Stimulating Black pepper

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is distilled from the dried crushed fruit of the vine and has a sharp, clean, spicy aroma. If I were to sum up this oil in one word it would be stimulating.

It is an oil I turn to when treating muscular-skeletal aches and pains as it is warming, a tonic for tired muscles so good to use before and after sport. It is rubefacient; when applied it reddens the skin due to the dilation of the capillaries therefore excellent for stimulating circulation and the lymphatic system. It has been used for over 4000 years in India to treat urinary and liver disorders because of it’s detoxifying nature.

It can help stimulate digestion, improving one’s appetite and aiding those with constipation. A good decongestant it helps shift catarrh brought on from colds and coughs.

It blends beautifully with citrus oils such as Lemon (Citrus limon) or Orange (Citrus sinensis), or flower oils such as Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), or a resin oil such as Frankincense (Boswellia sacra).

Due to it’s fiery nature I would avoid using it with the elderly and children, and has the potential to irritate the kidneys and sensitive skin. Avoid in pregnancy and if taking homeopathic remedies.

Soothing Chamomile

Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

If I was going to sum up Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) in one word it would be soothing.

Distilled from the flowers it is readily available as an essential oil, and the flowers to make a lovely tea which could easily become part of your everyday self care routine.

As an oil it has an earthy, fruity, refreshing aroma with a hint of apple.

A highly respected oil, it is gentle and safe – its main constituent being Esters therefore it is gentle and safe making it good for treating the young, elderly and frail. Its soothing anti-inflammatory properties help those with allergies such as hay-fever, eczema and asthma. It’s calming nature is good for when we feel stressed, over-whelmed with worry or anger. It is a potent sedative so great for those who need rest. And it’s comforting properties can soothe premenstrual tension and painful periods as well as digestive issues such as indigestion and cholic.

Applications include adding drops to a body or face oil (blends well with Lemon, Bergamot, Geranium, Lavender, Patchouli, Neroli), or a compress to use with a hot water bottle for a churning stomach or period pain (see blends and applications here).

Another great way is to make a tea by growing Chamomile in your garden which you can dry and add to a brew. You can also buy the dry herbs or tea bags.

Make Chamomile tea.

Grow Chamomile.

Buy dried Chamomile flowers.

Chamomile is emmenagogic so do not use in pregnancy.

Sweet orange and Clove bud oil

Orange with cloves

I’m getting into the festive season by putting Sweet orange (citrus sinensis) combined with Clove bud oil (syzygium aromaticum) into my oil burner. Add a drop of each to a teaspoon of water, light the candle and breathe. 

You may have come across Clove bud oil if you’ve had toothache as it is high in eugenol, a chemical that numbs the nerves. It can also be found in food. If using Clove bud oil in a massage, do not combine with other oils high in eugenol such as Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and Cinnamon (leaf and bark) as these oils should always be used in small amounts due to their chemical make up. Also, I would never recommend ingesting any essential oil, consult a qualified aromatherapist or your doctor before use.

Yet Clove bud oil is highly effective and although recommended to be used with caution, there is research about how successful it is for dealing with pain and bacteria. It is anti inflammatory and an analgesic, good for musculoskeletal pain such as arthritis. It is an immunostimulant so can be used after a period of illness, or you are feeling physically debilitated.

It is a relaxing, warm oil and can create a peaceful atmosphere with it’s rich, spicy but sweet aroma, and hints of woody, fruity notes which is why I’m recommending it in a oil burner or diffuser (2/3 drops of Clove, 4 drops of Orange). Combined with the fresh, uplifting scent of Sweet orange, let these oils fill your room with festive ambience.

Avoid in pregnancy, those who are taking immunosuppressant medication. Can cause skin irritation.

The healing ‘tears’ of Frankincense

Why is Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) significant and given as a gift to Jesus in recognition of his Divinity? The reason is that in ancient times Frankincense was just as expensive as gold in terms of weight and is mentioned 22 times in the Bible.

Yet Frankincense is also rich in terms of its healing and therapeutic qualities. The essential oil comes from the dried and distilled resin of the Boswellia tree, grown in Somalia, Ethiopia, the Red Sea and Lebanon. It is extracted by tapping the bark, where the sticky resin exudes and forms ‘tears’ that harden. These ‘tears’ naturally protect the tree from infection and repairs damage and disease and we use it in the same way, to protect and repair our bodies and minds.

Traditionally Frankincense was used as incense in churches and for meditation. It is a balancing oil, calming and sedative, slowing the pace of, and deepening, the breath making it a comforting oil when stressed and anxious. However, it can also be energising as according to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, Frankincense heightened his senses and awareness, enabling him to prophesise. Culpepper suggested it helped with depression and poor memory, helping strengthen the nervous system. It has a lemony, warm woody aroma which can sometimes be spicy and musky making Frankincense a dynamic oil – both relaxing and stimulating. When Frankincense is burned it produces phenol which is highly antiseptic, historically believed to banish evil spirits from sick rooms. Being rich in monoterpenes it helps clear mucus and catarrh making it expectorant so good for asthma, coughs, bronchitis and laryngitis – perfect for these winter months where our immune systems are low and susceptible.

Frankincense is also a lovely oil for the skin, particularly mature skin, balancing oily skin, it is anti-inflammatory, healing scars, wounds and sores – similar to how the resin ‘tears’ repair damage to wounds of the tree, we can use the oil to repair damage to human skin. It blends beautifully with Myrrh but also any citrus oil such as Bergamot, orange, lemon, and floral oils like Rose, Geranium, Lavender and Jasmine.

This is an oil gifted by kings given to a future king – if you believe in the Christmas story yet it’s healing, meditative power is far reaching both historically and cross culturally making it a magical oil producing perfect harmony, balance and calm.

Avoid in pregnancy, unsuitable for children and those who are taking immunosuppressant medication.

Bathe in forest Pine

I’m starting Advent with the festive healing scent of Pine (Pinus sylvestris), or Scots Pine as it is known, which has a fresh, woody, resinous – somewhat harsh – aroma. The oil is extracted from the needles of this diamond shaped tree, making it a Christmas tree favourite. It is also the national tree of Scotland.

Like most essential oils, Pine has medicinal qualities. It is rich in monoterpenes making it an excellent expectorant, both anti-viral and bactericidal, therefore good for respiratory congestion such as asthma and bronchitis. It can also have a clearing effect for the common cold. It has wound-healing properties for inflamed skin such as eczema and is an anti-inflammatory for muscular aches and pains, and arthritis. Put 1-2 drops in a burner at this time of year to clear the air and get you into festive mood.

The scent will remind you being in a pine forest because it is the evaporation of the essential oils from the pine needles that creates the scent when you are in a forest environment. For those who are spending more time indoors, when you burn this oil, it will create that space – a healing space – where you can imagine yourself taking a slow, mindful walk through a pine forest and you can experience the sensory power of a forest bath.     

Do not use in pregnancy. It is a very stimulation oil so not recommended for high blood pressure or those with sensitive skin. Consult a doctor or qualified aromatherapist if you have any concerns.

As the weather changes, it’s time to look after your skin

As the weather changes so does our response to it emotionally and physiologically. For some, Autumn is their favourite season, the smells, the changing colour, the drop in temperature – it’s a sensory pleasure. For others, the change signifies an ending, colder days and darker nights which can often trigger feelings of anxiety or sadness. However we feel about Autumn, the change affects our bodies and minds in different ways and in this post I’m going to talk how we can hydrate our skin which may become dryer in the colder months using what are known as Carrier Oils.

Carrier oils are made in the same way as essential oils, they are extracted from plants such as sunflower, grapeseed, olives, apricots, wheat, soya to name a few. They are not the same as the cooking oils you have in your store cupboard and these oils should not be used on your body or face. Carrier oils produced in the same way as essential oils and like essential oils they have their own therapeutic qualities enriched with vitamins, minerals and proteins. They  should only be bought from reputable suppliers.

As a therapist, I use carrier oils in massage, this helps dilute the essential oils I put in when I massage the skin, making the essential oils safe as well as creating moisture and slippage for the treatment. Often, carrier oils do not have an aroma so are perfect for blending your favourite essential oils and massaging into your skin.

Here I recommend three carrier oils to have as part of a skin care routine:

Apricot Kernel (Prunus armeniaca) is extracted from the seeds of the fruit Apricot oil and is rich in Vitamins A and E, and Omegas 3 and 9, so is very nourishing for our skin. It is good for all skin types, light and non-sticky making it a lovely oil for the face. You can buy it in 30ml bottles, with a pipette to massage into your face morning and/or nightly. It can be expensive but you will only need a few drops at a time. Apricot oil is not recommended for people with a nut allergy.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) is extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose flower. You may have come across it as a treatment for PMT. I often use it when massaging women as it contains fatty acids which can help alleviate breast pain. Fatty acids are also used to treat inflammation and eczema. If you experience eczema, dab a small amount on the affected area, or if you have dry hands, use it as hand moisturiser. Make sure you wear gloves too as this can help alleviate dry hands! Also, if you are pre-menstrual or menopausal, massage into your abdomen after a warm bath.

Sunflower oil (Halianthus annuus) is extracted from the seeds of the sunflower. It is pale, light and non sticky, good for all skin types.   It is rich in vitamins A, B, D and E, containing Omegas making it a healing oil. It is a good oil for the body, to massage into legs, arms, and the abdomen helping rehydrate your skin. Massage just after a bath or shower, when your skin is slightly damp, this will help lock in the moisture for long lasting softness and glow.

Don’t miss my next post where I write about essential oils to lift your mood. You can add these oils to any of the carrier oils suggested and apply to your body and face.

Geranium oil

Geranium oil…just writing about this beautiful oil makes me want to take a long, deep inhale of it. Geranium is grown all over Europe, Russia, Egypt, North Africa and can come in different varieties and scents; the one I’m describing here is Pelargonium graveolens.

This photograph is from my garden and is a Zonal pelargonium commonly in most garden centres and in lots of gardens as it is ideal for pots and window boxes. Folklore tells us it was used to ward of evil spirits.

It has a sweet, rose like aroma and can often be a substitute for Rose oil so check the labelling before buying (always buy using the botanical name). Traditionally, Geranium is a regarded as a healing plant and was often planted around houses to ward off evil spirits – it is interesting that we plant them now in our front gardens and pots! It’s rich in alcohols and phenols making it antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and fungicidal therefore excellent for skin conditions such as athletes foot, burns, impetigo. It is a ‘skin balancer’ helping control sebum production (secretion from skin cells) so it is good for all skin types and has cell regenerating properties therefore perfect for mature skin. I always use it in face cream for this reason and because it is carminative, soothing the nervous system, relieving stress and anxiety. It regulates hormones therefore useful for women who are feeling premenstrual, working alongside our circulatory system eliminating waste and congestion. Use it if you experience Raynaud’s disease (myself), it warms cold hands and feet. It is a relatively inexpensive oil and can be found in most health food shops or online.

Put 1-2 drops in an oil burner to lift your mood; mix 2 drops with 5ml of carrier oil to massage into your abdomen if you are feeling bloated or congested; add 4 drops of Geranium and 4 drops of Lavender into a warm bath to help you relax after a long day. I am currently working on a hand cream using this oil so watch this space! Avoid during pregnancy.

Every house should have one….

Every house should have a bottle of Tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). With its distinctive, antiseptic aroma, extracted from the leaves of the tree, it can be applied neat to treat and prevent ALL infections including bacteria, viruses and fungi and, according to one study, MRSA and the treatment of flu. What is unique about Tea tree is that it can stop the spread of virulent organisms such as Staph infections which cause skin irritations like impetigo, styes, conjunctivitis and athletes foot. It can also stop the spread of Candida albican, commonly known as thrush. It can treat insect bites and verrucae. Put one drop of Tea tree onto a cotton bud and apply to the affected area. If you do not want to apply neat, mix 1 drop with 5 mls of blending cream or aloe gel and apply to the area (at least once a day). If you are suffering from athletes foot, put up to 8 drops into a bowl of warm water and bathe your feet. Make sure you thoroughly dry your feet afterwards. It will ease itching and offer welcome relief. I always have a bottle to hand, it is inexpensive and can be bought from most pharmacies and health food shops. Make sure when you purchase Tea tree, the Latin botanical name (Melaleuca alternifolia) is displayed, which will ensure that it is from the plant and is not diluted with another oil. Do not use during pregnancy, if you are taking immunosupressant medication or have sensitive skin.