Welcome to the AromaBlog. Registered aromatherapist and Aromaceuticals founder Katharine Koeppen is deeply committed to aromatherapy education, and this is her forum for getting the word out on essential oils and all things aromatic. She welcomes your comments, but please do not ask Katharine to answer specific questions related to your personal health issues as it is both unethical and unprofessional for her to give advice to anyone she has not seen in consultation.
18 days ago
Many people know about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a condition related to wintertime depressive states. SAD is due to an imbalance in serotonin and melatonin levels, which are involved in the regulation of our circadian rhythms, affecting our natural wake and sleep cycle as related to perceptions of light and dark. Most people who suffer from this condition become listless, depressed and apathetic in late fall or early winter. They become anxious, oversleep, crave carbohydrate-rich foods, gain weight, withdraw socially and may have feelings of heaviness in the limbs. Once the days become longer, their symptoms disappear and they lead normal lives until the next winter season.
Less often, people may suffer from SAD during the summer, when it is called Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder. Summer SAD presents with a somewhat different set of symptoms. Depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances still occur, but individuals suffer from insomnia rather than an excessive need to sleep. They have a loss of appetite, often drop weight, have an increased sex drive and may become agitated or irritable. People with Summer SAD benefit from the same therapies as those with the more common Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Getting on a regular sleep/wake cycle is important, and something most of us ignore... nightly television, 24 hour internet surfing, long periods of cell phone conversation/texting and evening incandescent light throw off our circadian rhythms. To some extent this affects all of us, but it's much worse for people with SAD. It's crucial for these people to avoid excessive sensory stimulation and light exposure late at night. Aromatherapy can help in the form of sedative nighttime baths, foot soaks or diffusion of relaxing essential oils into the environment. Lavender, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage, ylang ylang and sweet marjoram are recommended, both for their ability to help an agitated individual wind down at the end of the day and their ability to help banish insomnia.
Just as someone with SAD has difficulty relaxing at night, so they often have difficulty waking and concentrating in the morning. A stimulating aromatherapy bath or brisk exfoliation in the shower can get them ready to face the day. Rosemary, bay laurel, lemon, grapefruit, basil (ct. methyl chavicol) and ginger essential oils are all invigorating, and may also be diffused in the bedroom or bath while preparing for work. If necessary, these may be diffused or inhaled at the office if concentration or mental focus is a problem.
Anxiety may be mitigated at any time of day or night by essential oils such as vetivert, bergamot, petitgrain, ylang ylang, frankincense or lavender. Room diffusion or inhalation from a sniffer stick is very effective for this type of application.
If food cravings are an issue, fennel oil is a good appetite supressant, and some find that inhaling peppermint or lemon may be helpful. If the appetite needs to be stimulated, mandarin or clementine petitgrain can be used via inhalation.
Many other alternative therapies can work in tandem with aromatic solutions. Those with Winter SAD are often encouraged to pursue light therapy using a full spectrum lightbox. It is important to note that Summer SAD sufferers need light exposure, too, during a time of year when many people slather on sunblock. It is recommended that most persons have 15-20 minutes of daily unprotected exposure to sunlight during off-peak hours (before 10am and after 2pm). This is long enough for our bodies to produce the amount of vitamin D required for normal metabolism. Vitamin D3 supplementation may be necessary in those with very chronic depression or older people with SAD.
Because those with SAD have a body which is out of kilter on multiple levels, it can be helpful to supplement with adaptogenic herbs, which are highly balancing and also support the immune system. These include rhodiola, ashwaganda, astragalus and schisandra, as well as reishi and maitake mushrooms. These herbs and mushrooms may be taken in the form of capsules, tinctures or teas. Avoid ginseng, which is an adaptogen but can be overstimulating to some.
Melatonin has received widespread recognition as a pineal gland and sleep regulator, as well as a mild immunostimulant. But be careful... according to aromatherapist and holistic physician Raphael d'Angelo, MD, melatonin is sedative to 50% of the population and stimulating to the other half! Persons wishing to try melatonin should start with the smallest possible dose and increase consumption very slowly, monitoring their bodies carefully for any stimulatory effects.
Lastly, regular exercise is strongly recommended to help mitigate either type of SAD. Exercise helps release tension and anxiety, relieves depression, and generally brightens the mood. Thirty minutes of activity 3-4 times a week is suggested, and those with SAD would do well to consider outdoor exercise.
Dr. d'Angelo once suffered from Winter SAD and strongly believes in managing the disorder via natural means, particularly aromatherapy and dietary supplementation There are many other alternative remedies that can help control SAD, too many to list in this post. The Mayo Clinic's website and WebMD are two good places to explore these options.
29 days ago
Last weekend, I facilitated a contemplative retreat for a group of 10 women. Our theme was A Sense of Wonder: Rediscovering the Divine Child Within, and most of the participants had no prior experience with meditation or contemplative prayer practices. What better way to incite a childlike wonder than through scent, the most primitive and least appreciated of our senses?
The original use of fragrance came from a need to communicate with Divine presence. It was thought that the pleasing smoke of burning resins and incense called down the gods and enabled a bridge for two way communication between supernatural forces and the various priests, oracles and shamans who summoned them. Ancient temples were literally thick with fragrant smoke, and many centers of worship burned incense 24 hours a day. In fact, many of these aromatic woods, resins and powders contained psychotropic phytochemicals which induced feelings ranging from general wellbeing to outright stupefication... no wonder the priestly classes of old saw visions and heard voices! Although our holy places are no longer completely enveloped in smoke, incense is still burned to mark special ceremonies everywhere from contemporary Christian churches to timeworn Shinto temples.
I began my presentation by burning a stick of palo santo wood and blessing each participant. Many of the women had no previous experience with ritual use of fragrance, and were enchanted by the individual clouds of aromatic smoke wreathing their heads.
The choice of palo santo (Bursera graveolens) was very intentional. The name literally translates as holy wood in Spanish, and it has been used in Andean healing ceremonies for over a thousand years. Nowadays, it is burned in Ecuadorian churches to mark holidays and special occasions. The aromatic oil cannot be extracted from live palo santo trees; it develops years after the trees die and are infested with a specific termite. The smoky-sweet palo santo fragrance is then recovered from the trees, just as these women were trying to recover and reconnect with their Divine Children.
For the meditative part of the presentation, I selected a series of aromas that are either loved by children everywhere or have strong memory associations for most people: sweet orange, mandarin, peppermint, spearmint, lavender, rose and rosemary. Participants were presented with scent strips for each essential oil and asked to choose the one which most appealed to them. Because much of the population is visually oriented and I anticipated that some people would be hesitant to rely on their sense of smell alone, everyone was provided with a fruit, flower or herb that matched their chosen scent. They were asked to taste and touch this visual cue while inhaling from their personalized scent strip, reflecting on the Divinity that created all of nature.
After a 20 minute meditation with their scent strip, they were asked to spend some time journaling about the experience. Much to my surprise and delight, it was hard to get them to put down their pens! When I asked them to share their observations and perceptions, the women could barely contain their excitement. Several had connected with happy childhood memories. One awestruck woman proclaimed, "I can't believe my God created something as beautiful, complex and perfectly made as this mandarin. Now I can see God everywhere, in everything!"
That, of course, was the point of the sensory meditation. At the end of the day, I received many compliments from the participants, who felt that they had reconnected to the natural world with the joy of a Divine Child in a unique and unforgettable way. They left the day with a newfound appreciation of both fragrance and its Creator.
48 days ago
Kitchen cosmetics are a fun and inexpensive way of giving yourself a beauty treat. This super simple recipe will make enough body scrub for about 3 or 4 applications, which is easily a couple week's supply.
Fast & Fragrant Exfoliating Body Scrub
1 cup caster sugar (a superfine baking sugar)
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
4 drops red grapefruit (Citrus paradisii) essential oil
5 drops geranium (Pelargonium X asperum) essential oil
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and pack in a wide mouth glass jar. To use, moisten your hands and body well, scoop a generous amount from the jar, and exfoliate lightly in the shower. Rinse well.
Add a decorative container and a ribbon, and this makes a great gift idea.
60 days ago
Over the past year or so, the list serve and social media scene has been periodically lighting up in a mad flurry of posts about the pending extinction of frankincense (Boswellia sp.). The reality: there are over 25 different species of frankincense trees, and only one commonly harvested for its aromatic resin is considered to be at high risk.
The primary species used for resin collection are Boswellia carterii, Boswellia sacra, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia serrata, Boswellia thurifera and Boswellia papyrifera. Most of these are found wild in single species or mixed stands over a fairly small geographic area: Ethiopia, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. Boswellia serrata, probably the least desirable species in terms of its value to aromatherapists, is under cultivation in western and central India. Some cultivated frankincense also exists in Oman, long known as the world center of frankincense trade.
The somewhat misguided extinction panic began as the result of just one article published in a scientific journal. The article looked at a study done on a single species, Boswellia papyrifera, in a single area, northern Ethiopia. It predicted a 50% decline in B. papyrifera population over the next 15 years, based on a combination of fire, overgrazing and beetle infestation. No predicted population decline in this area of Ethiopia was extrapolated to occur due to overharvesting, which was a concern erroneously voiced in many aromatherapy social media groups.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes a Red List of Threatened Species, and lists B. sacra as "lower risk/near threatened," which is not the same as "endangered" (and their definition of of "lower risk" is somewhat nebulous). IUCN notes that regeneration of this tree is poor, but admits that their information requires updating. They do not include B. papyrifera on the Red List at all.
Add into the mix the fact that frankincense trees grow in a part of the world that is notoriously subject to major political instability and minor tribal skirmishes. Industry insiders say that much of the Arabian peninsula production of frankincense essential oil has slowed not because of any endangered trees, but because the Saudi government is denying border passage to Somali tribesmen who have traditionally wild-harvested resin for hundreds of years.
The overall situation for frankincense is by no means dire, but it does bear watching over the next few decades. I have faith in these trees; they possess hardy souls. They have survived for thousands of years in a barren, inhospitable desert climate, often growing out of solid rock cliffs. That's perserverance.
Groenendijk et al. "Limitations to sustainable frankincense production: blocked regeneration, high adult mortality and declining populations." Journal of Applied Ecology Vol. 49:1 (20 December 2011). Retrieved 26 March 2013 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.
International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Boswellia sacra. 1998. Retrieved 26 March 2013 from http://www.iucnredlist.org.
Sellar, Wanda and Watt, Martin. Frankincense & Myrrh. C. W. Daniel Company: Essex, England. 1996.
61 days ago
There's a lot of media buzz and lip service being given to living an authentic life. But what does that really mean? And how does it happen?
The January issue of Body Sense had a brief but very relevant article about getting real and living authentically. I'm borrowing liberally from authors Kathleen McIntire and Erin Cote and adding a few aromatherapy tips to their life plan:
Know what really matters. When you worry about what others think of you, you've dropped your authenticity. Be willing to march to the beat of your own drum, whether that means living a self-employed lifestyle, committing a chunk of your day to exercise, or buying your clothes at a resale store. Need help figuring out what matters? Try some meditation with vetivert essential oil.
Own your decisions. If you can't live with a decision, then it's time to retool your motivations. Lemon oil helps clear uncertainty and promotes clarity of thought.
Be realistic. It's hard to change your lifestyle overnight. Plan major changes in small steps. As a friend is fond of saying, "The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time." If you're feeling overwhelmed, a bath with petitgrain is a great way to relax and reframe.
Learn to say "yes." Be flexible and allow spontaneity to enter your life. A last minute lunch invitation or movie date may be just what you need to live joyfully and keep things in perspective. Diffuse sweet orange to encourage spontaneity and positive feelings.
Practice self care. It's so easy to forget your own needs when you're surrounded by spouse, kids, pets, friends and coworkers. Schedule time for a massage or a quiet visit to the park. Geranium essential oil encourages self care, and is a delicious addition to unscented body lotion.
Get real about money. So many people overspend to finance a lifestyle they can't afford. How important is that $7 a day Starbucks habit, really? It's OK to be happy with less. Bay laurel encourages you to think expansively while working with what you've got.
Take a break from doing. Just be. Spend 10 or 20 minutes a day sitting quietly with no agenda, emptying your mind of the past and future, just enjoying the present. Frankincense deepens breathing, slows you down and helps you focus on "just being."
Know when you're not at your best. You're no good to yourself or anyone else when you're too tired or worn out to function. A brief walk, nap or a restorative bath with rosemary and lavender will recharge your batteries and your focus.
Love yourself. This is easy to say, but hard for many people to practice. You cannot invite love into your life until you open up to loving yourself first. Anointing the heart daily with rose otto can help get you there.