Peppermint – the not so desperate housewife!

Peppermint is the Bree of the aromatherapy world. She runs a clean and efficient house, is super-organised and impeccable in appearance. She helps you to see clearly and is a calming presence no matter what the dilemma.

The grass-mint smell of peppermint has a profound effect on the mind and emotions, helping to clear and calm at the same time. This essential oil is great to use on-the-go as its fragrance can help to uplift and energise while also reducing nerves, stress or anxiety.

I particularly love using peppermint in summer months for its cooling effect on the skin. It’s a great addition to skin-care regimes when the weather is hot and the city feels dirty and muggy.

Clarifying skin oil

This cleanser is a great recipe to use to remove dirt and grime from your face at the end of a hot summer’s day in the city. It cleans deep down, declogs pores and helps to prevent blemishes. Simply blend:

  • 6 drops peppermint oil
  • 6 drops palmarosa oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil
  • 30ml jojoba oil

Store in a dark glass bottle, the blend will last for three months if kept out of direct sunlight. Massage a teaspoonful on your face and wipe off with a hot damp flannel. Repeat a second time.

Peppermint foot spray

Cool and relieve hot sweaty feet with a peppermint foot spray. Make a cup of peppermint tea and leave to cool overnight. Decant into an empty 100ml spray bottle. Add 20 drops peppermint oil and shake vigorously. Spray two to three times on your feet when needed, to refresh and deodorise. Also shake vigorously before each use. The spray will last one week if refrigerated regularly when not in use.

Stimulating scent

The scent of peppermint is both stimulating and soothing, making it the perfect oil to burn or vaporise when you are working. Pour 3 to 4 drops of peppermint oil in a burner. The oil is also expectorant and helps to clear congestion and aid easy-breathing.

If you are at work and can’t use a burner in the office, substitute the oil for the herb. Peppermint tea has an enlivening effect on the mind and also lowers stress. As an added bonus, it is great for your digestion – no work ulcers for you!

Peppermint has a zillion other uses, listed in the profile below. But as with all essential oils I’d advise that you don’t view it as your primary source of care for any common condition. Instead it can be used to complement conventional methods.

I particularly love this recipe recommended by Plume Perfume: invigorating peppermint-eucalyptus-body-wash.

This post is dedicated to Maria Davidova, who is an inspiration in every sense.

Profile of peppermint:

Latin name: Mentha piperita
Plant family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: a perennial herb growing up to 1m, with green stems and leaves (white peppermint) or dark green serrated leaves, purple stems and reddish-violet flowers (black peppermint); it is grown commonly in Europe and America and cultivated worldwide
Extraction: steam distillation of the flowering herb
Chemical properties/active components: high in alcohols (42%), including menthol and ketones (30%) including menthone
Blends with: benzoin, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, lemon, palmarosa and eucalyptus
Key actions: analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, expectorant, stomachic, vasoconstrictor, and a local anaesthetic action
Common conditions: nausea, vomiting, travel sickness, flatulence; clears head, aids concentration, relieves mental fatigue, headaches, migraine, nervous stress; sinus congestion, infection or inflammation, bronchitis, spasmodic coughs, colds (most useful at onset), flu, fevers; muscular pain; in skin care it can be used as a refreshing tonic in low dilutions (otherwise it may cause irritation), it cools and constricts the capillaries in steam treatment; also: acne, dermatitis, ringworm, and toothache
Contraindications: peppermint should be used in moderation. In low dilutions, it is non-toxic, non-irritant, but it may cause sensitisation. 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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It’s not cabbage! It’s ginger!

Your ginger friend has a silent fortitude. She is determined and motivated. She makes decisions and acts on them. There is no procrastination with ginger. She has a warm side to her personality too, which she uses to encourage, strengthen and support. If you are feeling indecisive or disassociated with life in general, turn to ginger.

My new supply of essential oils arrived this week, delivered to my place of work. In the absence of our managers At lunchtime a ‘show and smell’ session was enjoyed by a couple of my work mates. I couldn’t wait to open ginger oil with its warm and spicy scent. So imagine my utter disdain surprise when one of my work mates declared ‘That smells like cabbage’.

Ginger doesn’t smell like cabbage, but the scent of its essential oil is more concentrated and potent than the aroma of candied ginger or gingerbread with which you may be familiar. The trick to smelling essential oils from the bottle is to keep the bottle at a distance, about level with your chin, and wave it about slightly not shove it up your nostril allowing the aroma to delicately waft through the air.

Rant over Moving on, ginger is an exotic herb that has its origins in Asia and is now widely cultivated in other countries such as India, China and Japan. It’s an ugly-looking herb, admittedly, the root looking like a gnarly old man, although it does sometimes sprout pretty white or yellow flowers on a green spike-like stalk.

Ginger has a variety of uses as a herb and as an essential oil, so this week I’ve included a herbal remedy in my methods of use.

Ginger tea, ahh lovely

Ginger root makes a delicious tea that has many benefits. It eases nausea, indigestion, flatulence and travel or morning sickness (the herb, not oil, being safe to use in the first trimester of pregnancy). It’s good for colds and flu, sore throats, congestion, coughs, chills and so on. It’s a stimulant for debilitative conditions, apathy and fatigue. The brew is warming, strengthening and, for want of a better word, encouraging. To make:

  • chop 1 inch off the fresh root, wash and peel lightly
  • grate into a mug and pour over boiling water
  • add one teaspoon of honey or sugar, and stir
  • cover and leave to brew for five minutes
  • sip slowly and enjoy

If you have a bad cold add a slice or two of lemon to the above remedy. I force-fed kindly made this for my work mates one winter when a flu pandemic swept through the office.

Warming massage oil

Ginger is a very good essential oil for stimulating circulation and easing aches and pains in muscles. It’s great as a muscle rub on chilly days when your joints may be feeling achy and stiff. A 3% dilution is safe to use, but if you have sensitive skin do a patch test first. Blend in a dark-glass bottle:

  • 30ml carrier oil (a vegetable oil, eg sweet almond, olive or sunflower)
  • 18 drops ginger oil

Shake your blend well, then pour a little into your hand and massage over your aching limbs, using circular, outward movements until it’s absorbed by your skin.

Anti-aging skin oil

Ginger oil may not be the most obvious choice for beauty care, but surprisingly this essential oil does have some anti-aging benefits. It’s great if your complexion is looking tired, dull, grey and congested. It’s also thought to have antioxidant properties, so great for mature skins. I like to blend it with rose and frankincense oils to stimulate circulation and to give skin a radiant glow. Blend in a dark-glass bottle:

  • 30ml jojoba oil (my preferred choice of carrier for facial massage)
  • 7 drops frankincense oil
  • 7 drops rose oil
  • 4 drops ginger oil

Massage a teaspoonful on cleansed skin, avoiding the eye area. Do this for four to five minutes, then remove using a warm damp flannel.

This post is dedicated to Oisin, because he hates ginger.

Profile of ginger:

Latin name: Zingiber officinale
Plant family: Zingiberaceae
Plant type: spice
Perfume note: top/middle
Botany and origins: a perennial herb growing to about 1m high with a thick and tuberous root, annually it sprouts a green reed-like stalk with spear-shaped leaves and white or yellow flowers. It is native to southern Asia but cultivated in many countries including the West Indies, India, China and Japan
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: primarily sesquiterpenes (55%), including sesquiphellandrene, zingiberene and curcumene; sesquiterpenes are, among other actions, anti-inflammatory
Blends with: sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, frankincense, rosewood, cedarwood, rose, the orange oils and other citrus oils
Key actions: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, bactericidal, digestive, expectorant, rubefaciant (stimulates circulation of capillaries – tiny blood vessels), stimulant, strengthening, warming
Common conditions: poor circulation, cold hands and feet, arthritis, rheumatism, physical/muscular fatigue, muscular aches and pains, sprains and strains; poor digestion, flatulence, travel and morning sickness, indigestion, loss of appetite, nausea; catarrhal conditions, coughs, sinusitis, congestion, chills, colds, flu, debility; nervous exhaustion, apathy, indecision, emotional fatigue
Contraindications: non-toxic and non-irritant, although it may irritate sensitive skins and cause sensitisation in some. Avoid during the first three months of pregnancy (although ginger root tea is helpful and safe to use for morning sickness)
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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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