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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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