Category Archives: Clinical Aromatherapy

Effects of Inhaled Essential Oils

testing essential oilsWhat wonderfully complex liquids essential oils are! They’ve been used since ancient times in multiple systems of medicine as well as for the sheer pleasure of them. Most commonly acquired through steam distillation, authentic essential oils are seeing a Renaissance of sorts, as people look towards natural means of helping support a widening variety of ailments. According to Perry and Perry in a 2006 paper, even the Bible makes implied references to nearly 200 aromatics that were used for “mental, spiritual and physical healing.”

So we are we today, in terms of the science behind the effects of inhaled essential oils, often referred to as the “psychopharmacology” of essential oils? Not surprisingly, due to the highly subjective nature of testing the efficacy of essential oils, as well as the simple fact that there’s not a ton of money to be made from testing results with essential oils, trials are scarer than one might imagine. Also, with such a large variability in the quality and composition of essential oils, this can cause difficulties when trying to discern their effects quantitatively in terms of scientific measurements.

But some facts are emerging. One key fact is that it is now generally agreed upon by numerous studies is that essential oils, when “administrated orally, by means of subcutaneous injections, dermally, or by inhalation do reach and adequately cross the blood-brain barrier.” Wow.

As an example, let’s take a look at citrus-based aromas. A wide range of citrus-based essential oils, including orange and lemon, are thought to have powerful anti-depressant properties. In 1995, a study by Kimori showed conclusively that the inhalation of citrus-based essential oils on depressed patients (in need of antidepressants), “reduced the needed antidepressant doses; but moreover, inhalation of the oil by itself was anti-depressive.”

Equally as exciting is a study by Shaw in 2007. Here, he found that Lavender Oil, when inhaled, demonstrated measurable decreases in anxiety levels. Bradley in 2007 also confirmed these findings in a separate study that showed an increase in exploratory behavior by gerbils when exposed to Lavender Oil. The Lavender Oil used in both studies was very high quality, and was tested to contain 25% of linalool, and 46% of linalyl acetate. We specifically chose the Lavender Oil we offer here on EOX because of it’s similar composition of the two above substances.

And these are just a couple of the numerous scientific studies that can be found in relation to Lavender Oil (and many others). In my “Scientific Proof of Essential Oil Effectiveness”, I discuss more studies that show the effectiveness of various essential oils. What all these studies are telling us is what traditional practitioners have known since ancient times: Essential Oils, as aromatherapy, have measurable effects on the human body and mind. Even though there are just a handful of studies on a few extraordinarily popular essential oils, this does point to a reliable trend; that essential oils in general, in their complexity, have a very complex way of interacting with the human body and psyche as well.

What’s equally as exciting, is that more and more studies are starting to be conducted in relation to individual components of essential oils. One example is “linalool”. It’s a funny name, but it occurs in a number of plants, and in high quantities. Bergamot, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Peppermint, Rose, and Rosemary are all examples of plants and essential oils that contain linalool.

And, as you know from reading this article, linalool has been conclusively shown to reduce stress and anxiety in both humans and rats. Not surprisingly, in traditional and folk medicine, the linalool-producing species of plants are often used as sedatives, calming, and anti-anxiety remedies in aromatherapy. I know that anyone who has experienced the amazing and tangible effects of various essential oils don’t need to be told these facts, but it is nice to be validated every once in a while.

And, scientific study after scientific study confirms what us practitioners already knew!

Now that we have solid evidence as to the effects of inhaled essential oils, do we yet understand the mechanism behind those effects? This is where things get a little more complicated. It does seem that different essential oils definitely have measurable effects that differ greatly from one another. It also seems that the quality of the essential oil has an immense amount to do with the intensity and overall effectiveness of these effects. When we factor in the subjective responses of test subjects, as well as a copious amount of information in the literature, a few things become very apparent:

  • Do you research, and buy only high quality oils. I’m proud to say that EOX has only therapeutic-grade oils, and that every oil we offer comes with a Certificate of Analysis and Authenticity
  • Trust your senses when working with essential oils. As long as the information you’ve gathered is agreed upon by the herbalist community, or has solid scientific evidence to support it, don’t be afraid to experiment, to blend, to try out essential oils in a variety of situations and circumstances. That’s part of the joy of essential oils!

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I know there are countless resources available out there, and I do my best to provide unique information that is practical. Mountains of information is one thing, but learning quickly how to apply that information in our daily lives is the goal of every one of my posts here at EOX.



Bradley, 2007.

Perry and Perry, 2006.

Shaw, 2007.

Can Essential Oils Ever Be Ingested?

testing essential oilsThe practice of ingesting essential oils is one of the more contentious issues in aromatherapy. Ask a dozen different aromatherapists and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers as to the efficacy and safety of taking essential oils internally.

Many essential oils are distilled from edible plants such as oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and so forth, a point that some aromatherapists use to advocate ingesting essential oils from these plants.

However, one point we strive to bring home to readers is that essential oils are much much stronger than the whole herbs from which they are distilled. Furthermore, the chemical content of essential oils can differ from the whole plant, either due to the distillation process or because the oil is distilled from a different part of the plant than that used in cooking. In other words, it’s important not to approach the ingestion of essential oils as you would the whole herb. In this article, we will explore a range of important factors to consider when comtemplating an oral essential oil supplement.

Essential Oils are Highly Concentrated

While essential oils are present in whole plant-based foods such as herbs, nuts, and spices, they occur in very small amounts—usually 1% or less of the plant’s total weight [1]. Likewise, the approved amounts of essential oils used in food flavoring tend to be extremely small, the equivalent of ingesting one drop of an essential oil per day [1]. In contrast, when taking an oral supplement of an essential oil, you are introducing your body to much larger amounts of that oil.

We discuss the difference between food-grade and therapeutic essential oils further in the article “Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: What is Therapeutic Grade?” In brief, essential oils approved in food flavoring have been twice distilled (fractionated) to render them safe for consumption [1]. Therapeutic essential oils, on the other hand, are usually more lightly distilled in order to preserve their medicinal constituents; however, this may also mean that these more concentrated essential oils are not safe to ingest.

Natural Does Not Mean Safe:

“But wait,” you might ask, “I thought all your essential oils were completely natural.” Indeed they are! At Essential Oil Exchange, we pride ourselves on providing 100% pure essential oils with no synthetic adulteration. However—natural does not always mean safe to take internally or in large doses. It’s very important to remember that highly concentrated essential oils are powerful medicines, and can have the same physiological effects on the body as some pharmaceuticals. An essential oil represents the full range of constituents in the whole plant, including compounds that may be harmful to the body in high doses, even though your body can cope with them just fine in the amounts typically used in aromatherapy.

The same rule applies to many undoubtedly healthful foods that we eat every day: apple seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides, compounds that produce hydrogen cyanide when broken down; castor beans produce the poison ricin; and green potatoes contain teratogenic alkaloids that can disrupt proper embryo development [2]. So why don’t we sicken ourselves every day eating fruits and vegetables? Because the body has natural detoxification systems in the liver and kidneys that can efficiently break down the normal amounts of these compounds in your diet and render them harmless [2]. However, by the same token, you wouldn’t want to eat an entire bowl of apple seeds or green potato chips! When toxins are present in an amount higher than the body can effectively detoxify, this is when symptoms of poisoning can result. The same goes with using more than miniscule doses of certain essential oils.

It’s About Safety, Not Purity

Another common misconception when it comes to ingesting essential oils is that it’s an issue of purity. Obviously, ingesting a product that contains synthetic compounds is probably not good for your body, and is another good reason to find a reliable essential oil supplier. Yet even essential oils that are 100% pure may not be safe to ingest. In some cases the compounds in essential oils that are therapeutic at a low dose can be toxic at a high dose. For instance, wintergreen and birch oils contain methyl salicylate, which is soothing to painful joints and muscles when applied sparingly [2]. However, ingesting as little as 101 mg of methyl salicylate can cause toxicity manifesting as respiratory depression, kidney failure and other serious symptoms [3, 4]. 1,8-cineol, the main therapeutic compound in eucalyptus essential oil, has wonderful anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties, but can cause breathing problems in children, especially at higher doses, and should not be given to them in any form without a physician’s advice [2].

Furthermore, an essential oil that is safe to use one way may not be as safe when used another way. For instance, citrus oils such as lime, lemon, orange, and bergamot (non-bergaptene-free), as well as angelica oil, can be photosensitizing to the skin when applied topically but can be inhaled without any issues [5]. Cinnamon and cassia oil are also highly irritating to the skin but may be inhaled from a diffuser in aromatherapy treatments [5]. So even though an essential oil may be perfectly safe when inhaled or used on the skin in dilution, this doesn’t mean it is necessarily safe to ingest.

Risk of Drug Interaction

As mentioned above, essential oils can have physiological impacts on the body just like conventional medicines, so the risk of drug interactions is another possibility you should explore before using a particular essential oil. When applied topically, peppermint, ylang ylang, and eucalyptus oil can increase the body’s absorption of 5-fluorouracil, a topical anti-cancer drug [5]. The methyl salicylate previously mentioned in wintergreen oil can have blood thinning effects that may interfere with anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin [5]. You should research potential drug interactions even if you don’t plan on taking the oil internally. However, the risk of potential drug interactions is higher when ingesting an essential oil supplement simply because the amount you are introducing into your body is larger.

Seek Medical Advice

This is really the final word when you’re considering taking any supplement you’re unsure about. Many holistic healthcare practitioners and even conventional physicians are becoming knowledgeable about essential oils and the best ways to use them to achieve the health results you want. Some doctors now prescribe very small oral doses (usually one drop or less) of certain essential oils for some ailments: peppermint oil in enteric coated capsules is sometimes prescribed to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and lemon oil may be administered as a decongestant, antiviral, antibacterial, and treatment for gas [6].

Consulting a physician or aromatherapist can help you determine what oils to use at what dosages, as well as the best ways to use those essential oils to get the results you want. It’s always important to have medical supervision when using a medicinal substance such as an essential oil as part of a specific treatment plan. Finally, the health benefits of essential oils when inhaled or topically applied are tried and true: essential oils are composed of small molecules that can readily enter the body through the skin and mucus membranes of the nose and throat via inhalation; this is the reason they can work on internal body systems without the need for ingestion. You may surprised by just how potent and effective essential oils can be when applied externally!



1. “Can Essential Oils Be Ingested?” Plant Therapy. Last modified January 14th, 2014.

2. Tisserand, Robert and Rodney Young. 2013. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. 2nd Edition. Churchill Livingstone.

3. “Methyl salicylate | Safety and Toxicity”. Wikipedia. Last modified August 2nd, 2014.

4. “Salicylate Poisoning”. Patient UK. Last modified May 22nd, 2014.

5. Halcón, Linda PhD. “Are Essential Oils Safe?” Center for Spirituality and Healing: University of Minnesota. Last modified July 16th, 2013.

6. Barice, Joan. “Ingesting Essential Oils.” Accessed August 8th, 2014. Dr Joan Barice Dot Com.

Oils for Aromatherapy & Aromatherapy Oils

Aromatherapy OilOne of the most frequent questions we receive at Essential Oil Exchange is what makes an essential oil suitable for use in aromatherapy. An aromatherapy oil should always be therapeutic-grade, a term that we discuss in detail in “Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: What is Therapeutic Grade?” Basically, a therapeutic-grade aromatherapy oil has been distilled under lower temperatures and pressures than mass-produced commercial-grade oils, in order to create an essential oil with a range and ratio of constituents that are as close to the living plant as possible. Because essential oils represent highly concentrated versions of these constituents, this makes aromatherapeutic-grade oils a power tool in the holistic healthcare practitioner’s toolkit.

Although therapeutic-grade oils are often organic, this isn’t a necessary component of the rating: whether they’ve been organically or conventionally grown, essential oils are rated therapeutic-grade if they’ve been grown, harvested, distilled and stored using optimal techniques designed to preserve the greatest range of active constituents. In addition, aromatherapy oils must be free of synthetic additives and cannot be adulterated with other oils not listed on the label—although blends that contain a stated mixture of essential oils may be used by some aromatherapists. For instance, to be therapeutic grade, a lavender essential oil cannot be adulterated with either synthetic lavender oil constituents or lavandin (spike lavender) oil, which produces different therapeutic effects. While this means that therapeutic-grade aromatherapy oils are more expensive, the extra price is worth it since they are being used to produce a desired therapeutic effect.

While not suitable for aromtherapy, non-therapeutic grade essential oils can still be used in detergents, soaps, candles, and personal fragrances. When buying an essential oil, let your intention for its use guide your purchase: do you want to use your essential oil in aromatherapy? As a cleanser or perfume? In soap or candle making? For purposes other than aromatherapy, you can save by buying inexpensive commercial-grade essential oils, including essential oils that have been pre-blended into a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil for ease of use. Although pre-blended oils have a shorter shelf life, they are ideal if you want to get creative in making your own fragrances and bath products.

Make Your Own Herbal Oil Infusions at Home!

With a little time and experimentation, you can also make your own herbal oil infusions by steeping raw plant material into a carrier oil such as olive, jojoba, or almond oil. Although the finished product will not be as concentrated as a steam-distilled essential oil, you will end up with a versatile finished oil that can be used in soap and candle making, fragrances, bath oils, and other homemade products.

Preparation: Pour your chosen carrier oil—olive, jojoba, or almond oils work well—into a large screw-cap glass bottle until it is half full, then pack the bottle with the plant material you want to infuse. Lavender works well in this preparation, but not all aromatic plants do, so make sure to research the plant you want to infuse before trying this recipe. Screw the cap on tight and let the bottle sit in a cool, dark place for at least 3 days, shaking the bottle once every 24 hours. Strain the finished oil through cheesecloth into a dark glass or stainless steel bottle. If the aroma is too weak, try adding a bit more raw plant material and letting it steep an extra day or so before straining the oil. Stored in a cool, dry place, this mixture will last about 6 months—long enough to fulfill all your perfumery and crafting needs!

Niaouli Oil for Respiratory Infections, Congestion, and Inflammation

"Paperbark"  Niaouli treeAmong the array of healing Australian oils offered at Essential Oil Exchange, there is a little-known oil steam disilled from the leaves of Melaleuca quinquenervia. Niaouli essential oil doesn’t get much press, yet its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties rank up there with tea tree and eucalyptus oil, two of its more famous relatives. Niaouli oil is a clear to pale yellow-green mobile liquid with a fresh, camphoraceous odor reminiscent of eucalyptus. In aromatherapy it is most often used as an antiseptic and expectorant [1], especially in a blend with eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, pine, myrrh, and ravensara oils, all of which have phenomenal disinfectant and expectorant properties of their own and synergize powerfully with niaouli oil.

Niaouli (nee-AH-oo-LEE) is an evergreen tree related to the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), and is native to the former French Pacific Islands, New Caledonia, and Australia. The tree itself has a flexible trunk, spongy bark, and shiny pointed leaves that indigenous Australians used to make wound poultices, reduce fevers, and disinfect water holes by scattering the leaves into them. In fact, niaouli leaves are such an effective antiseptic that the leaves and oil were later used to disinfect obstetric wards in French hospitals [2].

Botanists on Captain Cook’s 1788 voyage to the Pacific were the first to give niaouli its Latin name and classify it alongside the tea tree. Today, niaouli essential oil is still added to toothpastes and mouth sprays as a disinfectant, and its list of uses in aromatherapy is also growing apace. Because of its similar therapeutic properties, aromatherapists will sometimes substitute the gentler-scented niaouli oil for tea tree oil when working with clients who object to the medicinal odor of tea tree oil [2]. Like eucalyptus, niaouli oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, and is often used in massage to treat rheumatism and arthritis [1]. A topical niaouli oil blend can also be beneficial in fighting acne, boils, decongesting oily skin, and disinfecting minor cuts and wounds [3].

However, where niaouli essential oil really shines is in treating respiratory infections and congestion. Niaouli oil works as an expectorant when it is inhaled from a diffuser or in a steam bath, and the oil’s antiviral, antiseptic, and decongestant properties have been used to treat the common cold, bronchitis, whooping cough, sinusitis, chest cough, and even tuberculosis [2]. The cooling minty quality of niaouli oil can soothe a respiratory tract that has become irritated, while the aroma lifts fatigue and gives a much-needed boost to the immune system, especially in these trying winter months.


1. Duke, James A. 1983. “Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav) ST Blake” in Handbook of Energy Crops. Purdue University.

2. “Niaouli – Aromatherapy (Melaleuca viridiflora)”. Herbs2000. Accessed May 8th, 2014.

3. “Niaouli Essential Oil Profile, Benefits and Uses.” AromaWeb. Accessed May 8th, 2014.

Indian Natural Essential Oils

Ayurvedic spaIndia is one of the epicenters of herbal medicine, with an Ayurvedic tradition that is thousands of years old, so it’s no surprise that Indian natural essential oils are some of the most highly valued in aromatherapy. At the Essential Oil Exchange, we strive to honor the historical and cultural context of the essential oils we offer. Below, we take a closer look at the four Indian natural essential oils that have stood the test of time as healing agents in Ayurveda and beyond.

Sandalwood: (Santalum album) Sandalwood is a parasitic evergreen tree with smooth, brownish gray bark and small purple or white flowers. Extremely long lived, sandalwood trees must be allowed to reach at least 30 years of age (and preferably 60 years) before their wood can be harvested. Also called aloeswood in the Hindu scriptures, the woody-balsamic aroma of sandalwood essential oil has been associated with feelings of the sacred and is commonly used in meditation to ground the psyche and create a sense of being connected to the universe. Sandalwood oil is also burned in Hindu temples and used as an anointing oil to open the third eye chakra—the center of intuition, clairvoyance, and imagination.

Therapeutically, sandalwood essential oil can work wonders in balancing skin that is either too dry or too oily [1]. The oil may also soothe sensitive or irritated skin, reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scars [1], elevate mood, and increase mental focus [2]. It is also notably used as an aphrodisiac [2], along with jasmine and patchouli oil.

Indian Natural Essential Oils

Sandalwood incense is world famous for its pure, grounding scent.

Vetiver: (Vetiveria zizanoides) A hardy grass whose roots anchor the soil around rivers and watercourses, vetiver is also the source of a thick, viscous essential oil. Vetiver essential oil, distilled from the plant’s fibrous roots, is used in up to 25% of all Western perfumes both as a fixative and for its slightly sweet, earthy, almost animalic scent. In India, screens and mats woven from vetiver grass are used to repel insects; water can also be sprinkled on vetiver grass screens to create fragrant, cooling breezes.

Vetiver oil is used in aromatherapy to ease states of nervousness, promote calm, and address occasional sleeplessness [3]. Aromatherapists have even explored the calming effects of vetiver oil for panic attacks and and flashbacks [4]. In massages, the oil may be used as a tonic for mature skin, to speed wound healing and reduce scarring, and to treat eczema and irritated skin [3]. The smell of vetiver oil acts to open the root chakra, increasing feelings of groundedness and security.

A single blade of fresh vetiver grass.

A single blade of fresh vetiver grass.

Patchouli: (Pogostemon cablin) Anyone familiar with the hippy era of the ‘60s is probably also familiar with patchouli essential oil. Though it became popular in that back-to-nature era as an earthy fragrance with aphrodisiac qualities, patchouli has an even longer history in India. Patchouli is a large herbaceous shrub in the mint family, with serrated green leaves and small white or pink flowers. Its name probably comes from the Sanskrit words patch and ilai, together meaning “green leaf”. Patchouli leaves were used as a wound poultice in India because of their antiseptic and anti-infectious properties [5], and were also placed in clothing chests to drive off textile moths. During British rule in India, clothing imports often came packed with patchouli leaves to protect them enroute; as the fragrance became associated with expensive Asian goods, merchants started scenting their wares with patchouli oil to give them a more “exotic” feel—even if they weren’t imported!

Like most other Indian natural essential oils, patchouli oil has a roster of benefits for the skin, including toning mature skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and moisturizing dry skin [6]. The scent of patchouli oil is rich and earthy: just inhaling it can have positive calming and stress-reducing effects [6]. For this reason, patchouli oil can also be used to center the mind before meditation. Patchouli opens the heart and sacral chakras, enabling the practitioner to let go of obsessions, jealousies and insecurities.

Patchouli delivers diverse benefits to the skin when used in spa treatments.

Patchouli delivers diverse benefits to the skin when used in spa treatments.

Spikenard: (Nardostachys jatamansi) Sometimes called Indian valerian because of its similar calming properties, the aromatic roots of spikenard have been used as an incense by Buddhist monks and Nepalese shamans literally for thousands of years. A montane plant native to the Himalayas between altitudes of 11,000 and 17,000 feet, spikenard has been used in India as a perfume, skin tonic, and medicinal plant for supporting the immune system [7]. Spikenard has an especially long spiritual history in both South Asia and the West: spikenard oil appears in the Bible multiple times, most notably as an ingredient in the ointment used to anoint Jesus’ feet at the Last Supper.

Indian Natural Essential Oils

A botanical color plate of a spikenard plant in bloom.

Spikenard essential oil is frequently added to valerian root essential oil as an adulterant, since the oils have very similar therapeutic actions. In aromatherapy, spikenard oil soothes the mind and helps one to let go of the need for control, a common side effect of a strong will. Spikenard’s grounding effect on the psyche can combat occasional sleeplessness, while its anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects are valued in treating migraines and headaches, irritated skin, allergic skin reactions and rashes, wounds, and even dandruff [8]. Used in a meditative practice, spikenard essential oil opens the heart and solar plexus chakras, helping one to be comfortable in their own skin and relax into the present moment.


1.Keville, Kathy. “Aromatherapy: Sandalwood” HowStuffWorks. Accessed May 16th, 2014.

2. Wong, Cathy ND. “Sandalwood Essential Oil: What You Need to Know.” Alternative Medicine: About. com.

3. “Vetiver Essential Oil: Benefits and Uses”. AromaWeb. Accessed May 15th, 2014.

4. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy. Accessed May 16th, 2014.

5. Das, Kuntal, Nilesh K. Gupta, S. Vijayabhaskar, and U.M. Manjunath. April-June 2011. “Antimicrobial potential of patchouli oil cultivated under acidic soil zone of South India.” Indian Journal of Novel Drug Delivery 3 (2):104-111.

6. “Patchouli Oil Benefits”. Patchouli Plant .com. Accessed May 14th, 2014.

7. Rowan, Tiffany. “How to Build Your Immune System With Essential Oils.” Accessed May 16th, 2014.

8. “Health Benefits of Spikenard Essential Oil”. Organic Facts. Accessed May 15th, 2014.




Catnip Oil As a Natural Insect Repellent and Wound Salve

Chilled cat relaxing near a pot of catnipCatnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herbaceous shrub in the mint family that’s sometimes known as the cat’s best friend. Anyone who’s seen a cat batting around toy mouse or ball stuffed with catnip knows that many cats simply love this herb, and will eat or even roll around in it whenever they get the chance. Catnip has a reputation for making cats playful and silly, but what many people don’t know is that catnip isn’t just for cats: catnip herb and catnip essential oil have also been staples in European herbalism and are still used in alternative medicine today.

Sometimes called catmint or catswort, the catnip plant has oval or triangular leaves and small but showy pale purple or white flowers. It is native to all of Europe and parts of southwest and central Asia as far east as India. Before trade with China introduced the rest of the world to black tea, a tea made from catnip leaves was a favorite in England, where it was consumed as a refreshing summertime beverage as well as a medicinal tonic for digestive cramps and spasms [1]. Catnip tea is also high in vitamin C and may have a mild sedating effect similar to chamomile tea [1]; a cup of catnip tea can be just the thing to soothe the mind before bedtime.

Medicinally, catnip essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory [2], reflecting the traditional use of catnip leaf as a poultice for minor wounds and inflamed or irritated skin. Catnip essential oil is also sometimes used in formulations for toning the skin [2], and some herbal vendors sell a tincture form of the dried herb for treating upset stomachs and flatulence [3]. More recently, some studies have indicated that catnip oil may be an overlooked insect repellent: studies performed on nepetalactone, one of the main compounds in catnip oil, have shown that it is more repellent to mosquitoes and cockroaches than the chemical repellent DEET [4].

Though generally considered safe and nontoxic, catnip essential oil may irritate sensitive skin and is best used in a blend with other essential oils. Here’s a sample recipe for a fragrant and effective insect repellent blend: combine 3 to 5 drops of catnip oil with 3 to 5 drops of cedarwood, citronella, and lemongrass oil. Diffuse outdoors in a burner or diffuser to repel biting insects while scenting your patio or porch with uplifting lemongrass and earthy cedarwood.


1. “Catnip”. NYU Langone Medical Center. Last Modified August 2013.

2. Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. 1994. The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual. Tampa, FL: Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy: 309.

3. “Catnip: Nepeta cataria”. Herbs2000. Accessed May 22nd, 2014.

4. Schultz, Gretchen, Chris Peterson, and Joel Coats. 2006. “Natural Insect Repellents: Activity Against Mosquitoes and Cockroaches” in A.M. Rimando and S. O. Duke [eds.], Natural Products for Pest Management. ACS Symposium Series #927. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society.



German Chamomile Oil for Dermatitis and Irritated Skin

German Chamomile Flowers (photo by T. Voekler)The flowering plant commonly known as chamomile has a rich and varied history in European herbalism. For one thing, there are actually two distinct species that share the common name chamomile. In this article we’ll be discussing German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), an upright flowering annual native to Europe and temperate Asia. Its cousin, Roman chamomile has many of the same properties but a slightly different composition of compounds in the essential oil. For instance, German chamomile essential oil is valued for its high concentration of chamazulene, an anti-inflammatory compound that gives German chamomile oil its dark blue color [1].

The ancient Greeks coined the word chamomile from two different Greek words, kamai meaning “earth” and mélon meaning apple; so chamomile can be literally translated as something like “earth-apple”, a reference to its similar fragrance and flavor [2]. And like the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, they believed that chamomile also had many medicinal applications: it was even listed in Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, the first compendium of Western herbal medicine ever compiled.

The rich blue color of German chamomile oil comes from chamazulene, which is not present in the fresh flowers but is produced during steam distillation. German chamomile oil is sometimes called blue chamomile for this reason. Chamazulene gives German chamomile oil renowned anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties, so the oil is frequently used in blends to treat inflamed or irritated skin, itchy skin, and dermatitis [3]. Because of its ability to tamp down allergic skin reactions, German chamomile oil can also be used as a natural antihistamine [4]. One study measured the anti-allergic effect of a compress of German chamomile flowers and found it to be as effective as a 1% hydrocorticosteroid cream on certain types of skin lesions [5].

Like the closely related Roman chamomile, German chamomile oil may be a mild relaxant and nervine, and is commonly inhaled to relieve states of nervousness and encourage sleep [6]. Aromatherapists also use German chamomile oil to cleanse the liver, as a mild laxative, and as a sinus decongestant [2]. A hot tea made from either species of chamomile flowers can also clear nasal congestion within 10-30 minutes after consumption [7].

Although originally native to Europe and temperate Asia, German chamomile has also been naturalized to North America and Australia, where it sometimes grows in cultivated fields as a weed. German chamomile seeds require open soil to germinate and survive, so the plant tends to stick close to areas of human settlement such as roadsides, farm fields, and even landfills. With so many therapeutic benefits, this hardy, adaptable plant is sure to be sought out for generations to come!


1. Safayhi, H, J Sabieraj, ER Sailer, and HP Ammon. 1994. “Chamazulene: an antioxidant-type inhibitor of leukotriene-B formation”. Planta Medica 60 (5): 410-13.

2. “Matricaria chamomilla | Etymology”. Wikipedia. Last modified January 26th, 2014.

3. “German Chamomile”. University of Maryland Medical Center. Last modified March 17th, 2013.

4. Chandrasekhar VM, KS Halagali, RB Nidavani, MH Shalavadi, BS Biradar, D Biswas, IS Muchchandi. 2011. Anti-allergic activity of German chamomile (Matricaria recticuta L.) in mast cell-mediated allergy model”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 137 (1): 336-340.

5. Charousaei F, A Dabirian, F Mojab. 2011. “Using chamomile solution or a 1% topical hydrocortisone ointment in the management of peristomal skin lesions in colostomy patients: results of a controlled clinical study”. Ostomy Wound Management 57 (5): 28-36.

6. Graef, Nyomi. “Does chamomile work for anxiety, sleep problems and relaxation?” Extra Happiness. Last modified September 16th, 2010.

7. “How to Release Sinus Pressure: 8 Steps”. WikiHow. Accessed June 30th, 2014.

Cassia Oil May Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Aid Digestion

Cassia Tree BarkCassia (Cinnamomum cassia) is often used interchangeably with cinnamon as a spice, flavoring and fragrance, and it has many of the same therapeutic properties as cinnamon essential oil. Many people confuse these two spices due to the common practice of labeling ground cassia as cinnamon in grocery stores. However, when choosing between cassia essential oil and cinnamon oil, it’s important to know the species you’re getting because these two related plants have different strengths in aromatherapy.

The cassia tree is a small evergreen native to China and Burma, and cultivated alongside cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum) in the east and southeast Asian countries of Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Cassia trees have shiny, almond-shaped leaves and thick, reddish brown bark that is ground to make a spice similar in flavor to cinnamon [1]. The bark is also the part of the plant that is steam distilled to produce cassia essential oil.

Cassia often gets little mention in the history of the spice trade, even though it was and continues to be a major competitor of cinnamon. Old Testament scholars have speculated that cassia oil may have been one of the ingredients in the holy anointing oil given to Moses, along with frankincense, myrrh, and of course, true cinnamon [2]. Some scholars have also suggested that the Hebrew word for cassia means “like cinnamon”. In ancient times, cassia probably made it to the Middle East through trade with India.

Because cassia is more cost effective to mass produce than cinnamon, it’s used frequently in commercial flavoring for everything from candy to baked goods to savory curries. Cassia oil is also added to mouthwashes as an antiseptic; this property also makes cassia essential oil an affordable choice for aromatherapy treatments targeting infections [3]. In addition to its antiseptic action, cassia oil is wonderfully warming and stimulating: metabolism and digestion both get a boost when cassia oil is inhaled [3]. One reason cassia is so popular as a spice is because it works as an aperitif, increasing appetite and decreasing nausea brought on by certain conditions. Preliminary research is even being done on cassia’s potential for lowering blood sugar in type 2 diabetes [4].

Like its cousin cinnamon oil, cassia oil is considered to be a potential dermal irritant and sensitizer due to its methyl eugenol content, and should not be used topically. Aromatherapists recommend diffusing cassia essential oil from a burner or diffuser [5].

Although both spices have their merits, we know culinary enthusiasts will want to know how to distinguish true Ceylon cinnamon from cassia. The one sure way is to look for whole cinnamon sticks: true cinnamon sticks are made up of fragile, papery layers that break off easily and can be quickly powdered in a coffee or spice grinder. In contrast, sticks of cassia bark come in one thick, rigid layer without the “parchment” quality of true cinnamon.


1. “Cinnamomum cassia“. Wikipedia. Last modified May 26th, 2014.

2. Cinnamon and Cassia: The Genus Cinnamomum. 2003. P.N. Ravindran, K. Nirmal Babu, and M. Shylaja, eds. CRC Press: pg. 4.

3. Ryman, Danièle. “Cinnamon/Cassia Essential Oil”. Aromatherapy Bible. Accessed July 1st, 2014.

4. Davis, PA and W Yokohama. September 2011. “Cinnamon intake lowers fasting blood glucose: meta-analysis”. Journal of Medicinal Food 14 (9): 884-89.

5. Tisserand, Robert and Rodney Young. 1995. Essential Oil Safety. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone: 204.

Frankincense Oil – Fit for the Gods!

Frankincense Oil and Cancer - A Quality Standard ApproachA ceremonial incense of divinity, the tree resin Boswellia serrata (frankincense) and its essential oil derivative have historically been used to ward off evil spirits and connect humans to divine spirits and realms.  It is primarily a popular incense and perfume, but is also used in cosmetics and skin treatments with some indication that it may fight cancerous cells – although this is a claim that has yet to be affirmatively and scientifically proven.

Frankincense Essential Oil

Background: Another name for frankincense is olibanum and this refers to the aromatic resin that is retrieved from trees of the genus Boswellia. Frankincense essential oil is derived from the Boswellia resin.  There are only four species that are known to produce what can be considered real frankincense resin, and the resin is produced by these trees in varying quality levels.  Adding to the romanticism of frankincense is the origin of its name, having evolved from the Old French “frank encens” – which is directly translated as “high quality incense” [6].

Frankincense is famously well-known, especially if you’ve grown up in a Christian, Christmas-celebrating household: in the bible frankincense is reported to have been carried to baby Jesus by the three wise men as a gift in honor of his birth [6].  In fact, frankincense has also historically been one of the most popular essential oils – having been used religiously or spiritually in ceremonies and celebrations throughout many ancient cultures. Additionally, frankincense is an incense consistently found throughout historical religious and meditational practices of the Western world. Just about every ancient western culture is known to have used frankincense ceremonially – particularly throughout Sumeria, Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Rome [2].

It is believed to have come to these major social or cultural centers through trade with the Arabs, Somalis and Bedouins – who purportedly obtained the resin from small desert trees in Saudi Arabia and Somalia and had been doing so for thousands upon thousands of years [2].

Use: Traditionally, frankincense is probably most widely used as an incense – in fact the word was essentially synonymous with incense throughout Western cultures.   “It was the scent of purification”, burned to ward off evil and to open oneself to divine presences – enabling a connection with higher spirits and a level of contemplation necessary for these divine connections; frankincense represented a divine connection between heaven and earth [2].

This spiritual affiliation of frankincense with the world of divinity overlapped with its use as a perfume and its use in skin care regimens.  The ancients as well as people today have used frankincense widely within their hygiene practices, and in some cultures this is correlated with its use to ward off illness and bad energy. As a kind of aesthetic extension of its spiritually related purpose, the resin was also combined with kohl and used as black eyeliner to ward off “the evil eye” and was even used in a special concoction that removed unwanted hair [2]!

It has also been used in Asian, African and Ayurvedic traditional medicine to treat several digestive and skin-related health conditions as well as arthritis, wounds, female hormonal balance and air purification [6].

Frankincense Resin

Blending: Frankincense is a component of “kyphi” – a house incense within the temples of Heliopolis, burnt every sunset to honor the evening departure of the sun god.  Frankincense can also be found along with about 16 other ingredients in sacred incense recipes of the  Talmud.  One particular biblical recipe includes stacte (might be myrrh), onycha (musk), galbanum and frankincense [2].

Safety: While the resin of frankincense is reported to be edible [6] it is extremely important to consult with a physician before ever ingesting essential oils in any form.  Essential oils can be incredibly potent – and even if they yield benefits in small doses, too much can often be harmful and some aren’t supposed to be ingested at all.  If they are ingested it is often under the direct recommendation or oversight of a health practitioner that is specialized in the use of natural health remedies.

Additionally, although there are several studies linking Boswellia resin and essential oil to the termination of cancer cells, it has not yet been proven conclusively and it would be best to discuss such a topic with a health practitioner.

The online resource Pubmed perhaps says it best: “limited conclusions can be drawn from the preliminary findings of this laboratory study as it is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. And some of the claims should not be taken at face value; in particular the press release’s claim that frankincense has no known side effects. Such claims would need rigorous scientific evaluation before they could be verified [5].”  However, it is worth noting that frankincense has since been discussed in peer-reviewed journals and other scientific platforms that were discussed briefly above.

All considered though, frankincense is clearly one of the most romantic and sensually elegant of the essential oils; with its divine history, frankincense essential oil is truly fit for the gods and the beautiful human spirits amongst us!


1. Asian News International. “Frankincense could harbor breast cancer cure”. Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd. New Delhi, Nov 7, 2013.

2. Holmes, Peter. “Frankincense Oil: The Rainbow Bridge”. International Journal of Aromatherapy, Vol. 9 (4), January 1998: p. 156-161.

3. Howell, Jeremy. “Frankincense: Could it be a cure for cancer?”.  BBC World News, Feb 9, 2010:

4. Ni, Xiao; Suhail, Mahmoud M; Yang, Qing, et al.“Frankincense essential oil prepared from hydrodistillation of Boswellia sacra gum resins induces human pancreatic cancer cell death in cultures and in a xenograft murine model”. BMC Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 12 (1), 2012: p. 253.

5. Pub Med Health. “Can frankincense really fight cancer?” Behind the Headlines, Health News from NHS Choices, Dec 23, 2013: news/2013-12-23-can-frankincense-really-fight-cancer/

6. Wikipedia. “Frankincense”. Last updated, Sept 22, 2014: