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Education

How to Use Spicy Essential Oils Safely

This article was first published in the November issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

One of the trickiest groups of essential oils to use safely is the group derived from spices. Many of the essential oils in this family contain chemical constituents that come with contraindications and can be irritating to the skin, so it’s important to know how to use them properly to avoid adverse reactions. Before I started studying essential oils, I used an essential oil derived from Cinnamon in a hair rinse in the shower and came out of the shower looking like I had streaks of radiation burns all over my body. They eventually went away completely, but the irritation that oil caused could have easily been avoided had I known more about how to use it correctly. Let’s take a look at some of the spicy oils and talk about how to use them most effectively.

You will find that some of the essential oils in the spicy group are not altogether user-friendly. When that is the case, I have included a list of suggested substitutions for them at the end of this article. Best to leave those ones to the professionally trained aromatherapists (who also tend to rarely use them) and to choose safer options whenever possible. They are rarely necessary.

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Allspice – Pimenta dioica (also called Pimento berry oil)

Allspice essential oil is produced by steam distilling the berry of the Pimenta dioica plant (also called the Pimento berry). While this essential oil has been used in the past for its analgesic and carminative properties and for its effect as a rubefacient, it can be very irritating to the mucous membranes and the skin and should be used at a very low dilution to avoid adverse reactions (less than 1% per Tisserand & Young). It also comes with several safety contraindications due to its high eugenol and methyleugenol content. Since there are many other essential oils with similar therapeutic properties, but without the safety risks presented by this essential oil, it is recommended to look to safer options rather than reaching for this one. Suggested substitutions for other essential oils with analgesic and carminative properties can be found at the end of this article.

*This oil should not be taken internally.

Anise – Pimpinella anisum

The seeds of the Pimpinella anisum plant are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. It is sometimes called Aniseed essential oil but it is important to know that Anise (or Aniseed) essential oil is not the same as Star Anise, which comes from a different plant and has different safety considerations. Anise essential oil is primarily used to support the digestive and respiratory systems due to its antispasmodic, antitussive, expectorant, and carminative properties.

Anise essential oil contains a constituent called estragole which can be irritating to the skin, especially for people whose skin is quite sensitive. If you must use it, restrict its dilution to 1-3% and check your Essential Oil Safety manual by Tisserand & Young for specific contraindications prior to use. It’s best to test it (diluted) on a small area of the skin before a wider application if you plan to use it topically.

This essential oil comes with many contraindications (see resources list at the end of this article), including:

  • Avoid use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Avoid use if you’re dealing with estrogen-dominance, estrogen-related cancers, and/or endometriosis.
  • Avoid use if you are prone to allergies.
  • Do not use if you are dealing with inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Not suitable for use with children under 5.
  • It is possible that Anise essential oil may inhibit blood clotting (Tisserand & Young).
  • Anise comes with further cautions for different routes of application, so refer to your Essential Oil Safety manual prior to use.

In general, it’s probably best to reach for a more user-friendly oil if possible. See the end of this article for substitution recommendations.

Black Pepper – Piper nigrum

Black Pepper berries are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. A CO2 extract is also available, but we’re focusing on the essential oil for the purpose of this article. It can be skin-irritating for a small part of the population, but is generally considered safe for use at a low dilution (1% is typically recommended). Because it can cause skin sensitization when oxidized (Tisserand & Young), however, it should be stored in the fridge and used up within its proper shelf life.

Black Pepper essential oil is often utilized for its antibacterial, analgesic, immunostimulant properties and is also thought to support healthy circulation. It has an affinity for digestive system discomfort and respiratory support.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Cardamom – Eletarria cardamomum

Cardamom essential oil is produced by steam distilling the seed pods of the plant. An oleoresin and CO2 extract are also available, but we are again focusing on the essential oil here. Cardamom essential oil has a strong affinity for the digestive system and is often used in blends for a wide variety of digestive complaints. Its therapeutic properties include such things as: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, nervine, and stomachic. It is non-irritating and non-sensitizing and can be safely used on the skin at standard dilution rates. It does, however, contain a high amount of 1,8-cineole and should therefore be used with caution around young children. At Tisserand & Young’s recommendation, do not apply Cardamom essential oil on or near the face of a baby or a child.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

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Cinnamon Bark & Cinnamon Leaf – Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Cinnamon bark and leaf essential oils both contain significant amounts of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which can irritate mucous membranes and cause a burning sensation and/or irritation on the skin. The leaf-derived essential oil also contains safrole, which comes with its own list of safety concerns and contraindications. In general, the bark-derived essential oil should not be used on the skin and the leaf-derived essential oil can be used on the skin up to a dilution of 0.6% (per Tisserand & Young), but it is rarely the best choice for topical use.

Both essential oils may interact with drugs and have the potential to inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual prior to using to see if either oil is appropriate for use in your situation.

It is recommended to avoid using Cinnamon-derived essential oils with young children or when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Cinnamon-derived essential oils are mainly indicated for tropical infections and are best used by a trained, practicing clinical aromatherapist. In most other cases, a more user-friendly essential oil can be just as effective. I’ll leave suggested substitutions at the end of the article.

Clove bud – Syzygium aromaticum

Sun-dried Clove buds are steam-distilled to produce this eugenol-rich essential oil. It boasts analgesic, antifungal, and carminative therapeutic properties and is usually used to help relieve pain, address fungal imbalances, and support the body when dealing with certain types of infection or parasites.

Clove bud essential oil is best suited to short-term use (it comes with a risk of skin sensitization) and should be limited to 0.5% dilution (per Tisserand & Young) for topical applications. It can irritate skin and mucous membranes, so take care to avoid applying blends containing it to areas where there is broken skin. It should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding, and with small children. You may have heard that this is a good oil to use for teething children, but the essential oil is not a good choice for this purpose (herbal preparations may be appropriate when prepared properly, but not the essential oil). It also comes with some potential drug interactions and may inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual for further information about their research on those issues prior to use. See the end of the article for suggested substitutions.

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Ginger – Zingiber officinale

Ginger essential oil can be produced by steam distilling the leaves (more rarely) or the dried rhizomes (though I do know of two distillers that offer a steam-distilled Ginger from the fresh rhizome, which is my favorite). Ginger yields a warming, carminative, anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulating essential oil that has an affinity for coldness in the extremities, menstrual ailments, aches and pains, and a variety of inflammatory issues. It’s often utilized for digestive complaints as well. There are no known safety contraindications for Ginger essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution recommendations. It may be best to use it for short-term use. Peter Holmes recommends avoiding internal use of Ginger essential oil if pregnant.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Nutmeg – Myristica fragrans

Steam-distilled Nutmeg essential oil boasts therapeutic properties with analgesic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic and carminative qualities. It’s often employed in digestive support formulas and applications for relief of aches and pains. In large doses, it can be problematic and it should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. It should generally be limited to topical applications at a 0.8% maximum dilution because of the presence of methyleugenol and safrole (per Tisserand & Young). Several user-friendly essential oils can be substituted for this one. See the list of recommendations at the end of the article.

Plai – Zingiber cassumunar, Z. montanum

Plai is a relative of Ginger and its essential oil is also produced by steam distilling the rhizome of the plant. The essential oil is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineuralgic, antispasmodic, and carminative. It is most often utilized in pain-relieving blends for aches, pains, and cramps, but can also be utilized in digestive support blends. There are no known safety issues for this essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution rates. However, I have had a client who experiences an allergic reaction to Plai essential oil, so that may be something to watch for when working with it.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Substitution Recommendations Based on the Desired Therapeutic Effect

Antispasmodic:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Black Spruce, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Lavender,  Mandarin, Sweet Marjoram, Sweet Orange, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Ponderosa Pine (or Scotch Pine), Rose, Spike Lavender, Tangerine, White Spruce, Xanthoxylum, Yarrow

Carminative / Digestive:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Bergamot Mint, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Sweet Fennel, Ginger, Laurel leaf, Lemon, Mandarin, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Plai, Spearmint, Yarrow

Analgesic:

Balsam Copaiba, Bergamot Mint, Black Spruce, Chamomiles, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Firs, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Laurel leaf, Lavenders, Mandarin, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Plai, Rosalina, Rosemary ct. verbenone, Spruces

Expectorant:

Balsam Copaiba, Basil ct. linalool, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cedarwood, Firs, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Helichrysum, Myrtles, Niaouli, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Ravensara, Ravintsara, Rosemary, Spearmint, Spruces

Circulatory:

Firs, Ginger, Mugwort, Peppermint, Turmeric, Vetiver

Antitussive:

Cistus, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Niaouli, Ravintsara, Rosemary ct. cineole, Spike Lavender, Thyme ct. linalol

*phototoxic

Resources and references

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy – Valerie Ann Worwood
Aromatherapy – A Complete Guide to the Healing Art – Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
Aromatica, V. 1 – Peter Holmes
Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed. - Tisserand and Young

I hope this was a helpful resource for you!

Much love,
Erin

 


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Herbal Aromatherapy™ Words to Know

There are a lot of words that you learn when you start studying herbs and essential oils and, at first, sorting out what each of them means can feel a little bit daunting. I’ve put together a list of a lot of the words you’ll need to know here for you so you can reference it as needed when you’re studying.

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herbal aromatherapy words to know

Adaptogenic: brings balance, helps the body to normalize function

Alterative: blood cleanser

Analgesic / anodyne: relieves pain

Anthelmintic: causes expulsion of intestinal worms

Anti-anxiety: calms anxiety

Antibacterial: inhibits or destroys bacteria

Anticatarrhal: calms inflammation of the mucous membrane associated with excess mucus

Anti-emetic: relieves nausea and vomiting

Anti-inflammatory: relieves inflammation and associated discomfort

Antilithic: helps prevent and/or dissolve stones (gall, kidney, etc.)

Antimicrobial: inhibits/destroys the spread or growth of microorganisms

Antipyretic: reduces fever

Antirheumatic: relieves pain associated with rheumatic conditions

Antiseptic: destroys / inhibits spread of bacteria

Antispasmodic: relaxes muscles and muscle spasms

Antitussive: relieves coughing

Antiviral: inhibits/prevents the spread of viruses

Astringent: causes a drying/tightening of the tissues

Carminative: relieves gas / indigestion

CNS sedative: calms the central nervous system

CNS stimulant: stimulates the central nervous system

Cholagogue: stimulates bile flow

Circulatory Stimulant: increases circulation (locally or throughout the body, depending on how it’s used)

Compress: a topical application of an herbal formula, usually applied to the body via a cloth soaked in the formula (most of the time, a strong tea)

Contraindication: a warning indicating that the botanical should not be used in such cases

Cooling: reduces heat in the body/mind

Decoction: a water extraction of a root or woody herb

Decongestant: helps relieve congestion in the upper respiratory tract

Demulcent: soothing, especially to mucous membranes; mucilaginous

Diaphoretic: causes sweating

Diffuse: to disperse aromatic substances into the air, usually via an aromatherapy diffuser, cotton ball or tissue

Diffusive: disperses energy

Distillation: a process used to separate a plant’s essential oils from the plant material

Diuretic: increases urination

Emmenagogue: promotes menstruation

Emollient: softens and soothes the skin

Expectorant: causes mucus / phlegm to be discharged from the respiratory tract

Febrifuge: reduces fever

Galactagogue: increases milk production

Grounding: brings one back down to earth, promotes feelings of calm, clarity and safety

Glycerite: an herbal extract using glycerin as a base

Hemostatic: stops bleeding

Hepatic: assists the liver

Homeostasis: a state of balance in the body, with everything working together as it should

Hypotensive: lowers blood pressure

Laxative: relieves constipation; promotes excretion

Mucilaginous: contains mucilage and is therefore soothing, softening and moistening

Nervine: calms and strengthens the nervous system

Oxymel: a vinegar extraction of an herb combined with honey

Poultice: a topical application of herbs, sometimes covered with a dry, warm cloth

Purgative: causes the bowels to empty

Relaxant: causes relaxation

Rubefacient: increases circulation to an area (topical application)

Salve: an herbal preparation made with a carrier oil infused with herbs, then melted together with beeswax to form a semi-hard product for topical application

Sedative: calming

Shrub: an herbal extract of vinegar and honey

Sialagogue: induces salivation

Stomachic: supports digestion

Suppository: a clinical application of botanical ingredients meant for rectal or vaginal insertion

Tincture: an herbal extract, usually made with alcohol, but sometimes made with vinegar or glycerin

Tisane: herbal tea

Tonic: strengthens and tones the body, bodily system, or organ with which it has an affiliation

Uplifting: lifts the spirits, dispels sadness, hopelessness and grief; instills hopefulness and lightness of mind

Vasodilator: causes vasodilation of blood vessels

Vermifuge: expels parasites and worms from the intestines

Volatile oils: aromatic compounds (essential oils)

Vulnerary: wound healing

Warming: brings heat, enhances circulation and function

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I hope this resource was helpful for you!

Much love,
Erin


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How to Source High Quality Herbs, Essential Oils, & Herbal Products + Where I Buy Mine

I am often asked where I like to buy herbs, essential oils, and other herbal products. I tend to be a little vague when answering this question and give people several options to choose from because I try lean toward a brand-neutral presence. That said, this is a question I receive so often that I decided to open up to you about it today. Let’s put aside the business side of things for a moment and talk as if you are sitting in my living room and we are just having a friend-to-friend chat about the companies from whom I personally choose to purchase products for my own home. Okay? If you were to come over for a visit and raid my stash, this is what you'd find.

Note: This article is not an endorsement of any company.
It is simply a look at what I have in my own apothecary.

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FRESH HERBS

I try to grow as many of my own fresh herbs in our organic garden as I can (we currently grow 70+ varieties, not counting lavenders), but if I need to source a batch from somewhere else, I always try to purchase locally first. Friends in my own local herb community are sometimes open for trade and many of our local farms grow organic herbs that can be purchased in bulk. If you’re unsure of where to find local farms that grow herbs, start asking around at your local farmer’s market. Many farms will even contract grow a crop for you if you let them know what you want to purchase (and how much of it) ahead of time. An online search for organic farms near you should also produce some results for farms that you might not have known about. Additionally, the master gardener’s extension office in your area is a great resource for finding people and farms who might be able to sell you what you’re looking for.

If I am unable to source a fresh herb locally, I will order it online from an organic farm that ships fresh herbs the day they are harvested. Pacific Botanicals in Oregon has been my favorite company to source fresh herbs from in the past and I have personally visited their beautiful farm several times. They will harvest an herb, pack it with ice, and ship it overnight to you the same day. Overnight shipping cost may be a deterrent for some, but if you absolutely can’t find what you need near you, this is an option. Pacific Botanicals sells herbs wholesale, requires orders of at least one pound of herb at a time and does have an order minimum. You can see their fresh herb selection here. Zack Woods Herb Farm on the eastern side of the US also ships fresh herbs, but requires a minimum of 10 pounds per species for most herbs. You can view their selection here.

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DRIED HERBS

If I don’t grow an herb in my own garden (the best way to source the highest quality herbs) or need more of it than I was able to harvest in its growing season, I’ll order dried herb by the pound from Pacific Botanicals. They are local to me and I love the quality of their products. I recommend ordering dried herbs from a farm that is local to you if at all possible. People often ask me how I am able to source such vibrant, high quality herbs for the products I make and photograph for the blog and the magazine and the truth is – growing them yourself will give you the best results, but when ordering herbs, as long as you are ordering freshly harvested and properly dried herbs from nearby, you should be able to source herbs that are high quality.

If I cannot find an herb locally or at Pacific Botanicals, I will turn to small farms who make their dried herbs available for purchase online. If it's a harder-to-find herb that I'm after and I absolutely can't source it from a small or local farm, I will turn to Mountain Rose Herbs and then try to add that herb to my garden the next year.

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HERB SEEDS

My most favorite place to order organic herb seeds is Richo Cech’s companyStrictly Medicinal Seeds (formerly Horizon Herbs). I have had successful germination rates with his products and he has such a wide selection available that I have to whittle down my shopping cart contents every time I go to purchase something from their website. They will also ship plant starts when seasonally appropriate and they offer excellent customer service. Richo’s books are all excellent, enjoyable, entertaining reads with a wealth of information about growing herbs and using them to make plant medicine.

I also purchase herb seeds from Renee’s Garden, which was a local-to-me seed company when I lived in California, but they also sell online on their website. Their flower and pollinator plant seeds are outstanding.

Botanical Interests is another favorite source for organic herb seeds (and veggie seeds) and their products are available at most garden stores, co-ops, and online.

There are many other companies that offer organic herb seeds for sale, but these 3 are my personal favorites and are the ones I most often purchase seeds from. I also enjoy trading seeds with like-minded local gardeners who I know and trust and I recommend saving your own seeds from your garden whenever possible.

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HERB PLANTS / STARTS

I will sometimes purchase an organic herb plant or start from a local grower if I want to get a head start on a plant. My favorite source for organic herb and pollinator plant starts is Goodwin Creek Gardens. They specialize in Lavender varieties, but also offer hundreds of varieties of organic herb plants. Their nursery is certified organic and they do offer mail order plants. The owners are planning to retire soon, so I’m not sure how much longer the company will be selling plants, but their plants are amazing. The owners are super sweet – we always love visiting them. I have never ordered from them through the mail – I have always picked up plants from their nursery or at the farmer’s market, but they do offer shipping. I would call ahead first to see what’s available for shipping if you plan to order plants online, as their online catalog lists most everything they offer, but not necessarily what is currently in stock for shipping.

Strictly Medicinal Seeds also ships organic herb plants / starts seasonally and offers a wide selection. The plants that I have picked up from them in person are all happily thriving in my garden.

Several organic local farms sell organic herb and veggie starts in the spring and early summer. Many of the ones near us sell both on-site at their farm stands/stores and at our local farmer’s market.

Our local chain of co-ops sells organic herb and veggie starts from local farms, including the ones we purchase directly from at their farm stands and Goodwin Creek. Your local co-op may be a great place to find organic starts too, but you’ll want to ask them about how they manage pests at their location. Our co-ops are pretty good about keeping organic plants separated from non-organic plants (and we are in a non-GMO county, which also helps), but not all garden departments are the same. If you’re planning to save seeds from your plants and you want them to be organic, I’d recommend purchasing directly from an organic farm or nursery or growing the plants from seed yourself.

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HERBAL TINCTURES

When I don’t make them myself, I usually purchase them from Herb Pharm and will buy them from iherb or vitacost because they are sold at a slight discount there. I’ll also pick them up at our local grocery co-op if I don’t want to wait for shipping. Herb Pharm is an outstanding company – I’ve visited their location as well and have always been pleased with the quality of their products.

Gaia Herbs also sells beautiful herbal tinctures – I’ve tried a couple of theirs and have been pleased. There are several smaller companies that offer tinctures as well, but these two are the brands I purchase from most often. Local herbalists often carry their own line of tinctures too.

FLOWER ESSENCES

The Bach Flower Remedies are probably my most purchased (when I don’t make them myself), but I have also been impressed by the flower essences from Lotus Wei. Several smaller companies sell a wide variety of them as well and you can often find a unique selection at a local herbalist / apothecary.

ESSENTIAL OILS

I have been able to work with many brands of essential oils over the years, but for the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to feature the ones I most often purchase from at this time.

Please note: There are obviously many other brands that produce quality essential oils. Please don't take this as a "These are the only good ones" kind of list - it is simply a glimpse into my own apothecary. I often recommend other brands as well, but that is not the purpose of this post. It is simply a, "Sure, come take a look in my fridge and I'll show you what I have right now."

I'm an advocate for choosing essential oils and related products that are produced from organically cultivated plants whenever possible – regardless of whether or not any contaminants make it through the distillation process (there are mixed reports about this), essential oils represent a lot of land mass. Choosing organic is supporting organic land (caring for the planet and the soil and future generations) and protects our pollinators.

I am also a huge fan of home distilling. If you’re able to purchase or build a still to use at home with your own plants, I highly recommend doing so. I’ll be writing a lot more about distilling at home and becoming part of the process in a deeper way in the coming year.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m also a huge advocate for purchasing from local sources whenever possible. I try to purchase essential oils from local farms and artisan distillers whenever I can, especially if I have had the opportunity to visit the farm first and see their distillation process firsthand. Small farms are often able to craft their essential oils with so much more love and intention than a commercial farm and that is something that I personally believe makes a big difference in the subtle nuances of the end product. Whenever I can, I try to purchase essential oils from small farms who distill their organically grown plants with mindful intention and lots of love. My favorite essential oils have come from these small farms.

When I purchase essential oils online from a larger brand, the company I most often purchase from at this stage of my life is Aromatics International. They offer a beautiful selection of essential oils from organically cultivated, wildharvested, and conventionally grown plants. This brand offers batch-specific GC/MS reports for every essential oil they sell and the sales page for each oil includes basic chemistry information about the oil as well as its date of distillation and some suggestions for use. Their customer service is excellent. They follow the NAHA and AIA guidelines for safe use.

Other brands I have purchased from and been pleased with include Stillpoint Aromatics and Eden Botanicals, both of which offer batch specific GC/MS reports on their websites (and sample sizes!). I have also liked Snow Lotus' products.

CONCLUSION

If you were to come over and go through my stash of herbal products, this post summarizes what you would find, aside from my homegrown goodies. When it comes to herbal remedies, body and personal care products, and cleaning products, I make most of them myself at home. This post isn't by any means a comprehensive guide to all of the great brands out there. It's simply a glimpse into my own apothecary, as if you were sitting here with me and asked if you could take a look at what I have.

Where do you purchase herbal products? Do you grow your own herbs and make your own remedies? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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Ask the Panel: Top 5 Essential Oils for Beginners

“I am just starting out with essential oils and I have no idea what to buy first. Could you recommend an assortment of 4 or 5 oils that you think would get me off to a great start?” This is one of the questions I am often asked as an aromatherapist, so I thought I would compile a list of the professional panel’s answer to this question here for you. Feel free to share it with friends who might find it useful. =)

Which 5 essential oils would you include in a beginner's starter kit? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this blog post.

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Sweet Orange, Lavender, Tea tree, Siberian fir, Peppermint Andrea Butje


I would include Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Mandarin (Citrus nobilis), Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and Peppermint (Mentha x piperita). The saying ‘if in doubt use lavender’ is, in the main, true. True Lavender has a wide range of therapeutic effects. It is analgesic, anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, sedative, cardiotonic and hypotensive. It is best known for its stress-relieving properties, treating headaches, burns, wounds, irregular periods, asthma, eczema, acne, candida, aches and pains and high blood pressure. in a starter kit it can be safe to use on most people and most conditions so no mistakes are likely! Use 4 drops for a massage to help relieve stress and anxiety. Mandarin is antispasmodic, calming, digestive and hepatic. It is used for stomach cramps and spasms, indigestion and constipation, as a liver tonic and for excitability. Best of all, as a beginner's oil, mandarin can be used with children for restlessness and insomnia. Just one drop of oil on a tissue near the crib can help to send baby off to calm sleep. Roman Chamomile is anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, calming, digestive and menstrual. It is used in particular, to address eczema, arthritis, inflamed skin, headaches, indigestion, menopausal symptoms and conjunctivitis. A soothing massage using almond oil with 4 drops of this oil can really help to calm eczema and dermatitis, and is also useful for allergic reactions. Geranium is antiseptic and antiviral. It is most often used for childhood ailments (chickenpox, mumps, measles, common cold), but is also useful in other viral situations, such as herpes or shingles. Geranium helps to reduce breast congestion, fluid retention and cellulite, as well as menopausal and menstrual problems, so this oil is popular with most women. For skincare, geranium oil is regenerative and moisturizing. Peppermint has a wide range of therapeutic uses and is very useful in a starter kit. The oil is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-migraine, antispasmodic, antiviral and digestive. It is used for painful situations such as period pain, arthritis, headaches and knocks, while also being very calming for the digestive system. Use diluted peppermint next time you knock yourself where it hurts and feel the pain disappear! Please remember that all essential oils should be used with care, and if there are doubts about how to use them, a trained aromatherapist should be consulted.Penny Price


Lavandula angustifolia, Citrus sinensis, Melaleuca alternifolia, Pelargonium asperum, Boswellia carterii - Rhiannon Lewis


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and ginger (Zingiber officinale) Sharon Falsetto


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis), steam distilled Lemon (Citrus limon), Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides). These have the least safety precautions and have so many good uses. - Robin B. Kessler


It REALLY depends on who is the beginner. A young mom with young children? Someone concerned about skincare? An older person dealing with chronic pain? There is no one size fits all recommendation. Having said that, lets start with an effective antibacterial - most folks would say Tea tree, but I would prefer Manuka (gentler, aromatically softer, and, in my experience, more effective across the board.) Other effective germkillers are Geranium and even Palmarosa. A relaxant: perhaps a true Lavender, but perhaps Roman Chamomile or Sweet Marjoram, or even Petitgrain. (All are calming, relaxing, may help induce sleep, and are "child safe.") Third, some citrus for freshening the air and uplifting the spirit. Sweet or Blood Orange have a wide range of uses. Fourth, something for respiratory effects, perhaps Eucalyptus globulous or radiata for stuffy noses with an adult, but if the house has babies and/or toddlers I would suggest a conifer, instead. Not as effective, but perhaps more appropriate. Let's say Siberian Fir but your choice of conifers would do. That's four categories; we have done germkillers, relaxants/anti-insomnia, a citrus for mood elevation and "clearing the air", something to unstuff clogged sinuses... let's look at something not normally considered a 'beginners' oil, but, in my experience, the single most healing oil in our aromatherapy arsenal... Helichrysum italicum from Corsica. Amazing for bruises, anti-inflammatory for nerve and joint pain, helpful for problem skin (we use in blends for acne and rosacea), amazing healing for scars, sometimes used for meditation, it's an oil that is well worth splurging on. I would not be without it, and would rather see people invest in amazingly effective oils than some that are less costly, but also less effective. Having said all that.. if someone is dealing with a LOT of pain... I would want them to have Kunzea ambigua, from Australia, the most effective pain reliever I have found. If there are babies in the house, I would want German Chamomile in there, it's one of the first three oils for use with babies and toddlers. So there is truly no one size fits all list.  - Marge Clark


Cajeput, Sweet Marjoram, Orange, Blue Tansy, Vetiver – Ken Miller


For the perfect starter kit, I'd consider a person's lifestyle. Do they have kids? Allergies or other health concerns? Are they athletic, with muscle or joint overuse? The all-purpose list below includes popular multitasking oils distilled from different plant parts that blend well together, while addressing issues we all deal with: colds and flu, muscle or joint aches/pains, relaxation and sleep, focus and concentration, or skin care. I've selected affordable oils that are not over-harvested. Note: "kid-friendly" = safe for kids ages 2 and up (if conservative, 5 and up), unless otherwise stated.
1. Cedarwood (I prefer
Cedrus deodara or Juniperus virginiana) - calming/grounding, respiratory congestion, muscle tension, astringent, hair and skin care, good in bug sprays. Kid-friendly.
2. Eucalyptus globulus - energizing, supports mental focus, respiratory infections, congestion and mucus, aches and pains, headaches. Avoid for kids under 5, caution for kids under 10 (instead, try Rosalina or a conifer such as Siberian Fir).
3. Lavender - deeply calming/soothing, supports sleep, aches and pains, spasms/cramps, antiseptic, great for skin care and burns/bites. Kid-friendly.
4. Sweet Orange - uplifting and cheering, antiseptic, supports immunity, helps digestion or nausea, sore muscles, freshens air. Kid-friendly, a non-phototoxic citrus.
5. Tea Tree - uplifting, helpful for allergies, respiratory infections, general anti-infectious and immune support, skin eruptions or minor cuts, freshens musty air. Kid-friendly.
Michelle Gilbert


1. Lavender
2. Lemon
3. Peppermint
4. Tea Tree
5. Helichrysum Amy Emnett


Lavender, lemon, tea tree, peppermint, and ginger – Lora Cantele


Lavender, bergamot, eucalyptus, frankincense, and tea tree. - Nyssa Hanger


My own Top 5 list for beginners would include: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis), Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and either Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) or Rose Geranium (Pelargonium asperum).

I hope these valuable answers from this panel of professional aromatherapists and aromatherapy educations have been a help to you. Feel free to pin this post for later use or share it with friends who might also find it valuable.

Which 5 essential oils would you include in a starter kit for beginners? let me know in the comments section at the end of this blog post.

Much love,
Erin


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Why I Stopped Using Aromatherapy Inhalers ( + What I Use Instead)

A couple of years ago, our little family started to transition away from single-use plastic products. I had been advised to stop drinking water from plastic bottles to help facilitate healing in a certain area of my body and had recently seen a documentary that was all about plastics and their effect on the environment. I’m a bit of a research nerd, so I did a lot of reading about plastics and their impact on health and the planet. Ultimately, we decided that the right move for us would be to start to replace the plastics in our lives with non-plastic alternatives that would be more friendly for our bodies & more sustainable for the earth. It wasn’t easy (plastics are in a lot of things!), but moving away from single-use plastic products was a good start.

One of the last things to go in this single-use plastic category for me was aromatherapy inhalers. Aromatherapy inhalers are little plastic tubes that house a cotton wick that holds essential oils. They are sometimes referred to as aromasticks. They’re discreet, personal use items that make using essential oils convenient when you're on the go or in public. The trouble is that you can only use them once. They might last for a month, but once their effect starts to dissipate, they’re usually just tossed in the bin. If you’re lucky (or determined) enough to be able to pry the outer shell apart, you might be able to recycle the tube, but it’s not very easy to take apart and you can't recycle them without removing the cotton wick from the inner tube.

The first alternatives I turned to were glass / metal aromatherapy inhalers that are fully reusable. I really wanted to love them, but they all smelled metallic (not in a nice way) because of an odd coating on the applicator and I always thought they were going to spill on me (some of them did leak). They didn’t last nearly as long and I was going through essential oils much more quickly with them than I was with plastic inhalers. They just weren’t good enough to win me over. Carrying a cotton ball or hankie around in my purse for inhalation purposes on the go worked well as an alternative option, but it didn't solve the "not everyone wants to smell my essential oils" dilemma.

I finally settled on an option that really works for me: smelling salts. I filled a 5ml amber glass bottle with some rough, chunky Himalayan salt (which actually brings its own therapeutic effects to the table – have you seen the Himalayan salt inhalers that are available now?), dropped in a bit of herb, added some essential oils, and tested out this “new” old idea. I think you know where this is headed. Ummm, I love this method. It’s pretty, it feels good, the jar / bottle is totally reusable, and it’s still a personal application method that won’t leave the whole room smelling of your oil(s) of choice. I completely recommend giving this method a go if you're interested in a more sustainable inhalation option.

Once in awhile, I'll place a blend in a 1 ounce, clear glass jar to add a bit of 'pretty factor' to the blend (just keep away from sunlight) and it's turned out to be a great conversation starter. I also really appreciate that inhaling an aroma from a glass bottle or jar looks a lot more normal than inhaling an aroma from a tampon-esque plastic inhaler does. ;) (Yes, I have really had clients think the plastic models were tampons.)

If you're interested in moving toward a more sustainable, earth-friendly option for convenient aromatherapy inhalation, I highly recommend giving smelling salts in small glass containers a try. The blends I've been testing have lasted impressively well.

A Few Key Points About Safety

  • 5ml bottles with orifice reducers are a good alternative for children's inhaler blends - the orifice reducer will allow the aroma to escape, but keep the salt inside the bottle so that the child isn't tempted to taste it. Use a chunky Himalayan pink salt that won't come through the orifice reducer and the child can use the smelling salts the same way they would use their custom aromatherapy inhaler. *Children should only use essential oils under adult supervision. Take care to use the smelling salts in an area where the bottle will not break if it falls.
     
  • Smelling salts should still be kept away from pets.
     
  • Keep your jars / bottles clearly labeled and include safety information, such as, "For inhalation purposes only. Not for internal use. Non-edible. Not for use with pets or children."
     
  • Use common sense, as always.

Have you experimented with a different sustainable option for aromatherapy inhalation on the go? Share it with me in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin

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7 Ways to Preserve Your Herb Harvest

When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.

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Tincturing

A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.

The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.

Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.

Drying

Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.

For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.

Freezing

Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.

In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.

In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.

On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.

Herbal Infusions

Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.

You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.

Canning

Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.

Butters

Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.

How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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Ask the Panel: How Do You Choose An Essential Oil Brand to Purchase From?

We’re beginning a Question of the Month blog series today. Every few weeks, I’ll be featuring a reader-submitted question here on the blog along with several answers to the question from a panel of professionals in the herbal / aromatherapy industries. If you have a question you’d like to submit for this series, please stick around until the end of the post for instructions.

Our first question posed to our panel of qualified professionals is:

What are the top two things you look for when choosing a brand from which to purchase an essential oil?

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1. I always appreciate when an essential oil company imports their oils directly from distillers who extract their oils from plants grown without pesticides and herbicides. 2. I admire companies that test their essential oils, batch specific, with GC/MS technology and do not standardize or adjust their oils once they arrive from the distiller. Andrea Butje

 

As a supplier I guess this is a different answer to someone who is a therapist looking for a brand! For me, it is visiting the farmers and cooperatives that I have known and trusted over the years, who will pick and distill at the times I want for my company. This is the first thing as when the oil is picked does determine which chemicals are present in the finished oil. The second thing would be the trust I mentioned. I would never buy from someone I did not trust to supply me with the therapeutic quality I am seeking. Most 'traveling salesmen' are selling leftovers from the perfume trade, who use fractionated and adulterated essential oils, not oils specific to aromatherapeutic use. If I were to guide therapists, I would say that firstly you need to trust the company you buy from - do they give advice for every oil and the clinical uses for the oils in your situation? Do they give the right paperwork (although that is not always an indication of quality), do you feel comfortable with your supplier? I would also say, do not go by the smell. Unless you are an established aromatherapy expert with many years experience, you probably wont know if that lavender is 42:42 or not! Be aware of copies and don't buy from folk you don't know. Hope this helps you :) – Penny Price

 

Availability (Do they have the correct oil that I need? i.e. chemotype/form) and purity [of the oil]. – Sylla Sheppard-Hanger

 

The organoleptic qualities of the oils and the straightforwardness of the proprietors of the brand. I read about the organoleptic qualities on my blog.– Jeanne Rose

 

Knowledge and experience of the brand. Do they employ a certified aromatherapist on staff/consult? How long have they been in business? What is their reputation within the industry? Can they answer my questions and make suggestions about the essential oil use? All of these questions give me information about their knowledge (not just their training, but their actual knowledge of each essential oil) and experience within the industry and use of essential oils in practice. If a brand has both knowledge and experience of essential oils, the other important stuff (such as quality/extraction methods/sourcing of the essential oils) should automatically follow through/be answered within those two points. Sharon Falsetto

 

Good moral code about aromatherapy and essential oils and the price! – Elizabeth Ashley

 

I check for GC/MS reports to see if the oils are pure and I evaluate the company’s reputation. – Robin B. Kessler, CA

 

Reputation & longevity of the company, and testing documents – Ken Miller

 

I don't necessarily think in terms of "brands" when I purchase essential oils. I'm more interested in the oils than the brand, and for that reason I focus on how a supplier represents and maintains their relationship with the oils they offer, their customers, and the distillers they work with. There are many ways I evaluate that, some factual and some nuanced. To turn the question around a bit, if I had to choose two deal breakers, I'd say that if I couldn't get batch-specific GC/MS reports, and if I saw spurious therapeutic claims or extreme usage suggestions on the supplier's website, I would absolutely look elsewhere. GC/MS reports, ideally from an independent third party, identify the chemical composition of that specific batch of essential oil. I need this information to verify the therapeutic properties, safety, and efficacy of my blends. Strongly curative or prescriptive language on a brand's website or literature, as well as suggestions for frequent neat (undiluted) use or ingestion, are all red flags to me. By contrast, when a supplier speaks in more neutral language including proper dilution guidelines and other safety information, they exhibit a better understanding of essential oils and aromatherapy. They are also more likely to provide other useful information such as when the oil was distilled, its shelf life, its full Latin name (genus, species, and chemotype where appropriate), and its geographic origin, all of which impact my purchasing decisions.Michelle Gilbert

 

1. I look for companies that provide GC/MS reports of each batch. Knowing the percentages of chemical components is an integral aspect of my blending process. I look at it like each bottle is its own character. While some batches may be similar, they are not always the same. Knowing what makes them "tick" helps me to know their therapeutic value. 2. I look at the ethics of the company. Do they provide safe usage advice? Do they fully disclose information when a person inquires about their essential oils ? Do they focus on education and not just sales? Does the owner of the company have professional training, years of experience, and relationships with the distillers? Utilizing a company whose core foundation lies on integrity and kindness is paramount. – Amy Emnett

 

Integrity (company provides quality product for ethically obtained oils) and proper documentation (batch-specific GC/MS & other testing, proper Latin name on label, MSDS sheets). – Lora Cantele

 

I hope these valuable answers from this panel of professional aromatherapists and aromatherapy educations have been a help to you. Feel free to pin this post for later use or share it with friends who might also find it valuable.

Much love,
Erin


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The Differences Between Lavender Essential Oils

This article has been excerpted from The Lavender Guide, a new book by Erin Stewart. The excerpt has been adapted for use here and was also featured in the August issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I've never met a Lavender plant I didn't love. When they pop up in garden shops around here, they are quickly snatched up by adoring plant-tenders and whisked away to their new homes where they're lovingly planted up and made a part of the family. My German Shepherd even loves them. There was a house on our block in CA that had a large, vibrant, seemingly ever-blooming Lavender plant in the front yard and it spilled over the picket fence into the sidewalk. Every day on our walk, my pup had to stop and stick her nose into that Lavender plant and just breathe it in for a moment before we continued on our way. Every time. It's rather adorable, really. She's a smart one.


Did you know we made a film with the lavender farmers of southern Oregon? Click on the image below to watch it - it’s free! You’ll get to go behind the scenes at working lavender farms and learn directly from the farmers as they teach you how to grow, care for and distill lavender!


Lavender is a flowering shrub in the Lamiaceae (mint) family and boasts over 40 known species with an ever growing count of over 400 cultivated varieties. While it's native to areas near the Mediterranean, Lavender is now grown all over the world and the various species provide us with several different essential oils. While they are all "Lavender" essential oils, the different species (and varieties) yield essential oils with slightly differing chemical compositions that might make one more suitable for certain issues than the others. Let's focus in on some of the differences between some of the most commonly available Lavender oils.

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TRUE LAVENDER

Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis

The main Lavender used for therapeutic purposes in both herbalism and aromatherapy is Lavandula angustifolia. There are many cultivars of L. angustifolia, with flowers ranging in color from light purple to dark purple, white, and even pink. This Lavender is sometimes referred to as English Lavender. I have also heard some people call it French Lavender, but since that term has also been applied to Lavandin (L. x intermedia) and to L. dentata, it is best to refer to it via its botanical name, L. angustifolia, to avoid confusion.

 
 

L. angustifolia plants produce less essential oil than the hybrid Lavandin plants do. A friend who distills Lavender daily has found that 6 to 8 plants' worth of L. angustifolia flowering stalks will fill the basket of a 15 gallon copper alembic still and will yield about 70ml of essential oil per distillation.

While not considered ideal for florists and designers because of their shorter stems, the angustifolias have a sweeter, softer aroma than other Lavender varieties and are considered superior for therapeutic use. The plants themselves are much shorter and smaller than Lavandin varieties.

My favorite L. angustifolia cultivars include: 'Bowles Early,' 'Buena Vista,' 'Hidcote,' 'Loddon Blue,' 'Miss Katherine,' 'Opal Rain,' 'Royal Velvet,' and 'Sachet.'

The essential oil of L. angustifolia plants is rich in linalol and linalyl acetate, among many other constituents (possibly as many as 450 or more) and is considered the choice Lavender oil for use in aromatherapy. Professional aromatherapists will rarely use a Lavender oil produced from another Lavender variety, except, perhaps, for Spike Lavender (L. latifolia / spica) in cases where 1,8-Cineole and Camphor are preferred constituents for application. The different varieties of L. angustifolia produce similar, but still subtly different essential oils. ('Buena Vista' and 'Hidcote Pink' are two of my current favorites.) A discerning nose will be able to notice slight differences in aroma between the different oils, but in general, L. angustifolia essential oil is not sold with the variety name included unless it is being purchased directly from a small farm that distills their own Lavender on site. Most larger distillers, even if they grow several varieties of L. angustifolia, will co-distill the different varieties together and sell the finished product labeled simply as 'Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia' essential oil.

I have found that L. angustifolia essential oils consistently boast the following therapeutic properties (among others): analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine, sedative, and uplifting. They are generally useful for any kind of skin ailment, nervous tension, anxiety, lack of restful sleep, aches, pains, and spasms, and a variety of more serious complaints [covered more thoroughly in the full chapter found in the book].

While Lavender is safe for even neat use on the skin, some clinical aromatherapists now recommend using it undiluted only for acute ailments (like a bee sting). When used regularly over time, it may be best to dilute even the friendly Lavender essential oil in a carrier.  

True Lavender essential oil is costly to produce and is often adulterated with isolated (or synthetic) linalol or linalyl acetate, synthetic Lavender oil, and even Lavandin essential oil. Know your source well to be sure you're purchasing a true, 100% L. angustifolia essential oil.

 
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LAVANDIN

Botanical name: Lavandula x intermedia, Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula x burnati

Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a Lavender species that is cherished by growers and distillers around the world. Lavandin plants are created when a Lavandula angustifolia and a Lavandula latifolia plant are cross-pollinated. The resulting hybrid is a much larger plant than the L. angustifolia varieties and yields a great deal more essential oil. Lavandins make beautiful garden hedges because of their impressive size and color. They bloom later in the season than L. angustifolia varieties, so adding Lavandin to your Lavender garden is an easy way to extend your blooming season.

A few of my personal favorite Lavandin varieties for the garden include, 'Fred Boutin,' 'Grosso,' 'Impress Purple,' 'Jaubert,' and 'Lullingstone Castle.'

Like the L. angustifolia essential oil varieties, Lavandin essential oil is usually offered as simply 'Lavandin - L. x intermedia' or 'Lavender - L. x intermedia' essential oil, though you may be able to find specific varieties like 'Grosso' and 'Super' labeled individually, especially if purchasing directly from a farm that distills onsite. Lavandin essential oil is not as commonly used in the aromatherapy industry, but it is produced worldwide for the fragrance industry. It is a common ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents, skin care, perfumes, and cleaning products. It's far less chemically complex than L. angustifolia essential oil and is considered to be somewhat inferior therapeutically, so not many professional aromatherapists use it. Still, the aroma is lovely - a bit sharper than an angustifolia, due to its higher Camphor and 1,8-Cineole content. Some people prefer its aroma because it's more similar to the traditional Lavender smell they're used to while others, who think they don't like the smell of Lavender until they smell a true L. angustifolia, shy away from the Lavandin scent.

Therapeutically, Lavandin essential oil is used for its antibacterial properties and to support the respiratory system. [Further therapeutic uses are covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 
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LAVANDULA STOECHAS

Botanical name(s): Lavandula stoechas

L. stoechas is sometimes called Spanish Lavender, but since that term is also applied to L. dentata and L. stoechas is also called French Lavender (a term also applied to L. angustifolias and L. x intermedia varieties), it is best to just refer to it by its botanical name: L. stoechas.

L. Stoechas makes a stunning compact hedge in the garden and tends to bloom continuously beginning in late spring. My absolute favorite variety is 'Kew Red,' but I also love 'Cottage Rose,' 'Otto Quast,' and 'James Compton.'

The essential oil is not as easily found, but it can be sourced. Generally speaking, it is not well suited for use with little ones and comes with a few safety contraindications. It is rich in Camphor (even more than Spike Lavender), 1,8-Cineole, and Fenchone, and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Since it is so rich in ketones and oxides, it should be used with caution. [Further therapeutic information covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 

SPIKE LAVENDER

Botanical name(s): Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula spicata

Spike Lavender grows at a lower elevation than the L. angustifolia plants and is sometimes called Aspic. The essential oil has a sharper, more camphoraceous aroma than the essential oil from Lavandula angustifolia, with a camphor content that can vary based on where the plant was grown, sometimes reaching concentrations up to about 35%. It also contains higher amounts of 1,8-Cineole. Its aroma hints at its antiseptic qualities and smells quite medicinal. It is often utilized in respiratory support blends and is especially useful when you're feeling a bit stuffy. It can be helpful for pain and inflammation. While not nearly as calming as a True Lavender oil, it does stimulate circulation and effectively gets stagnant energy moving through the body again.

Because of the camphor content, it is recommended that this oil be avoided when pregnant.

Therapeutically, Spike Lavender essential oil is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, circulatory, and expectorant. It is sometimes used in skin care preparations and is often included in blends that support skin ailments, cramps and spasms, headaches, and minor wounds. [Covered in more detail in the full chapter of the book.]

 
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CONCLUSION

There are many other Lavender species and varieties that are grown around the world. Our personal collection has many beautiful varieties. Some of my favorites that aren't listed in this particular article include L. multifida and L. x christiana (pictured above).

There's just something so special about Lavender. Once you've spent some time with it, you can't help but want to be around it all the time. Plant one or two varieties in your own garden. Before long, you'll probably be growing your collection too!

Are you growing any Lavender in your garden? Which varieties? Let me know in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

 

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Teaching Children About Herbs + Essential Oils - A Sneak Peek Inside Our New Summer Fun Kids Pack!

The July issue of AromaCulture Magazine was just released this morning and I'm so excited about it that I wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit more about something new we included in this month's issue. School is out for the summer here in the US and a lot of our readers are mommas (and Grans and dads and aunties...) who now have some extra time to spend with their kiddos while they are home all day, so I wanted to include something extra special for them in this citrusy, summery issue. At the end of the magazine, after all of the grown up articles, you'll find our new Summer Fun Kids Pack!

I've put together a fun, colorful Kids Pack that corresponds with the citrus theme of this month's issue of AromaCulture Magazine. It includes an exciting, kid-friendly lesson about citrus fruits and their essential oils, some activity sheets that will help to reinforce what the kids learn throughout the lesson, and some coloring sheets that feature the fruits and plant parts discussed in the lesson. (It was fun to put some of my artwork to use in the magazine!) Everything is laid out so you can easily print out the Kids Pack pages and go through the lesson and activities with your kids (or grandkids). There's also a quick, kid-friendly blending activity that you can do together during the lesson if you'd like!

I also wanted to make sure that all of the recipes I wrote for this issue of the magazine were kid-friendly so that you can make and enjoy them with your kids while they're home for the summer. I didn't want you to feel like you couldn't carve out any time to make yourself a fancy face cream instead of treasuring this extra time with your littles. It's way more fun to be able to spend time making recipes that the whole family can enjoy! =) Here's a little preview of some of the recipes included in this month's issue:

To learn more about this month's issue of the magazine or to pick up your own copy, click here.

I hope you enjoy this month's issue! If you have a chance to go through the Fun Pack with your kids or grandkids this month, I would love to hear what you think about. Feel free to let me know in the comments section below or to send me an email. If you want to share your finished coloring sheets with me, share them on social media with the hashtag #aromaculturemagazine. I may repost some of my favorites!

Much love,
Erin

Top 11 Herbs and Essential Oils for the Skin

Walking down the skincare aisle at the drugstore is sort of amusing to me. Shelves and shelves of products with pretty packaging, clinical claims, and long lists of synthetic, chemical-laden ingredients...they don't appeal to me at all anymore, but they do cause me to ponder the reasons our culture tends to so easily buy into their marketing. Before I transitioned to a chemical-free lifestyle, I tried so many different storebought products to try to force my skin into looking vibrant and glowy and clear, but none of them worked long-term and many of them even caused irritation or damage to my sensitive skin. When I started using homemade, botanical products instead of the options offered to me at the local Nordstrom, Target, or CVS, I saw such a drastic improvement in my skin (and my health) that it's hard for me to even fathom picking up a toxin-laden, though prettily packaged, product again.

Since June is Skin Healing month here at AromaCulture, I decided to reserve some blog space to talk about my favorite herbs and essential oils for the skin. All of the botanicals in this post are well suited to a wide variety of skincare and first aid applications and can be used for every skin type. They're perfect ingredients to include in your own skincare formulations. Ready to see what made my Top 11 list?

1. DANDELION

So much of the skin's health depends on what is actually happening on the inside of your body. If your liver and kidneys are not functioning well or your digestive system and circulation are a bit stagnant or your gut health is not quite where it should be, you'll start to notice changes in your skin. Acne, blackheads, irritation, inflammation, dull skin...these are all outward manifestations of an inner imbalance that needs to be addressed. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  is one of the best herbs for this. It supports the health of the digestive organs, especially the liver (which is directly related to the health of your skin), and helps the body to purify the blood and flush out the yuck that doesn't belong. Any time I start to notice little spots popping up on my face, I know it's time to bring out the Dandelion. My skin thanks me every time.

Dandelion can be utilized for the skin via digestive bitters, herbal hand and foot baths, or through the diet. The whole plant is edible. Flowers can be added to salads, roots can be added to soups, and the greens can be cooked down with something sweet and eaten like any other edible green. (The younger leaves are better tasting than older ones.) Generally, the leaves are used as a diuretic (think stagnant issues, like cellulite) and the root is used to stimulate digestion and the production of bile, supporting the liver (and, therefore, the skin). The root can be roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute and is often included in homemade root beer formulas.

If you have a latex allergy, you will probably want to avoid Dandelion. That milky white sap that you see when you pick a Dandelion is latex.

 
 

2. BURDOCK

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is another liver-supportive herb that will indirectly improve and support the health of the skin. It works to correct the internal imbalances that manifest themselves outwardly via issues with the skin (i.e. dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, etc.) and is also valuable when used externally for scalp health, wounds, rashes, and inflamed areas. It's great at getting the lymph moving, too, so is again indicated where there is stagnation. My favorite herbal shampoo includes Burdock root as a main ingredient. It can be infused into a carrier oil and included in first aid preparations and skin care formulas or can be decocted and used as a wash. Burdock can also be taken internally as a tincture or as a food. The root is often cooked and eaten as a dish called Gobo and it can also be brewed into a tea and included in homemade root beer soda blends.

Burdock is a weedy plant, so it's extremely easy to grow yourself. Start a little patch of it (it'll do well in just about any kind of soil) and harvest the root in early fall. There are no known safety issues for Burdock.

3. CALENDULA

Ah, Calendula. Possibly the herb supreme for skincare formulas. This sunny little bloom is chock-full of flavanoids and carotenoids that help to heal the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is indicated for everything from acne to wounds and helps to reduce inflammation and promote cell repair. It's one of the easiest herbs to grow in the garden and will start blooming in early spring and last until well after the first frost if you keep cutting the stems throughout the growing season. Harvest seeds in the fall or winter to save for the next year's growth.

Use Calendula for the skin by infusing the dried blooms into carrier oils for skincare formulations. It can also be brewed as a tea and used as a compress, wash, or poultice (or taken internally). The hydrosol is lovely on its own or included as an ingredient in cream formulas. The tincture can also be used in some cases, though it may be drying when used externally. Calendula also produces a lovely CO2 extract which can be incorporated into topical blends.

 
 

4. COMFREY

Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica or Symphytum officinale) seems such a happy plant to me. It contentendly pops its first little leaves out of the soil in early spring and sets right to work filling its plot with cheerful green. It may be one of the fastest growing, most resilient plants in my herb garden. Comfrey is one of those botanicals that herbalists just love. It has an incredible affinity for healing the skin and has such pronounced wound healing properties that it's earned the nickname "knitbone" because it is said to 'knit' wounded tissues back together. Rich in the skin-healing and protective component, allantoin, it's often included in first aid formulas and skin care preparations. Infuse the leaves into carrier oil or Aloe to use in blends or use an infusion / tea as a wash. Comfrey can also be utilized as a compress or poultice.

5. LAVENDER

No list of skin-healing herbs would be complete without Lavender. There are many varieties of Lavender products available on the market, but you'll want to look for Lavandula angustifolia for skin-healing purposes. The herb, essential oil, hydrosol, and infused carrier oils are all useful for skin preparations. Most folks who are even the slightest bit interested in herbs and essential oils are familiar with Lavender, so I won't expound too thoroughly on it here, but do know that it can be included in just about every herbal / aromatherapeutic product you ever make for the skin without seeming out of place. Aside from its own contribution to the therapeutic effects of the blend, it seems to marry together all of the other ingredients you choose to include to create a more potent synergy.

Lavender is another easy-to-grow herb that will do fine in well drained soils to a zone 5. In cooler areas, it can be grown in a pot and brought in during the colder months. We're growing about a dozen varieties this year and it hasn't taken me long to decide that it's my favorite herb to grow. There's nothing quite so lovely and delightful as this sweet plant!

Infuse Lavender buds into carrier oils, Aloes, and honeys. Use the tea as a wash. The herb can be used as a compress or poultice. The hydrosol is lovely on its own as a facial toner or body spray or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil can be added to most any skin care or first aid formula.

 
 

6. ST. JOHN'S WORT

Who doesn't love this sunny little plant? The St. John's Wort used for skincare is Hypericum perforatum, which can be easily identified by the little "holes" in its leaves. When you hold a leaf up to the sunlight, you'll see little dark specks (or perforations) on it. The top 4-6" of the blooming plant is used. The plant is ready to harvest when the buds produce a reddish-purple stain on your fingers when you press them. If you don't see this stain, you're either too early or too late. Watch your patch closely when the weather starts to turn toward summery temperatures near the end of June - the perfect harvesting window is short! Some will be ready and some won't. If you're unable to gather enough in one harvesting session, check back every day or two for the next week to see if more flowers are ready to be collected.

St. John's Wort can be infused into carrier oil (it will turn a bright, deep red color as the flowers release their medicinal properties into the oil) that can be used in both first aid and skin care blends. It's useful for external wounds, burns, cuts, bruises, areas of trauma, and inflammatory complaints and helps to speed recovery. Some folks include it in preparations for shingles or herpes. It's excellent for helping to relieve pain as well, so it's often used in massage oils for sore muscles or injuries.

Some people experience photosensitivity when using St. John's Wort, so be aware of any areas of your skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight after applying. If you experience any sort of rash or discomfort, stop using it.

7. HELICHRYSUM

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) is probably most known for its lovely, skin-healing, anti-aging essential oil. It's pricey, but oh so lovely and effective. It helps to speed recovery of wounds and is often used in first aid applications. It's also excellent in anti-aging skincare products and posh facial creams. One well-known brand uses it in their fancy hand creams and another in their makeup products.

The hydrosol is wonderful for use as a facial toner or body spray and can also be used in herbal creams. A teaspoon of it can be added to a luxurious bath (or hand or foot bath).

The herb itself can be infused into carrier oils or brewed as a tea for use as a wash. It's beneficial for a wide variety of skin ailments, including acne and eczema.

 
 

8. PLANTAIN

Plantain (Plantago spp.) is another weed-like plant that grows along the trodden path; it likes to follow human footsteps and spring up right where it is most likely to be needed. It's a skin-soothing herb that's especially great for skin irritations like bug bites and stings. Just the other day, I was planting out some new herb transplants into my garden and something decided to bite me. The swelling, itching, and burning reaction didn't seem too bad at first so I carried on with what I was doing, but within a few minutes, the bite had turned into quite a painful welt. I walked over to my bed of Plantain, picked one of the leaves, crushed it with my fingers and rubbed it over the area. I then used a fresh leaf, also crushed, to lay over the area as an herbal bandaid (it will stick on its own if you've crushed it). Within a few minutes, the itching and burning had stopped and when the leaf naturally fell off 15 or 20 minutes later, the Plantain had completed its job. I couldn't even tell where the bite had been.

 
 

Plantain can be used in a carrier oil or Aloe for first aid and skin care preparations to soothe and reduce inflammation and irritation and can also be taken internally as a tea (or used externally as a wash) for other issues.

 
 

9. ROSE

Rose (Rosa spp.) can be utilized in its every form for delightful, luxurious skin formulas. More ideas for ways to do that here and here. They contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds (which suit acne-prone skin), are rich in anti-aging properties, and are known to nourish, hydrate, and even help tone and rejuvenate the skin

Rose petals, Rose hydrosol, Rosehip seed oil, Rose flower essence, and precious Rose essential oil are all derived from this one generous plant. I like to incorporate her into every step of my own skincare routine.

Rose essential oil is also beneficial for wounds when there has been trauma. It will not only help with speeding the recovery of the skin, but will also comfort the heart and mind and work to bring stability back to the person affected.

 
 

10. CARROT SEED

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota) is available both as an essential oil and as a CO2 and an infused carrier oil. All are beneficial for the skin. It's one of those plants that's also beneficial for the liver and is helpful for releasing blocked energy, so we know it's going to be amazing for our skin! Include it in topical blends for a variety of skin ailments, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, and other inflammatory, irritated conditions. It's also useful for anti-aging skincare products and can be used in carrier oils, creams, and facial steams.

Avoid use when pregnant.

11. MARSHMALLOW

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf and root are both used for skin and hair formulas (root is more commonly used, but the leaf can also be used). It's rich in flavanoids, polysaccharides, and beta-carotene and is mucilaginous, making it skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory. You can infuse the root into a carrier oil or Aloe to use in a blend or you can prepare a decoction and use it as a poultice or wash. It blends well with Chamomile tea for this purpose as well. It's effective for a variety of ailments, including eczema, burns, and wounds, and will help to moisten dry skin. Powdered root can be included in homemade baby powder blends.

12. YARROW

I couldn't choose just 11 after all! Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is so useful in the herbal first aid kit that I felt it had to be included in this list. The leaves are styptic and antiseptic and can be powdered and used in styptic powder recipes or used fresh when needed. All of the aerial parts of the plant can be used to help speed healing of wounds, burns, and other skin ailments. The foliage is light and feathery and the flowers are lovely; it's easy to grow from seed (perennial) and the pollinators love it. Look for the white or pink flowering varieties if you want to use the herb medicinally. The yellow flowering varieties are ornamental. Use the herb in hand and foot baths, washes, and compresses to help reduce inflammation and speed healing.

I've used Yarrow hydrosol as a styptic in a pinch and it seems to be just as effective as the herb itself, at least for minor cases. It can also be used as a facial toner or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Include it in blends for your first aid kit to help with the pain and swelling associated with injury. For skin-care, it can be a useful ingredient for irritated, inflamed skin complaints.
 

WHICH HERBS AND/OR ESSENTIAL OILS WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST?
LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Much love,
Erin