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By Dr. Maiko Ochi, N.D., L. Ac.
Most of us are unaware of how powerful our sense of smell can be in healing. When we smell, the olfactory nerve is activated and sends signals to different areas of our nervous system, where they can affect mood and pain. Many people are familiar with aromatherapy and essential oils, which are pure plant oil extracts, for their relaxing and stress-relieving qualities. However, essential oils contain compounds such as terpenes that have a direct therapeutic effect in our bodies. For example, many of these oils are antimicrobial and effective against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They make great additions to first aid kits.
Most essential oils need to be diluted in a cold-pressed carrier oil to prevent skin irritation. Best carrier oils include almond, coconut, apricot, jojoba, and olive oil, aloe vera gel, cocoa butter, and glycerin. Mix 10 to 15 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. Also, don’t take essential oils internally without medical supervision, since they can accumulate in your nerves and cause toxicity.
Lavender has wonderful calming effects that help with stress, insomnia and anxiety. Smelling it can lower blood pressure and heart rate. It increases theta and alpha brain waves, which are associated with deep meditation/light sleep and deep relaxation, respectively. A lavender oil extract was shown to be more effective than paroxetine (Paxil) at reducing anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder with fewer side effects. In fact, more people responded to the lavender oil than Paxil or placebo.
Lavender can also be an excellent addition to a first aid kit because of its pain relieving and antibacterial qualities. It soothes sunburns; add a few drops of undiluted oil directly to the burn or mix them to a handful of aloe vera gel. It’s also good for soothing painful bee stings; apply a few undiluted drops to the affected area. Use in on cuts and wounds because it’s a wonderful disinfectant and can help prevent scarring.
Peppermint oil contains menthol, which is an excellent pain reliever with a cooling quality. It can feel wonderful on achy joints, especially if they feel hot and inflamed. Dilute it with a carrier oil and apply to sprains and strains. You can also mix it with ginger or rosemary essential oils to further reduce inflammation and pain. Rosemary brings blood flow to an area, which makes it great for helping with healing. Peppermint can also help ease the pain of a toothache.
Peppermint oil helps to relax muscles, so it can be a wonderful remedy for tension headaches. Rub a few drops into your temples, neck and sinuses. It can relax the smooth muscle cells lining our digestive tract and be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Several drops rubbed on the stomach or taken internally can help soothe indigestion and uncomfortable gas and bloating. Keep in mind that it can make reflux worse because of the relaxing effect it has on the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus.
Peppermint is also a good expectorant, meaning that it helps you cough up phlegm. Use one of the following steam inhalation methods during sinusitis, colds, cough, asthma and bronchitis. You can also rub some diluted drops directly onto your chest.
4 Methods of Steam Inhalation with Essential Oils
1. Boil 2-3 cups of water and remove from heat. Pour into the bathroom sink or a large basin/bowl. Add 5-10 drops of essential oil. Position yourself so that your head is above the sink/basin/bowl, no closer than 9 inches. Drape a towel over your head and the container, forming a tent. Inhale the vapor with slow deep breaths for 5-10 minutes.
2. Fill a mug ½ full of boiling water. Add 3-5 drops of essential oils. Use hands to form a cup over nose and mug to enclose vapors. Inhale vapors for 3-5 minutes.
3. Draw a hot bath, keep door closed to keep the steam in. Add 10-15 drops of essential oil to bath and swirl to mix. Relax in tub for 15-30 minutes taking slow, full deep breaths.
4. Using a steam vaporizer (not humidifier), add 5-10 drops of essential oil to the well of the machine (read the directions for your machine to locate the specific place for additions). Place your head near the steam vapors and inhale for 15 minutes. Another choice is to allow machine to run in your bedroom while you sleep.