I so enjoy aromatherapy. Not only is this healing art powerfully rejuvenating and restorative but it’s utterly delicious. Aromatherapy imparts aromatic compounds into the body, and even through the gentlest inhalation the bloodstream is permeated. The plant essences used in aromatherapy have antibiotic, antibacterial qualities, making them potent protectors against infections and disease. They can invigorate the body and mind, or help us to relax and de-stress.
To get started with aromatherapy you’ll want to know some of these basics. Here we go!
1. Plant Essences and the Brain
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of volatile plant essences to promote wellness physically, emotionally and mentally. A plant essence is an aromatic compound that is concentrated with fragrance and nutrients, offering healing power. Aromatic molecules permeate the air, we breathe the air, and the molecules enter through our nose, to our lungs and diffuse into our bloodstream.
When we inhale the essence the molecules of the aromatic compound connect with our limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is primarily in charge of our emotions, followed by memory, the sense of smell, nervous system, mood, and behavior. Maybe that’s why a fragrance can instantly transport us back in time; why the whiff of a cigar instantly floods my heart with affection as I recall my cigar aficianado father; or why the smell of something rotten conjures the emotion of offense. We were made to be affected inwardly by the scents in our environment.
2. Making Your Own Blends
First you may want to get to know your favorite EOs. Play with blends based on the fragrances you love or based on their known healing properties. You’ll often find yourself attracted to the aromas that contain healing properties your body is crying out for!
There’s more than one system for blending oils. Perhaps the simplest and among the most common is “The Piesse Scale.”
The Three “Notes”
In the 19th century a French chemist named Septimus Piesse came up with a “scent scale,” where he drew from musical language into fragrance. Like notes on a piano Piesse ranked the odours of perfumes to determine which were harmonious together and in what proportions. Today we use the rankings according to three notes, which the blender could use as a guide in creating a harmonious aroma. The three notes are top, middle and base. Simple!
The Piesse Scale
Top Notes: Light, bright, refreshing; often the most volatile (evaporate quickly) and the first scent your nose will pick up in a blend. Top notes are stimulating, uplifting; they sharpen focus and alertness; and are astringent. If you desire a more lively, energizing fragrance to awaken you in the morning or sustain you through a long drive, use more top notes. If you’re trying, conversely, to induce sleep, use less top and more middle.
*Top notes include:
Middle Notes: Less obvious, toning, balancing, often floral; middles will often comprise the main body of your blend. They last longer than top notes but aren’t as heavy and sustaining as base notes. Many middles can be either stimulating or sedative. Just as peppermint or ginger tea can bring either heat or cooling to the body middle notes help to bring balance, affecting both the body systems and the mind. They’re also purifying, gently cleansing, and stimulate healthy cell regeneration.
*Middle notes include:
- black pepper
Base Notes: Heavy, intense, rich and captivating. Base notes last much longer. They are “fixative” oils, meaning they slow the evaporation of top and middles. As the top notes evaporate, bases will remain prominent. If you use too much top note they will eventually taper off. But too much base note will outlast other oils and overpower your blend. Use tastefully and sparingly. Base notes are calming, encouraging stillness and rootedness. They can also be the more romantic tones. I find that bases don’t make me sleepy, but dreamy. They are perfect for prayer, study and meditation.
*Base notes include:
Ideally, blends should include all three notes in some proportion. When creating your own blend add one drop at a time until you get to know the oils’ interactions, and your preferences. Depending on your needs you may need a higher or lower ratio of base:top notes, etc. Remember to dilute in carrier oil for topical application. Store the pure blend in a dark, capped bottle kept out of sunlight. There are hundreds of recipes online and dozens of excellent books. Let your nose guide you and play!
3. Discovery and Healing
For thousands of years humans have used plant essences to enhance our well-being. Because aromatherapy is dependent on plants, flowers and fragrance and not on patented formulas, pharmaceuticals and other funders are less likely to support research that could scientifically prove the healing powers of aromatherapy. The modern world has been so distracted by debates over insurance coverage for expensive, often harmful drugs which we call “health care,” that we’ve scarcely taken the time to a) get to know our bodies, and b) become adept at utilizing the brilliant health care available to us in the garden.
Happily, we can still learn from old traditions, trial and error and garnering from other people’s experiences.
I think the first immediate health benefit of dabbling in aromatherapy is discovery. There is something so intriguing about the power of “aroma,” the reality that we breathe in plant molecules and they shift things in our bodies. There is something magical about recognizing and deepening our relationship with the earth. There is something healing about the process.