Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil benefits and uses

Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil is extracted from fermented pods of the vanilla orchid vine

There are three types of vanilla essential oil*, which are:

  • extracted from Vanilla planifolia, sometimes labelled Bourbon vanilla,
  • extracted from V. pompona, sometimes labelled West Indies vanilla, and
  • extracted from V. tahitensis (which is not often used, due to the low vanillin content), sometimes called Tahitian vanilla.

You may also come across an oil called Mexican vanilla, which is also extracted from V. planifolia like Bourbon vanilla, but unfortunately is often adulterated with oil from the tonka bean (which contains coumarin, a dangerous substance which can cause damage to the liver amongst other things), so anything with the label Mexican vanilla is best avoided.

Vanilla is a vine in the Orchid family. All three types of vanilla plant are closely related, and production of the vanilla pods from which the oil is derived requires careful attention, involving fermentation for 6 months in order to develop the actual vanilla flavour/fragrance.

How vanilla essential oil is produced

Though you may see pages which purport to tell you how to make your own vanilla essential oil, what you actually get by following the instructions is not essential oil but more like some of the cheap (fake) vanilla essential oils on the market. Technically it is an infusion or maceration, not an essential oil.

*In fact, although there is a vanilla resinoid (produced by solvent extraction from cured vanilla beans), what is sold by reputable aromatherapy suppliers as “essential oil” is either the absolute (which requires further extraction from the resinoid) or a diluted absolute. Given that vanilla itself is the second most expensive spice (after saffron), the absolute is far too expensive for most of us to consider, which is why it’s normally sold diluted. However, although not technically an essential oil, that’s what most people call it so from here on that is how I will be referring to it in this post.

Due to its high price and the length and complexity of its production, vanilla essential oil is one of those oils that are often counterfeit. This sham vanilla oil might be an oil infusion, or some vanilla extract diluted in a carrier oil, or even a completely synthetic oil – which may smell ok, but will not have any of the healing properties of the genuine article and might be actively dangerous. So if you see vanilla oil that seems inexpensive – or you find it on the shelves of a pound shop or grocery store, you can pretty much assume that it’s fake.

Properties of Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla oil is antibiotic, anticarcinogenic (particularly for prostate and colon cancers), antidepressant, antifungal (active against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans), anti-nausea, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, mood enhancing, mosquito repellent, relaxant, a sedative and tranquiliser.

Uses of Vanilla Essential Oil

Because of its property as an emmenagogue, vanilla oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy in the first trimester, and therefore cannot be used for morning sickness.

If using the absolute for massage etc., dilute in a suitable carrier oil at a rate of 5 drops to each 10ml of carrier. You may prefer to use this dilution for oil burners as well.

For use in the bath, mix 3-4 drops of the oil with a little milk to form an emulsion and stir in to the water once the bath is ready. Please be careful when using essential oils in the bath, and bear in mind when getting in and out that it will make the area more slippery than usual.

Vanilla can be used for massage to fight depression, ease stress, calm the mind and increase libido. It’s also helpful for relieving muscle and joint pain, cramped muscles or cramps associated with menstruation, to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. It can be used direct on acne, eczema, itching, burns, cuts and inflamed skin to soothe, promote healthy skin, to reduce cellulite and also on the scalp to encourage hair growth. It’s also beneficial for regulating menstruation.

It can be used in a burner, electric diffuser or in the bath for stress, nervous tension, insomnia, coughs and other respiratory problems. It is said to encourage sweet dreams if used in the bedroom, as well as having a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Diffused vanilla oil is a mosquito repellent, which makes it very helpful in bedrooms in countries where mosquitoes are a problem. To avoid the danger of fire while you sleep, you could use an electric diffuser or put the oils onto a cloth which is laid over a radiator instead of using a candle-based oil burner.

I offer Vanilla Essential Oil in my online shop.


Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use during pregnancy.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Thyme health benefits: a truly multi-purpose herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Common or garden thyme in flower

Common or garden thyme in flower

(A video containing the main points outlined here is available here)

The thyme I am talking about here is Thymus vulgaris, the common or garden thyme. It’s a low growing, fairly tough plant that likes a sunny situation. It comes in the standard green leafed and also in variegated forms, which some people consider to be more attractive, but the important thyme oil (which is the source of all thyme’s goodness) is found in both.

Thyme is closely related to lemon thyme, but not to basil thyme.

Remember that if you want to use thyme medicinally it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident. Sow seed in Spring or divide existing stock in Spring. Plants will layer if mulched in Fall. Cut back in June for a second crop. Pick leaves as required for culinary use, with the main harvest in early June and late August.

Like most herbs, once it is established, it doesn’t like to be moved, although you will probably get away with it if you are moving it to a new position it likes. You will have to water it regularly in dry spells until it starts to put on new growth, showing that the roots have got over the shock of the move. Unless your area suffers from extremely cold winters, it should be perfectly happy to let you pick a few sprigs all year round, although if you want to get the highest concentration of oil, you should harvest as much as you can just before the flowers open.

Thyme is one of those herbs that begs to be touched. Get down close to it and crush a few leaves to savor its rich meaty fragrance. It’s easy to see why it makes such a good herb for meat dishes, particularly beef. You can even use it instead of oregano or marjoram in Italian food, if you like. The fresh herb is so rich, you may prefer to dry it by hanging it up in bunches somewhere with a good air flow and not too humid for culinary use, after which you should strip the leaves off the branches and store them in an airtight jar.

Fresh or dried thyme makes an unusual and tasty tea – use about 1 teaspoon of fresh leaves, or half as much of the dried ones per cup. Make it in a pot and allow the herb to steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before straining it into a cup. You can add a little honey to sweeten it, if you like. Herbal teas are generally not served with milk. (If you are pregnant, please see note below).

Medicinal uses for Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herbal medicine for digestive and respiratory disorders, it’s an anti-fungal, is useful for treating infections (both viral and bacterial), is antiseptic, expectorant, and can be used as a general tonic.

Before you read further it’s important for you to know that thyme should not be used in large amounts, for example for tea or as a herbal remedy, during pregnancy. A little bit used in cooking will do no harm, but for medicinal purposes, you will be using rather more than a pinch.

To make a standard infusion, put 3-4 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried into a pot and add 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes and strain into a cup. The infusion does not have to be drunk all in one go, but can be sipped slowly over an hour or so. It can be used hot or cold (probably cold would be best for gargling or as a mouthwash, and hot would be helpful for coughs and catarrh).

Taken internally the standard infusion is very helpful for respiratory complaints, specifically for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis and other coughs, and laryingitis. It may also be used as a gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, etc and as a mouthwash for bad breath and/or gum disease (gingivitis).

The same infusion is also helpful in cases of indigestion, diarrhea and gastritis, and is good for chills, as it has a warming effect. It can also be used externally as a wash for fungal infections, and can be used to make a warm compress for sore throats and tonsillitis. A compress is a clean cloth which is soaked in the infusion and then applied to the area. For a warm compress, the infusion should cool a little before use.

A steam inhalation is helpful in cases of tonsillitis, catarrh and general infections, also to help relieve muscle fatigue for ME sufferers. You can either use a few drops of the essential oil (bought in) or a good handful of fresh herb. Put the oil or crushed herb into a big flat bowl of boiling water and lean over it, covering both your head and the bowl with a towel to help keep the steam in. Another way is to have a hot steamy bath with the oil or herbs added to the water. In this case, put the herbs inside a muslin bag or similar, so that you don’t get covered in little bits of it.

Thymol, the pink mouthwash used by dentists, was originally made from thyme. To make a mouthwash for general use, make a half-strength infusion (2 tsp fresh leaves or 1 tsp dried to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water), leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, strain and use cold – the whole cupful, one mouthful at a time.

To make a poultice using fresh herbs, you just process them in a food processor to make a pulp. For dried herbs, you need to add hot water and process to a similar state. Wrap the herbs in a piece of gauze and apply to the area. Ideally, this should be as hot as you can bear, so if you’re using fresh herbs, dip the poultice in a bowl of hot water before applying. You can keep refreshing it with the hot water and re-applying it to the area being treated when it cools down too much.

Aromatherapy

For those with children at school, a bottle of dilute thyme oil (add a few drops to a bottle of sweet almond oil) in the cupboard can be used to deter headlice (cooties) – just comb a few drops of the mixture through the hair night and morning. An attack of ringworm (tinea) can be treated with thyme cream applied 3-4 times a day to the affected area. Thyme essential oil is very strong and should not be used apart from the two purposes outlined in this post except by a professional aromatherapist.

I offer various thyme products including essential oil in my online shop.

Like all plants grown for medicinal use, thyme should be grown organically to avoid nasty chemicals ending up in your remedies. Visit the Gardenzone for more information about growing organic thyme.


Barberry health benefits: for gallstones, hypertension and sore throat

Barberry is an attractive plant

Barberry is an attractive plant

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The barberry, Berberis vulgaris syn. B. abortiva, B. acida, B. alba, B. bigelovii, B. globularis, B. jacquinii and B. sanguinea, is also known as common barberry, European barberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry, pepperidge bush and sowberry. It is closely related to the Nepalese barberry (Berberis aristata), Indian barberry (Berberis asiatica) and Oregon grape (Berberis or Mahonia aquifolium) – all very active medicinally.

The name holy thorn comes from an Italian legend which states that it was the plant used to make the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is certainly thorny enough, and is often recommended as a good barrier hedging plant to deter animals and burglars alike.

Barberry is native to Turkey and continental Europe, naturalized elsewhere, and also cultivated. It is a woody shrub which grows to around 3m (9 feet) tall and 2m (6 feet) wide. It is hardy and a good plant for attracting wildlife into the garden. However in rural areas near wheat fields, it may make you unpopular with farmers, as it is the alternate host for wheat rust.

Barberry is cultivated both for its fruit, which is used both in cooking and medicinally, and its bark, which is purely medicinal. It is not fussy as to soil and will tolerate semi-shade or full sun. It can be propagated by seed sown in spring, ripe cuttings taken in fall and planted in a cold frame in sandy soil, or by suckers – which are prolific and should be removed regularly if not required, or the plant may become invasive.

The fruit, which has a very acid flavor, is rich in vitamin C and can be used raw or cooked, for example pickled as a garnish, boiled with an equal weight of sugar to make a jelly, and also to make a lemonlike drink. In Iran, the berries are dried (called zereshk) and used to flavor rice intended to accompany chicken. A refreshing tea can be made from dried young leaves and shoot tips for occasional use.

When boiled with lye, the roots produce a yellow dye for wool and leather. The inner stem bark produces a yellow dye for linen with an alum mordant.

Do not use barberry medicinally or drink barberry tea during pregnancy, as there is a risk of miscarriage. Do not take barberry for more than five days at a time unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. Barberry bark is toxic in large doses (4mg or more whole bark taken at one time). Consult a medical practitioner if you are suffering from an infection which lasts for more than 3 days, or jaundice.

You can make a standard infusion using ½-1 tsp dried root bark/1-2 tsp whole crushed berries to 250 ml (8 fl oz, 1 US cup) in cold water; bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes before straining off and discarding solids. The dosage is ½-1 cup a day, taken one mouthful at a time.

Do not take in combination with liquorice, which reduces barberry’s effectiveness.

The main parts used medicinally are the bark of the stems and roots. The root bark is more active medicinally than stem bark so the two types should be kept separate. Shave the bark off the stems or roots and spread it out in a single layer in an area with a free flow of air and low humidity, turning occasionally until completely dried before storing, or string on threads and hang up to dry. Dried bark may be stored whole or in powdered form. Store in a cool place away from sunlight.

Barberry has a long history of use medicinally, and research has confirmed that it has many useful properties. Extracts of the roots have been used in Eastern and Bulgarian folk medicine for chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism. It has traditionally been used to treat nausea, exhaustion, liver and kidney disorders. Currently it is mainly used as a remedy for gallbladder pain, gallstones and jaundice.

A syrup of barberry fruit makes a good gargle for a sore throat. The juice of the berries has been found to lower hypertension (high blood pressure) in rats and can be used externally to treat skin eruptions.

I offer organic barberries in my online shop.

Research has shown that barberry root extracts have antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulant, fever reducing, sedative, anti-convulsant, and anti-spasmodic effects. This means that they can be used to treat infections, parasites, high temperature and digestive disorders including cramps and indigestion, and as an excellent tonic and aid to restful sleep. It is also antiseptic, appetizer, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.

A study on the action of root bark extract in diabetic rats showed that it may stimulate the release of insulin.

Barberry is used in homeopathy for eczema and rheumatism, but is not used in aromatherapy.

As always, barberry should be grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents by foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening, visit the Gardenzone.


Sandalwood essential oils, benefits and uses

Santalum album is now a protected species

Santalum album is now a protected species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Traditionally, sandalwood essential oil, also sometimes called sandalwood Mysore, is extracted from the heartwood of East Indian sandalwood trees (Santalum album). The oil is present in trees of 10 years and older, but the trees are only regarded as mature between the ages of 40 and 80 years.

The tree is a native of India and Indonesia, but unfortunately has been harvested at unsustainable levels in its natural habitat and is a protected species. However, as sandalwood oil is so popular, not just for aromatherapy, but also for Ayurvedic medicine and sacred uses, other areas have established Santalum sp. plantations, including Australia and many parts of Southeast Asia.

As with all essential oils, sandalwood oils should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Three varieties of sandalwood are now used for extracting oil, Santalum austrocaledonicum (Sandalwood Vanuatu), Santalum ellipticum (the Hawaiian sandalwood), which are both regarded as high quality, and Santalum spicatum (the Australian sandalwood), which is not. There is also another oil which is sometimes labelled Sandalwood AmyrisAmyris balsamifera, which is unrelated.

Sandalwood oil has a nutty or woody fragrance which is popular with men, even though it has sweet overtones. It is often used commercially as an ingredient in aftershave. The color of the oil ranges from pale yellow to pale gold.

Shavings of sandalwood are sometimes used as incense for calming the mind during meditation, amongst other purposes. You can also use the oil in a burner to achieve the same effect.

Sandalwood essential oil should never be used undiluted. It is not suitable for use on children under 12 years or anyone with a kidney disorder. It may reduce the ability to concentrate.

Sandalwood oil is regarded as soothing, calming and grounding. It is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, burnout, confusion, cynicism, depression, recurring dreams, exhaustion, failure, fatigue, fear, grief, insecurity, irritability, listlessness, stress, worry and to promote happiness, intuition and perseverance; for skin care, including dry eczema, blemished, scarred and sensitive skin; to treat tinnitis, sinusitis, chest and urinary tract infections, sore throat, laryngitis and as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, emollient and insect repellent. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for itching and gastritis.

Sandalwood Amyris, or simply Amyris, has antiseptic and sedative properties. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy.

I offer sandalwood essential oil and sandalwood amyris essential oil in my online shop.

It’s always important to ensure that any oil you purchase is 100% pure essential oil, but this is even more vital with rarer oils and those which are in danger of extinction because of over-harvesting. Disreputable suppliers are often tempted to adulterate with potentially dangerous fake chemically-derived products in the name of the quick buck. Make sure that you choose a reputable supplier to be sure that you are getting what you pay for.


Geranium essential oil, benefits and uses

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Rose geranium is the plant usually used for geranium essential oil extraction

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

As with all essential oils, geranium oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Geranium essential oil is offered in two types. Rose geranium oil (which you will often find called just geranium essential oil), Pelargonium graveolens, is the one most easily sourced, and also the most expensive. You may also find a product called geranium essential oil which is actually the essential oil of the apple geranium, Pelargonium odoratissimum. This is cheaper, but also does not have all the same properties.

Both types are extracted from the leaves and stalks of the appropriate plant by steam distillation, and range in color from colorless through to a light green. They are quite thin oils, so care must be taken when using them not to add too much to your carrier oil or other base by accident.

Cautions: Do not use either type of geranium essential oil during pregnancy or on sensitive skin. Not suitable for use by diabetics or anyone else who suffers from hypoglycemia. Not suitable for use on children under 1 year old. Avoid use when studying or taking exams, as it may lower concentration.

As already mentioned, the two types have different properties.

Rose geranium essential oil is often used for skin care both for dry and oily skins; it’s astringent, so it balances sebum production while simultaneously soothing and softening the skin, and is helpful for treating acne, eczema and psoriasis. Because of its antiseptic and cytophylactic (promotes healing) properties, it’s also useful for cuts, burns and external ulcers and its antifungal qualities make it an excellent topical treatment for candida (thrush) and other fungal conditions. It’s also styptic – which means it helps to stop bleeding.

Rose geranium oil’s balancing properties aren’t just restricted to the skin. It also helps to balance the mind, emotions and hormonal system. Of course, though conventional medicine tends to treat these as entirely separate, in fact they are quite closely interlinked. We all know how our emotions seem to affect everything, and PMS (a hormonal condition) is well known to cause severe dysfunction both of mental and emotional health. It’s no surprise, then, that this oil works to relax, reduce anxiety/depression and stress, stabilize the emotions and restore mental balance. As a hormonal regulator, it is useful for treating menopausal problems, menorrhagia (heavy periods) and PMS.

And that’s not all. Rose geranium oil is also an adrenal stimulant, deodorant, diuretic (useful in treating edema), a lymphatic stimulant, and a good general tonic and detoxing agent. It can be used to treat gallstones and jaundice (only after consultation with your regular physician) and cellulite. Finally, it is a lice (cootie) repellent, mosquito repellent, general insect repellent and anti-parasitic.

Phew.

I offer rose geranium essential oil and organic rose geranium essential oil in my online shop as well as a range of other products derived from them.

Apple geranium essential oil has many, but not all, of the same properties (and a few extra ones of its own): acne, adrenal stimulant, anxiety, astringent, improves circulation, cytophylactic (promotes healing), diuretic, deodorant, dry skin, eczema, edema, hemorrhoids, hormone regulator, lice repellent, lymphatic stimulant, menopause, mental balance, mosquito repellent, neuralgia, oily skin, PMS, skin care, stress, styptic (stops bleeding), tonic, ulcers, vermifuge (anti-parasitic), vulnerary (treats cuts and wounds).

For most of these conditions, use geranium oil diluted in the usual way either directly on the area to be treated or for massage, or add 4-5 drops to your bath. For emotional and mental difficulties, it can also be used in an oil diffuser.


Jasmine essential oils, benefits and uses

Jasminum officinale, the most useful type in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding it

Jasminum officinale, the most useful type in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding it

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one type of jasmine essential oil available. In fact, there are at least four (possibly three, see comment by Geoff)! All of them are reputed to have aphrodisiac properties, which may account for their popularity, even though jasmine oil is one of the costliest essential oils.

It is said that Napoleon presented Josephine with a large bottle of jasmine oil. Though it has a scent which some find overpowering, there’s no denying, taking into account the fragrance, the price and the aphrodisiac reputation, that it makes a great aromatherapy gift, particularly for lovers.

As with all essential oils, jasmine oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Jasmine oils you may find on offer include:

Jasmine absolute
Extracted from the flowers of Jasminum officinale, this is the jasmine aromatherapy product most often referred to in the literature, though you may have difficulty finding it on sale. It is a dark orangey brown liquid, which is quite viscous. The absolute is produced by separating a concrete (produced by solvent extraction) using alcohol. Further processing by steam distillation produces an essential oil. Check the label to find out if this is, in fact, an extract from J. officinale as most of the jasmine absolute I’ve found on sale is actually extracted from J. grandiflorum.

Jasmine Grandiflorum absolute
This is often labelled simply “Jasmine Absolute”, although checking the latin name of the plant from which it has been extracted will reveal the truth if it is Jasminum grandiflorum. Other names by which it is known include Royal, Spanish or Catalonian jasmine, or jati.

Jasmine Sambac absolute
This is also called Arabian or Tuscan jasmine, zambac or mogra. It’s extracted from Jasminum sambac.

Jasmine Auriculatum absolute
Not often found, this is also sometimes called juhi and is extracted from Jasminum auriculatum flowers. It has a lighter fragrance, often appreciated by those who find other jasmines overpowering.

Note: Jasmine hair oil

There are a number of products on the market offering jasmine oil for hair treatments. Though I have tried to find some rationale for this, the only explanation I have been able to find is that, because jasmine absolute oils are used for skin care, if rubbed into the scalp this will contribute to the health of the hair.

However, I think this is very unlikely since, despite all the claims by manufacturers of various hair products, nothing put on the hair from the outside (as opposed to a change in diet on the inside) can have any lasting beneficial effect beyond the purely cosmetic. This has been proved by research and has been well known for decades. It’s true that aromatherapy products are absorbed by the skin, but as jasmine is not known to have any properties relating to hair health, it seems to me that this is just a ploy like so many others, designed to sell anything at all so long as a profit can be made.

 

Benefits of Jasmine Oil

Jasmine oil benefits vary slightly according to the type used, as you might expect. However, it’s important that you purchase pure jasmine oil (or absolute), and avoid anything that doesn’t state that the bottle contents are 100% pure jasmine essential oil/absolute. Using jasmine fragrance oil for anything other than as a perfume may be dangerous, and is very unlikely to have a positive effect of any kind (except perhaps on your mood, if you like the scent).

Jasmine absolutes, of whatever type, are extremely strong and should be used in a low dilution, starting with a single drop to each 20ml (2/3 oz) of carrier oil, and only increasing this if you find that you need to. This will give you a dilution of around a half of one percent, which may sound light – but as I said, jasmine oils are very strong. This is great news, as they’re also very expensive.

None of the jasmine oils/absolutes should be used during pregnancy except during labor.

Jasminum officinale
It’s unfortunate that this type of jasmine essential oil is so difficult to find, as it seems to have the widest range of uses, including skin care, musculo-skeletal problems, respiratory disorders and genito-urinary difficulties as well as emotional and nervous conditions.

Jasminum officinale absolute or essential oil is antiseptic, antispasmodic, emollient, relaxing and soothing. Used as an ingredient in a massage blend, or a single drop added to the bath it is useful in the care of all types of skin: dry, normal, greasy and combination skins, as well as irritated and sensitive skin. It’s also helpful in the treatment of muscle strain and muscular spasms (muscle cramps), dysmenorrhea (painful periods), labor pains and uterine disorders. It’s also believed to have aphrodisiac properties, as already mentioned.

Used in a diffuser, J. officinale oil can be used to treat catarrh, coughs, hoarseness and laryngitis.

Either method can be used to help alleviate anger, apathy, burnout, lack of confidence, depression, detachment, exhaustion, fatigue, fear of the future, indifference, insecurity, jealousy, lethargy, listlessness, nervous tension, mental rigidity, sadness, shyness and many other stress-related conditions.

I offer jasmine officinale absolute essential oil and jasmine officinale 10% essential oil in my online shop.

Jasminum grandiflorum
Jasmine grandiflorum absolute rivals the previously discussed oil in its range of properties.

J. grandiflorum is calming, relaxing, soothing and releases inhibitions. In the area of skin care it is used in a massage blend for dry, greasy and sensitive skin. It also enjoys a reputation as an aphrodisiac, stimulates both contractions and menstruation, and is helpful for controlling labor pains, as well as being a male reproductive tonic and helpful in alleviating an enlarged prostate. It can be used either in massage oil or in a diffuser to help mental and emotional conditions including anxiety, cold-heartedness, lack of confidence, depression, distrust, listlessness and stress.

I offer pure Jasmine grandiflorum absolute and dilute Jasmine grandiflorum 5% essential oil in my online shop.

Jasminum sambac
J. sambac is antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balancing, enlightening, relaxing and sedative. It’s used in a massage blend for blemishes, to improve complexion and reduce stretch marks, and generally for dry, irritated and sensitive skin. It’s also useful for muscle pain, muscle spasms (cramps) and to stimulate contractions in labor. It can be used in the same way or in a diffuser to help alleviate lack of confidence, depression and selfishness, to release inhibitions and stimulate the senses.

Jasminum auriculatum
J. sambac is aphrodisiac, calming and soothing and is used for infertility, depression, emotional trauma, insomnia and nervous tension.


Great Mullein health benefits: for respiratory complaints, frostbite and chilblains

The name great mullein is not undeserved

The name great mullein is not undeserved

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, has a huge number of other names including Aaron’s rod, Adam’s flannel, beggar’s blanket, beggar’s stalk, blanket herb, bullock’s lungwort, candlewick plant, clot, clown’s lungwort, common mullein, cowboy toilet paper, Cuddy’s lungs, duffle, feltwort, flannel mullein, flannel plant, fluffweed, golden rod, hag’s taper, hare’s beard, Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff, molene, Moses’ blanket, mullein, mullein dock, old man’s flannel, Our Lady’s flannel, Peter’s staff, rag paper, shepherd’s clubs, shepherd’s staff, torches, velvet dock, velvet plant, white mullein, wild ice leaf, woollen and woolly mullin. It’s not related to lungwort, nor to the plant normally called goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea, which incidentally is another plant also known as Aaron’s rod) nor rose root (also sometimes called Aaron’s rod), all of which belong to different botanical families.

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein in the first year

Great mullein is a biennial which reaches a height of 2m (6′) or more in the second year, thoroughly deserving the name, though in the first year it has a totally different form and apparently different leaves, as they are thickly coated in fuzz, see picture left, rather like lamb’s ears (also unrelated). This must be where all the names about blankets, flannel, velvet and wool come from, as the full grown plant gives very little clue to this (although the hairs are still present, they are not so obvious). In fact, it’s quite a brute, isn’t it?

Given its appearance, this is not a plant anyone is likely to grow as an ornamental, despite the fact that the flowers (as well as the size) are similar to hollyhocks (unrelated, lol). I guess since it is so big it could be tucked at the back of a border with something in front to conceal the unattractive foliage, though this will leave the first year form (which is a lot prettier) hidden. This may not work in any case, because it is insistent on living in full sun, and will not thrive in shady areas. Perhaps it is best relegated to the allotment or bought dried from your friendly local herbalist.

Great mullein is found growing wild all over the temperate world, having been introduced to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand from its native Europe, Africa and Asia. Although unlikely to become invasive except in areas with little competition or after forest fires, it is listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Hawaii and Victoria, Australia. Because each plant produces a huge number of seeds which can lie dormant for up to 100 years, it is very difficult to eradicate completely.

If you decide to grow it, you will find that it is completely unconcerned about soil type or acidity and will thrive in moist or dry conditions, though it does prefer chalky, well drained soil. As already mentioned it needs full sun. It will not tolerate maritime winds (despite the fact that it is often found growing in coastal areas). Sow in a cold frame from late Spring to early Summer, barely covering the seed. Pot on as required until late Summer, when they can be planted out in their final positions.

The leaves contain the natural insecticide, rotenone. Do not grow great mullein close to ponds which contain fish, or allow the leaves or seeds to fall into the water. Both leaves and seeds contain compounds that cause breathing problems and consequent death in fish.

The name torches comes from the old custom of dipping dried stems into wax or suet to make torches. Dried leaves were also used as candle wicks and can be used as tinder. Leaves were put into shoes to provide insulation.

Flowers produce a yellow dye without mordant, green with dilute sulphuric acid, brown with alkalis. An infusion of the flowers with caustic soda was used by Romans to dye their hair blonde.

Due to hormonal effects, great mullein is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying for a baby.

The parts used in medicine are the juice, leaves, flowers and roots. The seeds are not used, as they are toxic to humans as well as fish. If using great mullein juice, leaves or flowers internally in liquid form, it must be carefully strained through a fine filter to remove the irritating hairs (a “quick and dirty” method would be to put a layer of clean kitchen towel in a tea strainer and pour it through that).

Great mullein has been used in medicine for at least 2,000 years, when it was recommended by Dioscorides for chest complaints. After its introduction into the US, native Americans used it to make syrup for treating croup (an acute inflammatory condition of the airways often characterized by a barking cough). It was once listed as a medicine in the German Commission E document to treat catarrh, and in the National Formularies of the US and UK. Even today, its main use is for coughs and other respiratory disorders. The dried leaves were once smoked to relieve asthma, croup, TB cough and spasmodic coughs in general.

Properties given for this herb are: analgesic, anodyne, anti-cancer, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bactericide, cardio-depressant, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, estrogenic, expectorant, fungicide, hypnotic, narcotic, nervine, odontalgic, sedative and vulnerary. This list refers to the whole plant. Different parts of the plant have different properties.

To make a standard infusion, use 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to infuse for a minimum of 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain carefully as described previously before use. The flowers are also sometimes used in the same way. The dose is a third of a cup, taken up to 3 times a day.

A decoction of roots is made by putting 15g (a half ounce) of fresh or 30g (1 oz) of dried chopped root in a small saucepan, adding 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water and bringing to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and continue heating until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard.

To make an oil maceration of mullein flowers, fill a bottle with as many flowers as will fit, cover with olive oil and seal, then shake thoroughly. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake thoroughly once a day for 3 weeks, then strain off and discard the flowers using a fine filter to remove all hairs, as described above. Reseal and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

To make a poultice, mix fresh or dried chopped leaves with very hot water and mash up, then wrap in a piece of gauze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible. Apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water when it cools.

The standard infusion reduces mucus production and is expectorant. It is taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of chest complaints, including bronchitis, mild catarrh and sore throat. Its demulcent and astringent properties make it a good treatment for colic, diarrhea and hemorrhoids (if blood was found in the diarrhea, a decoction of leaves boiled in milk for 10 minutes was traditionally used instead, but my advice is to visit the doctor as this can be an early warning sign of more serious illness). It can also be used as a treatment for internal parasites (vulnerary).

An infusion made using 1 teaspoonful per cup of a mixture containing 2 parts of great mullein to 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi by volume, taken twice a day, is recommended for lung repair by  Dr Elise Wright of AllExperts.com. According to eHow Health, the expulsion of a black tar-like substance after several days of use is an indication of this mixture’s effectiveness.

A decoction of the roots is analgesic and anti-spasmodic and can be used to treat toothache, cramps and convulsions. It can also be used to treat migraine.

Grind up dried roots and mix with strained mullein juice to make a topical treatment for boils, chilblains, hemorrhoids and warts. It is said to work only on rough warts, not smooth warts, though as all warts are caused by HPV, this seems strange. It’s probably worth trying even on a smooth wart, for this reason.

A poultice of leaves can be used to treat hemorrhoids, external ulcers, splinters, sunburn and tumors.

Studies have found that great mullein flowers have a bactericidal action and may also be effective against tumors. A flower maceration is used externally to treat bruises, chilblains, eczema, frostbite, hemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and ringworm. It can also be used in the ear to treat earache (2-3 drops at a time, up to 3 times a day).

A homoeopathic tincture of mullein is used to treat long-standing migraine.

As with all herbs used as remedies, great mullein should be grown organically to avoid corrupting your remedy with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic great mullein visit the Gardenzone.


This beautiful damask rose is Quatre Saisons

Rose essential oils, benefits and uses

This beautiful damask rose is Quatre Saisons

This beautiful damask rose is Quatre Saisons

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Rose oil comes in two main types, rose absolute and rose otto. They are both used for the same purposes.

Because rose essential oils are costly, you may find that they are offered diluted. These are usable, but they will not keep for any length of time. If you are likely to use them up in 6 months, by all means buy the diluted variety, otherwise bite the bullet, buy the undiluted, and look on it as an investment.

You should take especial care to ensure that the rose oil you buy (or the rose oil content of a blend) is 100% pure, because there are very many cheaper products which smell like rose oil, but have more association with the factory than the garden. Additives and substitutes intended to bulk up or replace rose essential oil while maintaining a high scent impact may be actively dangerous in oils intended for therapeutic use.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Rose essential oil is not the same as rose geranium oil, though both are attributed to Venus in the tables of correspondences used for centuries, before what we now consider conventional medicine arrived.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, rose otto is the more expensive of the two. sometimes called attar of roses, it has been used since ancient times. It is usually extracted by steam distillation from Rosa damascena, the Damask Rose (occasionally Rosa centifolia, sometimes called Rose Maroc) and is a pale yellow or olive green oil with a very rich, spicy floral scent. 100% pure rose otto will keep for as long as you need it, provided you keep it in a cool dark place. There are reports of rose otto produced in the 1940s which is still good.

Rose otto is the best type of rose essential oil for aromatherapy, though because of the cost, some people use rose absolute instead. On the other hand, rose otto is extremely heady, and you will probably find that you need to use much less in a blend than is normal with other essential oils.

Rose absolute is extracted by solvent extraction. This yields a reddish orange or olive green oil with a lighter floral scent, more like you would instinctively expect from a rose oil. It is much more viscous than rose otto and solidifies at quite high temperatures, so much so that you may need to warm it in your hands before use.

You might come across two other rose oils, rose leaf absolute, which is used purely for flavor and fragrance, and rosehip oil, a carrier oil effective in treating burns, scars and wrinkles, and promotes tissue regeneration. Rosehip oil has recently become popular after Kate Middleton revealed she uses it for her stretch marks. I offer rosehip oil in my online shop.

Both rose otto and rose absolute are used for the same purposes.

Uses of rose essential oil

Rose oil is often said to be mainly used in skin care, but I’ll give you the list and you can decide:

Skin care: ageing skin, broken capillaries, cold sores, combination skin, dry skin, eczema, elasticity, herpes, mature skin, rejuvenation, sensitive skin, thread-veined skin, toning, wrinkles.

Other: addiction, allergic headache/migraine, allergies, anger, antibacterial, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, anxiety, aphrodisiac, astringent, balancing, bereavement, calming, circulatory disorders, cooling, decongestant, detoxifier, digestive tonic, diuretic, emmenagogic, endocrine system, fear, grief, hangover, hay fever, heart tonic, hepatic, labor, laxative, menopause, menstrual disorders, pmt, regret, rejuvenating, relaxing, sadness, sedative, stress, tension, terror, tonic, uplifting, uterine tonic, well-being, worry about the past.

I offer a wide range of rose aromatherapy products including several different types of essential oil in my online shop.


Difficult to grow outside Australia, but this one grows in Menton, France

Tea tree oil health benefits: sovereign First Aid remedy

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Difficult to grow outside Australia, but this one grows in Menton, France

Difficult to grow outside Australia, but this one grows in Menton, France

Tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, is also known as ti tree, narrow-leaved paperbark, narrow-leaved tea-tree, narrow-leaved ti-tree or snow-in-summer. The lemon tea tree, Leptospermum petersonii, New Zealand tea tree/manuka, Leptospermum scoparium, are related, but not closely. Manuka is said to be of little medicinal value (manuka honey is a different story). Tea tree is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) at all.

Tea tree is a plant native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia which is difficult to grow elsewhere because the conditions it likes are generally difficult to provide. It is a small tree which can reach a height of around 20 feet (6m). It requires moist, well drained, acid to neutral soil. It is not hardy.

Tea tree is only used as an essential oil and as an additive to, eg. tea tree shampoo and other bath and body products. Often used as a treatment for acne, it is very useful and should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet as it is antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and antiviral. It should never be used internally (although it’s ok as an ingredient in toothpaste, which after all most people don’t swallow in large amounts).

teatree-infographic-sm

Click for larger image

As with all essential oils, tea tree oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

I offer various tea tree products in my online shop.

It isn’t practicable to extract essential oil at home, although you can make a fake oil by maceration of the leaves in carrier oil (eg. sweet almond oil or light olive oil) which could be used as a hair treatment for cooties, for example. To make an oil maceration, fill a plain glass jar with as many roughly chopped fresh tea tree leaves as will fit, cover with the carrier oil and add a tablespoonful of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar) or vodka to act as a preservative. Cover and shake well, then stand on a sunny windowsill for 2-3 weeks, shaking well every day. When finished, strain off the herb and discard, transfer the oil to a dark colored glass container and store in a cool place. Use within 6 months.