Aromatherapy is the use of natural essential oils from aromatic plants for therapeutic purposes. It includes simply smelling the oils, but more often involves the application of oils to the body through a variety of application methods.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the volatile oils that are produced by aromatic plants. They are the quintessential expression of the plant. Imagine the growing season of the plant; the sunshine, rain, wind, soil and environment all combine to produce the oil in the plant.
How are Essential Oils Produced?
Ideally, aromatic plants are harvested when the essential oil is at its peak concentration in the flower, leaves, root, or peel depending upon where the plant stores its oil. After cleaning and sorting, the aromatic plant material is loaded into a still for the steam distillation process. Water is heated and rises through the plant material, helping to evaporate the essential oils that are carried out with the steam. As the steam condenses, the oil and water naturally separate. Typically, the oil floats and is skimmed off the surface of the water.
What makes the difference in quality?
The most prevalent myth is that if an essential oil is 100% pure, then it can be used for Aromatherapy. The truth is that purity is a relatively easy standard to meet, but the quality of pure essential oils varies wildly.
The soil. Plants grow best with an optimum pH balance and the right nutrients in the soil. The optimum soil mix is preferably attained through organic methods, but, commercially, is attained through chemical fertilizing methods.
The seed. Seeds are harvested from plants. If a plant has a history of producing excellent, vigorous plants with good yield, those seeds will be preferred. Commercially produced seeds are subjected to chemical fertilizing and pesticides, if not the seeds themselves, the plants that produce them.
The growth. Plants must be protected from weeds, pests and disease. This can be accomplished through chemical pesticides, or through a more intimate understanding, by meeting the needs of each plant to keep its strength against certain diseases. The introduction of friendly insects, or birds, etc. can be used to reduce the population of harmful insects. Weeding may be done by hand to avoid the use of herbicides.
The harvest. Each plant has a peak time for harvest within the season, but is also particular to the time of day. The rose, for optimum yield, must be harvested during the dawn, before the sun rises. As soon as the sun rises, the rose naturally releases its fragrance into the air. The yield resulting from distillation of such roses is significantly reduced. Careful oversight by an experienced grower helps ensure a good harvest.
The preparation. Plants may be harvested by hand or by machine. For an exceptional quality oil, harvested plant material is inspected and sorted as the still is loaded. Any dead or foreign material, unwanted plants, or portions thereof, are removed so that only the premium material is loaded into the still. The importance of this step cannot be overrated. The juniper berry, for example, yields the finest and the safest oil; however, juniper needles have a higher yield. If a portion of the distillation includes needles, the yield will be much higher, resulting in a lower priced, but inferior oil.
The distillation. Good distillation begins with good water from the earth and not from the tap. During distillation, temperature and pressure can be adjusted. High temperature and pressure are used commercially because the small loss of constituents from the heat does not outweigh the economic value of rapid distillation. Quality distillation requires a slower, lower temperature process that maintains the subtle and volatile components of the oil. The retention of the widest range of naturally occurring constituents fundamentally makes the difference between medicinal quality and commercial essential oils.
The handling. After capturing the essential oil from steam distillation, commercial oils are often subjected to a standardization process. Essential oils have a worldwide market and are traded by the barrel commercially to large food and other manufacturers. These customers expect a consistent essential oil for their manufacturing process. They develop specifications for percentages of the main components that the suppliers must meet in order to make the sale. If a specification requires 42% linalol acetate in Lavender, for example, and the distillation produces 45%, then 3% is extracted and saved to be added to another batch whose linalol acetate is below 42%. Do you see how this oil is still 100% pure? Yet this standardization moves away from the natural state of the oil produced by the plant. When the oils are preserved in their natural state without standardization, they are referred to as “in-totum”. Medicinal quality essential oils are in-totum and while they may vary from batch to batch, they are presented as nature intended.
The distribution. It is certainly important that no one in the chain of distribution adds any adulterants or diluents to the oils, but there are even more subtle factors that I believe can affect the quality of an essential oil. Essential oils have an uncanny intelligence to them. They have a manner of making their way into the hands of the right people. The best oils seem to engender personal growth in the people who come in contact with them. I have seen people who have a strong identity with their problems repel from the oils. Those who are ready to change are drawn to them.
Afterward. It is remarkable and profound to me when I begin to comprehend the amount of energy that is contained in an oil...the sun, water, wind and earth...the amount of plant material required to get a small amount of oil...the time and effort that people devote to growing, harvesting and distillation...and finally to realize that these oils come from all over the planet to one location and are attainable by almost anyone. It is a sign of our time that has never been matched in man’s history...amazing!
How are Essential Oils used?
Inhalation. The simplest and mildest form of application is to open the cap and smell an essential oil. Inhalation can be beneficial for its stimulating or relaxing effects, since the limbic system is directly influenced by signals from the olfactory nerves. Olfactory nerves are located in your nose and the process of smelling is referred to as “Olfaction” or the “Olfactory Process.” Diffusion is another a form of inhalation application, but can have additional benefits, such as cleansing the air in a larger environment. While there are different types of diffusers, they fall into one of two basic methods of diffusion. They either evaporate or nebulize the oil. An evaporative diffuser is normally less expensive and uses heat or air to force the evaporation of the oil into the environment. A nebulizing diffuser also uses air, but rather than forcing evaporation, the air is used to turbulently break up the oil into very fine molecules, resembling smoke, that is projected into the environment.
Cutaneous. When essential oils are applied to the body, whether diluted with a carrier or applied “neat” (undiluted), it is considered a cutaneous application. This can be done by applying a drop of oil to the wrist or other pulse point, by massaging onto the feet, by full body massage, as well as by using essential oils in a bath. Among the most common reasons for cutaneous applications are pain relief and relaxation.
Mucosal. This form of application blurs the line between cutaneous and internal use. It is a more intimate and focused application that should be approached with a higher level of caution and understanding. With proper knowledge, essential oils are utilized for oral, nasal, vaginal and rectal application. Most mucosal applications require dilutions and should be administered sensibly by those with more than just casual knowledge.
Ingestion. While much literature exists for the cutaneous application of essential oils, research conducted in France has been focused on the ingestion of essential oils. Of primary interest is the infection fighting capacity of essential oils. This level of use must again be approached sensibly. Some oils should not be used internally under any circumstance, others should be avoided by people with certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and epilepsy, or during pregnancy. However, realizing that you are using a little essential oil when you flavor an Italian dish with Basil and Oregano, you may begin to recognize certain oils for their potential nutritional value. For oils that are GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe), the rule of thumb is 1-3 drops, 1-3 times a day for a period of 3 days to 2 weeks.
Please make responsible and informed choices.
Imani Synergies and the Golden Mean
Pelotherapy is the use of natural clay from the earth for therapeutic purposes. Most are familiar Pelotherapy in the form of a facial “mud” mask, but the applications include any form of external poultice and even include the ingestion of clay. Basically speaking, when activated with moisture, clay has a unique drawing capacity which provides its detoxifying benefits. It is useful to understand a little about the three primary actions or properties of clay.
Properties of Clay
Absorption: The capacity to bring elements inside the molecular structure of the clay and hold onto them. This process is complex to describe, but is due to the single bond between silicon and aluminum. This bond is responsible for the electrical appearing on the internal and external molecular surfaces. The structure of the basic silica tetrahedron creates a negative charge on the external surface. This polarity attracts cations, most of all polarized water molecules through their cationic entity. In addition to water, clay absorbs aliphatic and aromatic molecules, and hydrocarbons. This property explains how clay is used to reduce certain types of swellings or tumors, drain abscesses and cysts, and cleanse in general.
Adsorption: The capacity to attract elements to the outside of the molecular structure of the clay and there hold onto them. The process is similar to absorption, except that the bond is created on the external surface instead of the interior. This capacity increases the ability of clay to bind larger toxins and micro-organisms.
Ionic Exchange (CEC): The capacity to alter the electrical charge of a contacted surface. Clay is continually interacting with its surrounding environment. It is known that ions exchange from the clay to the environment in a non-predictable, yet measurable way. It is non-predictable because specific environmental variations cannot be fully comprehended and therefore, the specific exchange cannot be predicted. The cationic exchange capacity (CEC) is responsible for the balancing effect of clay and is one of the most unique and beneficial therapeutic factors.
All clays exhibit the absorption, adsorption and ionic exchange actions; however, clay is formed with a range of molecular structures that change the relative strength of the three main actions.
Montmorillonite: Named after the Montmorillon region in Southern France, where the clay originates. This clay is similar to the common bentonite clay, except that Montmorillonite does not contain the volcanic ash present in bentonite. Montmorillonite has a weak bonded, 3-layer structure giving it the capacity to expand; therefore increasing its CEC and its ability to capture large material. The higher CEC is the important distinction of this type of clay. Montmorillonite clays are used for purification, cleansing and balancing. It is used for its high catalytic action.
Illite: Illite clays have a 3-layer structure, similar to montmorillonite, yet with the presence of potassium ions, which limit the inter layer expansion. This makes it a stable clay with possibly the optimum safety/efficiency ratio of all the clays. It is chosen for drainage, swellings, edemas, water retention and secondarily for purification, detoxification and balancing.
Kaolin: Kaolin has a 2-layer structure with a lesser distance between the layers, making it much less aggressive. It is preferred for its gentle action and is suitable for sensitive individuals, infants or the elderly. Though it is less anti-infectious than the montmorillonite type, kaolin is preferred for wound healing to ensure faster and better repair with less scar tissue formation. It is an ingredient in antidiarrheal preparations (Kao-tin, Kapectolin, K-C, K-Pek, etc) with names are obviously derived from Kaolin. It is gently cleansing and pH balancing; therefore used for gastritis and heartburn.
Preparing a Poultice
Clay comes in the form of a dry powder and a poultice is made by adding pure water. The water should not be chemically treated, as in city tap water, but pure or preferably distilled. Different clays use a slightly different ratio, but mix roughly equal parts of clay and water together. It is important that the clay is not too dry, since it is only active while remaining moist, it should not be too soupy either. A little experimentation will help get the hang of the mixture, but basically add water if too dry, or clay if too wet. Since clay interacts with its environment, it is recommended to avoid using metal mixing bowls or utensils.
Using a Poultice for a Facial Mask
Clay facials are one of the most well known uses for medicinal clay. The objective is to draw impurities from the skin and balance the skin. The choice of clay will determine the specific actions. The clay poultice should be applied over the skin in a thickness of up to 1/4 inch. Generally speaking, the thicker the poultice, the deeper the draw. Allow the clay to dry, then remove and discard the clay. It is not advised to try and reuse the clay since it has removed and now holds the toxins, etc.
Using a Poultice for Drainage
Poultices can be used to reduce swellings and assist in drainage, even to the point of drawing out foreign objects from the body that are beneath the surface of the skin. There is a relationship between the thickness of the applied poultice and the depth from which it will draw. The normal thickness for this type of poultice is 1 inch, in some cases thicker, but rarely thinner. The thicker the poultice, the longer it will remain wet and therefore, active. The duration of this type of poultice is generally at least 4 hours, If this becomes uncomfortable, it can be removed and a fresh layer applied soon after.
Preparation and Usage of a Clay Colloidal Solution
A colloidal solution is prepared by mixing about ten parts water to one part clay. Simply put, about a teaspoon of clay to a large glass of water. A colloidal solution can be used as a mouthwash to reduce bad breath and acts as a disinfectant, helping to cleanse and purify the mouth cavity. This same solution can be drank to affect the gastro-intestinal tract. It is very useful during detoxification. Due to its anti-infectious properties, clay is useful in helping with vaginal candidosis and helps to cleanse and balance the terrain. A colloidal solution of clay is excellent for using as an enema. It is cleansing and detoxifying without noxious side effects.
Specific Clay Types
Blue Montmorillonite: Called “blue”, but somewhat more gray with a blue reflection. This is an active clay with the highest CEC of all the clay choices. Used mainly for detoxification, balancing, catalysis and cleansing.
Green Illite: This is a versatile clay that is a good choice if you want a clay for a variety of purposes. It is known affectionately as “The Green Clay” in France and is considered by many to be the “Mother of all Clays”. Used for drainage, cleansing, balancing and poultices.
Pink Kaolin: This clay is the first choice for cosmetic facial masking. Pink Kaolin is a combination of Red and White Kaolin clays. This combination provides a smooth clay with good cleansing and detoxifying characteristics without being overly drying to the skin.
White Kaolin: The mildest of all the clays. Preferred for its high aluminum content which helps in tissue repair and reduces scarring. The aluminum is in a non-toxic ionic form so does not present a toxic danger. It balances pH and is among the best acid balancers for the stomach. Used for cleansing, gentle skin care, wound healing, heartburn and diarrhea.