AROMATICS - Essential Oils
A guest blog by Joseph Nolan, Medcal Herbalist
The fragrant principles of medicinal plants are often much of the herb’s virtue. Generally, these are called essential oils and they serve many purposes in plants, most importantly attracting pollinators and repelling pests. And they do similar things for people...
Keep it in the Family
Mint family plants, or the Lamiaceae if you want to sound fancy, are unusually high in essential oils and contain many of our most commonly used herbs: Mint (obviously), Lavender, Thyme, Sage, Oregano and Rosemary. These plants, and therefore the oils, are strongly anti-infective, soothing to a windy or bloated belly and refreshing to the senses. There many other families containing herbs rich in essential oil: the Citrus family Rutaceae, gives us Lemon, Mandarin and grapefruit and these oils are refreshing to the senses and help to lift low spirits. The Rose family Rosaceae, gives us Rose and medicinal herbs like Meadowsweet, Herb Bennet and Hawthorn. Rose essential oil is calming and uplifting, both familiar and exotic, a bringer of joy and, justly, associated with amour. The Myrtle family Myrtaceae, containing Eucalyptus and Tea Tree, gives us strongly anti-septic, fresh and clean-smelling essential oils. The Daisy family Asteraceae, which includes the costly anti-inflammatory essential oils from Helichrysum, Chamomile, and Yarrow, the latter two of which are blue! And the Zingiberaceae, the Ginger family, which gives us Ginger, Galangal and Turmeric, all warming herbs with beneficial effects on the circulation and digestion.
Here are a few of my favourite oils...
Most of the time I prefer whole herbs as medicines, but sometimes essential oils can be very useful. Lemonbalm essential oil for example, has been found to be highly anti-herpectic, and so useful for cold sore lesions. It would be very difficult to get quantities of the whole herb into your system sufficient to have an effect on a herpes virus flare up though. This essential oil has also been found very helpful for relieving agitation and depression in people with dementia, with a commensurate increase in cognitive function. So, while it doesn’t actually improve the dementia, it helps people to smile and relax, and thence make the most of the brain function that they have. It is also a very safe oil, and makes a simple tangible and pleasant remedy for use at home, out in the world, or even in institutional settings.
Lavender is a good example of just how useful an Essential oil can be. Everyone knows that Lavender is good for sleep, and it is, in moderate doses. Drench your pillow in it and you will be up all night! But a drop or two is pleasant and relaxing, promoting sleep without being sedating. It is also one of the few essential oils that can safely be applied neat to the skin, which is very handy for burns. Once the burn has been thoroughly cooled under cold running water, apply Lavender essential oil - and aloe vera gel if you have it - and wait 10-20 seconds. The pain should stop rather suddenly and miraculously and, given time, the burn heals without permanent scarring. The oil is also good for small minor but sore infections like annoying paper cuts and the occasional small graze, scratch, or pinched cuticle. Definitely one for the medicine chest.
Tea Tree is another dead handy thing to have in the house. Like Lavender, it can safely be used neat on the skin and is very good for dealing with all sorts of infections including fungal nails and athlete’s foot, cuts scratches and blisters, and coughs and colds. It works well topically, and also in a diffuser when you or someone in the house is coughing and sneezing. Around the house, it disinfects the laundry and gets rid of mouldy smells and rankness, while a teaspoonful mixed into a pint of water, vinegar, vodka, isopropyl alcohol, or a mixture, makes great anti-mould spray. It’s another invaluable essential oil to have in the house, and quite an affordable one too.
Next week: AROMATIC WATERS