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Aromatherapy for healing the Mind and Body

two clear glass bottles with liquids

 

Aroma is very powerful. We all have certain scents that bring back memories or evoke certain thoughts and feelings. It’s no wonder, then, that for thousands of years people have used scents to evoke a physical response and to heal. Strong evidence was found to link aromatherapy to many ancient traditions. Though aromatic oils have been used to treat and cure various ailments and conditions for centuries, the formal study on their properties only started in 1928.

What is Aromatherapy?

In its simplest form, aromatherapy is the use of scent, usually in the form of essential plant oils for therapeutic purposes. The essential oils are normally used to relieve a person from stress and a variety of stress-related conditions. They are also used for promoting a person’s general well being and invigorating the body and psyche.

How does it work?

Aromatherapy works by inducing our olfactory nerve cells with aromatic oils, which then carries the message to our limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for controlling memory and emotions.

Aromatherapy is concerned in the workings of both our physical and emotional selves. Physically, aromatherapy helps in relieving specific conditions by stimulating our nervous, immune and circulatory systems. In emotions, however, they work by evoking pleasant memories and uplifting our mood.

Although the medical community is not in agreement over whether aromatherapy in itself is instrumental to healing various medical conditions, the idea of recovery through aromatherapy is widely accepted. Think of eucalyptus for easing cold symptoms, minty or peppery salves for soothing achy muscles and lavender, rose or frankincense for relieving stress.

How are essential oils made? 

Essential oils are derived from the distillation of the parts of a plant. They can come from the leaves, roots, flowers, stems or bark. They hold the true essence of the plants from which they originally came in high concentration. Though termed as oil, essential oils normally do not have all of the real properties of oil. It is important to note that, like oil, essential oils do not dilute in water. Their high concentration means that they should not be ingested or used without properly diluting them in a carrier oil first.  

clear glass bottles on white surface
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How are essential oils used?

Essential oils are used in a variety of methods. A few are through inhalation, by blending them with a carrier oil and adding them to bathwater, or by the application of the diluted oil on the body.

You should only use pure essential oils for aromatherapy. You want to look for 100% essential oils, not fragrance oils when choosing oils for aromatherapy. Be aware, though that labels like “therapeutic grade” do not have a standardized meaning, nor are essential oils FDA approved.

Commonly Used Oils in Aromatherapy

Carrier (base) oils

The following is a list of the most common oils used in aromatherapy. First are the common carrier oils (also known as vegetable oils or base oils).

  • Almond, Sweet
  • Apricot Kernel
  • Avocado
  • Borage
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Coconut
  • Grapeseed
  • Jojoba
  • Olive
  • Rose Hip
  • Shea Butter (carrier)
  • Sunflower

Essential Oils

Next are some of the most commonly used essential oils. Everyone has their own preference, so expect some variation depending on the practitioner. 

  • Frankincense
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet Orange
  • Tea Tree
selective focus of essential oil bottles
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Essential Oils to Avoid

Below are some essential oils that are not recommended to use in aromatherapy. This is especially true if you are not supervised by a professional, licensed aromatherapist. This is not an extensive list, so please, know your essential oil before using it. Remember, essential oils are highly concentrated. Just because something is safe as a food does not mean it is safe as an essential oil.

  • Almond, Bitter
  • Arnica
  • Birch, Sweet
  • Broom, Spanish
  • Calamus
  • Camphor
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Mugwort
  • Mustard
  • Onion
  • Pennyroyal
  • Rue
  • Sassafras
  • Thuja
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood

Aromatherapy at Work 

You’ll find aromatherapists in a variety of work environments including in private practice, natural health clinics, health clubs, spas and holistic medical practices, among others.

While there is limited formal research on aromatherapy, therapists and physicians often prescribe aromatic essential oils for a range of complaints. These include colds and flus, insomnia, sinusitis, migraines, digestive problems and muscle pains. Most people are familiar with using lavender for insomnia or peppermint and eucalyptus for congestion. While I’ve probably said this about a million times by now, essential oils should never be taken orally. They should also be diluted in a carrier oil and used sparingly at first until you know how you react to them.

Aromatherapy for You

If you’re interested in learning more to begin using aromatherapy yourself, check out my 9 Tips For Aromatherapy Beginners

If you’d like to read some of the research on the medicinal use of essential oils, here are a few articles for you:

The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy in Reducing Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work?

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9 Helpful Tips for Aromatherapy Beginners

 

Aromatherapy is a useful tool for health and wellness. Learning to use essential oils safely and effectively is a bit daunting at first, though. Here are nine simple tips to get you started.

9 Tips For Aromatherapy Beginners

1. Buy One or Two Aromatherapy Books

First of all, it’s good to have a book or two to for easy reference. Choose just one or two books to start your aromatherapy library. It’s best to choose books that are general resources to begin. This gives you some basic information and helps you discover the areas in which you have the most interest. A knowledgeable author will not recommend ingesting essential oils or using them undiluted (neat) topically. Steer clear of any books recommending ingestion or neat usage.

The only possible exceptions are undiluted topical use of lavender and tea tree oil, however the safest route is always to dilute in a carrier oil.

2. Join Aromatherapy Discussion Forums

Facebook groups, Instagram pages and other forums are great resources for aromatherapy newbies. Read past discussions, ask questions, and learn from others. This is my favorite Facebook group for learning about essential oil safety: Using Essential Oils Safely. 

Essential Oils for Aromatherapy
Essential Oils

3. Choose Five or Ten Essential Oils to Start

Though you may be tempted to buy more, try to begin with just five or ten different essential oils. Because essential oils can be pricey, you may want to experiment with a few at first. Then you can invest in more if you decide to pursue aromatherapy further. Some of my favorites are lavender, tea tree, peppermint, lemon and rosemary.  

4. Make Sure to Buy 100%, Pure, Unadulterated Essential Oils

When you buy essential oils, choose well-known and reputable manufacturers. Avoid anything described as synthetic, fragrance, and/or perfume oils. These are not essential oils; they contain man-made chemicals and have no aromatherapeutic value.

Further more, good quality essential oils do not have to cost a fortune. Some of my favorite brands are Now, Plant Therapy, Aura Cacia, Eden’s Garden and Garden of Life. I personally avoid the MLM brands due to some of their business practices. 

5. Buy at Least One Carrier Oil

For nearly all topical aromatherapy applications, you will need to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil. Good all-purpose carrier oils include sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and grapeseed oil.

Choose a good quality carrier oil based on the application and your skin type, and use only a few drops of essential oil(s) per ounce of carrier oil. As you learn more about essential oils, you can play around with the dilution ratios depending on your needs. 

My favorites are coconut for normal to oily skin and olive for dry skin. I like these because they are easy to find just about anywhere.

6. Store Your Oils Properly

Essential oils should be stored only in dark glass containers. Since essential oils are volatile, keep the lids tightly closed. Essential oils and carrier oils should be stored away from heat and light. Carrier oils will go rancid eventually, so it’s best to buy smaller quantities. 

Blending Essential Oils in Carrier Oil

7. Learn How to Do a Patch Test

Essential oils can cause adverse reactions due to allergy or sensitization over time. A patch test helps to determine whether you might react to a particular essential oil. It is important to perform a skin patch test on yourself with each new oil you want to use topically. 

8. Don’t Use Aromatherapy with Children or Pets

Until you are thoroughly familiar with essential oils and associated safety issues, don’t use them on children or pets, or while pregnant or breastfeeding. Cats, in particular, may be adversely affected by essential oils. Make sure essential oils are kept out of reach of children. 

9. Don’t Ingest Essential Oils

Lastly, do not ingest essential oils. When taken internally, essential oils can damage your esophagus and liver. Some essential oils that are safe to use topically may be quite toxic if taken internally. In addition, some essential oils may interact with prescription or over the counter drugs. The only safe way to ever ingest essential oils is under the care of a licensed, knowledgeable aromatherapist, encapsulated with a carrier oil and for a brief period of time to treat a specific condition. Even then, it would be best to choose another option, such as an herbal infusion or tincture or medication prescribed by your doctor. This is true even for essential oils labeled “therapeutic grade” or similar.

As you experiment with and learn more about aromatherapy, you will become more confident using essential oils. There is so much to explore, so be safe and have fun!

Essential oils and herbal supplements are not FDA approved. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal or aromatherapy treatments.

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All Purpose Cleaner Recipe

We are all becoming more aware of the types of products we use everyday. Whether it’s a concern for the environmental impact, the effect they have on our health or the safety for our pets and children, we want to know we aren’t inadvertently introducing harmful things into our homes. Something I do to feel confident in the safety of cleaning products I use around my family is to make my own where possible. One such product is a simple all purpose cleaner I use for cleaning hard surfaces, such as kitchen and bathroom counters and walls. It only uses a few ingredients, all of which you probably already have on hand.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

All Purpose Cleaner Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Liquid soap, either dish soap or something like Dr. Bronner’s castile soap
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Water
  • Optional: Essential oil of your choice

Supplies:

  • Clean, empty spray bottle
  • Liquid measuring supplies if you aren’t comfortable just eyeballing it
  • Optional: A funnel might make it easier to fill the bottle.

How to make it:

Measure about 2 tablespoons of soap, one cup of vinegar and one cup of water into the spray bottle. It doesn’t have to be exact. I usually just eyeball it. If you would like to use an essential oil, add 3-5 drops as well. Do be aware of safety guidelines regarding any essential oils you use, especially around pregnant women, children and pets. Tea tree oil or lavender are nice for cleaning and generally safe for most people. If the soap you use is scented or if you or your family members are sensitive to scents, you may want to skip the essential oil.

Swirl the bottle to mix everything without making the soap foam up too much. 

That’s it. Now you have an all purpose cleaner that works as well as any other I’ve tried, with the added benefit of being safe enough that kiddos can help with the cleaning. 

If you like this cleaning recipe, you’ll also like my DIY soft scrub for tougher cleaning jobs. To make sure you don’t miss out on future posts, sign up for my newsletter.

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Ways to Build Your Immune System and Stay Healthy

No one wants to get sick. Whether it’s the flu going around or something more unknown like the coronavirus, everyone wants to avoid catching it. While nothing is 100%, there are a few things my family does to increase our chances at staying healthy when there’s something going around.

A few notes on supplements and essential oils

I am not a doctor. Everything we do may not work for you and your family. It’s important to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you have other health concerns. 

In addition to supplements, I also use essential oils to a degree. While I do think essential oils are beneficial, I don’t believe they are a cure-all or always appropriate. If you choose to use essential oils, I recommend researching contraindications and general usage guidelines for each essential oil before using. Two of my favorite sites for essential oil safety are the Tisserand Institute and AromaWeb, particularly AromaWeb’s essential oil profiles.

There are safety guidelines to using all essential oils, such as proper dilution and not ingesting, that are important to know. There are also safety guidelines to using specific oils, such as knowing that eucalyptus essential oil should not be used on or around young children. These safety guidelines apply to all essential oil brands, regardless of whether they are “therapeutic grade”.

With that out of the way, here are my family’s tips for staying healthy when there’s something going around.

Eat right

Aside from proper hand washing, I think this is probably the most important tip of all. If you want your immune system to be able to do its job, you need to give it the proper fuel to work well. Sugars give you calories and energy but not much else. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein while limiting refined sugars gives your body energy and nutrients to keep everything working as it should.

With the coronavirus that’s going around, grocery stores are running out of some pantry staples like rice, beans and canned goods. Fresh produce and meat seem to still be readily available for the most part, though. With a little prep and planning, many fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen to make them last longer. You can also make soups, stews and casseroles in bulk to freeze if you have the freezer room.

Get outside

Fresh air and sunshine are good for you mentally and physically. Sunshine helps your body produce vitamin D. Vitamin D has many functions in the body. In addition to helping build strong bones, there is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D helps to inhibit viruses, like those that cause the flu. (Sources here and here.)

In normal flu seasons, while everyone is healthy we frequent outdoor playgrounds unless it’s ridiculously cold or rainy. With the current recommendations regarding COVID-19, we will probably stick to hanging out in our own yard or open green spaces.

If you can, though, try to get outside every day. Children especially need an opportunity to run and play outside. Even if it’s raining, as long as it’s not too cold and there’s no lightning, let them play in the rain and get muddy.

Exercise is important, but even just sitting outside reading a book gives you the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. If you can’t get outside, at the very least open the curtains and windows to let a little of the outside inside.

Vitamins and supplements

During cold and flu season, we all usually take extra vitamin C. While taking extra vitamin C may not be a miracle cure for colds, it is important for proper immune function. The best way to get vitamin C is through eating foods, such as citrus fruits, that are naturally high in vitamin C. Since it is important for immune function, I feel like a daily supplement is worthwhile on the off-chance we’re not getting enough from out diet.

Vitamin D is another supplement I take, particularly in winter months. As I cited earlier, there is some evidence that it helps to inhibit certain viruses. We all began taking vitamin D at our doctors’ recommendations. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin D is more dangerous if you take too much. It’s definitely a good idea to consult with your doctor before supplementing with it.

Strategic use of essential oils

While more research is needed, there is some evidence to suggest that certain essential oils have antimicrobial properties. One of the more well-known and one of my favorites is tea tree, or Melaleuca alternifolia oil. I like to add a little bit of tea tree oil to my homemade cleaning products, especially in winter.

Another way I like to use essential oils is to diffuse a few drops in a diffuser. To be fair, I’m not sure how much, if any, antimicrobial benefit they have in that form, partly because of the high dilution and because I haven’t had much luck finding research on that specific method of use. I like the scents better than air fresheners, though. Also, if used properly, it won’t harm even if it does little, if anything to help. Proper usage in this case means keeping it away from pets, especially cats, only diffusing age and condition-appropriate essential oils for the people in the room it’s being used, and not adding more than a drop or two to the diffuser at a time.

I do usually keep a can of Lysol and some bleach around in case something really disgusting hits our household. For the rest of the time, though, I think they are overkill.

Wash your hands to stay healthy

One of the best ways to stay healthy, of course is to wash your hands. One study showed that hand washing-even without soap-was more effective at eliminating influenza A on hands than hand sanitizer. Washing with soap further increased the benefit. According to the CDC, hand sanitizer is not as effective at removing all types of germs, such as  Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile, making handwashing all the more important.

Any type of soap acts as a sort of emulsifier to allow oils on your skin and the germs within the oil to be washed away by water. (This page gives a more detailed explanation on how soap works.) If someone in my family is sick, I like using tea tree soap. While more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that tea tree essential oil has antimicrobial properties. If that is the case, it may boost the cleaning action of hand washing.

Masks to stay healthy

With COVID-19, wearing a mask is recommended or even mandated in some areas. The main argument for them is that they help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus, especially before they have symptoms and know to self isolate. I’ve seen many arguments against wearing a mask. If you’re wondering about the effectiveness of homemade masks, this is a good site to review https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/diy-homemade-mask-protect-virus-coronavirus/. They did several tests, including filtration of particles smaller than the coronavirus, effectiveness of homemade masks in general, which fabric works best, and how effective a cloth mask is if worn for an extended period.

I do think mask wearing is beneficial for staying healthy if done properly. I wear them when I go grocery shopping or am in a similar situation where keeping a distance isn’t possible. A mask isn’t 100%, though, so it’s important to use them with other healthy practices.

Even if you do everything right, nothing is a 100% guarantee against viruses and other types of infection. Sometimes, despite our efforts a doctor’s visit and medication is required. By taking measures to support our immune system with proper nutrition, fresh air and exercise, and limiting exposure to germs through cleaning and hand washing, though, we can increase our odds at staying healthy.

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Ways to Build Your Immune System and Stay Healthy
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Frankincense and Myrrh Soap is Back!

Frankincense and myrrh was one of my first customer requests years ago when I began soap making. Over time, there’s been a few variations in the recipe.

For the first time ever, this year’s Frankincense and Myrrh soap is 100% synthetic fragrance free. Instead, I used pure frankincense and myrrh essential oils. Then, I added a touch of orange Valencia essential oil to sweeten it. The end result is a warm, piney scent. It is a bit more subtle than what you get with synthetic fragrance oils, so the scent isn’t overwhelming. Plus, you get the benefits of true essential oils.

I also formulated this batch to lather up like my other shampoo bars. For travelling, shampoo bars are the way to go. With a bar, there’s no worries about leaking in your luggage or TSA liquid restrictions. No plastic bottles also means no BPA concerns and less environmental impact.

Everyone needs soap. Frankincense and Myrrh handmade soap makes a great stocking stuffer or small gift for teachers or coworkers. Right now, use coupon code “ShopSmall18” for 30% off your entire order at the SubEarthan Cottage shop

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Essential Oil Rollers Available at SubEarthan Cottage

Pumpkin lavender roll on Lemongrass

When used properly, essential oils are a wonderful tool for health and well-being. After much research, I now offer seven essential oil blends at SubEarthan Cottage in convenient roll-on form. Each blend is able to be customized for dilution, which is very important if you intend to use them on children or sensitive individuals. You can also choose between coconut, sweet almond and olive oils for the carrier. If none of my blends work for your needs, there is the option to choose a single essential oil or your own custom blend.

I personally carry two blends with me at all times. They are “Peace” and “Balance”.

Peace

Peace Essential Oil Blend
Peace essential oil blend

Peace is a blend of Frankincense, Lavender, Orange and Patchouli essential oils. I love it for days when things get a bit crazy. It’s like a mini-vacation in a bottle.

Balance

Balance essential oil roller
Balance essential oil roller

Balance is a blend of pure Clary Sage, Lavender, Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils. Those oils are thought to help with pms, mood swings and all the other fun that comes with monthly hormone shifts. Since the oils in Balance may effect hormones, this blend is not suitable for pregnant women.

Relax

Relax essential oil blend
Relax essential oil blend

Relax is a blend of pure Lavender, Frankincense and Orange essential oils. It’s great for helping you unwind after a busy day.

Focus

Focus Essential oil Blend
Focus essential oil blend

Focus is a blend of pure peppermint and orange essential oils. The bright, crisp scents may help keep you alert and focused.

Release

Release essential oil blend
Release essential oil blend

Release is a blend of pure lavender, peppermint and frankincense essential oils. I like rolling it on tense muscles.

Soothe

Soothe essential oil blend
Soothe essential oil blend

Soothe is a blend of pure eucalyptus, frankincense and lemon essential oils. It’s basically a nicer, less goopy version of the chest rub your mom made you use when you were sick. Eucalyptus is one of the essential oils that should not be used on children, so if you are interested in a version for children, let me know and I can swap the eucalyptus for something kid-friendly.

Spring

Spring essential oil blend
Spring essential oil blend

Spring is a blend of pure lavender, peppermint and lemon essential oils. If you’re like me, spring and fall are torture due to all the pollen in the air. These oils are supposed to help ease seasonal allergy symptoms. I personally haven’t put it to the test yet, but I’m sure by October I’ll be able to give a full review.

I go into more usage safety in the product listings, so be sure to read and ask questions if needed. I am always happy to make adjustments to the blends to better fit your needs.

Right now, everything at SubEarthan Cottage is on sale for 30% off, including the essential oil rollers, so now is a great time to try them for yourself.