In 1999, I was living and working in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania): a beautiful city in a beautiful country on the most fascinating continent in the world. I loved it but there were noticeable gaps in the facilities available to residents, particularly where emergency services were concerned. One Sunday night I was preparing myself for bed when I absent-mindedly scratched an itch on my neck. Twenty minutes later I was running a temperature, sweating much more than the 90 degree climate would account for; my skin was bright red and coming up in hives and the itching was driving me crazy. There was no way I would be able to sleep that night under these circumstances. I had no anti-histamines in my first aid kit and there would be no doctors or emergency facilities open at midnight on a Sunday.
I reached for my Lavender Essential Oil. Together with Tea Tree and Peppermint, Lavender is the one of the three Essential Oils I would take with me wherever I went – no question. Lavender has antibiotic properties, it is soothing and relaxing and it acts as a fast-acting but gentle pain killer. It also has natural anti-histamine properties on the skin.
Essential Oils are very powerful and should never be used undiluted but on this occasion I decided that neat Lavender Oil was needed. Straight from the bottle I massaged it into my skin, particularly around my neck and within minutes the frantic itching was abating. The hives took about an hour to disappear and as they did my temperature reduced and the sweating subsided. By 2 a.m. I was back in bed and asleep within minutes.
The following day I was telling my colleagues about my disturbed night and the general reaction was how lucky it was that I knew about such things and how amazing it was that an Essential Oil could have such an effect. Intrigued, I asked how many people had Essential Oils in their house. The answer seemed to be about 2 in 5 of my colleagues had a small and largely unused bottle of an Essential Oil in their house but without exception they used it as a very expensive room freshener. It turned out that they had also had the same bottle for a long, long time…
It got me thinking about fragrance in our lives; about the simple joys of smelling a flower and lying in the grass and enjoying the smell of the earth itself and the effects that fragrance has on us. In our hermetically sealed homes and offices and our largely indoor existence we are subject to a wide range of chemical smells, some of which are only available to our subconscious. Very few of us have access to the complex, fast-changing scents of the natural world as a large part of our daily routines. And yet for our wellbeing, our health, our mental stability and our emotional robustness, scent is vital.
Smell is the only one of our 5 senses which has a direct line to our brains. It is immediate, primal and it connects to our unconscious where it triggers memories, emotions, sensations and even physical changes in our bodies. To this day I can’t smell Ponds Cold Cream without remembering my grandmother. Some scents cause the limbic system to activate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, stimulating the production of hormones controlling sex, appetite, body temperature, and reactions to stress. The limbic system also reaches into the neocortex, site of the brain’s higher processes to stimulate conscious thoughts and reactions. In this way Essential Oils can change our minds, change how we feel and how we react to illness, emotional traumas and challenges. They can supercharge our energy, relax our over-stressed minds and bodies and even fight cancers and cardio-vascular problems. Powerful stuff, eh? What is even more remarkable is that the majority of aromas that we react to, we cannot consciously smell!
Sadly, this fact has not been lost on the advertising world. Dr. Eric Spangenberg, Dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University, ran a test in a clothing store in the Pacific Northwest to determine how scent affected customers by gender. He diffused a subtle smell of Vanilla in the women’s department and in the men’s. The results were astonishing. When he examined the cash-register tapes, he found that receipts almost doubled on the days when scent was used. This instinctive response to aromas is now a recognised element of the salesman’s arsenal. From the spray-on scent of “brand-new car” to the supermarkets’ use of their in-store bakery section, to the ubiquitous smell of freshly-ground coffee in every house for sale in the UK. On the High Street we are assaulted by often undetectable waves of aromas, all urging us to respond as the retailer desires.
For most people their closest relationship with the concentrated aromas of the natural world comes in the form of an aromatherapy massage. Lovely, luxurious and relaxing. But so much more… I regularly blend essential oils for people who suffer from physical ailments including asthma, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, Reynaud’s Disease, cancer and diverticulitis. These are major ailments and even if essential oils may not always cure these conditions on their own, they can go a long way to providing relief and combined with other therapies and lifestyle changes, the effects can be little short of miraculous for someone who has been living with pain, fear, discomfort and life changing ailments.
Where Essential Oils have a huge advantage over allopathic medicine is that they are not a magic bullet “a pill for an ill” but they work holistically to help the body to heal itself. For many sufferers of serious illnesses, the fear and anxiety of living with such conditions can only make their situation worse. Essential Oils don’t just work on the physical ailments, they work on our emotions and help address issues which are intrinsically linked with the body’s “dis-ease”. The use of Essential Oils acknowledges that a healthy emotional and mental state is one of the best healers of physical conditions.
To the researchers into the effects of Essential Oils these are the surprise findings. As the health services in the UK and around the world become more cash constrained and under pressure I would love to think that everyone had a basic kit of Essential Oils and the knowledge to use them. In situations such as the one I faced in Dar es Salaam all those years ago, everyone would be in the position to reach into their little box of fragrances and choose the perfect blend of two or more oils which together relaxed their physical muscles, and triggered their cardio-vascular systems to reduce blood pressure and slow their breathing, to reduce their anxiety levels and calm the immune system responses to whatever threat it recognised. A swift, easy and chemical free response to a medical emergency.
In the real world, however, it is clear that most people do not have the time to carry out their own personal research programme to find out what works for them and to learn the properties and risks attached to each essential oil – and there are hundreds of them… So what is the answer?
Well, there are plenty of ready to use blends on the market which address high-volume, low-risk aliments. By that I mean ailments such as arthritis and aching joints, eczema, colds and bronchitis, headaches and migraines, and joints, muscular and back pains all of which apply to high numbers of people and the Essential Oils used in such blends have a lower risk of skin sensitivities or reactions with medications such as Warfarin or diabetes meds.
I produce a range of over 40 such blends covering breathing difficulties, panic attacks and pain relief. All are produced to a high quality and are diluted to safe quantities of each oil used in the blends. They all come with product information giving the contents, usage and any contraindications of using the blend. For those ailments not covered in the ready to use ranges, your aromatherapist or a reputable blender may be your opportunity to discuss your ailments and the possible blends to use for your aromatic massage or your own home use.
Some therapists produce their own blends but many do not hold a large selection of Essential Oils and consequently turn to a blender to produce a blend to meet their requirements. This can be the therapist’s recipe or the blender’s recipe but is usually produced under the therapist’s logo.
This approach can be the start of your aromatic first aid kit. My own kit includes Essential Oils of Lavender; Peppermint; Tea Tree; Black Cumin Seed; Ravensara; Lime; St John’s Wort; Rosemary; Geranium; Frankincense, Mandarin and Chamomile. Ready-made blends in my kit are Arnica; Bedrock; Painless Headaches & Migraine; Joint Juice; Cool Soother; Satin Skin and Relax, Don’t Do It.
These are a good starter range of Essential Oils and Blends and can be added to or modified with experience – and your own experience of using oils and blends on your own body and emotions is the key to taking control of your own health. Above all your favourite oils are a feel-good, sensuous and pleasurable way to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy and to fill your environment with rich, exotic and deliciously fragrant aromas.