breakouts during hot and humid weather.

  • 30ml jojoba oil
  • 6 drops palmarosa oil
  • 6 drops peppermint oil
  • 6 drops tea tree oil

Store the blend in a dark glass jar and use it daily for a month (the shelf life of your blend). To cleanse, massage on a teaspoonful then remove with a hot cloth, and repeat. The first cleanse removes surface make up and dirt, and the second cleanse removes deep-down dirt clogging pores. Apply this philosophy to any nightly beauty regime – especially if you live in London!

Palmarosa-perfecting blend

This blend can be used on skin that feels dry and undernourished, or as an all-round anti-aging oil. It revives skin and restores a glow to the complexion. It can also be used daily to massage on scars and to help improve their appearance over time. Expect to notice an improvement in scars or red acne marks in 6–8 months.

  • 30ml rosehip oil
  • 6 drops palmarosa oil
  • 6 drops rosewood oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil

Massage a teaspoonful of this blend on your face at night after cleansing. Once the blend has been absorbed you can use your usual night cream.

Soothing bath oil

Palmarosa is also good for emotional conditions of nervousness, stress and anxiety. Combine with lavender and geranium in a bath oil. Pour this blend into the bath after it has run and swoosh around before getting in.

  • 20ml olive oil
  • 4 drops palmarosa oil
  • 4 drops lavender oil
  • 4 drops geranium oil

This post is dedicated to my lovely friend Marion Two-Puddings Davies, who is a true free spirit and accepts you as you are

Profile of palmarosa

Latin name: Cymbopogon martinii
Plant family: Graminaceae
Plant type: grass
Perfune note: middle
Botany: a grass with slender stems, fragrant grassy leaves and flowering tops. It is native to India and Pakistan, although now grown in Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and the Comoro Islands
Extraction: water or steam distillation of the fresh or dried grass
Chemical properties/active components: high in alcohols (85%) with active constituents including geraniol (antiseptic, antiviral, uplifting) and linalool (stimulating, tonic)
Blends with: cedarwood, lavender, geranium, peppermint, rosewood, sandalwood
Key actions: antiseptic, bactericidal, cicatrisant, comforting, hydrating, stimulant, stabilising
Common conditions: balances sebum production, stimulates cellular regeneration, acne, dermatitis, minor skin infections, dry and undernourished skin, scars, wrinkles; stress, restlessness, anxiety, nervous exhaustion, encourages adaptability and brings feelings of security, soothes feelings of nervousness
Contraindications: Palmarosa is non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising.
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 © 123RF

Frankie, oh Frankie!

Frankie is the friend who picks you up, dusts you off and puts you back on the road again. She encourages you to put the past behind you, focus on the present and to make a new start.

If you feel like the past is holding you back, old or recent wounds have left you feeling fragile and vulnerable, and you are afraid to set off on new paths, then frankincense is the essential oil you need.

Patricia Davis says that frankincense can ‘help break links with the past and may be very valuable to people who tend to dwell on past events, to the detriment of their present situation’. Grief, heartbreak and fear are all emotions that can hold you back. Frankincense helps to cleanse your emotions, dispels negativity and fills you with inspiration. It puts you back on track.

Oil of meditation and tranquility

Frankincense (olibanum) has been used for centuries in meditation and ritual. Its incense filled temples and churches, creating an atmosphere of tranquil contemplation. Its scent slows and deepens the breath, helping to prepare the body for a meditative state. Only a few drops are needed in an oil burner – its effects are quite powerful.

Respiratory complaints

Frankincense is thought to be helpful for respiratory complaints – easing coughs and helping to open respiratory passages. To use, rub on the upper chest in a blend of 10ml petroleum jelly and 5 drops frankincense oil. This is a soothing blend to use at night to aid sleep.

Rejuvenating skin oil

Let’s not forget frankincense’s age-old use in beauty. It has long been valued in skin care for its rejuvenating, nourishing and moisturising properties, even helping to prevent and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. Use the blend below as a nightly oil to massage onto skin, and wake up with a glowing and radiant complexion. After a few weeks of regular use you will really notice the difference – your skin will look firmer, smoother and more toned.

  • 6 drops frankincense oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil
  • 6 drops neroli oil
  • 30ml jojoba oil

Be inspired

My favourite way to use frankincense is as a bath oil. Run a warm bath, then add 10ml olive oil mixed with 6 drops frankincense oil and slosh around. Get in, relax, truly unwind and allow your mind to wander as frankincense inspires thoughts and dreams.

This blog post is dedicated to Yazzy Que, who recently picked me up, dusted me off and put me back on the road again.

Profile of frankincense:

Latin name: Boswellia ssp
Plant family: Burseraceae
Plant type: resin
Perfume note: base
Botany and origins: also known as olibanum, frankincense is the resin of the bark of a small tree with pinnate leaves and white or pale pink flowers. It is native to western India, southern Arabia and north-eastern Africa; major producers of frankincense are Somalia and Ethiopia
Extraction: steam distillation of the resin
Chemical properties/active components: 40% monoterpene hydrocarbons, including pinene, terpinene, myrcene, cymene and limonene
Blends with: sandalwood, pine, vetiver, geranium, lavender, neroli, rose, sweet orange, bergmot, basil, black pepper, cinnamon, cedarwood, rosewood and other spices
Key actions: antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, anti-oxidant, cytophylactic, expectorant, mucolytic, regenerative; deepens the breath, and calms and stills the mind
Common conditions: anxiety, nervous tension, stress; bronchitis, catarrhal conditions; dry, oily and mature skin, wrinkles, scars
Contraindications: frankincense is non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. Avoid during the 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 © 123RF

Rose – the queen of essential oils

Some friends walk into our lives just when we most need them. They open our hearts to love and friendship, and restore our faith in ourselves.

These days when I hear the name ‘Rose’ my mind immediately makes the connection to Rose Tyler – fiesty, fearless and loyal companion of the Doctor. Rose walked into the Doctor’s life at a time when he had lost faith in the universe and in himself – and restored it, capturing the heart of the Time Lord in the process.

These are the qualities of rose essential oil. Often called the ‘queen of essential oils’ by aromatherapists, its fragrance is warm and nurturing. Rose is a ‘mothering’ oil. She opens our hearts to giving and receiving love, and allows us to believe in ourselves and others. She is also a luxurious and sensual oil – a flower of Aphrodite and Venus, her scent is thought to act as an aphrodisiac.

Otto or absolute?

In aromatherapy you can buy two types of rose essential oil – Rosa damascena (rose otto) and Rosa centifolia (rose absolute). The first is the only ‘true’ essential oil because it is extracted from rose petals by steam distillation. The second is extracted by solvent extraction and is an ‘absolute’. But both smell gorgeous and are delightful to use. The only real difference is to your purse – rose otto is significantly more expensive. The botany and actions of both are provided in the summary profile below.

Beautiful skin

Rose is one of the most luxurious oils you can add to your skincare routine. It has long been used to restore a youthful bloom to mature or prematurely aging skins. It hydrates, stimulates and softens the skin. It is also helpful for dry or sensitive skins, being anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent. Use rose oil in facial massage at 3% dilution for dry and itchy skin, skin rashes, eczema and even for broken capillaries, because it helps to reduce skin redness.

  • 5ml apricot or peach kernel oil
  • 3 drops rose oil (otto or absolute)

A personal favourite anti-aging and rejuvenating blend of mine is given below. Massage a teaspoon amount on your face, nightly for one month, to achieve best results.

  • 20ml jojoba oil
  • 10ml evening primrose oil
  • 6 drops rose otto oil
  • 4 drops lavender oil
  • 6 drops neroli oil
  • 2 drops frankincense oil

Women’s health

Rose is thought to be a feminine oil and is used in aromatherapy to treat gynaecological problems, particularly to regulate menstruation or to relieve menstrual cramps and excessive bleeding. To treat such conditions, it is usually massaged on the abdomen. However, I would offer a word of caution when using rose oil, or any other essential oil or natural remedy, for ‘women’s problems’. It can be helpful for women suffering mild irregularities, but for those who have a more serious condition, such as menorrhagia (excessive bleeding leading to haemorrhaging and clotting) medical advice from a GP should be sought to diagnose the underlying causes. The NHS website provides useful advice for women.

Digestive system

Surprisingly, rose oil is thought to be good for the digestive system. I remember my aromatherapy tutor told us that inhaling rose oil can help to regulate a poor appetite and that massaging the lower back with rose oil can help to alleviate constipation. I also remember she told us that, at around £50 per 5ml of pure rose otto, it would be cheaper to drink a cup of ginger or mint tea.

The oil for special occasions

If you are going to treat yourself to rose oil reserve its use for beauty care and relaxation – two uses in which it excels. If you can’t afford to buy the pure essential oil there are many aromatherapy suppliers that offer rose oil ready-blended for use in massage. Essentially Oils offer rose otto or absolute in 5% dilution in jojoba oil at very reasonable prices.

To burn rose oil you only need about three drops in a vaporiser to work its subtle magic. Rose oil is thought to relieve depression (mild), sedate the nervous system, release anger, despair and frustration, banish fear and bring comfort. It nurtures your emotional self.

If the fragrance is too subtle and you wish to enhance it, but not use up your oil too quickly, add one drop of geranium oil to your burner. Geranium enhances and complements the fragrance of rose.

Enjoy.

This post is dedicated to Marina, who walked into my life just when I needed her most and is a dear friend.

Profile of rose:

Latin name: Rosa damascena (rose otto) and Rosa centifolia (rose absolute)
Plant family: Rosaceae
Plant type: floral
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: Rosa damascena is a prickly shrub with fragrant pink blooms and whitish fuzzy leaves; Rosa centifolia is an oil extracted from a hybrid plant called rose de mai (Rosa centifolia (pink rose) and Rosa gallica (red rose)).
Extraction: the otto is extracted by steam distillation, the absolute from solvent extraction
Chemical properties/active components: where to begin – rose oil has more than 300 active chemical constituents which science has yet to crack and replicate in synthetic form. How d’ya like them apples, science boys!
Blends with: almost all essential oils, try it with lemongrass for a delicious, summer room fragrance
Key actions: antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, antiseptic, astringent, antispasmodic, antiviral, calming, circulatory stimulant, comforting, emollient, hydrating, laxative, loving, regulating, sedative, softening, stimulating, uplifting
Common conditions: primarily useful for skin care (mature, dry, sensitive, itchy, irritated, reddened, eczema, rashes and broken capillaries); and for its emotional effects (antidepressant, uplifting, refreshing, irritability, heart palpitations, insomnia, anger, dispair, frustration, fear); it is also thought to be useful for gynaelogical irregularities, and toning and stimulating to both the digestive and circulatory system
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitising. However, it is advised to avoid during pregnancy. In my personal experience, I’ve found that rose oil can cause irritation for people with very sensitive skins or just as an idiosyncratic (individual) reaction. Therefore, as with all essential oils, it is advisable to patch test before general use.
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 © 123RF

The oils of the orange tree

Blown in from Neverland on the breeze of children’s laughter, the oils of the orange tree are forever young. They bring warmth, cheer and optimism, their innocence and happiness connects with your inner child.

With spring in the air, trees in blossom and summer on its way, I’ve been living with aromatherapy’s cheeriest and sunniest oils – the oils of the orange tree: sweet orange, petitgrain, neroli and mandarin.

The first three oils hail from the same small evergreen tree (Citrus aurantium var amara or Bigaradia) and are extracted from its fruit (sweet orange), leaves and twigs (petitgrain) and blossom or flowers (neroli). Mandarin is extracted from the fruit of another evergreen (C. reticulata). Both trees are natives of China and India, though their treasures are now distributed worldwide.

As with all essential oils, the orange oils have a variety of uses. I’ve described some of my favourite here. Summary profiles of all four oils, listing actions and uses, are provided at the end of this post. One property the orange oils have in common is their ability to calm nerves, to reduce tension and to uplift moods.

A children’s remedy

Mandarin, and sweet orange, is often referred to as the ‘children’s remedy’. Its scent is sweet and fruity, making it pleasing and comforting to babies and children. Its actions are subtle and gentle, making it very safe to use. A soothing and slightly sedative mandarin-scented bath can be used for babies after six months. It’s best to use the lowest dilutions for babies and children, even when using the gentlest of essential oils. The blend below is a 1% dilution:

  • 10ml full-fat milk
  • 2 drops mandarin oil

Run your baby’s bath, then slosh in the milk and mandarin oil blend, making sure it’s distributed thoroughly in the water. Now bathe your child and let them enjoy the subtle orange-like fragrance to aid a good night’s sleep.

Mothers to be

There are many aromatherapists that specialise in aromatherapy for pregnancy – I am not one of them. And while there are many aromatherapy books on the subject, their advice often varies. With this in mind, and preferring to err on the side of caution, I am guided by these three recommendations:

  1. Don’t use essential oils during the first trimester
  2. Only use one or two essential oils in a blend and always at a 1% dilution (ie 5 ml carrier product to one drop essential oil)
  3. Always ask your medical practitioner (GP or midwife) before using aromatherapy treatments, especially if there is a prior history of miscarriage and/or other medical complications in this or any previous pregnancy

Safety bit out of the way, the orange oils are lovely for mothers to be – in baths, room fragrances or massage. Daily massage the blend below onto your tummy using gentle circular movements:

  • 10ml olive oil
  • 1 drop neroli oil
  • 1 drop mandarin oil

If used everyday from the second trimester this blend is thought to help prevent or minimise stretch marks.

Spring cleaning

I love blending sweet orange and petitgrain, creating a sweet, fruity, citrus, woody aroma. It’s perfect for use during spring cleaning. When doing my laundry I like to use it to scent towels and bed linen. Pour three drops each into your cup of washing powder or onto laundry tablets, allowing the oils to soak into the powder before placing in the drawer or drum of your washing machine. Your laundry will come out with a lovely subtle orangey fragrance.

For a room fragrance, fill a 30ml spray bottle with water and pour in 9 drops each of sweet orange and petitgrain. Shake vigorously and then spray around the room, especially around curtains and carpets to let the fabrics pick up the scent.

The flower of the princess

Finally, my favourite of the orange oils is neroli – typically the most luxuriant and expensive of these essential oils. It was the favoured perfume oil of Anne Marie Orsini, a 17th-century princess of Nerola (Rome, Italy) who famously used it to fragrance her gloves. Its benefits to skin include helping to stimulate new cell growth, minimise scars and stretch marks, reduce thread veins and broken capillaries, and soothe dry or irritated conditions. It’s a wonderful anti-aging and rejuvenating oil. Use on its own in a 5% dilution (unless pregnant) blended in jojoba oil, or in the blend below for nightly facial massage:

  • 30ml jojoba oil
  • 6 drops neroli oil
  • 6 drops rose otto oil
  • 6 drops frankincense oil

Massage a teaspoonful on cleansed and dry skin, avoiding the eye area. After two to three weeks of use you should notice your skin is looking younger, fresher and more radiant.

This post is dedicated to Kim, whose inner child is alive and well.

Profile of sweet orange:

Latin name: Citrus sinensis
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: citrus
Perfume note: top/middle
Botany and origins: a small evergreen tree native to China and India (Citrus aurantium var amara or Bigaradia)
Extraction: cold expression of the fruit peel
Chemical properties/active components: primarily monoterpenes (75%), particularly limonene, which is stimulating, bactericidal, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory
Blends with: lavender, clary sage, frankincense, myrrh, rose, chamomiles, citrus and spice oils
Key actions: antidepressant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, fungicidal, sedative (nervous system) and stimulant (to body tissues and fluid)
Common conditions: cramps, constipation, flatulence; colds and flu, chills; heart palpitations, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, stress; dry and irritated skin, acne, mature skin, dull and oily complexions
Contraindications: non-irritant, non-sensitising, but may be phototoxic – avoid using 12 hours before exposure to sunlight or sunbeds. Avoid during the first three months of pregnancy.

Profile of petitgrain:

Latin name: Citrus aurantium var amara
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: floral
Perfume note: top
Botany and origins: a small evergreen tree native to China and India (Citrus aurantium var amara or Bigaradia)
Extraction: steam distillation of the leaves and twigs
Chemical properties/active components: primarily esters (55%), particularly linalyl acetate, which is antispasmodic, calming and toning
Blends with: lavender, geranium, rosemary, palmarosa, jasmine and the other orange oils
Key actions: antispasmodic, antiseptic, astringent, bactericidal, uplifts, refreshes, restorative, stabilises
Common conditions: nervous exhaustion, stress, depression, insomnia, irritability, anxiety; tones oily skin and hair, congested complexions, acne, promotes hair growth
Contraindications: non-irritant, non-toxic, non-sensitising – avoid during the first three months of pregnancy.

Profile of neroli:

Latin name: Citrus aurantium var amara
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: floral
Perfume note: top
Botany and origins: a small evergreen tree native to China and India (Citrus aurantium var amara or Bigaradia)
Extraction: steam distillation of the blossom flowers
Chemical properties/active components: primarily alcohols (40%) such as linalool and monoterpenes (35%) such as limonene, which contribute to its bactericidal and antiseptic actions
Blends with: chamomiles, lavender, rose, frankincense, palmarosa, geranium, jasmine, ylang ylang, clary sage, benzoin, myrrh and most other floral and citrus oils
Key actions: antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, bactericidal, aphrodisiac, sedative
Common conditions: heart palpitations, poor circulation, muscle spasms; nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia, nervous exhaustion, depression, agitation, PMS, shock, stress; red/dry/irritated skin, broken capillaries, thread veins, mature skins, scars, stretch marks
Contraindications: non-irritant, non-sensitising – avoid during the first three months of pregnancy.

Profile of mandarin:

Latin name: Citrus reticulata
Plant family: Rutaceae
Plant type: citrus
Perfume note: top/middle
Botany and origins: a small evergreen tree native to China and India (Citrus reticulata)
Extraction: cold expression of fruit peel
Chemical properties/active components: primarily monoterpenes (90%), particularly limonene which is stimulating, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory
Blends with: the orange oils, citrus oils and spice oils
Key actions: antispasmodic, antiseptic, stimulant (digestion), sedative (nerves), cheering, optimistic and comforting
Common conditions: calms intestinal spasms and upsets, flatulence; insomnia, nervous tension, restlessness; fluid retention, cellulite, stretch marks, acne, oily and congested skins, scars, spots
Contraindications: non-irritant, non-sensitising, non-toxic, non-photosensitising – avoid during the first three months of pregnancy.

Further reading: These profiles are based on my own experience and knowledge of using these essential oils. 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 © 123RF

The chamomile sisters

The chamomile sisters are kind and gentle, sensible and reliable. But this is where their similarities end. Blue is the practical sort, she is down-to-earth and takes a no-nonsense approach to life. Like a caring but firm matron, she steps in to sort things out and provides emotional strength. Roman takes a softer, subtler approach. She is the listener and comforter. Wherever a storm is brewing she enters with serenity and sunshine to cast the clouds away.

This week I decided to use two essential oils. So similar are the chamomiles in their therapeutic actions that it hardly seemed worth separating them. There is a third chamomile – Moroccan chamomile (Ormensis mixta) – although blue and roman are more commonly used in aromatherapy.

The only thing that separates these two oils, in my mind, is their fragrance. Roman chamomile has a sweet, floral, almost fruity fragrance, reminiscent of apple blossom. Blue chamomile has a strong, overpowering and herbaceous aroma – it’s an acquired taste, one I’ve not acquired.

Both herbs yield their oils by steam distillation of their small, delicate, white daisy-like flowers. Blue is an annual herb growing to about 60cm, with a hairless stem and feathery leaves, and roman is perennial, growing to about 25cm with a hairy stem and feathery leaves.

Traditionally the chamomiles are known as the ‘children’s remedy’. They are among the gentlest oils you can use for babies, children and for those with sensitive skins. For obvious reasons, I prefer to use roman chamomile for children’s remedies and skin care. Most people find its scent more pleasant than blue, and an aromatherapy blend is as much about the aesthetics as it is about healing.

Chamomile compress

Both chamomiles have a strong anti-inflammatory action. They are helpful for muscular aches and pains, sprains, inflamed joints and torn tendons, or for irritated, inflamed skin, rheumatism and arthritis. I often blend chamomile for backache with other anti-inflammatory oils such as lavender.

However, I’ve found blue to be the more anti-inflammatory of the two, so, with nose peg in place, this is how you make a hot chamomile compress.

You’ll need:

  • shallow bowl filled with near boiling water
  • blue chamomile oil
  • clean flannel
  • clean towels

Add five to six drops blue chamomile to the water and hold your flannel taut over the bowl until it just skims the water surface, absorbing the oil. Carefully raise the cloth (it should not be dripping) and lower slowly onto skin to allow adjustment to the heat. For example, place on an aching shoulder muscle. Then wrap the compress and that area of your body in a towel and leave for five to 10 minutes.

Hot compresses are suitable for relieving chronic pain (for example, people who chronically suffer from a bad back), menstrual cramps, to draw out infection or splinters, and for general aches and pains. Cold compresses are better for first aid use on muscle injuries such as sprains, inflammations or for acute pain or irritated skin. For a cold compress substitute the above method for a bowl of iced water. For severe injuries or persistent pain always contact a medical practitioner.

Soothing and calming

Roman’s turn. Roman chamomile is lovely to use in skin care because of its sweet floral fragrance, calming effects on the mind and soothing action on sensitive or inflamed skins. I gave this blend to a friend for a nightly facial massage oil to prevent skin breakouts during a period of stress. She found it kept her skin clear and also helped her to sleep peacefully.

Blend 30ml jojoba oil with 6 drops roman chamomile, 6 drops lavender and 6 drops geranium. Massage a teaspoonful on face and neck after cleansing your skin.

Blue and orange, roman and vanilla

For blending tips, I’ve found that blue chamomile blends very well with sweet orange or mandarin oils – in a ratio of orange 2:blue chamomile 1. The sweet zesty scent of orange offsets the strong herby aroma of blue chamomile and makes it much more palatable to use. Carry out a patch test before using sweet orange as it may irritate some sensitive skins.

After receiving some enquiries from a friend about using vanilla oil (an oil little-used in aromatherapy) I decided to explore its use with roman chamomile. They complement each other in equal ratios for a charming, warming and comforting room fragrance.

The chamomiles are among those essential oils whose uses for common everyday conditions are so varied that it would take too long to write them all here. The profiles below provide a summary of their actions and methods of use.

This post is dedicated to Sarah Bee, because she is an oasis of calm.

Profile of blue chamomile:

Latin name: Matricaria recutica
Plant family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: originally grown in Germany (it is also called German chamomile) it is native to Europe, north and west Asia and is also grown in North America, Australia and eastern Europe
Extraction: steam distillation is the most common method, although an absolute can be produced
Chemical properties/active components: 35% sesquiterpenes, which are calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory; main active constituent is chamazulene (sesquiterpene)
Blends with: orange oils, chamomiles, patchouli, geranium and lavender
Key actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bactericidal, calming, soothing, sedative
Common conditions: a children’s remedy to aid sleep; nausea, muscular pains and spasms, rheumatism and arthritis, sprains, inflamed joints and tendons; soothes dry, sensitive and irritated or itching skin, acne, allergies, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, rashes, insect bites and wounds
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-sensitising and non-irritant. It is reportedly an emmenagogue (promotes menstruation); avoid during pregnancy.

Profile of roman chamomile:

Latin name: Anthemis nobilis
Plant family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: native to south and west Europe, it is also grown in England, Belgium, France, Italy, Hungary and North America
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: 75% esters (particularly active constituents are angelates responsible for its anti-inflammatory actions)
Blends with: orange oils, citrus oils, floral oils, herb oils – and vanilla!
Key actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bactericidal, calming, soothing, sedative
Common conditions: a children’s remedy to aid sleep and soothe irritated skin; nausea, menstrual pain and PMS; muscular pain, rheumatism, arthritis, sprains, inflamed joints; acne, allergic skin reactions, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, inflamed skin, insect bites, rashes, sensitive skin; headaches, depression, nervous tension, insomnia, migraine, stress, irritability and restlessness
Contraindications: non-toxic and non-irritant, although it may irritate very sensitive skins. It is reportedly an emmenagogue (promotes menstruation); avoid during pregnancy.

Further reading: These profiles are based on my own experience and knowledge of using these essential oils. 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 © 123RF

Lights! Camera! Action! It’s jasmine!

Jasmine was the girl at school ‘most likely to become a movie star’. She is confident, outgoing, sophisticated and glamorous. She has an inner luminosity that brings inspiration and courage to those that fall within her sphere.

Jasmine is a delicate and beautiful plant, reminiscent of warm and dusky summer evenings. It is an evergreen vine, or shrub, with small shiny green leaves and white star-shaped flowers, which release their most potent aroma at night.

Traditionally jasmine has been used as an aphrodisiac in perfume oils and as a tonic for women during menstruation and childbirth. It has many other uses such as relaxing tense muscles and spasms, and relieving catarrh and coughs (although there are cheaper oils that can do this just as effectively, eg lavender and myrtle oils respectively). Jasmine is also thought to be an antidepressant.

I have always found the fragrance of jasmine to be enchanting and spellbinding. Jasmine casts a spell that allows you to believe in yourself, it creates confidence and dispels lethargy and doubt. Jasmine is the friend who pushes you out of your comfort zone and encourages you to reach for your dreams.

Air of inspiration

In spring and summer months I like to burn jasmine oil in the early morning, just as the sun is waking up. The rich scent weaves its magic into the smells of dawn and dew, creating an inspiring air. It awakens the mind and a spark of creativity, dispelling lethargy or self doubt.

For inspiration pour four to five drops of jasmine oil into your oil burner. Light the candle and prepare to be spellbound!

Enchanting hair oil

Jasmine has been used for centuries in India to fragrance hair. To create an enchanting hair conditioning oil you’ll need:

  • medium-sized dark glass jar
  • 100ml coconut oil
  • 60 drops jasmine oil

Melt the coconut oil by putting it in a bowl and standing the bowl in boiling water. When the oil has melted to liquid form pour in your jasmine oil and stir. Quickly pour your blend into the dark glass jar before the coconut oil sets again.

To use, get a teaspoon amount of your jasmine-fragranced coconut oil and massage into your scalp, combing through the lengths of your hair. Cover with a warm towel and leave for 30 minutes. Then shampoo and rinse out. The coconut oil nourishes hair and jasmine leaves it subtly fragranced.

In summer, I also like to buy unscented shampoos and conditioners and create my own scent by adding jasmine oil. Use the same dilutions for jasmine coconut oil – 100ml unscented shampoo or conditioner to 60 drops jasmine oil. Always store your blend in dark glass, because essential oils can corrode plastic containers.

Romantic bathing oil

Jasmine is warming, comforting and soothing. Its fragrance calms nervous tension and anxiety, soothes feelings of restlessness and provides feelings of encouragement and self belief. Its aroma is also perfect for setting a romantic mood.

For a luxurious bath, run your bath water then pour in a blend of 20ml olive oil and 20 drops jasmine oil. This is a 5% dilution that may be used in baths. Enjoy.

This post is dedicated to Lisa, because, like jasmine, she’s a star!

Profile of jasmine:

Latin name: Jasminum officinale
Plant family: Oleaceae
Plant type: floral
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: originally native to China, west Asia and north India; also cultivated in the Mediterranean and France
Extraction: solvent extraction to produce jasmine absolute or steam distillation to produce jasmine essential oil
Chemical properties/active components: 54% esters including benzyl acetate and benzyl benzoate; its main volatile constituent is benzyl acetate
Blends with: rose, sandalwood, clary sage and all citrus oils
Key actions: aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, analgesic, expectorant, stimulant, soothing
Common conditions: skin care for dry, irritated and sensitive skins, and for oily skins; depression, lethargy, nervous anxiety, restlessness and tension
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-sensitising and non-irritant. 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

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Myrtle, the quiet one

Myrtle is your shy friend. She is quiet and unassuming, often fading into the background. Her nature is humble and pure. When life leaves you feeling a little grey, myrtle will reveal her inner radiance and help you to shake off the cobwebs, allowing you to shine once more.

Myrtle is a subtle and charming plant. It originates from the Mediterranean and grows like a shrub or small tree, with oval and shiny dark green leaves. If you’re lucky your myrtle will bloom delicate white flowers, which will eventually turn into edible dark berries.

There are many myths surrounding myrtle, but the most enduring is that of the goddess Venus and her priestess Myrene. Myrene, a favoured priestess of Venus, took a secret lover and the goddess, angered by her priestess’s indiscretion, killed the young man and turned Myrene into a myrtle tree. Since then myrtle has always been planted by temples of Venus and eventually became a symbol of the love goddess.

Myrtle is a particular favourite of mine because it was the subject of my plant study during my training as an aromatherapist. As a result my mother’s garden is now home to two myrtle plants, which have, as yet, survived assault from our leonberger Mackie.

Easy breathing

Myrtle is helpful for respiratory problems. It has an expectorant action, helping to ease breathing when you have a cold or flu. Its scent is less obtrusive than eucalyptus oil and so it tends to be tolerated better by babies and young children. Its effects are also slightly sedative.

I gave a bottle of myrtle oil to a friend of mine when his baby son was suffering from a persistent cold and having trouble sleeping due to a stuffy nose. I advised dropping a little myrtle oil onto the corner of his pillow, and vapourising the oil in the room about half an hour before bedtime. He reported back that his baby son slept soundly and peacefully through the night for the first time since catching the cold.

Of course, I always like to mention when recommending aromatherapy for children that their primary source of healthcare should be from a medical practitioner (your GP), and a complementary method used only as a helping hand.

Radiant skin oil

After winter I always feel that my skin looks a little grey. To brighten my complexion for spring, I like to make a facial wash using myrtle oil. You’ll need:

  • a medium-sized dark-glass jar with a screw-top lid
  • 50ml aloe vera gel
  • 25ml olive oil
  • 30 drops myrtle oil
  • sterilised teaspoon (stirrer)

Whisk the aloe vera gel and olive oil in the jar with your teaspoon (use the handle of the teaspoon if this is easier) until you have a white-coloured gel. Add 30 drops myrtle oil and stir well again.

You can now use this blend as a simple gel-based facial wash every morning. Remove with a warm cotton flannel. Myrtle oil’s astringent and restorative properties will brighten skin, and clarify and tighten pores.

Purifying fragrance

Myrtle oil is a good choice for lifting your mood and dispelling dark thoughts or negative energy. The effects of its fragrance when burned in a room are uplifting and purifying. With spring on its way, I burned myrtle at home this week to banish negative stale energies and to welcome in positive emotions for the new season, such as optimism and hope.

This post is dedicated to Gosia, whose inner radiance shines like myrtle.

Profile of myrtle:

Latin name: Myrtus communis
Plant family: Myrtaceae
Plant type: floral
Perfume note: top/middle
Botany and origins: a small evergreen shrub with oval-shaped dark green leaves, small white flowers and edible blue-black berries; originally native to the Mediterranean.
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: primarily cineol (oxide), helpful for respiratory problems
Blends with: bergamot, lavandin, lavender, rosemary, clary sage, lime, ginger and other spice oils
Key actions: astringent, antiseptic, bactericidal
Common conditions: acne, oily skin, large pores; asthma, bronchitis, chronic coughs, colds and flu; bladder infections
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-sensitising and non-irritant. As with most essential oils, it’s advisable to avoid during the first three months of pregnancy. Thereafter, it may be helpful for skin problems.
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 © Mauro Rodrigues / 123RF

Living with lavender

Your lavender friend is empathetic and compassionate. She is motherly and supportive. If you need a friendly hug, an understanding smile or a shoulder to cry on, turn to lavender.

I studied aromatherapy with Neal’s Yard Remedies Ltd, Covent Garden, London. My tutor, Joyce West, taught us to ‘live with the essential oils’. Each week, we chose an essential oil to use as a fragrance, in skin care and massage, for bathing oils and other recipes. ‘Live with an essential oil’ said Joyce, ‘From morning till night immerse yourself in its aroma and personality’. I live with the essential oils.

For my first post on this blog, this week I have been living with lavender essential oil, one of the most versatile and popularly used oils in aromatherapy. There are different types of lavender oil and the one described here is true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It has a distinctive and familiar sweetly floral and herbaceous aroma. Its lance-shaped leaves with spears of purple flowers are easily recognised in most gardens.

Lavender is often credited with the revitalisation of modern aromatherapy. The discovery of its healing properties in a laboratory accident by French chemist Rene Gattefosse is recited in almost every book about aromatherapy. Gattefosse accidentally burned his hand and immersed it in lavender oil. He discovered that the oil eased the pain of the burn and facilitated skin healing without leaving a scar.

I always keep a bottle of lavender oil in my kitchen cupboard, because of its remarkable skin-healing properties. Lavender is helpful for many skin conditions (spots, acne, eczema, infections, burns, sunburn, insect bites, inflammation and wounds to name a few) and its gentle but effective actions make it suitable for most skin types, even sensitive.

A cleansing skin oil

I added lavender to my skin-care routine this week, blending 15 drops lavender essential oil with 15 drops geranium essential oil in 30ml olive oil to use as a skin cleanser. The blend effectively removes all traces of make up, and all the dirt and grime of daily life in the city.

To use an oil-based cleanser, pour a teaspoonful on the palm of your hand and massage on your face for two to three minutes. Wipe off with a fairly hot cotton flannel. Repeat. The first cleanse removes surface dirt, while the second cleanse removes deep-down dirt clogged in pores.

Using lavender oil in my evening skin-care routine has the added benefit of relaxing me at the end of a hectic day. Inhaling the fragrance of lavender calms and soothes stressed-out nerves and overactive minds.

Relaxing and revitalising bath

After a bit of bad news this week, I turned to lavender oil for comfort and reassurance. Lavender is a wonderful oil to use in times of despair, grief or frustration. If you have had a recent shock, use lavender oil to calm your nerves and regain emotional balance.

While running a bath, blend 10 drops lavender oil with 10ml full-fat milk or cream. Don’t use skimmed milk as the essential oil needs to bind with fat to blend. When your bath is run, pour in the blend and slosh around. Get in and literally immerse yourself in the relaxing fragrance of lavender, allowing this motherly essential oil to restore your inner harmony.

Sweet dreams

Finally, for a good night’s sleep and to awake feeling refreshed and re-invigorated, pour three to four drops of lavender oil on the corner of your pillow. Its soothing aroma will gently drift you off to sleep.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Antonië Ursula Dees, who introduced me to aromatherapy and a world of fragrances.

Profile of lavender:

Latin name: Lavandula angustifolia
Plant family: Labiatae or Lamiaceae
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, now cultivated worldwide
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: 45% esters (linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate), which are wound healing and anti-inflammatory; rich in alcohols (linalool), which are stimulating, powerful and gentle
Blends with: almost all essential oils
Key actions: antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, cytophylactic (stimulates skin renewal and wound healing, helps prevent scarring), decongestant (mild), sedative or stimulating
Common conditions: anxiety, agitation, depression, frustration, irritability, nervous tension, shock, stress; insomnia, headaches; high blood pressure, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism and arthritis, strains and sprains; colds and ‘flu; cystitis; acne, burns, eczema, inflammation, insect bites, skin infections, spots, sunburn, wounds
Contraindications: lavender is reportedly non-toxic and non-sensitising but it is advised to avoid during the 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 by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © Goh Siok Hian / 123RF