Category Archives: Science of Plants

Chamomile for Pain and Anxiety

Essential Oils for HeadachesI’m not one to throw supposed benefits around brazenly when it comes to herbal products, and especially, perhaps, with essential oils. I am the eternal skeptic, but one who is willing to do what it takes to examine both sides of an issue with the vigor required to get a balanced answer that I am satisfied with. Rarer has this been true than with the story of Chamomile. It is one of the best-known herbs, and after finding out how intoxicating the scent of fresh Chamomile was when growing it in my own garden, I had to dig my heels in and do some research.

In my research of Scientific Proof of Essential Oil Effectiveness, I was determined to find papers on every single individual oil we offered here at EOX. One of the initial finds was a paper from 2010 called “Evaluation of the sesquiterpene bisabolol as a novel peripheral nervous blocker”. Yes, it seems really scientific, but sometimes within the flashy academic titles are some easy-to-read results. Since my search term included “Chamomile”, I decided to read on:

What this study discovered, was that a component that exists in more than one essential oil, known as a “terpenes” (especially monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) have measurable effects on the Central Nervous System. Two of these measurable effects are anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) and pain blocking (antinociceptive). Since many of the Top Essential Oils we offer are in the category of anti-anxiety / stress reduction / relaxing / calming, and support for pain, this was especially intriguing to me.

Without getting too technical; Bisabolol is an unsaturated monocyclic sequiterpene alcohol, which is the major constituent in German Chamomile. (That is exactly why we offer only German Chamomile, with confirmed high concentrations of bisabolol in every freshly-distilled batch.) The study found that the pain-relieving properties of bisabolol to be so effective, that the researchers concluded that any essential oils rich in bisabolol could potentially be good candidates for assistance with pain reduction.

In their own words, they concluded this:

Therefore, we conclude that bisabolol, a natural sesquiterpene found in some aromatic plant species, reduced the neuronal excitability in a concentration dependent manner. “

What this means is that they found German Chamomile to be an effective natural means of both reducing pain and anxiety. Not a bad one-two punch for an esteemed and ancient herb.

The good news for Chamomile enthusiasts is that the constituents responsible for the main effects in Chamomile are soluble in hot water. They are also present in high quality essential oils, as the ones offered by us here at EOX. I was unable to find any human studies on the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving actions of Chamomile, but there was a plethora of data with tests conducted on rats. Within those studies, comparisons were made between Chamomile extracts and both benzydamine (a popular anti-inflammatory) and hydrocortisol.

Although the Chamomile didn’t have properties equal to hydrocortisone, it did compare, side by side, with benzydamine. This is extraordinary. But, before you decide to throw away all your over the counter medications for an infusion of Chamomile, note that to achieve the same level of effects, the Chamomile was more concentrated than a cup of tea, topical application, or inhalation of Chamomile Essential Oil. It’s exciting to know, though, that this natural herbal product that’s been used for thousands of years to help decrease both pain and anxiety, has been proven to possess those exact characteristics.

And, the amount required isn’t that much higher than what one might enjoy before bedtime if they’re trying to get to sleep with reduced pain. For reference, 50g of dried Chamomile flowers were boiled in 1 liter of water. In mice, the result was Chamomile-induced sleep! We have plenty of anecdotal evidence from humans, but it is easy to see the potential that Chamomile can have for us humans. I’ve combined some Chamomile in my diffuser, brewed a strong cup of Chamomile tea, and I can honestly report that I felt a noticeable decrease in pain, and not only was able to fall asleep more easily, but I enjoyed a more restful sleep as well.

As anyone who reads my articles knows, I come from the perspective of a scientist and a sceptic. So, I never take anything at face value, and never trust a single result. So, my Chamomile experiments lasted over the course of 2 weeks. I wanted to record various conditions; hard workdays, leisurely weekends, both stressful and non-stressful days, and so on.

Out of those 14 days, I was able to conclusively say that I was able to fall asleep easier. Fourteen out of those fourteen days, I could also conclusively say that the pain I usually feel in my calves and joints of my fingers were noticeably reduced. This may have added to my feelings of calmness and my anxiety reduction, and it may have helped me to fall asleep more easily, but the results are the results and I couldn’t be more pleased.

And, as always, this is just a single case and a single person’s results. I would be extremely interested to hear anyone share their experiences with Chamomile below. Positive or negative, I’m all ears. I know that all herbs don’t work for all people, but Chamomile (German) is one of those herbs that have withstood the test of of time, and continues to be one of the top selling single ingredient teas of all time.


Alves, Aron de Miranda H., Goncalves, Juan Carlos R., Cruz, Jader Santos, Araujo, Demetrius Antonio, M., 2010. Evaluation of the sesquiterpene (−)-α-bisabolol as a novel peripheral nervous blocker. Neuroscience Letters 472(2010):11-15.

McKay, Diane L.; Blumberg, Jeffrey B. 2006. A Review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita L.) and their glucosides. Phytotherapy Research 20(7).

Scientific Proof of Essential Oil Effectiveness

testing essential oilsIntroduction

The title may seem like a bold statement, but there is now what I could safely call a “mountain” of evidence in relation to the uncanny ability of essential oils to have very tangible effects on our brain. That means essential oils are quite “psychoactive,” and actually have the power to affect our mood, to lift our spirits, to help us to relax, sleep, or study, just to name a few. My interest in oils began over two decades ago when I was introduced to Essential Oils during my formal and self-directed training as a Buddhist practitioner.

My passion has only grown since then. I was initially looking for ways of enhancing my mind’s ability to enter meditative states. I was also learning massage therapy techniques and wanted to create my own massage oils blends. This led to deep research on essential oils and then a newfound love of herbs in general. Let’s dig in to the alleged scientific evidence:

The Scientific Proof

Many years ago, I got my hands on a non-medical version of an “EEG”. This is short for electroencephalogram, which is a device that connects to our body to measure our brain waves. Our brain emits electrical waves that can be measured and quantified with great accuracy. The patterns of waves have been broken into four main states:

  • Delta Waves / 1Hz – 3Hz / Deep Sleep
  • Theta Waves / 4Hz – 7Hz / Creating/Thinking
  • Alpha Waves / 8Hz – 13Hz / Relaxing
  • Beta Waves / 14Hz – 30Hz / Alertness

Numerous studies have now been conducted with the goal of measuring the stimulant and sedative effects of essential oils on our brain state. Without even having to see images of the parts of our brain that get stimulated by aromas, we can get an immense amount of valuable information from simply measuring the change in our brain waves as we’re exposed to various essential oils.

What researcher have found is nothing short of astounding. Our states of consciousness, such as sleep, alertness, fatigue, stress, anxiety, creativity, and so on; these can be accurately determined by simply reading the EEG.

If this sounds too simple to be true, read on!

Before the addition of essential oils or other aromas, there are a number of states that are standard, test after test, when it comes to our brains:

  • Alpha states give way to a more alert beta state the moment we open our eyes.
  • Alpha states gives way to beta states when we require cognitive functioning (like problem solving).
  • Beta waves are related to arousal, stimulation, alertness.
  • Theta waves occur during creativity and problem solving, but are mostly associated with sedation and light sleep.
  • Delta waves only occur during deep sleep.
  • Spontaneous EEG patterns correspond predictably with Central Nervous System changes.
  • That means EEG can accurately measure different states – deep sleep, meditation, alertness and so on.

Let me explain just a bit more to give us some solid context at how powerful EEG can be to measure states of mind: In a situation that requires intense thinking (such as figuring out our taxes), that state of arousal will have a corresponding change in EEG (Oken 2006). Increases in in theta and a decrease in beta waves can be easily measured. Conversely, if someone is getting tired from doing all their taxes, their brainwaves will begin to slow, and all of the beta waves will give way to alpha, then theta, and then to delta.

It works every time!

Now, I have to admit that I am oversimplifying things here. There can be a number of reasons why changes in EEG may occur when test subjects are given various smells. If they’re really focused on analyzing the scent, if the scent triggered a memory, or if the test subject found the scent unpleasant; these all have direct effects on EEG’s as well. Since the point of this article isn’t to validate EEG as an effective means to measure tangible effects of essential oils, suffice it to say that researchers have overcome these potential caveats.

There is some discrepancy on the “placebo effect”, where in several studies, those who expected a stimulating or relaxing effect from their essential oil actually experienced that effect. Do we discount an effect only because we think it into effectiveness?

What this means is this: Say we have an essential oil blend made for relaxation, such as Lavender, Vanilla, and Sandalwood (one of the authors favorite combinations, with a touch of musk). If we simply think it’s a relaxing blend and inhale the aroma — in more than a few studies, the EEG’s will show increased activity in the relaxation centers — physically relaxing the subject!

Some Specific Examples

In a study by Diego in 1998 and Field in 2005, it was conclusively shown that Lavender “increased beta wave power, elevated feelings of relaxation, reduced feelings of depression, and improved both speed and accuracy in cognitive tasks.” When they presented their test subjects with Rosemary Essential Oil, it “decreased frontal alpha and beta power, decreased feelings of anxiety, increased feelings of relaxation and alertness, and increased speed in math computations.”

Wow. Those are quite bold statements for a scent!

What that also translated into, is that the group exposed to the lavender scent had a measurable increase in sedation, while the rosemary group had an increased level of alertness. Both, though, decreased levels of anxiety, and both helped increase the ability to solve problems that involved critical thinking.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that either of these oils directly helps to increase performance; there are more than a few studies that point to the contrary. In the researchers own words, this is how they describe their findings:

…pleasant odors enhance task performance by decreasing subjective feelings of stress, that is, by reducing over-arousal, while unpleasant fragrances increase activation from suboptimal to optimal levels, thus having the same beneficial effects on cognitive performance.

In another interesting study in 2005 by Sakamoto, lavender essential oil and jasmine essential oil were used (as well as no scent as a control) continuously over the course of the test. Over five sessions, all in a row with brief resting periods between, test subjects had to take a series of tests that required them tracking a moving target. As the sessions went on, fatigue increased, and arousal decreased for the control group. In the Lavender group; “tracking speed increased and tracking error decreased.”

They concluded that the lavender aroma may have been responsible for decreasing the arousal level during the resting periods, therefore not specifically increasing performance directly, but helping the person to perform better by keeping them more relaxed as they were performing their tasks. Translated into plain English, this means that if Lavender aroma is presented to people during breaks or lunchtime, that it has been shown that the Lavender can prevent the deterioration of work performance.

Think about this in terms of personal use: If you’re studying for a test, one thing you can do it take regular breaks from your studying, stopping to inhale Lavender Oil set in a vaporizer within your break room, or simply by inhaling directly from a bottle of essential oil. You may find that you are better equipped to study and recall your studies than you were without the breaks and the Lavender Oil.  And this is just one imagining of an infinite number of uses I can think of for Lavender Essential oil; I would love to hear what uses you’ve found in your comments below!

Learning and Memory

Basic cognitive functions and the effects that essential oils may have on them have been studied extensively in recent years. What has occurred less, is tests for an increase (or decrease) in an overall ability to learn or increased memory. This is something that interests me greatly as I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s a few years ago, and all of my herbal blends, although helpful (such as my Cognihance Capsules), could not stop the march into oblivion that I watched her take day by day.

What about essential oils?

Let’s take a brief look at memory to explain: Memory occurs in three stages. First, we’ve got short term memory. This is sort of our RAM, like the RAM on the computer. It handles tasks in the moment, but can’t do anything with that information other than manipulate it in the present moment, and when we send tasks to the background. The next stage is called “working memory” which transitorily saves memories in waiting room of sorts. It’s here where our brains decide what will happen with those memories; will we forget them, or commit them to long-term memory. Long term memory, by the way, is stage three.

Now that we’re memory experts, let’s take a look at essential oils in relation to memory.

Curiously enough, in several studies conducted on school children, they found an increase in memory functions only in children who exhibited high anxiety levels. In other studies, the results were varied, but relatively consistent. Let me summarize some of the more interesting results for you here:

  • Lavender – reduced the quality of memory, but significantly relaxed subjects
  • Rosemary – increases memory accuracy, reduces calculation speed, increases alertness
  • Peppermint – enhanced memory quality, and increased alertness
  • Ylang Ylang – impairs memory quality, reduces processing speed, but increases calmness
  • Spanish Sage – increases memory speed & quality, alertness, feelings of contentment and calm

I know these are just a few examples, and I’m sure what you would like more than anything right here, is a handy guide of every scientific study and the results from those tests in relation to each individual essential oil in existence. Unfortunately, I don’t have that just yet, but the descriptions on the store side of EOX are definitely getting those one by one.

Essential Oil Encoding

This is the part I find most fascinating when it comes to essential oils and scents in general. It’s the idea of encoding. And what is astonishing to me, is that we can encode scents into our memories, that can trigger different emotions and states of consciousness, depending on what was going on at the time of that memory encoding.

For example, infants who were being soothed were also exposed to a scent at the same time (Lavender oil) that was thought to be calming. When that same scent was introduced at a later time, but without the accompanying soothing from the parent, levels of anxiety were reduced, and overall calmness increased!

Wow, again.

Even more interesting, is that scents that have been encoded into our systems can have effects on us even when we’re not conscious. In a study by Diekelmann in 2012, found that memory consolidation is accelerated during sleep when presented with specific scents. In a similar study by Hauner in 2013, scents presented during sleep acted as triggers when awake.

Think of the possibilities these findings have for our ability to learn, as well as our overall state of well being. My imagination tends to run away with me with these kinds of revelations, and here are a few scenarios I have since informally tested with both myself and friends, using my personal EEG-type device (i.e. non-medical version):

  • I took a 5ml bottle of my Stressless Blend without doing any relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises), and measured my typical baseline when in a calm state over the course of a week. (I find that I am often in a 9Hz Alpha state, even with my eyes open, with some additional Theta activity.) This was a good baseline to start from.
  • Then, for a month, while performing breathing exercises, I subjected myself to my Stressless Blend again. The idea was to see if I could encode the association of my Stressless Blend with exercises that actually physically calmed me, to see if I could take away the breathing exercises, but still get the calming effects from the aroma.

I waited only a day, tested myself for a week, waited two months, and then re-tested myself. What I did was to present the aroma to myself when my anxiety levels were higher than usual. This is when I might close my eyes, find a quiet corner, and do some breathing exercises. (Yes, this required me to have my Stressless Blend with me wherever I went, but I carry it with me everywhere anyway!) I cracked open my 5 ml bottle, and simply breathed in the aroma. I did this for 5 minutes each time and would record the results. If I were at my lab, I would connect myself to my electrodes, then present myself with the Stressless Blend for 5 minutes and record the subjective results as well as the EEG results.

I was more than a little surprised at how signifiant the results were!

What I found was a far more significant result in both subjective and measured calmness levels after encoding myself with the Stressless Blend. Whoa. I was able to commit that scent to memory while doing breathing exercises, and not unlike Pavlov’s Dog, I was able to trigger those same physical characteristics of calmness as well as my subjective opinion of my calm state.

That result set my mind reeling, and from what I’ve read, there is really no limit to what we can actually encode ourselves with. So, not only do I create essential oil blends for EOX that have a solid scientific basis, our staff tests every single one of those blends both subjectively and by physically measuring our brain wave patterns and the effects that our essential oils have on them.  This means every one of our blends were built, from the ground up, to have very tangible effects on the human body.

I’m extremely curious to know if anyone else has tried “encoding”, or what other have done in relation to personal experiments with essential oils and tangible effects on different cognitive functions and states of consciousness. “Psychoactive” is sometimes treated like a dirty word, but all of the scientific evidence presented above makes it vividly clear that scents can have very tangible, psychoactive effects on our bodies that can be easily measured, verified, and reproduced outside of the lab. Feel free to share yours below in the comments section.

Find our entire selection of Individual Essential Oils and our growing collection of EOX Blends in the store section of this website.



Diego, M.A., Jones, N.A., Field, T. et al. 1998. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. International Journal of Neuroscience 96(3-4):217-224.

Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M. et al. 2005. Lavender fragrance cleaning gel effects on relaxation. International Journal of Neuroscience 115(2):207-222.

Oken, B.S., Salinsky, M.C., and Elsas, S.M. 2006. Vigilence, alertness, and sustained attention: Physiological basis and measurement. Clinical Neurophysiology 117(9):1885-1901

Sakamoto, R., Minoura, K., Usuui, A., Ishizuka, Y., and Kanba, S. 2005. Effectiveness of aroma on work efficiency: Lavender aroma during recesses prevents deterioration of work performance. Chemical Senses 30(8):683-691.

Art & Music of Blending Essential Oils

music-of-essential-oilsOne of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had is as a formulator.  Blending raw ingredients to make genuine herbal products to find that perfect scent or healing blend actually enriches our space or helps ourselves or others; it never gets old and I doubt it ever will.  There truly is an art and a music to the craft of pairing and blending essential oils.  But the basics are not that difficult to pick up and master.

The Music of Essential Oils

A love of scents and herbs is really the first requirement of becoming an effective and creative formulator.  There is an art and a craft to blending essential oils, one that is not too dissimilar to mastering any creative skill.  Even if you think you don’t have a lot of creative bones in your body, passion for scents is just about all you truly need to get started in essential oil blending.  And, the more you practice, the more you study about scents and blends, and the more you exchange ideas with those who have a similar interest, as well as share your blends and ask for feedback; the better you will become at blending.

And, for me, the most important rule I follow when starting a new blend, is to have a vividly clear mental picture of what I want the blend to do. Knowing exactly the purpose of the blend will instantly make you a much better formulator from the start. So, even if you think that you might want to make a formula based on lavender to help you sleep, think about the bigger picture, such as whether you just need something that helps induce sleep, or if you need an essential oil that is known to calm the mind as well.

If you need to help calm your mind, you might want to consider adding calming oils such as rosemary, sweet marjoram or Roman chamomile to your blend. Or, perhaps you have some pain, which is why you have difficulty falling asleep. You may want to include sweet marjoram, citronella, or basil essential oil.

And, from a cursory look, it seems that sweet marjoram might be a great choice for either blend, which, to me, seems like a great place to start. Now, a consideration is that lavender, chamomile, and marjoram are all “Middle Note” oils (explained below). So, you may want to find an oil that is a top note to help balance those middle notes out — you get the idea, yes?

So, having a clear idea of your intent will go a long way towards blends almost formulating themselves! It’s all about fun and health and healing and energizing our spaces, minds, and bodies, so don’t forget to have fun!

Okay, back to the technical stuff: In technical terms, essential oils are typically categorized in terms of musical notes.  Most individual essential oils have a main note.  Oils can have 2, or even all 3, but most aromatherapists agree that EO’s typically have one note that dominates.  Here are the 3 Main Notes:

TOP NOTE: As you gather the INITIAL “Big Picture” of an essential oil, as you approach it and observe it from a distance, gathering your first impressions of an essential oil, all of this is referred to as the “top note” of the essential oil.  Often, the Top Note can be fleeting; it can be what first hits your nose and then dissipates.  If you think of this as the “spirit” of the note, you would have a good analogy to begin from.

MIDDLE NOTE: The middle note can be thought of as the main “body” of the note.  It’s also often referred to as the “heart” of the essential oil. These notes typically last longer than Top Notes.  On a test strip, the Middle Note scent will remain furtive for at least 1-2 hours, sometimes longer.  Middle notes are key when working with aromatherapy blends that will be used in oil warmers or vaporizers.

BASE/LOW NOTE: These are just as you would think; they’re the foundation of an essential oil’s scent, often appearing after the Middle Note dissipates in an hour or two.  If an oil is left out all day, or placed into something such as a scented sleep pillow, this is the essence of the scent that will linger for hours and often, for days. For items like bath and body products such as soaps and body washes, these are the scents that allow the scent to remain when products are made exclusively of essential oils.

And this might be a good time to mention fragrance oils:  Fragrance oils consist of mostly synthetic scents intended to mimic natural scents as best they can.  The downside to fragrance oils is that they are artificial, carrying no genuine scent or essences from the living plant.

The Balance of Essential Oils

Another key tool in your beginning toolbox is understanding the inherent strength and concentration of individual essential oils. The best way to learn this, I feel, is to dig right in with a few droppers and testing trays (which can be anything made of glass that you have around the house).

Take the oils you plan to work with, let’s say that you’re going to make a relaxing evening blend of oils to help melt the stress of your day away, but you don’t want to get too relaxed. One of my favorite blends is lavender, sandalwood, and peppermint.

Lavender is renowned for promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. When used in meditation, it promotes feelings of clarity and may help intensify intuition.  Lavender is also often used because it is known for helping to ease feelings of anger or frustration. Sandalwood is lesser known as a powerful relaxant and stress reducer, partly because it is most-often associated with meditation because it helps support feelings of peace and inner tranquility. Sandalwood, like lavender, is also known to intensify intuition.

So far, we’ve got two powerful relaxers that are also known for their ability to help calm and clarify the mind. But, if we’ve got stuff we still need to accomplish, perhaps a dash of energy would be appropriate, which is why the unlikely choice of peppermint. Peppermint is one of those sneaky scents that are widely used in aromatherapy blends without most people realizing. Peppermint, when used sparingly, will change the overall characteristic of the blend without making it minty.

In aromatherapy, peppermint is known for its aphrodisiac effects! That can be a potent energy booster when carefully added to a blend. But, it’s also used because it promotes a calm mind and sharper mental focus. I’ve also found it to be a perfect accompaniment to both meditation blends and relaxation blends.

But, peppermint can be extremely overbearing in blends, and this is where the balance of essential oils is key to our understanding of making effective blends. If we simply added 10 drops of each oil to our relaxation blend, it would end up smelling like peppermint and little else. What would likely be more effective and balanced for this blend, is 10 drops of lavender, 5 drops of sandalwood, and 1 drop of peppermint.

Sandalwood is quite expensive and quite rare these days, but it’s also a potent scent. Even though we’re using varying amounts of each oil, when we blend the oils together and diffuse the scent into the air or add it to a relaxing massage oil, we find that it is a perfect balance of the 3 scents, almost creating a new single scent with very noticeable effects.

Trust Your Intuition

Remember to have fun and to rely on your senses, rather than endless charts and books and guides on how to blend essential oils. Know what each oil does, and then experiment, explore, and discover the inner formulator you didn’t know was there, inside each one of us.

When you blend your first two oils together, take time to inhale the new aroma. Take a break. Come back to it in a few minutes. Make a test blend of perhaps 30 drops total, placing a few drops in a vaporizer or oil warmer. Place a few drops on a piece of paper. Notice what the scent is like just after blending, and then in 5 minutes, and 30 minutes from your initial blend.

You will be surprised at the things you will notice. And, you may find parings that create a new, almost single scent that you may then use as a base for other blends. Peppermint, for example, dissipates quite quickly. When we smell the drops we placed on paper in 30 minutes, it will have a scent of lavender with some notes of sandalwood, as the peppermint will have dissipated.

Aromatherapy is a powerful means of altering our moods and emotions, and is not new age mumbo jumbo. Aromatherapy also dates back to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian times. Scents can activate memories, stir up latent or deeply buried emotions, and can have very tangible effects on both our bodies and minds. And, one of my favorite things about essential oils is that they provide us with a direct connection to Mother Nature and our origins.

So, be mindful of these connections while you’re formulating and pairing, and you will be a better formulator. Take the knowledge embedded into our genetic coding, and feel the connection to the plants and your states of mind.

Some Basic Mechanics

01. HOW MUCH OIL?: This is perhaps the most-often asked question I get at EOX and at Florapathics. As a general rule of thumb, formulators use between 25-30 drops of essential oil per 1/2 ounce of carrier oil for their blends.

02. HOW TO BALANCE?: Lighter, thinner oils are typically more aromatic (more volatile) than heavier oils that pour from their containers more slowly. It’s important to craft blends that use both yin and yang; a lighter note with a heavier note to balance the blend. This is not a had and fast rule, but when starting out, your blends will be more complex and more appreciated by your mind and body when they are balanced.

03. HOW TO STORE?: As you might suspect, it’s best to keep essential oils out of sunlight. Amber bottles are best for essential oils, with at least a small amount of air space so the oil can breathe without oxidizing. Even the best storage techniques, away from any light and direct heat source, oils will lose some of their original brilliance and clarity within 6-9 months. I have oils on the shelf from 2 years ago, and they are still quite scented, but they definitely have lost some noticeable character. So, blend in small batches and waste as little oil as possible.

04. LESS IS MORE: Always start out conservative with essential oils. Look for any precautionary statements regarding how much an oil needs to be diluted for safety. Some oils can easily irritate skin when used at full strength, so always conduct a test by applying a drop of the oil you plan to use to the underside of your forearm, or on your upper thigh if you’ve got shorts or a skirt on.

05. USE GLASS EVERYTHING: Metals can react with essential oils, so it’s best to never use any metal anywhere in the process of working with essential oils. This means no steel spoons to stir your blends, no steel containers to hold them, and no steel pans or whisks or blades or anything metal to come in contact with your oil. Glass stir rods are easy to find, as are glass bottles.

~~~~~~~~~~  ~~~  ~~~~~~~~~~


Please know that this table is simply a starting point for you. These category assignments are not hard and fast rules; they are just what’s been generally agreed upon by experts in the field of aromas. Most oils have a single category, but some do ease into a second one. For those, there is a “+” sign.

Top Notes

Middle notes

Base notes

Basil (+ Middle) Bay Balsam Peru
Bergamot (+ Middle) Black Pepper Cassia (+ Middle)
Cajuput Cardamom Cedarwood
Cinnamon Chamomile Cinnamon (+ Middle)
Clary Sage (+ Middle) Cypress Clove
Coriander (+ Middle) Fennel (+ Top) Frankincense
Eucalyptus Geranium Ginger (+ Middle)
Grapefruit Ho Leaf Jasmine
Hyssop (+ Middle) Ho Wood Myrrh
Lemon Hyssop (+ Top) Neroli (+ Top)
Lemongrass (+ Middle) Juniper Oakmoss
Lime Lavender (+ Top) Patchouli
Mandarin /Tangerine Marjoram Rose
Neroli (+ Middle) Melissa (+ Top) Rosewood (+ Middle)
Verbena Myrtle Sandalwood
Niaouli Nutmeg Valerian
Orange Palma Rosa Vanilla
Peppermint Pine Vetiver
Petitgrain Rosemary Ylang Ylang (+ Middle)
Ravensara Spikenard
Sage Yarrow
Tea Tree (+ Middle)
Thyme (+ Middle)

Use this table as a general reference when beginning, but I encourage you to create your own chart.  As Buddha said; “Until you make my teachings your own, you will have learned nothing.” This could be applied to the creation of your own chart of essential oils.  Experiment. Trust what your senses are telling you. And most of all; have fun!

Lastly, all opinions expressed on this blog and website are my own, formed through decades of personal and commercial experience with herbs. This article is for informational purposes only and the information contained within is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. Always consult your primary care physician or other health or mental health care professional before making any decisions that may affect your health and well-being.

Why Plants Make Medicinal Chemicals

Over 40% of humans use alternative medicines to supplement their health.Introduction

Once upon a time, about 400-500 million years ago, plants and insects were co-evolving right around the same time. Insects mostly feed on plants, and new species of plants were popping up all over the world, which provided an abundant feast of a food source for insects.

A shared trait among every living entity, regardless of what we believe personally, is the desire to preserve one’s own life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a plant, animal, or other; the one shared trait we all share is a propensity towards life.  This manifests in many ways, whether it’s a desire to propagate, a desire to stay alive, or a compulsion to eat and breathe, any any cost.

And, even though plants don’t have nervous systems, they also share this propensity towards life.  With all these new insects munching on plants, the plants that survived were the ones that developed defenses to prevent themselves from being eaten by insects. As a result, plants developed 3 categories of defenses; nutritional, physical, and chemical (Southwood 1986).

Nutritional defenses are ones where plants purposely contain low levels of nutrients for insects (and animals), making them undesirable food sources.  If we chew on bark every day and don’t feel any benefit from it, we will stop eating that bark.  With physical defenses we simply need to look at just about any plant in the desert to understand this category.

The one I’m most interested in, and most interested in for this discussion is the chemical defense category. Plants that produced chemicals to poison, alter, or ward off (such as an offensive scent) predators would be automatically granted the privilege of propagating the next generation of plant. Luckily (and quite conveniently) for us, many of the chemicals plants ended up producing have powerful benefits for humans, both medicinally and psychoactively.

This evolution wasn’t one-sided either. Just as plants began producing chemicals to deter predators, predators produced immunities to fight harm from the plant chemicals intended to ward them off. This allowed insects and animals to further benefit from a widening array of plant constituents, as variety and adaptability were naturally encouraged by nature.

Accumulation of Plant Knowledge

Something to note is that an organism doesn’t need to know HOW or WHY a plant provides a specific effect; we just need to observe that use or consumption of a plant has a specific effect. Historical evidence shows that from the earliest evidence of human existence (even “Iceman” had a pouch of medicinal herbs with him), humans discovered, cataloged, and made use of plants for far more than food sources.

Think about this for a minute with me: if we lived in nature with the plants, and our very survival depended on us knowing our territory in its every detail, we would try and observe every plant we could get our prehistoric hands on. Over time, we would observe, generation after generation, the effects these plants had on each other. In fact, knowledge of plants expanded into foods, medicines, and ritualized uses by medicine men, also known as shamans.

So despite what “they” (governments and giant pharmaceutical companies) would often have us believe when they claim there isn’t enough research or control when it comes to herbal medicines, this is misleading. We have many thousands of years of plant knowledge under our collective belts, and it’s completely accessible to us. And, believe it or not, most pharmaceuticals in that multi-billion dollar industry are plant derived anyway.  Yes, you heard that correctly: Most of the pharmaceuticals prescribed today began as plants.

So, the difference between herbal supplements and pharmaceuticals can often be just the isolation of the active constituent in a plant in pharmaceuticals, and the control of the dose. As Hippocrates stated; “The difference between medicine and poison is often the dose.” It’s not that herbal medicines don’t have the historical data to back them up; when we self-administer, we may not be as skilled at knowing the proper beneficial dosages of the plants.  And, with such varied information available worldwide and on the web, it van be difficult to know what sources of information to trust.

And, something to be argued is that when it comes to benefits from plants, the entire plant is often necessary for a system to gain the full benefits of that plant.  Pharmaceutical medications often isolate a single alkaloid in order to concentrate the medicine.  But, in many cases, this also ignores the synergistic effect that leaving other alkaloids and chemical constituents in may have  in regard to the overall effectiveness or safety of a plant-based medicine.

Determining the Dose

So, even if we’ve never worked with a plant or an extract from that plant before, it’s not that difficult to determine the dose.  Why?  Because we start small.  If we’re working with an essential oils, and we’re trying to help a skin rash, we don’t douse ourselves with one we’ve been told is good for a rash; we try it on a small area, and wait for the effect.  If there are no ill effects, we can then move to a larger area, and so on.

This is true whether we are working with a tea, a decoction or an infusion.  If we’re making a tea out of a single plant or several, simply start with a small amount of material, steeped in our drink.  Take a taste, and wait an hour, perhaps 2-3 hours.  Observe closely.  Trust your senses.  Trust what you feel you are feeling and you will likely be right.

Once we determine the dose, we should continue to err on the side of caution.  If we’re taking a tea to help soothe a sore throat, it’s best to try that tea when we don’t have a sore throat.  We won’t be able to tell if it would help our sore throat, but we can easily ensure that it won’t hurt us.

Back to Those Plant Chemicals

So, we’re imagining ourselves as prehistoric people living in nature.  We would quickly build up a vast storehouse of knowledge regarding plants, which would be passed on from generation to generation.  As humans migrated and met other people, they would travel with their favorite plants.  Often, plants were traded with other humans, and new plants would be introduced into the environment.

By default, all of these plants would be altered through human selection because humans will, by default, choose the best examples of that plant to seed the next generation of plants.  For example, humans will naturally pick the plants that bear the most fruit, or the largest or most beautifully-scented flowers.  Coupled with plants’ propensity towards life, they will be encouraged to produce larger or more scented flowers, and these traits will be carried from generation to generation.

Whether it’s for defense, a response to the environment, plants have an intelligence that helps them survive in their environment.  For the ones that don’t, we’ll nature does its part and those plants naturally become extinct.

The debate often arises when plants contain psychoactive substances, but that is a debate for another article.


Southwood SR (1986) Plant surfaces and insects – an overview. In: Juniper B, Southwood SR (eds) Insects and the plant surface. Arnold, London, 1–22

Lessons in Iceman’s Prehistoric Medicine Kit“, New York Times Website, JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, December 8, 1998.

Calendula Oil and Its Benefits in Treating Psoriasis

Calendula…even the name is soothing and speaks of the fragrant warmth of this lovely and underappreciated essential oil! Steam distilled from the golden yellow or orange petals of the Old World marigold, calendula essential oil is a renowned skin salve that may be especially helpful in controlling the symptoms of psoriasis and other related skin diseases [1]. The oil is a clinically recognized anti-inflammatory [2], and also has cicatrizant, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and vulnerary (wound-healing) properties [2]. One study has even suggested that calendula oil might have anti-tumoral actions as well [2]!

The common name “calendula” comes from the Latin calendulae—a diminutive of the Latin for calendar. Calendulae means something like “little calendar”, “little clock”, or “little hourglass”, perhaps a reference to the way calendula’s bright orange or yellow blossoms follow the passage of the sun across the sky. There are several marigold species with the genus name Calendula, all of them found in the daisy family Asteraceae. These species are native to Western Europe, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia and Macronesia. The species used to produce an essential oil is Calendula officinalis. The plant itself has a woody purple stem, serrated green leaves, and a round yellow or orange daisy-like flower [3]. The oil can be distilled from the flower or leaf, both of which yield a range of mostly sesquiterpenoid compounds such as T-muurolol, a-thujene, d-cadinene, b-pinene, 1,8-cineol, and y-terpene [4].

Calendula flowers were a common food additive, medicine, and even ceremonial decoration in the Near East and Mediterranean world: the dried petals were added to butter and cheese as colorants, used to flavor stews, and powdered as a saffron substitute when that costly spice was unattainable. The practice of flavoring stews with calendula led to its other common name, “pot marigold”! The Greeks and Romans sometimes wore garlands of calendula flowers during ceremonial occasions, similar to the ceremonial use of bay laurel crowns, and calendula blossoms were used as far away as India to adorn Hindu deities. The vivid oranges and yellows of calendula flowers could also be processed into a yellow dye used in making paint. Today, the flowers have also found a place in the varnish, nylon and cosmetics industries [4].

Traditional medicine recognized calendula’s usefulness for treating digestive disorders such as indigestion, constipation, and abdominal cramps [5]. Modern tests on rabbit small intestine using an aqueous extract of calendula flowers discovered that the extract exhibited both spasmolytic and spasmogenic effects, which could explain this medicinal use [5]. The fresh flowers were also used in poultices to stop bleeding, speed healing, and prevent wounds from getting infected [3]; calendula was still being used antiseptically on battlefields during the Civil War and World War I.

Today, the most popular use for calendula essential oil is in treating the irritation and outbreaks associated with dermatitis and psoriasis [1]. Psoriasis sufferers in particular might consider using an infusion of calendula oil in a carrier oil to give relief to their symptoms. Psoriasis is an uncomfortable skin disease in which inflamed lesions form on the skin, covered by a white or silvery scale. The condition is most common in Caucasian women and least common in people of color.

Apart from being unsightly and embarrassing for the afflicted person, psoriasis can result in serious health complications if left untreated—particularly opportunistic infections resulting from damaged skin integrity caused by scratching the itchy lesions. An infusion of calendula essential oil can greatly lessen the irritation and inflammation caused by psoriasis, while its antiseptic qualities combat infections before they can begin [1]. Calendula oil infusions are very easy to use: simply buy a readymade infusion or make your own by adding a few drops of calendula essential oil to 1 fluid ounce of olive, almond, or another gentle carrier oil. Then apply a few drops of the infusion to any irritated skin one to two times a day, preferably after a soothing, skin-softening warm bath.


1. “Calendula Oil for Healthier Skin”. The Aromatherapy Spot. Accessed July 29th, 2014.

2. Jimenez-Medina E, Garcia-Lora A, Paco L, Algarra I, Collado A, Garrido F (2006). “A new extract of the plant Calendula officinalis produces a dual in vitro effect: cytotoxic anti-tumor activity and lymphocyte activation”. BMC Cancer 6: 119.

3. “Calendula”. Wikipedia. Last modified July 19th, 2014.

4. Okoh, O., AP Sadimenko, OT Asekun, and AJ Afolayan. May 16th, 2008. “The Effects of Drying on the Chemical Components of Essential Oils of Calendula officinalis L.” African Journal of Biotechnology 7 (10): 1500-1502.

5. Bashir, S, KH Janbaz, Q Jabeen et al. 2006. “Studies on spasmogenic and spasmolytic activities of Calendula officinalis flowers”. Phytotherapy Research 20: 906-910.