Healing scents

Seventy five years ago, French fragrance chemist Rene-Maurice Gatteefosse was in his lab hard at work on a new perfume. Lost in thought while blending some mixtures of essential oils over heat, they suddenly exploded and he burned his arm and hand -- a not uncommon occurrence for the perfume chemist of that day. Frantic with pain he plunged his arm into the nearest cold liquid, which happened to be a bowl of lavender oil.

Almost immediately he noticed surprising pain relief, and instead of the extended time for healing he had experienced during recovery from previous burns, this burn healed quickly, with minimal discomfort and little or no scarring. He began to form hypotheses about the oils and went on to devote the rest of his life to studying the influence of essential oils on health and healing. He is known as the ''father'' of modern day aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is actually a very ancient art. Mary Magdalene anointed Christ's feet with a jar of expensive oil. Known as the perfumers in the pre-renaissance and renaissance times, perfumes were used to cover body odors. It was noted that during the time of the Black Plague in Europe that perfumers seemed to contract less severe cases, or were not sick at all. Perfume, or essential oils were not necessarily used as medicines or as healing balms but were common to most households like hand creme or lip balm to our households.

Today aromatherapy is a household word. You can buy aromatherapy kits in health food stores, bookstores and gift shops everywhere. Some oils are quite expensive and some are very affordable. Aromatherapy oils, or essential oils are extracts from woods, leaves, seeds, skins and flower petals. Oils like peppermint that are extracted from the leaf of the plant and easily cultivated and grown cost $5-8 per 1/3 oz. Other oils like rose where 1 oz of oil is extracted from 2,000 pounds of flower petals are very expensive costing upwards of $100 per 1/3 oz. Neroli, made from the orange flower petal, can cost over $200 per 1/3 oz.

Valerie Worwood, British aromatherapist and author of The Fragrant Mind, suggests that the average person does not have to have a lot of oils -- or those that are most expensive -- to benefit from there regular use. Her suggestions for the ten most useful oils are chamomile, clove, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme.

You can buy and use a diffuser if you want. Some of the simpler ways of using the oils would be to drip a few drops in your bath water or in a pan of water placed near a heating duct in the winter. You can fragrance your candles with oils by first lighting the candle and letting the candle form a pool of liquid wax. Blow out the candle and allow the hot wax to sit for a few minutes, then drip the oil into the liquid wax. Allow the wax to harden again before lighting as some of the oils can be somewhat volatile just as in the case of the absent minded chemist.

Aromatherapy oils are best used for chronic recurrent ailments such as minor headache, PMS, stress, depression and skin ailments such as athlete's foot, minor abrasions, cuts, burns and scrapes.

My personal ''functional'' favorites are tea tree and eucalyptus for colds, upper respiratory ailments and fungal infections, clove for ear aches, sage, peppermint, lemon and grapefruit rejuvenate and are up lifting and lavender and chamomile for relaxation. It's also fun to mix them -- but that's another column!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 20, 2001

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