The Healing Properties Of Essential Oils
Jennifer interviews Joseph Richkus, from Enfleurage in New York City
Conjure, for a moment, your favorite smell. It could be the lush, intoxicating richness of roses in full bloom or the subtle, salty freshness of the beach on a cloudy day. The sweet, uplifting scent of a juicy, freshly cut orange, perhaps? Have you ever caught whiff of a fragrance and been instantly transported to a time and place in your past, or a person you once knew? Our sense of smell is the only one of our physical senses that bypasses all the other parts of the brain to connect directly with the subconscious, and has a powerful affect on our nervous system, mood and even our physical health.
Aromatherapy, also called Essential Oil Therapy, has been employed for medicinal purposes since the days of Ancient Egypt. Both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine have included the use of essential oils for thousands of years, and as contemporary health practices expand to include more holistic methods, their considerable benefits are becoming more widely known. I recently sat down with Joseph Richkus, from Enfleurage – an amazing store and resource for the highest quality essential oils, books and classes, located in Greenwich Village, New York City – to learn more about this time-honored art.
- JA: What is an essential oil, and how does it differ from ordinary oil?
JOE: An essential oil is an aromatic extraction from a specific botanical species, which can contain chemical compounds found in the plant. Often the essential oil will come from a part of a plant or tree, such as the roots, leaves, flower or wood, or can be derived from the entire plant. Many pharmaceuticals have their origins in plant. Essential oils are about getting back to nature. The essential oil is more condensed than the herb or plant it came from — it is more powerful. A single drop can be equivalent to a whole ounce or more of the same herb. Also it can be used topically on your body when mixed in an unscented lotion or oil, and can be far more effective than the herb.
- JA: What’s the difference between high-grade and low-grade oil?
JOE: 1: How the plant material is grown and then extracted, can result in either superior or inferior oil. And 2: The quality of the plant material you begin with.
There is an art of extracting the oil, depending on the pre-treating, the quality of the botanical substance, and the format of extracting. You can smell the difference in a lot of products on the market. Some distillers are artists at what they do. Others steam the oil out of the plant material too fast or too hot and thus destroy some of the aromatic notes that are possible from that material.
- JA: What do most people use an essential oil for?
JOE: People are becoming more aware of the healing properties of essential oils and the most common uses are for: massage, specific ailments, baths, body lotions and aromatic burners for scenting rooms. There is a trend now towards natural perfumes and an awareness of using non-toxic topical applications.
- JA: Why do you source your oils from around the world?
JOE: Plant species don’t all grow in one place; many are specific to climates and countries. Frankincense only grows on the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Jasmine is only going to grow in hot places like India. Some plants, like lavender and rosemary, take on their different personalities from different soil and climates. Essential oils such as Lavender, Sage or Rosemary from Spain will smell different from French versions of these oils. The actual chemical constituent profile will differ. The soil in Spain adds more camphor to Lavender or Rosemary. Also plants grown at different altitudes will also have different chemical profiles. For instance, with Thyme, the higher up the mountain it grows, the less irritating it will be to the skin. Thyme that is grown at sea level can be irritating to the skin. Sandlewood has been overharvested world wide, and the most popular is from India, which has pretty much harvested everything. Indian species of Sandalwood, such as the Santalum album is being grown elsewhere, such as Indonesia, but this is a tree that should be 60-80 years old before it is harvested for essential oil or incense, and so it’s recovery rate from over-harvesting is slow. This is why high quality sandalwood oil tends to be expensive and is rising in cost. Most woods produce a relatively large amount of essential oil, and Sandalwood is no exception, but its high price is due to its scarcity.
- JA: What are the most popular oils and why?
Frankincense relaxes the nervous system. It slows the heart rate, and deepens breathing. It is also used to help sleep disorders and can bring the body to a state similar to meditation. It is useful to slow down mental chatter, and aids relaxation. Frankincense is also used in skin care, keeping skin supple and youthful. Good for wound care and digestive issues, too.
Frankincense resin is from trees and grows well the Middle East. The best frankincense in the world is found in the Dhofar Province of Oman where the fragrance is far more complex than frankincense from south of there. The further one gets from Oman, such as Somalia or Nigeria, the Frankincense fragrance becomes more simple and earthier, without the top notes found in the Omani resin.
Lavender is the most versatile of all essential oils. It is great for sleep, burns, pain relieve, and can be used as an anti-inflammatory. It is a muscle relaxant, anti-spasmodic, effective for relaxation and to reduce anxiety. In addition, mosquitos don’t like it. To help reduce hurt and angry feelings, a good combination is lavender, rose and immortelle.
The Wild lavender that we sell is from the French Alps, where it grows wild best between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, and at this altitude the oil is more refined.
Jasmine can be used to help open up to new relationships, particularly on an intimate level. Jasmine is calming but also euphoric and has aphrodisiac properties and so is great for accentuating the erotic. Jasmine is one of the most immediately pleasing oils to encounter.
- JA: What are some of the main ailments people use essential oils for?
Insomnia, sore muscles, dermatitis, pain relief, arthritis, stress, respiratory issues, female issues, insect repelling, mouse repelling (Peppermint), energy, household odors, hair loss, just to name a few.
Lemon is used to help improve mental clarity and clear the mind. Other oils good for mental clarity are: rosemary, which is a powerful mental stimulant for memory. Peppermint and laurel are also good for studying and mental clarity. Peppermint, Rosemary and Laurel are all neuron (brain cell) stimulants.
Sleep and anxiety:
Frankincense and Roman Chamomile are two of my favorite oils for helping with sleep. Lemongrass and Ylang Ylang are also great for stress relief and to remove anxiety. You can combine Ylang Ylang and Chamomile, which go very well together and help wonderfully with stress or insomnia. Spikenard oil is related to Valerian and is perhaps the most sedating of all the essential oils.
Rose oil, especially pink damask rose, is very good for love and other emotional issues as it resonates at the heart chakra, and is very soothing. Bergamot is also very good for the heart chakra. Palmarosa oil can be used to help open up and trust life and love and can be combined with Geranium for this.
Enfleurage has a heart blend that was originally used in Chinese medicine, which has some of the above ingredients and resonates with love, and is named for the Chinese element of “Fire.”
Geranium is good for emotional balancing, and is also used for menopause or pre menstrual syndrome for women but also good for men. Geranium has a balancing effect physically and emotionally.
Marjoram is a good muscle relaxant. Spikenard is perhaps the most sedating of essential oils, and is related to valerian. Both are excellent anti-spasmodic or muscle relaxing oils. Spikenard is known as the oil of forgiveness and is good to help release resentful feelings and boost self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
If you want to learn more about the healing properties of essential oils and you live in New York, then Enfleurage have classes twice a month. You can attend an introduction to natural perfumery and learn how to blend your own oils and perfumes all of which are therapeutic as well as pleasing aromatically to your senses.
You can also order essential oils through Enfleurage.com as well as see the schedule for free classes.