Relaxation: Aromatherapy



Can the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking really sell a house?  Maybe.  Smell is an important part of our human experience.  Can you remember the smell of Christmas?  Think back, it wasn’t that long ago that you may have had a tree in your living room, or an oven filled with baking apple or pumpkin pies.  What flower did you wear on prom or wedding (perhaps it was a gardenia or a rose).  Pause for a moment and remember the sweet heady fragrance of romance.  What other memories or sensations does this scent recall?  These scents and others carry with them the links of happy memories that can form a chain of memories all the way back into early childhood.

Scent triggers powerful memories.  This is due to wiring of our brains, as scent is received and translated into emotional memory by our limbic brains even before it is translated into thought (recognition).  Many people believe that smell (and the chemicals found in natural oils) can alter more than our moods, but also affect our overall health.  This is why the ancient knowledge of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils are experiencing a rebirth in modern times.

When I was a child, I remember visiting my mom’s friend Elizabeth at her beautiful Victorian house in Petaluma.  In the backyard she had a workshop filled with the scents from all kinds of flower tinctures, dried grains, and essential oils.  The years have passed and like the rest of us, her business is all grown up.  In addition to growing her company, Elizabeth Van Buren (offering therapeutic quality essential oils and aromatherapy products) founded the College of Botanical Healing Arts in Santa Cruz.  Elizabeth has recently authored a book on the subject.  I have been enjoying the book so much that I thought I would share a little bit about it with our readers.

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“The smell of a beautiful flower grabs your total attention, bringing you into the eternal present, more immediately than any other human sense.”  ~Elizabeth Anne Jones, Awaken to Healing Fragrance (Berkeley:  North Atlantic Books, 2010), xviii.

Awaken to Healing Fragrance is a fascinating read which spans generations of knowledge about the healing possibilities of distilled plants.   The book begins with an imaginative and well researched discussion of learned women leaders throughout western history who practiced healing arts and used essential oils for anointment.  There are beautifully descriptive passages introducing the reader to the life and times of such greats as Cleopatra, the Roman Empress Theodora, Catherine De Medici, Hildagard Van Bingen, and Queen Elizabeth.  The author allows your imagination to linger on the luxurious settings such as Cleopatra resplendent as she arrives in a barge with silver sails and golden canopies, the air thick with perfume; but also she discusses the tactical strategy of women warriors (be they on the battle field or negotiating in staterooms) as they used essential oils to calm their nerves, clarify their thoughts and cement their wills.  In addition to these reimaginings (built from historical record), the author also offers medical explanations for illnesses that these women were treating and scent recipes based on what they actually used hundreds of years ago.  So if you’ve ever wanted to smell like a pharaoh, now’s your chance.

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The following is an excerpt about Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine abbess:

“Guided by her intuition, which she had grown to trust implicitly, and her sharp observational powers, she built up a great medical knowledge…She recommends a balanced diet, the alleviation of stress, and the making of moral decisions.  According to Hildegard, disease came from the disruptions of the body’s equilibrium and suggested insights way ahead of her time. She was one of the first to point out the physiological truths like the circulation of the blood, the link between sugar and diabetes, the development of the female reproductive system, and the nerve action of the brain.  She used herbs and essential oils as one of the main ways to restore the body’s equilibrium.  Hildegard especially loved lavender…She advised using lavender to relieve liver and lung pain and congestion…”  ~Elizabeth Anne Jones, Awaken to Healing Fragrance, 82.

The second part of the book offers a wealth of information on the medical uses for aromatherapy and essential oils as well as a detailed look at the why and how of their effect on our biology.  She includes chemical diagrams, case studies, and recipes for home treatments.  Topics include boosting the immune system, treating infections, and the mind-body connection.  Here she also hypothesizes about possible connections between past diseases like plague and findings from current chemical analysis of essential oils, which I find fascinating.  It looks like Hildegard was really ahead of her time!  The final section covers potential future healing practices including the aromatic garden. (I enjoyed visiting her garden diagrammed in this book.)

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How Essential Oils Are Used (dispersed/applied):

  • Diffuser
  • Steam inhalation
  • Applied directly to the skin
  • Body wrap
  • Facial
  • Massage (my favorite)
  • Mixed with oils
  • Bath
  • Hydrosol sprays
  • And others

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I was so inspired by her book that I recently purchased some additional essential oils to fill some holes in my scent collection and spent the weekend experimenting with combinations to fill my senses and restore my peace.   Currently I am trying out a few combinations of my own and have each room filled with a different aromatic mood.  I especially love the bright citrus notes like grapefruit, the cooling scents of mint, eucalyptus, and lavender, and the warmth of geranium, jasmine, and rose.  I think my most successful scent experiment was my version of relaxed and alert which included grapefruit, lime, spearmint, sweet orange, and eucalyptus.  On a rainy weekend or after a long day at work it’s nice to relax with a refreshing and comforting scent.  Why not experiment and discover what scents work best for you?

To find out more about EVB products check out  Locally, you can also look for aromatherapy and essential oils in Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol or at Oliver’s Markets.

By Nadja Masura