Discover the fragrant world of essential oils. Herbalist Colleen K. Dodt profiles the healing and cleaning powers of dozens of oils extracted from herbs, flowers, roots, barks, and resins. This comprehensive guide includes recipes for natural cleaning products, lotions, and ointments that will keep you feeling happy and smelling great. Fill your days with stimulating scents as you learn to use essential oils to wash your dishes, soothe sunburns, combat stress, and improve the quality of your life.
“This book contains practical, holistic, and safety-oriented advice and recipes for the beginner.” —AromaWeb
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About the Author
An herbalist for over 15 years, Colleen K. Dodt is the author of The Essential Oils Book and Natural BabyCare, of which James A. Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy, said: “I believe Colleen would do better at healing my children and grandchildren than most of my HMO physicians have done.” Dodt is the owner of Herbal Endeavors, Ltd., in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Her business and products have been featured in Herb Companion magazine, and she has written numerous articles on herbs and aromatherapy. She was the first American and the first woman to write for The International Journal of Aromatherapy (1988).
Read an Excerpt
Awakening the Scent Sense
We often take our olfactory world for granted and, unless directly stimulated, ignore our sense of smell. Stop for a moment and reflect upon your personal sense of smell. Is it strong or weak? Which scents attract or repel you? Do you like floral, herbal, fruity, earthy, or spicy scents? What is your favorite scent? Your least favorite? Why do you like or dislike certain scents?
SMELL AND PERCEPTION
In his Aromatherapy Workbook, Marcel Lavabre notes that the French word sentir means "to smell, to feel." We "feel" scents, rather than logically think about them. There is very little language to describe scent. We understand it more through associations and images than by analytical processes or data. In the limbic portion of the brain, emotions and odors are directly linked and have been found to produce some of the same electrical impulses. The limbic system is also called the rhinencephalon, or "smell part" of the brain.
Smell plays a significant role in how we perceive places and situations. Good smells help us to feel good, bad ones depress us. Think about walking into a beautiful room, immaculate in every way. How would you feel about that room if it smelled terrible? Regardless of what you saw, the bad scent would make you uncomfortable. Likewise, imagine arriving at the door of the worst place you ever saw but, upon entering, discovering it smelled of roses. Your sense of smell would likely diminish your discomfort with the place, and make you a little more willing to explore it. Unless, of course, you have experienced a direct negative experience with the scent of roses in the past. Then your anxiety level may actually increase due to this previous scent-conditioning experience. People often associate the smell of a place such as a hospital, nursing home, or funeral home with what they experienced there. Although these places may do their best to create a clean or comfortable environment, people often have negative emotions tied to the time they spent there and to the scent they remember.
For many of us, the sense of smell is greatly diminished by sinus problems, pollution, and the synthetic aromatic chemicals we are bombarded with daily. These can reek havoc on our delicate sense of smell. I notice my sense of smell is always heightened after being closed in the steamy bathroom with aromatic essential oils. The additional heat and moisture in the air make the odor molecules more accessible to my nose. As I walk through the kitchen en route from the bathroom to the boudoir, scents in the house that usually go unnoticed suddenly come alive. The fruit bowl is redolent with ripening bananas, pears, and oranges; the coffee grinder smells of good Kona coffee; the small bottle of my personal perfume on the bedroom dresser is sweet and familiar as I search for my clothes; and when I open the towel cupboard in the bathroom, the scent of line-dried towels fills my nostrils. Is there a scent to line-dried clothes? I say yes, but I couldn't say what it is comprised of — unless sun and wind have a scent of their own.
RETRAINING YOUR SENSE OF SMELL
I have often seen clients taken aback by the scent of pure undiluted essential oils. The oils are so strong that people don't know quite how to react. Our sense of smell often requires some retraining to appreciate natural scents. These oils, which require large amounts of plant material to produce, are very concentrated!
The next time you peel an orange, squeeze a lemon, apply your favorite perfume, or stop to savor the scent of a rose, think about what you are experiencing. Write down your reaction. Be aware of your olfactory world. We are truly led by the nose! Pure essential oils make this journey a wonderful adventure.
SCENT AS PROTECTION
On a misty spring day in late March when I went out to my mailbox, I noted the scent of celery that had been left in the garden over the winter. Heat, light, air, and moisture all activate the release of scent. Smell helps orient us to place, season, and even imminent danger.
For our ancestors the ability to find a mate, a home, or even the search for food depended greatly upon olfactory acuity. Even today we detect danger with our nose. If there is a gas leak at home, the scent added to natural gas will warn us very quickly. If some leftovers in the refrigerator have been there too long, our nose will tell us not to eat them. Poisonous plants often have a bad acrid smell that warns not to ingest them, while the sweet-scented herbs that can enhance our everyday existence invite us to consume them through the release of their oils. From the day we are born, our sense of smell is an intimate link to our survival.
People who suffer anosmia, meaning they have lost their sense of smell, are often prone to depression due to the lack of scent in their world. I received a letter from a man who had worked very diligently to improve his sense of smell. He said he could smell very clearly the ink with which he was writing the letter. He asserted that if more people had an alive sense of smell instead of an often deadened one, we would not be able to tolerate the stench of the society we live in today. I couldn't help but wonder how he would have adjusted to past times of open sewage in the streets and no garbage disposal!
For a strange twist on the sense of smell, read the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind. In this novel set in the French countryside, life and death hinges upon a keen, obsessive olfactory sense. Another interesting account of the sense of smell is A Natural History of The Senses, by Diane Ackerman. Ms. Ackerman explains how the sense of smell has guided us down the dimly lit corridors of evolution. The agony of anosmia is portrayed and examined.
USING SCENT TO PRODUCE PARTICULAR RESPONSES
The subliminal use of scent to produce particular behavioral responses is widespread in our society. Scratch-and-sniff entered our children's lives long ago, and magazines aren't complete today without a scented advertisement or two. Many products contain subliminal scenting of which consumers are often totally unaware. Think about this: Do you buy a product because it cleans well or because it smells like a refreshing lemon or a pine forest? A large car manufacturer approached me once to ask if I could create "new-car" smell. I told them they needed a chemist, not an essential oil consultant. Well, they promptly found one, and they now spray "new-car" smell in their used cars to enhance sales.
Neurochemical Experiences Produced by Essential Oils
People say lavender smells clean. How can something smell clean? I know I can smell the scent of spring. I have also experienced scent in dreams. It is learned-odor responses — odors that have memories attached to them — that lead us on these olfactory emotional odysseys. Learned-odor responses arouse reactions to certain synthetic or natural scents, like the scent of an ex-lover's perfume or the smell of freshly mown grass.
However, our experience of a pure essential oil is different than a learned-odor response. When an essential oil is inhaled, various neurochemicals are released in the brain and the inhaler experiences a physiological change in body, mind, and spirit. When lavender is inhaled, for instance, serotonin is released from the raphe nucleus of the brain, producing a calming influence in the body. This effect is altered, however, if the inhaler has had a direct negative experience with lavender.
A learned-odor response can alter or interfere with the biochemical effects of essential oils. An intense emotional response to a certain odor may interfere with the chemical release from the brain. Emotions have their own chemical make-up and can be powerful enough to inhibit or enhance a neurochemical release or absorption. For this reason, over-the-counter aromatherapy formulas aren't effective for everyone, since people's life experiences are so varied. For example, if a child had a caretaker in their life who wore a certain scent such as lavender, a known relaxant, and that caretaker had a direct negative association for this particular child, it could perhaps be difficult for this person to relax when exposed to lavender because of a learned-odor response. In the same vein, an odor many find offensive, such as barnyard, may have a positive influence for one raised happily on a farm. Sweet orange essential oil has a generally uplifting association for some people. Others find its effects sedative. However if one has had a direct negative experience associated with this scent — such as being forced to work long and hard to harvest this fruit — you may no longer find this scent uplifting or sedative at all. This association to sweet orange would be a learned-odor response. I am not acquainted with any direct research in overcoming or changing learned-odor responses with pure essential oils.
THE HEALING EFFECTS OF ESSENTIAL OILS
When someone walks into my house they say, "Gee what smells so good?" It is amazing how I can see people visibly change when they come into contact with pure essential oils. Throughout history, people have believed in the healing effects of herbs. During times of plague, it was believed that the perfumers and glovers didn't fall ill because they were constantly exposed to the essential oils in their daily work. It was very fashionable to have one's gloves perfumed with pure essential oils. People also carried little nosegays or tussie mussies fashioned from freshly cut herbs and flowers. These little bouquets were held up to the nose while out in the streets in a time of, shall we say, less than adequate sanitation. The herbs and flowers, of course, contained pure essential oils. Why do you think bringing herbs and flowers to someone in the hospital started? Rosemary, thyme, and lavender herbs were burnt on hospital wards of long ago to help purify the air.
Chemical reproductions of pure essential oils don't hold this olfactory magic and are not effective in aromatherapy. They rely solely on learned-odor response, not neurochemical release. Chemical reproductions do not have the same biochemical effects as naturally occurring pure essential oils.
The effects of essential oils are both scientific and experiential. As you become more familiar with pure essential oils and the scents that surround you in your personal worlds, the experiential influences will be greatly enhanced. I have often been comforted by a familiar scent when I was miles away from home because I associated it with the comfort of home. The neurochemical releases influence our emotional response to various essential oils and the context in which they are employed.
I have a poster produced by Tisserand Aromatherapy, Ltd., in England, entitled Psycho-Aromatherapy, that details the various pure essential oils and how they affect the brain. The poster quotes Edward Sagarin, who in 1945 said, "Odour is the story of language, of man's efforts to find words to express emotion and sensation. It is allied with all the senses; indissolubly with taste, with colour, sound and memory, and deeply affected by the psychological phenomenon, the power of suggestion." In small print at the bottom, it says, "The above is scientifically proven." This, to me, captures the logical, yet mysterious, way in which our sense of smell, and our experience of essential oils, influences our world.CHAPTER 2
An Introduction to Buying and Using Pure Essential Oils
The term "essential oil" is thrown about every day, with a wide range of meanings. There are no standardized regulations for use of the words "essential oil" or "essence," so they are often used to describe any number of products which have little or nothing to do with the real thing or meaning.
When I refer to essential oils in this book I mean the pure plant distillates and extracts that are excellent allies in yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's world of home health care. They are naturally derived, and should be respected as powerful substances to be used with caution and education. Pure essential oils are extracted directly from different parts of plants, depending on the oil concerned. Some are extracted from flowers, others from leaves, stems, the rind of fruit, berries, resin, or roots.
WHAT IS AN ESSENTIAL OIL?
Pure essential oils are some of life's greatest pleasures. Their name itself is indicative of their status in everyday life. Webster's dictionary, which is my favorite book, defines "essential" as: 1. Of or constituting the intrinsic, fundamental nature of something; basic; inherent. 2. Absolute; complete; perfect; pure. 3. Necessary to make a thing what it is; indispensable; requisite. 4. Containing or having the properties of a concentrated extract of a plant, drug or food. Essential oils are nature by the drop, to enjoy and enhance life. They contain the life force of a valuable botanical in a form that is basic and easy to access. Anything essential is absolutely necessary, a fundamental requisite to healthier living.
There are a variety of extraction methods, including distillation, expression, solvent extraction, effleurage, the phytonic process, and the super critical carbon dioxide extraction. The extraction process used depends on the plant. For example, orange, lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot are usually expressed because the oils are present in the peels and released when the peel is ruptured. Others, including lavender, clary sage, chamomile, and rose geranium, are distilled. Some flowers, like rose, are distilled and solvent extracted, resulting in either a rose absolute or rose otto. The variety of rose used also makes a difference. Extraction of pure essential oils usually requires laboratory equipment and a large amount of materials for a small yield of oil. I have seen directions for homemade stills, yet found them too much bother for such a small yield. Distilling in a small ready-made still from Europe has helped me appreciate why many oils are expensive and can be difficult to locate. I, for one, will leave the extraction to those who know their business and be glad that I don't have to try to acquire my own oils by extracting them. My rosewater experience each summer is enough extraction for me, and for most home gardeners. If you are interested in trying extraction at home, you can find detailed information in some of the books listed in the appendix on page 145.
A WORD ON THE COST OF PURE ESSENTIAL OILS
I am truly grateful that there are people in the world dedicated to producing the plant material to extract pure essential oils. When I really think about how much time goes into producing the contents of one little brown bottle, I am better able to explain why they can be so costly. I, for one, am willing to pay the price of pure essential oils of the best quality.
As demand for aromatherapy-quality pure essential oils is made known, hopefully more people will realize the need to grow the material to produce them, which might make the oils more available and affordable. Sandalwood and rosewood trees are both being depleted and are in great need of being replanted. If we are to use these natural resources, we have a responsibility to replace them.
However it is extracted, the resulting oil is a highly concentrated, volatile substance that is made up of many different elements, including alcohols, esters, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, terpene alcohols, and acids. Chemists have tried to recreate essential oils in the laboratory, but, to date, they have not been 100 percent successful.
BUYING PURE ESSENTIAL OILS
As a buyer, you must beware of imitations! Better yet, be educated! Synthetic aromatic chemicals have become the norm for so long that many folks are used to them, and are unaware of the choices they have from nature's bounty. Recently, I was in a very nice little shop full of scented goodies. I approached the essential oils section and found pretty little bottles with signs and labels indicating they were filled with essential oils and aromatherapy products. The slick-looking display covered with pictures of herbs and flowers led me to believe that these were indeed the true thing, but upon closer inspection I found that all the bottles were the same price. This is a clear tip-off that you're not dealing with pure essential oils since the prices of these precious oils vary greatly, depending on their accessibility and ease of extraction. I would love to find true jasmine absolute oil at the same price as lavender oil, but I don't think that will ever happen in my lifetime! Upon smelling the sampler in this shop, my suspicions that these were synthetic aromatic chemicals, not pure essential oils, were confirmed. The shopkeeper was shocked and dismayed at my discovery. She truly thought she was offering a quality aromatherapy product, and was not properly informed by her supplier.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Essential Oils Book"
Copyright © 1996 Colleen K. Dodt.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Chapter 1 Awakening the Scent Sense
Chapter 2 An Introduction to Buying and Using Pure Essential Oils
Chapter 3 The Properties and Applications of Pure Essential Oils
Most Commonly Used Pure Essential Oils
Less Commonly Used Pure Essential Oils
Chapter 4 Basic Blending Advice
Equipment and Supplies
Carrier or Base Oils
Solutions and Dilutions
Chapter 5 Recipes for Home Aroma
Making Cleaning Jobs More Pleasant
Scenting the Air at Home
Chapter 6 Aromatic Recipes for Essential Beauty
Children's Herbal Baths
Hand and Nail Care
Shampoos and Rinses
Chapter 7 Other Uses for Essential Oils
Making Travel More Enjoyable
Creating a Welcoming, Conducive Work Environment
Caring for the Elderly and Sick
Caring for Pets
Sources and Resources