The red-headed queen of the Diamond Jubilee

‘For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.’ The moment a princess became a queen, by Rosie Waites, BBC News Magazine 

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee brought street parties with red, white and blue bunting this weekend to mark 60 years of HRH. As the queen is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians where I work, we celebrated Jubilee Day last week and held a charity cake sale with all the proceeds going towards the Prince’s Trust. There was traditional English food on offer in the buttery including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

At the apiary on Saturday there was also lots of cake, which is not that unusual. I had brought a cake from my holiday in Rome called ‘Dolce del Papa’, or ‘Dessert of the Pope’, which I was bemused to see John Chapple, the queen’s beekeeper, eyeing a bit suspiciously before taking a slice.

Dessert of the pope – it’s heavenly delightful!

Emily and me had our own queen to celebrate – a beautiful bright orange virgin which had been spotted by Emily in our swarmed hive while I was in Italy. To our delight, the queen’s enlarged abdomen indicated that she had mated and she was happily running round the comb being attended by her revenue of ladies-in-waiting.

Queen Neroli, our bright orange Diamond Jubilee queen!

Emily thinks her mother, Lavender, mated with New Zealand drones, which would explain why our new queen is very orange. We have decided to call her Neroli, which is the oil obtained from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. The essential oil (Citrus aurantium var. amara) takes its name from the 17th-century Italian princess of Nerola, Anna Maria de La Tremoille, who famously wore the oil to scent her gloves. A royal name fitting for a queen bee who took her crown on the Diamond Jubilee.

Salvatore Battaglia says the aroma of neroli is light, refreshing and floral, citing Valerie Worwood’s The fragrant mind which describes the essential oil to be ‘ageless, forever young in a spring-like way’. Emily and me hope Queen Neroli will live long and bring good fortune to her hive.

A queen cell from our swarmed hive placed in Myrrh’s dwindling colony has not produced an heir.

Sadly, Myrrh’s old hive remained queenless. The queen cell that I had placed in the colony from our swarmed hive two weeks ago was still capped. Queen bees usually emerge eight days after the queen cell is sealed, so it seemed unlikely that the larva had survived this long. John suggested uncapping the cell to be certain and showed us how to do this gently with a hive tool. If the queen was alive then this would allow her to emerge – but the uncapped cell revealed a shrivelled, blackened, dead queen bee inside the cell. John thought she may have died from black queen cell virus.

A blackened and shrivelled dead queen which may have died from black queen cell virus, associated with the hive disease nosema.

This hive has been unlucky with queens – a drone-laying queen after winter, an unmated queen in spring due to bad weather, and two failed attempts to re-queen using frames of larvae and finally a queen cell from Lavender’s hive. This latest bit of bad luck – a dead queen in her cell – decided the colony’s fate. Emily and me had given these bees enough chances, it was time to combine our two hives.

As the new queen of our swarmed hive, Neroli, had mated it was safe to combine the hives, whereas before it may have risked stressing the virgin queen or have caused confusion when she returned from her mating flight. Combining two hives is really easy – here’s how it’s done in two simple steps…

A sheet of newspaper is placed on top of the brood box which has the queen in the nest, and a hive tool is used to make a few small holes through the queen excluder as Emily demonstrates here.

The brood box of bees without a queen is placed on top. During the week, the bees will chew away the newspaper, which will give them time to become accustomed to each other’s smell and prevent fighting – they will be the best of friends. At least, that’s the plan.

Hopefully, next week we will return to our newly combined hive and our girls should all be getting along! John explained that hive combining should be done in the evening or early morning when the foragers are inside the hive. This is because moving a hive – even by an inch – can cause foragers to lose their way home. However, as it was already late in the afternoon he thought it should be fine.

Emily and me waited as long as possible for Myrrh’s foragers to return and circle the area where their old hive had been. When they settled on the mesh floor we carried and brushed the bees into the combined hive, but we could not get them all. Eventually the circle of returning foragers disappeared and we hoped that they had bribed their way into other hives with their loads of nectar and pollen.

Our newly combined hives – and what is this mysterious empty hive next door?

It seemed that we were down one hive, but John and Pat were busy scheming. In April Emily and me had helped John set up nucleus hives at Osterley Park and the nucs were now ready to bring to Perivale apiary. ‘Would you like another colony?’ Pat asked, to which we both replied ‘Yes!’. So before we left for the day, we used our spare woodwork to set up a new hive next door to Neroli’s. We reflected that both our hives were now in the sunniest spot of the apiary, which should help them to flourish before summer ends.

Happy Jubilee Bees!

Neroli, lavender and rose facial oil
In honour of our new queen, Neroli, and her royal mother and grandmother, Lavender and Rose, here is a hauntingly beautiful essential oil blend that can be used for a rejuvenating facial massage or for an anti-aging and nourishing night oil.

  • 9 drops neroli
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 3 drops rose
  • 30ml jojoba oil
As with all aromatherapy blends, remember to patch test before general use and don’t use during pregnancy without advice from your midwife or doctor.

Related links
The official website of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, where you can also send a message to the queen.


Reflections on a year in beekeeping

This year has been all about the queen. Queen Rose split from her court in early spring and was succeeded by her daughter, Queen Rosemary. Taking objection to her coronation, Rosemary briefly abdicated in a royal huff before returning to her throne. Rose, in her newly founded kingdom, made fewer public appearances before eventually going MIA. We then discovered five queens-in-waiting in July. Our royal saga concluded with the coronation of Queen Lavender.

Lavender made her debut at the end of a busy afternoon’s beekeeping: bees had been cleared, our honey crop removed and Apiguard given to treat varroa. The beekeeping year starts and ends in August. The honey crop summons the end of our annual activities as preparations for overwintering begin the new year. Bees are a bit pagan.

Emily brought dried lavender for the smoker to calm our late summer bees, while we nicked their honey and gave them medicine. So it seemed appropriate when Sarah spotted our new queen running across a frame in our baby hive that she was christened Lavender.

Remembering the drama of our runaway queen earlier this year, Lavender was swiftly caged without hesitation and marked white – on her head, wings and thorax! Future inspections will tell if she survived my clumsy coronation attempt intact.

I think I may have squashed two workers while securing the queen in her cage. Ugh, more guilt! Catching and marking a queen is tricky business. Try to catch one bee from thousands on a frame inside a cage, then mark her as the workers try to set her free. That’s when you need a hive partner! It is a good idea to practise caging and marking with drones early in the year. They are bigger and fairly amiable about it, and it doesn’t matter quite as much if you damage a drone.

So our beekeeping year ends with Queen Rosemary reigning over our fully grown hive, which is bursting at the seams with bees, and with Queen Lavender inheriting our baby hive, which is slowly filling the brood box. Emily and I wondered how well our July queen mated late in the season and with August rains. So we were happy to find new brood and larvae during our last inspection.

I thought that the bees in our baby hive looked lighter and more golden, unlike Lavender who inherited her mother’s dark looks. Emily suggested that Lavender may have mated with Albert’s drones. We might have Kiwi bees!

As an aromatherapist, I named my first queen after an essential oil and this tradition has continued with the hives I share with Emily. So far the queens have taken after their namesakes of Jasmine, a beautiful relaxing oil, Rose, a warm mothering fragrance, and Rosemary, an energetic invigorating aroma. Lavender is renowned for its gentleness and effectiveness, I hope our new queen has these qualities.

Our adventures in beekeeping have kept us busy this year – building hives and shook swarms, frame-making workshops and beards of bees, runaway queens, a new nuc, rainbows of pollen and honey, a quintet of queen cells, weird bees, a honey crop, and a honey festival! I haven’t even taken my basic beekeeping assessment yet!

With a new year around the corner, I wonder what our bees will do next!

Juniper berry – the perfect antidote to January

Juniper clears your mind. She is the friend who lifts confusion and doubt, and who helps you to see true. She is a breath of fresh air when you need it most.

Juniper berry oil is best known for its detoxifying and mind-clearing properties. It comes from the blue-black berries of the juniper conifer tree and, like many essential oils from tall forest trees, its effects are purifying, uplifting and revitalising.

Juniper berry has a sharp, piercing balsamic smell which makes it a potent burning oil – the perfect antidote to January.

Cleanse and clear

Add 3–4 drops of juniper berry oil to an oil burner. Make sure all windows and doors are shut, and burn the oil for 30 minutes to banish the staleness of the previous year. Inhaling its vapours will help remove toxins from your body due to the over-indulgences of Christmas and New Year, and clear your mind of the January blues.

Hair of the dog

Juniper berries are used to flavour gin. If you have not yet kick-started your New Year resolutions and find yourself suffering from left-over Saturday hangovers, burn juniper berry to relieve your headache and clear your mind.

Detoxifying skin oil

If you are suffering post-Christmas and New Year party breakouts, get your skin off to a good start with this detoxifying juniper berry oil cleanser:

  • 30ml jojoba oil
  • 6 drops juniper berry oil
  • 6 drops tea tree oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil

Massage a teaspoonful of this blend on your face. To enhance the blend’s detoxifying effects, massage the oil using small circular movements and work from the centre of your face towards temples, earlobes and the neck. This helps to drain toxins from your skin through your lymph vessels and nodes. Remove the oil with a hot damp cotton flannel. Repeat twice. Use the blend throughout January and discard any left-over oil at the end of the month. This facial blend removes make up but do not use on the eyes.

Cellulite-busting oil

Juniper berry is often used in massage to help treat cellulite, because of its powerful action of eliminating toxins from the body. Massage this cellulite busting oil into orange-peel skin:

  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 6 drops juniper berry oil
  • 6 drops geranium oil
  • 6 drops grapefruit oil

Exercise also helps to improve the appearance of cellulite.

A bit gouty

If your indulgences have been of the excessive kind and left your toes a bit gouty, rub this ointment on your foot to help relieve this painful condition. Juniper berry’s detoxifying properties help eliminate the build up of uric acid crystals that cause gout, and arthritis, for which juniper is also helpful.

  • 30ml unfragranced ointment cream
  • 6 drops juniper berry oil
  • 6 drops cypress oil
  • 6 drops fennel oil

And, er, lay off the booze for a bit!

This post is dedicated to Christine who is always the life and soul of the party

Profile of juniper:

Latin name: Juniperus communis
Plant family: Cupressaceae
Plant type: wood
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: evergreen tree or shrub native to the northern hemisphere and growing up to 6m high, with blue-green narrow needles, small flowers and round berries; main producers of juniper berry oil are France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia
Extraction: steam distillation of the berries (oil from the needles or wood are also extracted by this method but not used in aromatherapy due to their toxic properties)
Chemical properties/active components: rich in monoterpenes (80 %), which indicates its actions are likely to be stimulating, expectorant, bactericidal and antiviral
Blends with: benzoin, cedarwood, citrus oils, clary sage, cypress, fennel, geranium, lavender, lavandin, pine, rosemary, sandalwood, vetiver
Key actions: analgesic, anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, astringent, detoxifying, diuretic, vulnerary
Common conditions: cellulite, acne, oily skin; gout, arthritis and rheumatism, painful joints, stiffness, eliminates uric acid, fluid retention, obesity; cystitis; anxiety, nervous tension, stress-related conditions, intellectual fatigue
Contraindications: Non-sensitising and non-toxic, juniper berry may cause irritation in some; it has a reputation as an abortifacient, however, this may be due to confusion concerning its Latin name; it should only be used in moderation due to adulteration of the wood with turpentine oil
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

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

Rosemary – an established personality

Rosemary is young at heart. She is the friend that you can call at a moment’s notice to go out. Her vibrancy and enthusiasm for life cannot be quenched. She is fiercely determined and thrives on a challenge. Rosemary excels at multi-tasking and loves to succeed.

Rosemary is an energetic essential oil. It has a recognisable, distinctive herbaceous scent that stimulates the brain and focuses concentration. Its powerful action helps to banish fatigue, and its aroma uplifts and strengthens the mind.

Rosemary for remembrance

In past times, the herb was used to stimulate the mind and to aid memory. Sprigs of rosemary became symbolic of remembrance. The scent of the essential oil has the same effect. Burn rosemary as a room fragrance if you are revising for exams or engaging in any form of study. Its scent will sharpen your focus and help you to better remember what you have learned. Rosemary will prevent the mind from wandering and keep sleepiness at bay during study.

Vaporise 3–4 drops in an oil burner for a couple of hours as you work at your desk.

An invigorating tea

Fresh rosemary tea is an invigorating beverage and can be drunk to replace your usual shot of coffee. Brew a couple of stems of fresh rosemary in a cup of boiling water and sip once cooled. It has a refreshing flavour and will invigorate your body and mind. Experiment by adding a couple of fresh-torn mint leaves.

A tonic for hair

Rosemary has long been used as a tonic for dark hair to enhance the colour and shine, whereas chamomile is traditionally used for fair hair. However, rosemary is beneficial for all hair types as it stimulates circulation of the scalp and encourages new growth. Rosemary essential oil is often added to hair care products to strengthen hair and to make it appear healthy and glossy.

To make your own rosemary shampoo and conditioner, blend:

  • 200ml unscented shampoo or conditioner

  • 40 drops rosemary oil
  • 40 drops lavender oil
  • 40 drops thyme linalool oil

A deep-oil conditioning treatment once a week will also help to give you fuller, shinier hair. Blend:

  • 15ml jojoba oil

  • 3 drops rosemary oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops thyme linalool oil

Massage the above blend into your scalp and gently comb through to the ends. Wrap your hair in a warm towel and leave for 30 minutes or overnight. Wash out with your rosemary shampoo, and use a tiny amount of conditioner.

These blends are helpful for those whose hair is fine or thinning, and for those whose hair looks dry, brittle and fragile. In most cases, it will eventually help to encourage the growth of new hair and promote healthy looking hair. However, if you think you are suffering from a form of hair loss, medical advice should be sought to diagnose the cause and condition.

A sports aid

Rosemary has a stimulating effect on the circulation and increases the flow of blood to skin tissues and muscle. It can be used as a pre-sports blend to massage on arms and legs and help to warm-up the tissues. However it should not be used as a substitute for proper warm-up exercises. Rosemary is also helpful post-workout to treat tired, stiff and aching muscles, because it has an analgesic effect.

To make a rosemary massage oil blend:

  • 30ml olive oil

  • 9 drops rosemary 
  • 9 drops lavender oil (always a good complement to rosemary)

This blend makes enough for one complete body massage or a few localised massages to arms and legs. The analgesic and stimulating effects of rosemary make it useful for those who suffer from backaches and also for conditions such as rheumatism and arthritis.

This post is dedicated to my friend Jenni – who has a well-established personality and whose strength and determination to see things through is rarely equalled.

Profile of rosemary:

Latin name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Plant family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: a perennial evergreen herb with a woody stem and branches, needle-like leaves and white, purple, pink or blue flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean, but cultivated worldwide
Extraction: steam distillation of the fresh flowering tops or whole plant
Chemical properties/active components: high in oxides (30%), including 1,8 cineole; monoterpenes (30%), including pinene, camphene, limonene and cymene; and ketones (25%), including camphor. Oxides are good for respiratory complaints and monoterpenes are antiviral
Blends with: basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, frankincense, lavender, lavendin, peppermint, petitgrain, pine, thyme, and spice oils
Key actions: analgesic, astringent, antirheumatic, anti-spasmodic, cephalic, digestive, hypertensive, nervine, rubefacient, stimulates circulation, tonic
Common conditions: low blood pressure, circulatory problems of extremities, rheumatism, arthritis, tired and stiff or overworked muscles, fluid retention, gout; stimulates central nervous system and brain, aids concentration, relieves nervous debility, headaches, mental fatigue, nervous exhaustion and stress; catarrhal conditions, respiratory ailments, colds, flu and infections; stimulates hair growth, prevents dandruff, greasy hair, acne, insect repellent
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitising; do not use if you have sensitive skin, high blood pressure or epilepsy, and 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 © 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

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

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.


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

Eucalyptus – so bite me!

Fuck you, asshole!

I’ll be back

I furiously scribbled this post sitting on my sofa watching a wasp headbutt my window. It’s that time of year again when these minions of the devil little insects lay seige to my flat, determinedly trying to find a way in so they can exhaust themselves attacking my light bulbs.

Time to bring out the big gun – eucalyptus globulus.

Eucalyptus is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of essential oils. It is the best wasp deterrent I’ve found. The first summer I moved into my flat and it was laid siege by wasps, I burned eucalyptus by an open window. Smugly, I watched as wasps were frustrated by a seemingly invisible forcefield that rendered their attempts to enter futile. Wasps hate the smell of eucalyptus.

You can also apply the oil as a deterrent by dropping it onto tissue paper strips or ribbons and securing to your window to blow in the breeze. Brilliant stuff.

Hasta la vista, baby

This is not an oil to be underestimated. Its actions are very powerful and best not used with those people who are sensitive of skin, body or mind. For most, it is not an aesthetically pleasing oil. I’ve never used it in beauty treatments and rarely in massage, even during my aromatherapy studies. But for its therapeutic effects see the summary profile below.

I personally prefer to substitute this oil in aromatherapy for the more subtle-acting ravensara and myrtle (the latter especially for babies and children). I once gave a client with a stuffy head and blocked nose – on verge of full-blown cold – a facial massage with 3% ravensara oil. It has the same decongesting and expectorant effects as eucalyptus but with a less offensive and obtrusive scent, and its aroma is slightly sedative rather than overly stimulating.

Besides I know how I’d rather use my eucalyptus oil …

So Mr Wasp, ‘Did you call *moi* a dipshit?’…

This post is dedicated to Deano, ‘cos he’s the toughest dude I know.

Profile of eucalyptus globulus:

Latin name: Eucalyptus globulus 
Plant family: Myrtaceae
Plant type: medicinal/herb
Perfume note: top
Botany and origins: tall evergreen tree of about 90m with long yellow-green leaves, cream-white flowers and a smooth grey bark, it is native to Australia and Tasmania, but also produced by Spain, Portugal, Brazil, California and China
Extraction: steam distillation of the leaves and young twigs
Chemical properties/active components: primarily oxides (76%) which are thought to contribute to its therapeutic properties
Blends with: thyme, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, pine, cedarwood and lemon
Key actions: antiseptic, antibacterial, analgesic, antiviral, antispasmodic, deodorant, decongestant, expectorant, parasiticide, stimulating
Common conditions: colds, flu, catarrh, bronchitis, coughs, sinusitis, chickenpox and measles (anecdotal reports in my own experience); muscular aches and pains, poor circulation, sprains; insect repellent and bites, lice, skin infections and wounds
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitising. However, if taken internally eucalyptus poisoning can have serious and perhaps fatal effects: ‘Under 5ml eucalyptus oil has apparently been fatal in an adult, although this is atypical’. (Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs, Essential oil safety. A guide for healthcare professionals, 2004)
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