The Art of Aromatherapy

One of the greatest pleasures of being human is enjoying a good smell. Can you close your eyes right now and bring to mind a favorite smell, filling up your imagination with that scent?

I’ll bet that along with your smell of choice, a specific memory or association was conjured. This happens because the thalamus sends smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions involved in learning and memory. To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of the perfume Fracas, I am fooled into thinking my old boss Martha Stewart is nearby! (Mixed feelings ensue…)

Get started with a few essential essences

Aromatherapy has many potential benefits. Certain scents can reduce stress, hasten a good night’s sleep, or give you more energy. Aromatherapy is already helping office workers stay alert, and hospitals are experimenting with using aromatherapy to help patients relax. Massaging aromatic oils into your skin is another way to benefit from aromatherapy (but please take care to dilute essential oils with carrier oils.)

Essential OilPotential EffectCategory/DetailNote Type
PatchouliGrounding, CalmingEarthy, WoodsyBottom
CedarwoodGrounding, CalmingWoodsyBottom
SandalwoodGrounding, ProtectingWoodsy (sweet, rich)Bottom
Ylang-YlangBalancingSweet, FloralBottom, Middle
LavenderRelaxing, CalmingFloral, HerbaceousTop, Middle
RosemaryInvigoratingMedicinal, herbaceousMiddle
CloveWarmingSpicyMiddle
Tea TreeCleansingMedicinal, Woodsy, herbaceousMiddle
EucalyptusStimulatingFresh, Medicinal, WoodsyMiddle, Top
NeroliStabilizingFloral, Rich, CitrusMiddle, Top
BergamotBalancing, UpliftingCitrus, FloralTop
Clary SageBalancing, CleansingHerbaceous, Fruity, FloralMiddle
Sweet OrangeBalancing, CalmingCitrus, SweetTop
LemonCleansing, UpliftingCitrusTop
PeppermintInvigoratingMintyTop

Just like wine, you don’t have to be an expert to know what you like when it comes to essential oils. Experiment with a few starter scents: one that might have some calming qualities, one that might have some cleansing or clarifying effects, and one that is uplifting or energizing. Then you’ll have a bouquet to help balance your moods at the ready. There are many ways to use essential oils – for the sake of this post, I am referring to inhalation and topical use only.

I’ve been using essential oils for decades as a way to bring balance into my present moment, and regularly enjoy the concentrated smells and therapeutic properties of plants. Although I’m no expert, along the way I’ve picked up some useful knowledge on the properties of essential oils, which are to be used thoughtfully and carefully, as they are highly concentrated plant essences.

My someday dream: wandering the lavender fields in Provence, France

I’ve always loved earthy scents like sandalwood and patchouli, cleansing notes of citrus, stimulating hits of rosemary…and don’t even get me started on the transportive qualities of lavender. One of my lifelong dreams is to take a nap in a field of lavender in full bloom! These fragrances literally infuse my daily routine, enveloping me with a sense of empowered protection from the hectic stimulus all around.

Morning Nasal Steam: a few drops of eucalyptus and rosemary oils into a steamy pot of water.

Some of my favorite daily ways to use essential oils include:

  • Morning Nasal Steam for Respiratory Health
  • Grounding or Refreshing Roller Ball Blend (for quick massage, perfume, or to accompany yoga practice)
  • Balancing Room Diffuser Blend (or pet-free rooms only)
  • Dreamy Foot Massage (oil + lavender rubbed into feet before bedtime)

Making your own blends

This is where things get really fun and witchy. I’ve done a lot of experimenting, bearing in mind the effect I’m hoping to achieve, as well as finding scents that mix well together. Sometimes I’ve made some really terrible blends that I had to throw out (less is more!) and I learned the hard way not to make all my holiday gift scent blends on the same day, or you will probably get light-headed and possibly hallucinate due to olfactory overload.

Custom blend room sprays as holiday gifts, diluted with water+fixed with witch hazel

Use the chart below to get started on combining scent types, and be advised that they are just guidelines to be explored. Here’s a really helpful formula: your blend should contain 20% bottom note, 50% middle note, and 30% top note (a total of 10 drops for a small rollerball, maybe 10-20 drops for a room spray.) The bottom note is usually the heaviest, deepest scent. The middle note is even and balanced and will stay with you the longest. The top note is often bright and light and will fizzle away after the first sniff. After combining your plant essences, fill up the rest of your bottle with distilled water and some witch hazel for room sprays, or your favorite carrier oil for massage and protective perfume. Shake and enjoy.

COMBINING SCENT TYPES
Same categories combine well with each other
Floral blends with floral, woodsy, spicy, and citrus
Woodsy blends with woodsy, floral, earthy, herby, minty, medicinal, spicy, and citrus
Earthy blends with earthy, woodsy, and minty
Herbaceous blends with herby, woodsy, and minty
Minty blends with minty, woodsy, earthy, herby, and citrus
Medicinal blends with medicinal and woodsy
Spicy blends with spicy, floral, woodsy, and citrus
Citrus blends with citrus, floral, woodsy, minty, and spicy

Because essential oils are concentrated, they should be diluted with either water or oil depending on their use. For massage and perfume, I use oil; for inhalation or room spray, I use water. Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be used undiluted on small areas of the skin. Organic and cold-pressed carrier oils are preferred, and examples include sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, or avocado oil. These oils do not have a strong smell of their own. I will even sometimes use refined sesame oil: although it’s heavy, my skin is quite dry and it gets absorbed right away.

Calming, Uplifting Rollerball Blend

Cedarwood: Woodsy, Bottom Note2 drops
Clary Sage: Herby, Floral, Middle Note1 drop
Indian Rose Blend: Floral, Middle Note4 drops
Lemon: Citrus, Top Note3 drops

Carefully pour or use a pipette to add the essential oils into a clean dry rollerball vessel (can be purchased on Amazon.) Swirl around and take a little whiff, making any adjustments your nose tells you to. Add your carrier oil (I used jojoba for this one), shake, and plunge the rollerball down to seal it, capping it off and shaking it well. Do a little test, rolling the scent on your hand, your inner wrist, or even behind your ears. Enjoy for yourself, or give as a gift!

Reference books from my library

Another note of caution: some essential oils can be toxic to pets (this linked list is NOT comprehensive.) You can search ASPCA’s site of toxic plants, and use that as a guide since the oil is a concentrated form of the plant. Plants are powerful, use them wisely. Please reach out if you’d like me to create custom aromatherapy blends just for you!

Resources:

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