Some of my earliest and most favorite childhood memories are of the wonderful aromas and fragrances of my grandmothers kitchen and garden. To this day – those same scents and aromas still make me feel happy, and loved. My mother was also a gardener and a member of her local Garden Club, so flowers were a constant fragrant presence in our home.
The fragrance of newly mowed grass, the scent of a bouquet of roses, lilacs or lilies, a whiff of a favorite meal or ingredient, all of these can bring us back instantly to another time or place, or create a pleasant feeling of well-being and happiness. Our sense of smell, one of the five senses –is the most likely to stir up long forgotten memories. Aromas make a strong impression on the olfactory system and the brain.
Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being, sometimes called essential oil therapy it is used to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Herbal medicine goes back thousands of years to at least 600BC, and was used by early civilizations of Greece, China, India, Africa, and Europe before western medicine was developed. Some herbal and plant extracts are still in use today – and many pharmacologists and naturopathic practitioners are going back to using some of these ancient herbs and plants, finding that there are fewer side effects and that they are more helpful in balancing the body’s systems. Digitalin for example, a derivative offoxglove, is still in use today to treat heart disorders.
For the general public - aromatherapy is most generally recognized and used as a method for stress relief, to increase energy levels, enhance sleep, and create a sense of well-being. Essential oils can be used in many ways – in teas, or infusions, applied directly to the skin, in potpourris, dried herb bundles, fragrant waters, ground up into powders or in creams, lotions, soaps and candles.
To experience the benefits of aromatherapy, one does not have to be a medical practitioner, chemist or herbalist. There are some widely available herbs that can be grown in our own back yard, gardens or even in containers or on a windowsill that have therapeutic effects. My most favorite is Lavender, close behind are Rosemary, Basil, Lemon Balm, Sage and Thyme. All of which are easy to grow and harvest.
The ancients perfumed their baths with the leaves and flowers of lavender, and lavender flowers worn under the hat was thought to drive away headaches. In the Middle Ages, lavender was considered a flower of love, and was also thought to quiet a cough and calm the digestive system; leaves can be used to repel insects and lavender oil is also an antiseptic. It is one of a few essential oils that can be used safely, both directly on the skin and ingested.
Recipes abound for home aromatherapy uses for Lavender – from simple flower waters – put into a spray bottle – for use as a room freshener, or sprayed onto linens for a restful sleep; added to vinegars or teas. Dried flowers and leaves mixed in a bowl with dried rosemary and allspice makes a wonderful fragrant potpourri. A few drops of 100% essential oil can be added to a hot bath, soap, or candle making ingredients for a relaxing and calming experience. Here is a simple recipe for Lavender Water.
16 oz. (2 Cups) Distilled Water
2 oz. Vodka
8 drops - 100% Essential Oil of Lavender
Pour the distilled water into a clean bottle (rinse in boiling water to sterilize)
Add the alcohol (do not use isopropyl or rubbing alcohol)
Mix in the essential oil, add a sprig of lavender flowers if you like for visual appeal (the petals may lose color over time, so you may want to strain them out before using)
Cover and seal the bottle, let it sit in a cool, dark place for 1 week to allow the scent to mix and age.
Keep it in the fridge, and dip a handkerchief in the scented lavender water to dab on your face and neck on a hot summer day – as our antebellum ladies here in the South used to do!!
In Spring, after all danger of frost has passed is a great time to plant herbs, they are easy to cultivate from seeds, cuttings and or seedling plants and most do not require much in the way of garden conditions or attention. Many tender herbs are also perennials here in North Carolina. I encourage you to try aromatherapy, create your own Healing Garden – and always include a planting of lavender!!