A scented spray or candle may smell good, A but true "aromatherapy" does much more. This ancient healing practice involves the therapeutic use of aromatic substances known as essential oils (highly concentrated extracts distilled from plants).

Some people scoff at the idea of using aromatherapy, but ongoing research has shown that essential oils are effective in treating a variety of common health problems.

How does it work? Smelling an essential oil releases neurotransmitters and other chemicals that affect the brain. When used topically, chemical constituents in essential oils are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream, where they affect overall physiology, including hormones and enzymes.

Aromatherapy Safety

Essential oils are safe for most people. In rare cases, however, skin irritation can occur when used topically.

To check the sensitivity of your skin: Mix the essential oil you intend to use with a carrier oil and apply it to the inside of the crook of your arm or the side of your neck below the ear. (Never apply essential oil directly to your skin) Check the area periodically over the next 12 hours to ensure that you do not experience itching or redness. If you do experience itching or redness, it is likely that you are reacting to that particular oil. Test another oil, using the same technique.

If you have a chronic medical condition, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer, check with your doctor before using essential oils. Pregnant women and children should not use aromatherapy without first consulting a doctor. If an essential oil is accidentally ingested, call 911—the concentrated substances can be toxic if swallowed.

Store essential oils out of the reach of children-at room temperature and away from heat and light to preserve freshness and potency.

Best way to use topical therapy: Add five to 10 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of a "carrier" oil, such as almond oil, which is odorless, and apply it to the affected part of your body. For a bath, add five to eight drops of essential oil mixed with a teaspoon of a carrier oil to a tub full of warm bathwater.

Best way to use inhalation therapy: Add three to six drops of essential oil to a basin of hot water (boil then cool slightly). Bend your head over the bowl and cover your head with a towel, creating a tent to trap the scented steam. Staying at least 12 inches away from the water source, inhale deeply for three to five minutes.

My favorite essential oils and their uses…

Muscle Cramps

  • Marjoram. Add a mixture of marjoram and a carrier oil to your bath and soak for 20 minutes. Or massage marjoram oil and a carrier oil into the painful area as needed.

Cough And Congestion

Eucalyptus. Rub a mixture of eucalyptus and a carrier oil onto your chest and back. The oils work via skin absorption and inhalation to ease coughs and congestion. For congestion, try inhalation therapy three times daily for five minutes each session.

Caution: Do not try this therapy during an asthma attack-it can exacerbate symptoms. If you don't get relief within a few days, see your doctor.


  • Rosemary. Add rosemary and a carrier oil to a warm bath and soak for 10 to 15 minutes as needed.


  • Lavender. Add lavender and a carrier oil to warm bathwater and soak for 20 minutes before going to bed.


  • Ginger and peppermint. Mix two drops of ginger oil with one drop of peppermint oil and one tablespoon of a carrier oil. While lying on your back, gently massage the mixture onto the abdomen. When rubbing, follow the natural flow of intestinal movement-move your hand up the right side of your stomach, across the middle and down the left side. This is the way food normally moves through the large intestine. For even greater relief, also drink a cup of ginger or peppermint tea after the massage.

Essential Oil Basics

Essential oils are available at most health food stores and on-line.

Typical cost: $5 to $25 for a small (05 ounce) bottle. High-quality oils can be purchased from Aura Cacia, 800-437-3301, www.auracacia.com ...The Essential Oil Company, 800-729-5912, www.essentialoil.com...or Oshadhi, 888-6742344, www.osbadhiusa.com.

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