Aromatherapy is a system of caring for the body with botanical oils such as rose, lemon, lavender, and peppermint. Whether they're added to a bath or massaged into the skin, inhaled directly or diffused to scent an entire room, these natural, aromatic oils have been used for nearly a thousand years to relieve pain, care for the skin, alleviate tension and fatigue, and invigorate the entire body.

Essentially oils work on the body on several different levels. The most obvious is by stimulating the powerful but little understood sense of smell.

In recent years, medical research has uncovered what aromatherapists have always known: The odors we smell have a significant impact on the way we feel.

And since most people can detect many different odors, the potential therapeutic uses of smell seem endless. Experts say that inhaling essential oils can relieve many conditions linked to nervous tension, including headaches, insomnia, and anxiety. Inhalations are also used to treat respiratory complaints such as colds, allergies, and bronchitis.

Experiencing the mood-altering power of scent can be as simple as adding several drops of essential oils to your bath or placing a couple of drops of essential oil on a scent ring, which sits on a warm lightbulb. A longer-lasting way to scent a room is with an aroma lamp, a procelain or clay pot in which essential oils are mixed with water and heated over a candle, or an electric aromatic diffuser, which reduces essential oils to a fine spray and disperses the scent throughout the room.

But fragrance isn't the only way that essential oils work on the body. "'Aromatherapy' is actually a very bad name," says Galina Lisin, a European-trained aromatherapist and president of Herba-Aromatica in Hayward, California. "Essential oils have never been used in perfumes. They're medicines, and inhalation is only one of the many ways that they can be used."

Essential oils are also effective when used topically. "Unlike mineral oils, which just hang around on the skin, essential oils are made up of very small molecules that actually penetrate through the skin into the blood system," says Los Angeles archaeologist and aromatic consultant John Steele.

Topical application is used to treat a wide range of skin problems, and essences are popular ingredients in skin care products and other cosmetics. Mild essential oils, such as lavender, can even be applied full strength (or "neat") to treat cuts, burns, headaches, and other simple first-aid conditions.

Another topical use of essential oils is aromatherapy massage. When added to traditional massage oils such as almond, olive, and sesame, essential oils enhance the benefits of massage, relieving stress, improving circulation, and creating a feeling of well-being.

"For the layperson, there aren't many essential oils I would recommend using neat on the skin," says Steele. "Even a trained aromatherapist can't always predict who will have an allergic reaction to an essential oil, so using them diluted provides an extra measure of safety." While an essential oil diluted in a carrier oil is less quickly absorbed into the skin, many experts prefer this method because it guards against skin irritation.

Because many applications involve blending essential oils with other ingredients, you'll also need a few glass or hard plastic bottles to store the mixtures in. And since light can damage essential oils, experts recommend using tinted glass bottles and storing them in a cool, dark place. Stores that sell essential ooils often sell bottles as well, as do many mail-order houses.

Finally, whether you're serious about learning aromatherapy or just enjoy discovering new fragrances, experts say a home diffuser is a great investment.


***************SOME WORDS OF CAUTION**********************

When used intelligently, essential oils are far less likely to cause side effects than most over-the-counter drugs. But experts still advise proceeding with caution. In general, people with fair or freckled skin are more likely to experience skin irritation from essential oils, says Los Angeles archaelogist and aromatic consultant John Steele.

He advises all first-time users to perform a simple skin test to avoid allergic reactions. Place a drop of the oil on a cotton swab and apply it to the inside of the wrist or to the inner elbow. Cover with a bandage and don't wash the are for 24 hours. If no itching or redness occurs, the oil should be safe for external use.

Pregnant women should take particular care in using essential oils. The essential oils calamus, mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, and wintergreen can induce miscarriage when taken internally, but even inhalation and topical application are strongly discouraged. Basil, hyssop, myrrh, marjoram, and thyme can also cause adverse reactions and should be avoided as well.


FOR TREATING ALLERGIES: For quick relief of the watery eyes and runny nose of hay fever, Victoria Edwards, an aromatherapist in Fair Oaks, California, suggests mixing one drop each of cypress and hyssop essential oils in the palm of your hand. Apply the mixture to the back of your tongue with your fingertip. Edwards says to use the remedy every few hours whenever hay fever symptoms are bothering you. "It doesn't taste very good, but it helps clear your head immediately, and the effects last from one to two hours," she says.

FOR TREATING ANXIETY: Soothing oils such as lavender, geranium, ylang-ylang, bergamot, and melissa are great for calming frazzled nerves, particularly when they're used together. Mix together two, three, or four of these oils in equal parts and store the blend in a five-millimeter bottle. Then whenever you feel anxious, you can: Use 50 drops of this blend in a diffuser or an aroma lamp; add 6 drops to a hot bath (stirring gently to disperse); or make a massage oil by adding 10 drops of the blend to one ounce of carrier oil such as almond or olive. (Carrier oils are available in most health food stores.)

FOR TREATING ARTHRITIS: When arthritis acts up, a blend of aromatic oils massaged into sore joints will help. Judith Jackson , a Greenwich, Connecticut, aromatherapist and author of SCENTUAL TOUCH: A PERSONAL GUIDE TO AROMATHERAPY recommends 6 drops of each of rosemary and chamomile essential oils added to 4 ounces of a carrier oild such as almond, avocado, soybean, or sesame. For extra relief, she says, add 10 drops each of rosemary and chamomile to a warm bath and soak for 10 minutes.

FOR TREATING BACKACHE: For severe backaches use the following soothing massage oil: Mix together 4 drops of blue chamomile; 4 drops of birch; 4 drops of rosemary, coriander, or eucalyptus; 4 drops of ginger or black pepper; and 14 drops of lavender essential oils. Then add this solution to 1/2 ounce of any carrier oil, available in most health food stores.

For a minor ache use the following mixture: 2 drops of blue chamomile; 2 drops of birch; 2 drops of rosemary, coriander or eucalyptus; 2 drops of ginger or black pepper; and 2 drops of lavender in 1/2 ounce of carrier oil.
It is suggested to use either of these mixtures daily as needed, rubbing it into the affected area after a hot bath, when muscles are relaxed and pores are open.

FOR TREATING COLDS: At the first sign of a cold turn on the aromatic diffuser. "Scenting a room with the right essences can alleviate the symptoms of a cold," says Steele. He favors exotic essences such as ravensare and niaouli for their natural anti-infectious and antiviral properties. Because these oils have strong, slightly medicinal smells, Steele often blends them with a sweeter-smelling oils such as rosewood, lemon, eucalyptus, pine, or fir--all of which have an antiseptic effect. "The most important thing is to start using aromatics as soon as you start feeling run-down," says Steele. "In my experience, there is a very narrow window during which you can head off a cold before it starts."

FOR TREATING CUTS, SCRAPES, AND SCRATCHES: Lavender, a multipurpose first-aid oil, helps heal virtually any kind of superficial wound. Recommendation is applying a drop or two of lavender directly to the skin after the wound is cleaned.

FOR TREATING FATIGUE: Place a drop each of basil and rosemary (or geranium) essential oils on a tissue and inhale whenever you need a quick energy boost.

FOR TREATING THE FLU: When everyone around you seems to be coming down with the flu, mix a blend of essential oils to use in your diffuser. According to Steele, "Scenting a room with the right essences can stop the spread of airborne viruses."

In a 5-millimeter bottle, blend together 3 parts ravensare, 1 part naiouli or eucalyptus, 1 part lemon, 1 part rosewood, and 1 part lavender. (Ravensare and naiouli have antiviral properties, while the other essential oils act as antiseptics and give the blend a wonderful aroma.) Add about 50 drops of this blend to your diffuser at a time.
For a steam inhalation, add 6 to 8 drops of this blend to a bowl of just-boiled water. Place a towel over your head and inhale. Repeat this treatment two or three times a day if necessary.
For chills, add 3 drops of rosemary and 3 drops of ginger or black pepper essential oils to your bath. Or, make an energizing massage oil blend using 5 drops of ravensare and 15 drops of rosewood in 1/2 ounce of carrier oil such as olive or almond.

FOR TREATING A HEADACHE: The cool scent of peppermint can often relieve headache pain. Add a drop of peppermint essential oil to any unscented facial lotion and apply it under the nose and behind the ears. Inhaling the fragrance of peppermint directly from the bottle can also take the edge off of a headache.

FOR TREATING HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: Acccording to Victoria Edwards, "Blue chamomile is great for people with high blood pressure." Carry the essential oil with you and inhale directly from the bottle whenever you feel flushed or agitated. Also recommended is a daily massage using an everlast massage oil, which combines 1 drop of everlast (also called immortelle or helichrysum), 2 drops of blue chamomile, and 10 drops of lavender in 1 ounce of olive, almond, sunflower, or another carrier oil. Massage this blend into the area under the collarbone every day at bedtime.

FOR TREATING INSOMINIA: For occasional sleeplessness, add 6 to 8 drops of lavender, marjoram, or ylang-ylang essential oil to your bathwater before going to bed. Or put 4 drops of lavender, marjoram, rum or chamomile essential oil on your pillow right before sleep.

FOR TREATING MUSCLE CRAMPS AND PAIN: For a fragrant massage oil to relieve your aching muscles, a blend of anti-inflammatory blue chamomile, analgesic birch, stimulating rosemary, and soothing lavender essential oils is recommended. To prepare, add 3 drops of blue chamomile, 3 drops of birch, 3 drops of rosemary (or coriander), 8 drops of lavender, and 3 drops of ginger (or black pepper) to 1/2 ounce of carrier oil such as olive, almond, grapeseed, or avocado. Massage into the affected area after a warm bath.

FOR TREATING NAUSEA AND VOMITING: Peppermint is a traditional cure for nausea and vomiting. Suggested is adding a single drop of the essential oil to a sugar cube and sucking slowly until the cube is completely melted. An eight-ounce glass of water spike with 2 drops of the essential oil has a similiar effect.

FOR TREATING A SORE THROAT: To speed the healing of a sore throat, apply a thin film of carrier oil externally over the throat area. Canola, sunflower, grapeseed, and safflower are popular choices and are available in most health food stores. Apply 7 drops of sandalwood essential oil over the carrier oil and rub gently into the skin. Or, add 2 drops of tea tree, ginger, sandalwood, or geranium essential oils to 1/2 ounce of warm water and gargle. Any of these essential oils can be taken with a spoonful of honey to coat the throat.

FOR TREATING A STOMACHACHE: The essential oil peppermint is great for easing gastric discomfort. "Peppermint oil was used for years to flavor after-dinner mints, because it's a very effective digestive." (Michael Scholes, Aromatherapy Seminars.) But caution: Most of today's peppermint candies do not contain the essential oil and probably wouldn't help your stomachache. Suggested, however, is sucking on a sugar cube flavored with a single drop of peppermint oil whenever your stomach feels a bit queasy.

FOR TREATING STRESS: To melt away stress at the end of the day and ease the transition between work and home, recommended is clary sage and lavender, two essential oils that relax. "If you have a long commute, put a drop or two of the oil on a tissue or napkin and let it heat up in the sun on your dashboard. The heat diffuses the fragrance and helps you unwind. It's like the old after-work martini, but without the alcohol." (Victoria Edwards)

SOURCE: DRUG-FREE HEALING: Breakthrough Remedies for Healing Yourself Naturally, by the editors of PREVENTION Magazine Health Books.