Making Scents of Aromatherapy

From, article published in the North Idaho Business Journal, by Jana Kilgore

Ever notice how cooking with fresh Rosemary and Basil can stimulate mental clarity?  Many people drink Chamomile tea to settle restlessness.  Sometimes just chewing a stick of Peppermint gum, or sipping on Ginger ale, can sooth an upset stomach.  Many cleaning products contain natural Lemon, Orange or Pine for their anti-microbial properties, not to mention they leave everything smelling fresh and clean.  Eucalyptus has been the inspiration for many cough syrups and throat lozenges for years.  These are all just simple examples of Aromatherapy in everyday life.

Although Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years, it has received much attention in recent years.  The Egyptians’ use of essences dates back to 4500 B.C. It is thought that they burned aromatic resins as sacrificial offerings to their gods.  They used Clove, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon to embalm their deceased loved ones and pets.  Egyptians are given credit for the term “perfume” which means “through smoke”.

In 1928, Renee-Maurice Gattefosse, a French perfume chemist burned his hand while working in his lab.  On instinct, he submersed it in the nearest bowl of liquid, which happened to be Lavender essential oil.  Amazed at the rate of healing and lack of scarring or blistering, he began to look at his work in a whole different light.  Gattefosse is now famous for coining the term “Aromatherapy”.  In 1937, he wrote the book, “Aromatherapie”, which was translated into English in 1993.

True aromatherapy involves the use of natural aromatic compounds for their mental, physiological, and spiritual healing properties.  Essential oils are complex mixtures of naturally occurring organic chemicals.  They are volatile molecules, evaporate at all temperatures, and can travel through air and water.  It is fascinating to see what some companies will label as “Aromatherapy”, even if their product doesn’t contain a single essential oil.  When we familiarize ourselves with the pure essences from nature, we become more aware and able to decipher fragrances from essential oils just by smelling.

Essential oils can be found in many different parts of plants: roots, berries, leaves, bark, twigs, rinds, gum, and petals.  They are usually extracted by means of distillation, water/steam, or direct steam.  Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, and all other essential oils from fruit peels are cold pressed.  Solvent extraction is used for certain flowers such as Rose Absolute.   Enfleurage is usually used to obtain Jasmine Absolute.  While still contained in plants, essential oils serve many different purposes, communication, protection, attracting pollinating insects, stimulating plant metabolism.  They are said to contain the very life force, essence or spirit of the plant.

The only sense with receptor nerve endings in direct contact with the outside world is smell.  Also, olfactory nerve cells are the only type in the body capable of self-repair if damaged.  The human brain is capable of distinguishing between over 10,000 individual scents.  There are five stages of smell, detection, transmission, perception, analysis, and storage.  The strong connection between olfaction and memory is because of the limbic system being one of the first to perceive an aroma.  Scents can trigger a memory often before we even have a chance to think about what we’ve smelled.   Messages then may be sent to other parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus and thalamus where physiological changes can then take place.  When inhaled, essential oils have the capacity to alter moods and feelings, influence hormonal responses, awaken mind and body, enhance relaxation, and stimulate the cortical areas of the brain related to memory and learning.

Scientifically, it’s easy to see why essential oils can affect the body-mind through smell.  What we may not realize is that those volatile essences also have the ability to travel the bloodstream when applied topically.  For instance, a single drop of Garlic essential oil applied to ones foot, within an hour will make the breath smell of garlic.  While it is always a good idea to dilute essential oils before application, they can enhance wellness through inhalation, massage, or bath as often as every day.

Interesting Essential Oil Facts:

Bergamot Citrus aurantium var. bergamia – Earl Gray tea is actually black tea flavored with Bergamot essential oil.  Anti-depressive, appetite balancing, emotionally uplifting, often used in perfumery as a fixative.  Photosensitizing, avoid sun exposure for 12 hours after application.

Clary Sage Salvia sclera – This oil is famous for its euphoric quality.  Although you may see a warning that states “do not drive or operate heavy machinery due to the narcotic effects of Clary Sage, ” the type of uplift it promotes does not cause a disconnected feeling from reality.  It has the ability to calm nervous upsets as well as balance hormonal disturbances.  It can be added to Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Black Pepper and Neroli for a sensual aphrodisiac blend.  Clary Sage should be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Lavender Lavandula officinalis – definitely the most versatile of all essential oils, Lavender should be in every First Aid Kit.  Its effectiveness at skin healing for everything from burns, cuts, bites, and bruises makes it indispensable.  Excellent for regulating both sympathetic and parasympathetic responses, Lavender is great for relieving stress or insomnia.  A drop or two massaged into temples and neck can help relieve most tension headaches.  Generally non-irritating, it is a safe choice for use with very young, elderly, frail or weak individuals.

Rose Rosa damascena – It takes about 200 rose petals or 30 roses to get one drop of Rose essential oil. Rose essential oil contains over 300 individual chemical constituents, many of which have yet to be identified.  This might explain the dramatic difference between pure Rose and Rose Fragrance.  Excellent for emotional healing, comforting and restoring, Rose is great for anxiety, nervous tension, and depression. Nourishes all skin types, especially delicate skin; generally non-toxic and non-irritating.

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis – Not only does Rosemary increase circulation, encourage clear breathing, soothe sore, aching muscles, but it also works wonders for stimulating mental clarity and improving memory.  Excellent in headache blends with Lavender, Marjoram, Basil and Peppermint: Rosemary is a powerful essential oil with notable effects.  Do not use Rosemary with high blood pressure, pregnancy, or epilepsy.

Sandalwood Santalum album – Sandalwood is excellent for the skin, can be used for dryness, irritation, itching, inflammation, psoriasis and eczema.  Effective for emotional and mental agitation, nervous exhaustion, and general disconnectedness, Sandalwood encourages unity and a sense of grounded, well-being.  Blend with Roman Chamomile and Manuka for effective relief from Candida symptoms.  Sandalwood has expectorant, anti-inflammatory, cardio tonic, carminative, anti-depressive, sexual tonic and general tonic properties.

Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia – Key word: resistance… Tea Tree is analgesic, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, immune strengthening, a general tonic, and much, much more!  It can be used effectively against athlete’s foot, dandruff, acne, insect bites (relieves itching), and colds and flu.  Tea Tree is medicinal smelling with strong medicinal properties.

Ways to use Essential Oils:

Always keep in mind that less is more with Aromatherapy.  These are highly concentrated and should be measured by the drop.

Most pure essential oils need to be diluted before using on the body.  Lavender and Tea Tree are the possible exceptions.  Direct application of either of these two as long as they are pure, is usually okay for minor skin irritations, burns, or headache treatment.

Hot Compress:  5 drops essential oil in a bowl with 8 oz. of hot water, submerse cloth, wring and apply to affected area.

Cold Compress: 5 drops essential oil in a bowl with 8 oz. of ice water, submerse cloth, wring and apply to affected area.

Massage:  A 1% or 2% dilution is recommended for massage application.  This means 5-10 drops essential oil per ounce of (fixed) carrier oil such as Sweet Almond, Jojoba, Apricot Kernel, or Shea oil.

Bath: No more than 10 drops total should be added to a full bathtub of warm water.  A good rule of thumb when using 3 or more essential oils is 2-3 drops each oil.  Add oils after adding water and agitate water to mix before getting in.  If irritation occurs, simply get out of the bath and massage an unscented lotion or vegetable oil over the skin.  Soap and water will do nothing in this case.

Inhalant: 3-5 drops essential oil in a bowl of hot water or on a tissue.

Body Mist: 5-10 drops essential oil per 4 oz. distilled water or hydrosol.

Room Spray: 20 drops essential oil per 4 oz. distilled water or hydrosol.

Aroma Jar:  5-10 drops with water in bowl… light tea candle and enjoy.  This works great with potpourri burners too.  Rubbing Alcohol is helpful for cleaning between uses.

Electric Diffuser: 5-10 drops essential oil on clean diffuser pad.  Do not diffuse the same aroma for more than 2 hours at a time.

Laundry Freshener:  5-10 drops essential oil on a damp washcloth, throw into dryer with laundry.

Be aware of contraindications and cautions when working with essential oils.  Many of them should be avoided during pregnancy, if one has high blood pressure, liver complaints, kidney problems, asthma, epilepsy, or a heart condition.

Be careful with sensitive individuals and cut recommended dosages by at least by half for very young, elderly, weak, or frail individuals.  Refer to an Aromatherapist when unsure.

Quality and Care of Essential Oils:

Essential oils should be stored in dark amber glass bottles with as little air, heat and light exposure as possible.  Heat and light will destroy essential oils.  They will not go rancid as a fixed or base oil would, but when properly stored, will last a very long time.

Never buy essential oils from a source with all the same price per oil.  The availability of essential oil from plant sources varies tremendously, and so do their prices.

Always look for the botanical identity of essential oils, as there may be many oils with the same common name from different species of plants.

The information contained in this article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not provided in order to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, illness or injured condition of the body and the author, publisher, printer and distributors accept no responsibility for such use. If you are allergy prone or sensitive to scents, tests the oils in small amounts.  Anyone suffering from any disease, illness or injury should consult with a physician.


Jana Kilgore earned her certificate in Aromatherapy through theAmerican College of Healthcare Sciences.  Jana has over fifteen years’ experience working with essential oils and Aromatherapy.  She is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, is a Washington Licensed Massage Practitioner, and a Licensed Esthetician in the state if Idaho.  She is a member of the American Massage Therapy Association.  Her specialties include Clinical Aromatherapy, Medical Massage, Therapeutic Hot Stones, Organic facial treatments, waxing, & cosmetics at Aroma Cd’A in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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