Heather Dawn Godfrey
PGCE, BSc., FIFA, MFHT
Lavender – the quintessential oil
There is no doubt, lavender, alongside rose, is one of the most useful, dynamic, essential oils. It’s beneficial properties are numerous. An amazing skin healing agent, Lavender’s cleansing, anti-microbial, pain relieving, calming and emotionally uplifting qualities, renders it one of the best first aid oils to have in your collection – in deed, if you could only have one essential oil, then lavender would be your oil of choice.
This evergreen woody shrub, with its slender stems topped with clusters of small highly aromatic purple or violet-blue flowers, is native to the rocky calcareous areas within the Mediterranean basin, especially France and the Pyrenees mountains of Northern Spain, North Africa and Western India. Historically cultivated by the Greeks, Romans and Elizabethans in England. Lavender is naturalised in Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugosphere, Australia and Tasmania.
The wide variation and adaptability of lavender sees species growing well in climate zones from cold to subtropical. Lavender can tolerate moderate frost and drought, but spike lavender cannot tolerate frost. All lavenders are sensitive to high levels of humidity and high summer temperatures adversely affect the quality of their essential oil. There are 48 species of lavender with hundreds of genotypes. Essential oil composition will vary according to the species, altitude, rainfall, climate and geographical location of growth, and the age of the plant (1).
The three main essential oil producing lavender species are:
Lavandula angustifolia (true and English lavender) – also referred to as officinalis, L. vera, L. spica
Lavandula latifolia (spike, broad leaf)
Lavandula angustifolia x lavandula latifolia hybrid (lavandin)
Lavandin hybrid produces higher yields of flowers and higher concentration of essential oils than true or spike lavenders. English lavender produces the sweetest lavender, preferred by the perfume industry. The best quality essential oil is extracted from the flowering heads, just as the lower flowers begin to open. A lesser quality oil is extracted from the leaves and stalks.
Linalool (alcohol) and Linalyl acetate (ester) collectively form the largest proportion (70-90%) of the phytochemicals comprising lavender essential oils. All chemicals present within an essential oil are significant in that they create a unique synergistic mixture, however, the main chemical components give a general indication of the essential oils’ predominant qualities. Linalool is antimicrobial, uplifting and warming, Linalyl acetate is anti-inflammatory, sedative, and aids wound healing (2).
A recent study found that essential oils with a high content of Linalool diffused during meditation created a synergistic effect that significantly reduced feelings of anxiety and encouraged a sense of equanimity (3). Lavender essential oil is an immune stimulant (Spike latifolia), aids skin healing and regeneration (English or true angustifolia), is anti-infectious, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, balances the nervous system, aids sleep, eases headaches, joint and muscle pain, and feelings of anxiety and mild depression (4).
Apply as an inhalant (drop on tissue or diffused into the atmosphere) or blended in a carrier medium (vegetable oil, non-perfumed lotion, cream or ointment) for massage or topical application: 1-3 drops at a time, six drops per day.
(1) Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2209) Essential Oil Crops: Production Guidelines for Lavender: South Africa: http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/brochures/essoilslavender.pdf
(2) Tisserand, R.; Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety (2nd ed): Churchill Livingstone: p 15-22, 324-330
(3) Marilú Roxana Soto-Vásquez, Paúl Alan Arkin Alvarado-García (2016) Aromatherapy with two essential oils from Satureja genre and mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in humans: Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: 2017 Jan; 7(1): 121–125.
(4) Godfrey, H. (2018) Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditation: Inner Traditions, Bear & Co. USA
Published in Dorset Magazine April 2018 edition p. 101: www.dorsetmagazine.co.uk
Combining fragrance with meditation is an ancient practice. Released from smouldering wood, resin and incense during ceremony, rite, ritual and prayer, worn to adorn as perfumes, applied in salves to heal wounds, and in fumigants to cleanse the environment. Essential oils have accompanied our journey through time, like guardians and companions, uplifting and grounding our spirit, protecting our body, exuding hedonistic scents. We share a symbiotic relationship with plants; the oxygen we breathe, the nutrients we consume, sustain our life.
“Then The Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices – gum resin, onycha and galbanum – and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of the perfumer.” Exodus 30:34
So, how do essential oils aid meditation?
Essential oil molecules, carried within the inhaled breath, sweep across the olfactory epithelium (olfactory bulb), situated at the top of each nasal cavity. On detection, neural signals are transmitted to the limbic system located in the central brain (‘the emotional brain’), then to the frontal cortex, where we ‘make sense’ of things. Hormones and endorphins are released through stimulation of the pituitary gland. Both meditation and essential oils engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
A recent study exploring the effect of mindfulness meditation and the psycho-emotional influence of essential oils found that, when combined, meditation and essential oils act synergistically to significantly reduce levels of anxiety. The essential oils applied (Satureja brevicalyx and Satueja boliviana – plants native to Peru) contain a high content of linalool, a phyto-chemical attributed with being ‘uplifting’, among other qualities. The authors indicate that other essential oils containing linalool may potentially produce a similar effect suggesting, as an example, a blend of Ho wood, geranium and peppermint (peppermint does not contain linalool but in combination these oils create a similar chemical ‘fingerprint’ to the Peruvian oils). (Soto-Vásquez & Alvarado-García 2017).
Basil (linalool CT), lavender, neroli and petitgrain also contain high levels of linalool. Other oils and resins that may support mediation include frankincense, myrrh, patchouli, rose, rosemary, spikenard and vetivert. For example, Frankincense and patchouli slow and deepen breathing, instilling a sense of peace. Lavender and geranium balance and calm emotion. Rosemary aids memory and concentration. Vetivert is ‘grounding’. Odour detection draws the perceivers’ awareness to their breathing, to the moment.
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart”. Proverbs 27:9
Essential oils can be diffused during meditation, or blended as a perfume in a jojoba oil base, or can be applied using an aroma-stick as a direct inhalant.
Always check the background details of essential oils you use to ensure they are compatible for you. Never apply essential oils neat to your skin, as they can be irritants – always blend them in a carrier medium, such as vegetable oil or non-perfumed lotion, cream or ointment. Apply essential oils in moderation; they are highly concentrated – a little goes a long way (1-3 drops at a time, no more than six drops a day when applied topically).
Godfrey, H. (2018) Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditation: Inner Traditions, Bear & Co. USA
Marilú Roxana Soto-Vásquez, Paúl Alan Arkin Alvarado-García (2016) Aromatherapy with two essential oils from Satureja genre and mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in humans: Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: 2017 Jan; 7(1): 121–125.
Essential Oils in Historical Context
The history of essential oils is inseparably entwined in the historical evolution of medicine, evidenced through references found in ancient medicinal texts, treatises, artwork, imagery and artefacts left by civilisations living over 5,000 years ago.
Applied in the form of fumigants, incense, cleansers, antiseptics, antibiotics, bactericides and preservatives, as well as psychosomatic, hedonistic perfumes, not only worn to adorn but also to punctuate and accentuate rite and ritual, to protect and to symbolise intention, essential oils have accompanied us, like guardians and companions, on our ever-evolving journey through time and life, playing a vital role in our survival.
Skills and knowledge of remedies, lifestyles and ancient systems of medicine have passed from one generation to another, many still relevant, referred to and practiced today, particularly in countries where the cost of modern medicine is prohibitively expensive; examples include Oriental, Ayurveda, Middle Eastern and Greek Tibb, Shamanic and local herbal medicine – the omniscient existence of a life force, Ch’I, Prana or élan vital, threading through the philosophy of all.
Many modern herbal and complementary medicinal practices, including homeopathy and essential oil therapy, have evolved and developed from synthesis of these historically tested ancient healing systems, philosophies and practices and current knowledge and understanding of science, botany, biology and modern medicine. We bring forward the constant notion of ‘mind-body-spirit’, of the gross and subtle dynamics of existence, a seamless interplay between the internal and external environment, notions that prevailed until challenged by modern science.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, development of technology enabled focused scrutiny of microscopic entities. The body was increasingly viewed, detached from ‘spirit’, or ‘Being’, like a machine comprising separate parts; spirit could not be physiologically identified, therefore, was considered non-existent, or questionable, and mind and body were viewed as separate.
However, clearer understanding of anatomy and physiology, biology, botany, and organic chemistry has also served to separate out myth, superstition and misunderstanding, revealing the practical reality of the ‘way the world and universe works’. Many misguided notions surrounding health and cure, such as, leeching, ‘blood letting’, pleasing the ‘gods’, are subsequently dispelled in light of informed awareness. While others have been upheld, their value proven through consistent positive results that have stood the test of time.
Scientific investigation, equipment and methodology does enable greater insight into the practical mechanism, integration, interplay, properties, components and chemistry of organic and inorganic matter, of the world around us and of the physical body, its healthy function, of viruses, germs, disease, reaffirming the significance of diet and lifestyle in terms of wellness and wellbeing and the supportive value of many ancient healing systems, such as, among others, acupuncture, herbalism, essential oils. The body is a territory which when appropriately nurtured and nourished (food, shelter, warmth, exercise, psycho-emotional attitude and community) is more resilient to attack or invasion, and in harmony (internal and external homeostasis).
Holistic health and wellbeing emerges to the foreground; the mind-body-spirit connection is acknowledged as significant. Bridging the pragmatic, nature-al and ethereal dynamics of life and existence, essential oils continue to be used for their protective (anti-microbial, anti-viral), restorative, rehabilitative, healing and hedonistic qualities, seamlessly providing physiological and psycho-emotional-spiritual support.
Essential Oils: The Autumn Years
Full article published in:
The International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy, Editor: Rhiannon Lewis, Associate Editor: Gabriel Mojay, 2015 Volume 10 Issue 2: Ageing Body, Ageing Mind; IJCA ISSN 1961-723 https://ijca.net/
International Therapist, Federation of Holistic Therapists, issue 123 Winter 2018, FHT.org.uk https://www.fht.org.uk/international-therapist
Having recently stepped into my seventh decade, I can affirm that the journey through life is bittersweet. I am constantly a moment, a whispered distance, from the veil of my future and the shadows of my past, its shades flickering in my memory. In reality, all I have, or am, is just as it is as I stand in this moment, here and now. In the moment age seems irrelevant. Yet when I glance in the mirror at the reflected face of the woman smiling back at me, lines tellingly etched around her eyes, I am acutely aware of time, or rather the rhythm, the momentum of life; each line as if the hands of a ticking clock, heralding my passage. Age is an inevitable process; our bodies are finite, life is transient.
Marguerite Maury (1895-1968), the Austrian-born biochemist and aromatherapist, eloquently delves into the subject of ageing in her book “The Secret of Life and Youth” (1964), in which she explores the psycho-emotional-spiritual process of ageing and the natural relational qualities of essential oils and plants.
She speaks of the rhythm of life: “to live, to be alive, means to be in motion, to evolve, to transform oneself and transmute things according to the alchemy of the spirit and the body… a man must perceive his own rhythm and respect it” (p 19).
She believed it vital to allow this rhythm expression, free movement and continuity according to the individuals natural unimpeded pace, each person owning their own rhythm; to view age as a friend and not an enemy, ‘another country visited’ along the journey of life, a new, exciting, untapped landscape still holding the possibility of adventure.
Maury was especially fascinated by the rejuvenating qualities of essential oils, observing the similarity in composition of human and plant cells and their life cycles and restorative ability. She observed the dynamic role essential oils can play as regulators that are capable of maintaining, healing, restoring, balancing, linking ethereal, spiritual and physical dimensions – sustaining the organisms dynamic vibrancy and vitality. Her aim: to restore and sustain body, mind and emotion in their natural state of balance.
Essential oils work ‘with’ the body, alleviating and improving minor ailments and skin conditions. They uplift mood and emotion, are grounding and calming, can quell ruminating thoughts and aid memory. Wonderful ‘journeying’ companions.
Chamomile Roman, frankincense, geranium and lavender provide a valuable starting kit. They can be used singularly or may be blended together, depending on the desired outcome. Chamomile Roman (Anthemis nobilis) is useful for arthritis, muscle pain, dry skin, and is calming; frankincense (Boswellia carterii) respiratory conditions, ageing skin, and eases feelings of anxiety; geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) supports the immune system to fight infections, and is emotionally balancing; lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) eases headaches, improves sleep, aids skin healing, and is sedative – among many other qualities.
Remember, do not take essential oils internally or apply them neat to your skin. Dilute in vegetable oil or non-perfumed cream, lotion or ointment (1-2 drops in 5ml).