Herbs and aromatic oils have been used for cleaning and healing purposes since the dawn of human civilisation. Smell is one of our oldest and most potent senses. The olfactory nerves have receptors that send information directly to the limbic system – the oldest part of the brain which is linked to functions of the memory and emotions. This might be why the strong odours of essential oils can transform our mood. An essential oil is a mix of chemicals extracted from plants through distillation. This volatile oil contains a plant’s scent and flavour – its essence. I like to think of this essence as the spirit of the plant, because it symbolizes the oils holistic healing capacities. In this post I want to share some useful tips on how to use essential oils in your everyday life. There are currently 3 multi-purpose essential oils in my home inventory so I’ll start with these: Tea Tree, Rosemary and Lavender.
The name Tea Tree refers to a variety of trees in the Myrtle family that have been used by the Aboriginal people of Australia to make beverage teas. Tea tree oil gained popularity around the 1920’s, but the natives have known about the plant’s healing properties for much longer than that. For centuries (or even millenia), they chewed Trea tree leaves to ease coughs and sore throats, and inhaled the oils from crushed leaves to treat respiratory illness. The specific tree used to make the Tea Tree oil that we know today is called Melaleuca alternifolia. This tree is part of a family of over 250 species, most of which are endemic Australia. The oil has a strong, camphor-like odour reminiscent to another famous Australian medicinal tree: Eucalyptus. Tea Tree oil is an extremely potent and powerful concentrate which should never be used undiluted on the skin. Because of its strong antiseptic and anti-fungal properties, I use Tea Tree oil for household cleaning. There are several ways of using essential oils in cleaning. You can add it to a regular cleaning product (such as a laundry detergent) to add fragrance but I like to utilize the cleansing properties inherent in the oils themselves. My go to, all purpose-cleaner, is a few drops of Tea Tree and Lavender oil mixed with 200 milliliters of water in a spray bottle. I use this to clean all surfaces and floors as well as my yoga mat. Make sure to shake the spray bottle everytime before you spray so that the oils mix with the water, then gently rub the area with a cleaning cloth.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is one of my favourite healing herbs. This delicious culinary herb is an evergreen member of the Mint family, native to the Mediterranean. Many plants are called officinalis in latin, a label that indicates a historical use of the herb for medicinal purposes. The story of this particular herb span over thousands of years. Rosemary has been used in in cooking, medicine and magic as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome. In the old world the herb was a symbol of love and loyalty, and a medical remedy for improving memory and lifting the spirits. The Essential oil of Rosemary has proven anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. It helps to improve circulation and is used to relieve muscle pain and arthritis, as well as a boosting ingredient in hair- and skincare.
Rosemary oil is also a lovely remedy for the mind and heart, as the sharp, uplifting smell combats anxiety and increases mental focus. Working with Rosemary oil is a truly holistic healing experience. I use a few drops of oil in my morning baths during the winter months to improve circulation and to get energized for the day. (Don’t use Rosemary oil at night since it is very stimulating, and don’t use this oil at all if you have high blood pressure!). When I need more mental energy for work I put a few drops in a diffuser in my office and when my hair gets too dry and dull I put a few drops in my schampoo to restore shine and softness. Rosemary is a wonderful cooking herb with a strong, earthy flavour. The essential oil shares the earthiness but it also has a sharp camphor-like undertone, just like Tea tree. Some people are too sensitive for these strong smells and might suffer a headache or feel nauseated. Never overuse essential oils. When it comes to concentrates, less is more. (you can also use rosemary oil in a carrier oil to treat muscle pain, like stiff neck, but for this I rather use lavender, because I find the smell more pleasant and because it is only relaxing, whereas rosemary relaxes and uplifts)
Like the other oils mentioned, Lavender is antiseptic, but unlike the other oils, it does not smell of camphor. The odour of this essential oil is mild, flowery and altogether pleasant. Lavender oil is excellent for household cleaning and it spreads a calming fragrant smell throughout the house. Its widely used in aromatherapy for its calming, almost sedating effect, which can help to combat insomnia and stabilize the mood when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. I use lavender oil in a diffuser during my home yoga practice, because it relieves stress which helps to slow down the breath and body movements. Lavender is a staple ingredient in all my DIY skincare products, partly because of the wonderful smell, but also because it’s anti-irritating, anti-bacterial and helps to soothe bruises and burns. When I suffer from muscle pain I mix 2-3 drops of lavender oil with 1-2 teaspoons of almond oil and massage the area with the mixture. The same blend can be rubbed on the temples to relieve headache caused by stress or tension.
Sources: Rebecca L. Johnson & Stewart Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D, and David Kiefer, M.D: National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs, The World’s most effective Healing plants (2012), Julia Lawless: Home Aromatheraphy (1993), medicalnewstoday.com (Lavender)