Did you know that your sense of smell can profoundly affect your well-being? Aromas have been used for thousands of years to heal, nurture and create ambience. Scents stimulate your olfactory nerve, which has a direct connection to your limbic system, the emotional part of your brain. Because of this, smells can immediately affect your moods and emotions, triggering memories or inducing states of relaxation or stimulation.
There are many ways to use therapeutic scents, a practice also known as aromatherapy. One approach is to apply the essential oils of plants directly to your skin, or put them into your lotions, shampoos and liquid soaps. Essential oils are often 75 to 100 times more concentrated than the plants they’re derived from, so it’s a good idea to dilute them before applying them to your skin.
You can also burn incense or candles made with essential oils to promote a particular mood, or use an atomizer to disperse the scent of the oils throughout a room. For therapeutic purposes, you can use some essential oils in a nebulizer, or a steam, to open congested sinuses and lungs.
Here are some of my favorite essential oils and their applications:
Peppermint oil is ideal for steaming when you have congestion. To steam, put 3 to 4 drops of peppermint oil in a bowl, add 3 cups of boiling water, cover both your head and the bowl with a towel (like a tent), and inhale the steam. (Be careful as you inhale the first waft of steam; it can be very hot. Wait until the steam is at a comfortable temperature to breathe it in.) Do this for about 5 minutes, or until the water has cooled to the point that it no longer steams. Repeat this process a few times a day.
Peppermint also has a stimulating, invigorating effect on your whole body. It is used to support digestive health in those who suffer from nausea, bloating or gas. Peppermint oil is also great to use topically on sore, aching muscles and joints.
Lavender oil is also a powerful scent, with added antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Like peppermint, it can be used in a lotion to help soothe sore muscles, or in a steam to support your respiratory health. It has also been used to help calm an irritated and over-anxious nervous system. You can use a spray bottle to dispense lavender around your room, or apply it to your skin when you feel like you need to de-stress and get centered.
Rose oil is a lovely essential oil that can help soothe and moisten your skin. Use rose oil in topical skin oils or lotions, or add it to your favorite hair conditioner. Rose oil has been recommended to help emotionally nourish people who are feeling down or grieving. This is the ideal essential oil to have in a candle, or an atomizer.
Tea tree oil is a fantastic cleansing oil with antiseptic qualities. You can use tea tree oil on acne, or apply it to minor skin problems. If you suffer from frequent skin issues, you may benefit from diluting your favorite liquid soap with tea tree oil. You can also add tea tree oil to your natural cleaning sprays to give them an extra boost.
Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in women’s health. She is the co-author of Great Sex, Naturally: Every Woman’s Guide to Enhancing Her Sexuality Through the Secrets of Natural Medicine and co-author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health: How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness.