This post is (a typed version of) a Power Point Presentation I’d written several years ago. I created it as an introduction to Essential Oils, at a workshop I’d offered to a group here in Haliburton, Ontario.
Much of this presentation concerns the proper use of these chemicals, (because that’s what they are). They can have serious adverse affects on your health if used improperly.
The best practices of aromatherapy, with respect to essential oils should include knowledge and common sense.
Though not the ‘miracle cure-all’ some might want us to believe, and actually classified as a pseudoscience, aromatherapy may be useful to induce relaxation, but there is not sufficient evidence to state essential oils effectively treat any condition! However, I feel aromatherapy can be a wonderful addition to in our feelings of well-being when you take into consideration the science behind the sense of smell.
Unfortunately, there’s much misinformation on the internet about essential oils, and claims by individual users and cosmetic manufacturers in general who make blatantly outrageous statements about what their products can do.
The fact is, there are no facts on any healing properties with essential oils.
There is no scientific or fact-based evidence to conclude that they reduce inflammation, fight infections, reduce wrinkles, or any other claim out there.
The information below is an attempt to help people stay safe. It’s to filter through some of the misrepresentations & unethical claims in a world that’s inundated with advertising and consumerism.
Making Sense of Scents – An introduction to essential oils
What is aromatherapy?
- Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine.
- “Aromatherapy” is an all-inclusive term, covering cosmetic, psychological, and medicinal effects
- Plant materials & aromatic plant oils are used for the purpose of altering one’s mood, cognitive, psychological or physical well being.
- Research has shown that aromatherapy may be effective in treating anxiety & depression through the use of scent by stimulating nerves linked to parts of the brain that control our emotions.
The smell from a flower stimulates the olfactory bulb. Olfaction is a part of the nose and brain associated with this, and it forms our sense of smell.
There’s a whole science behind it. Just think of the feeling you get from smelling an old-fashioned rose, a bunch of lavender, or fresh baked cookies!
Memory of Things Past… Smell and memory
Our sense of smell is closely linked with memory, more so than any of our other senses.
As I wrote previously a post about baking my mom’s scone recipe, and how their aroma took me back to her kitchen, scent can evoke particular memories; for example the scent of a flower in bloom can conjure vivid recollections of a positive childhood memory.
- So, scent can act as a trigger that recalls long-forgotten events or experiences.
- Scent, (known as odor information), is stored in our long-term memory banks. Whether it’s flowers, perfume or food, scent has strong connections to our emotional memories!
To be sure, the perfume and cosmetics industry have built themselves around this information!
Relationship between scent, pheromones & sexual response
On a personal level, smell is extremely important when it comes to an attraction between two people.
Take a gander at your partner! Looks may have been part of that initial attraction, but research has shown that our body odor, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, is a big part of the reason why we subconsciously choose our better half!
History of Aromatherapy & Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic & ritualistic purposes for at least six thousand years. Ancient civilizations, including India, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome used them in their cosmetics, perfumes and drugs.
- Essential oils were commonly used for spiritual, therapeutic, hygienic, ritualistic & religious purposes.
- In fact, to “anoint” (Latin, inunctus “to smear with oil”) means making a person sacred and serve a higher spiritual purpose.
- E.O.s have been found in Egyptian tombs and they’ve been referenced often in the bible.
What are Essential Oils?
These oils are “Essential” in the sense that they contain the “essence of” a particular plant’s fragrance, and any of that plant’s characteristics from which it is derived.
- Essential oils are potent
- One drop of an essential oil is equivalent to 25-75 cups of the herbal tea of the same plant. (This varies according to the plant) This is where caution and common sense come in handy!
How are essential oils made?
These are three of the most popular methods.
- Steam Distillation: Plants are steamed under pressure. Oil is extracted and the remaining steam forms a hydrosol = floral waters
- Cold-Pressing: Used for citrus essential oils. Citrus rinds are mashed in water. The oil released is separated from the pulpy water & collected as an essential oil.
- CO2: Liquid CO2 is combined with plant matter, then the CO2 is turned back into a gas, leaving the plant matter and essential oil behind. This is the preferred method of extraction for many manufacturers.
My List of Essential Oil Best Practices
Know your source!
- Buy from a reputable retailer, online or off!
- Reputable companies properly label, bottle & package oils for sale & shipment.
- Avoid : “fragrance oil”, “nature identical oil” & “perfume oil” – Not pure & very likely synthetic
- Avoid vendors who are vague, fly by night, or seem to know very little about their products.
- Ask questions: Test their knowledge
Safe handling of oils
- Always read & follow all label cautions and warnings
- Keep out of reach of children and pets
- NEVER use on babies
- NEVER use on cats (will cause liver damage if ingested. Cats will lick it off themselves)
- Do not ingest essential oils – NEVER take them internally
- Keep away from flame, heat and ignition sources – essential oils are flammable
- Use latex gloves and protective glasses when handling essential oils.
- Keep essential oils out of eyes, ears, nose, mouth or any body opening
- Store Oils in Glass bottles away from direct sunlight – Amber & cobalt glass are equally effective for blocking out damaging sunlight.
- Keep Bottle Caps Tight – Oxygen is the enemy to oils.
- Store them in a Dry, Cool Location
- Keep a Record of the Date Purchased and Expected Shelf Life of Each Oil
- Remember That Oils are Flammable (hence the dry cool location).
- Keep Oils Away from Children & pets (I can’t stress this enough
Possible reactions – Safety first!
- PHOTOSENSITIVITY – Some essential oils are photosensitive. These essential oils are sensitive to sunlight. When they’re are applied to the skin they can cause a rash or burn when it’s exposed to sunlight.
- If you’re going to use them, it’s advisable to avoid sun exposure for 24 – 48 hrs after use.
Examples: Citrus e.o. especially -> Ginger, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin, Orange, Bergamot, Lime, Cumin & more…
- ALLERGIES – People with skin allergies should do a test before extensive topical use of any oil.
- Eyes & Ears – All essential oils need to be kept away from here!
- Avoid prolonged use of the same essential oils which may lead to skin sensitivity and future allergic reactions
Who shouldn’t use essential oils?
- People with sensitive skin, epilepsy, heart or kidney problems.
- Cancer patients or those with other serious medical conditions/treatments.
- Use only with the advice of a physician or licensed medical professional
- Pregnant women, or those breastfeeding should avoid using essential oils, and many herbs altogether.
- Babies, young children, and pets.
Don’t believe everything you read. (Even from me!)
Hype, Marketing, and Misleading information
- Always do some research first. When I’m looking into any topic, I locate information from at least 3 sources, and not from some no name website like mine, but from well known medical institutions or universities.
Pleasant odors can be enjoyable and may enhance people’s efforts to relax. However I say again, there is no factual evidence that aromatherapy products provide any of the (sometimes extreme) health benefits sometimes claimed by some proponents and manufacturers.
Essential oils can be considered Snake Oil
False claims abound! Somethings in life never change, and the essential oil industry is no different. Remember that old adages: -> If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
- Cancer, Ebola, Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction, Aids & more!
This is completely unethical, and in some cases illegal, which led to the FDA sending them all warning letters.
These companies include some of the biggest names in the essential oil business. If you’d like to search for some of them, here is a great place to start. A link to very public information on the FDA’s website
My point is, be a skeptic, (Caveat Emptor) because:
- There are international standards from country to country, but there is no governmental body anywhere in the world who legally regulates the grading of essential oils.
- Avoid suppliers who promote their essential oils as ‘Therapeutic grade‘ or ‘Aromatherapy grade‘. Purely done for packaging and marketing purposes, as (above) there is so such categorizing of essential oils.
- In a world of plagued with consumerism & mass marketing, education and common sense are the best ways consumers can protect themselves against false, or dare I say, trumped up claims.
Use Carrier Oils – Always dilute!
- Carrier oils are pressed from plants, fruits and nuts. (Olive & avocado oils are my favourite).
- Essential oils need to be diluted in these vegetable oil bases because they decrease the volatility of an essential oil
- Carrier oils also offer better skin absorption
Recommended vegetable oils for dillution include:
- Olive, Avocado, Safflower, Argan, Hazelnut, Grape seed, Sunflower seed, Evening primrose, Borage seed, Jojoba, Coconut oil & more… They’re the oils we use for cooking!
- Carrier oils should be stored away from heat & light to ensure freshness.
- The addition of Rosemary Oleoresin Extract is the best way to extend shelf life of a botanical oil, along with Vitamin E, which is an excellent anti-oxidant.
- Make small batches – they can be used within a shorter time frame which means less chance of rancidity.
Blending Information – a guideline
Oils are diluted in a carrier oil for use in massage oils, along with diffusers, atomizers, & humidifiers for aromatherapy. (Along with using them in my products for scent, I like to heat oil in a diffuser over a candle, or smudge with them and burn them as incense).
- 1% dilution: approximately 6 drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil
- 2% dilution: approximately 12 drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil
- 3% dilution? There is no need for this much.
- Remember: Less is more with any essential oil.
Aromatherapy is so much more than essential oils
Follow your nose! There are other ways to experience aromatherapy:
- Fresh cut flowers from your garden or local florist
- Drink herbal tea – Mint or chamomile from your garden!
- Pot Pourri – Dried flower petals, herbs & spices
- Scented candles (non paraffin wax)
- Herbal and floral infused vegetable oils – Easy to DIY at home
- Floral waters – Some of these hydrosols like rosewater are great for use in some recipes
- Drawer sachets & pillows – Always at hand. Dried lavender is great for sleeping
- Smudging with herbs
- Simmering ingredients on the stove – citrus, apple, spices, all generally found in most kitchens.
- Scented soaps & skincare
- Do some baking
Vanilla still ranks as the most beloved scent & flavour in the world, according to statistics.
Some of my favourite aroma blends
- Orange, clove & cardamom
- Lemon & mint
- Lavender & sage
- Rosemary & Bergamot
- Lemongrass & Tea tree
- Ginger & lemon
My Blending Categories
- Floral blends with spicy, citrus, and woodsy
- Woodsy blends well with all categories
- Spicy and oriental oils blend with floral, oriental, and citrus.
- Minty oils blend with citrus, woodsy, herbaceous, and earthy
I hope this helps anyone who is interested in practicing aromatherapy and the use of essential oils.
Have fun, stay safe, and stop to smell the roses once in a while! ~ Karen
“Blow wind, blow
And go, mill, go
That the miller may grind his corn
That the baker may take it
And into bread make it
And bring us a loaf in the morn.”
I’ve always wanted to make bread from scratch.
I know, I know… big deal, she made some bread! Yawn… Give her a medal already.
Get a grip Karen, it’s just baking bread, it’s not Breaking Bad. 😉
It’s not like I discovered the Northwest Passage or the Philosophers Stone, and here I am penning a piece on an activity people do all the time, and have done for thousands of years.
Yet, I avoided this my whole life because the act of baking bread held some weird inexplicable romantic quality for me.
It seemed like a mystical process of alchemy only some ancient sage could have practiced, (which it may very well have been to an ancient person), especially that chemical reaction between yeast & water. If you think about it, how did they even come up with that idea so long ago? Amazing, really.
In any case, now that I’ve partaken in this magical process, I realize my fear of the ‘unknown’ was totally unfounded. Isn’t that the way with most things in life?! But I digress…
After what I feel was a successful bread making endeavour, I’m keen to bake just about anything now! Especially after (re)discovering family cook books/recipes from my Mom, and my Great great Grandma’s from the mid eighteenth century. (Thank goodness for Google. It didn’t take long to locate how old weights and measures from old cook books translate into measurements we use today.)
But seriously, aren’t these small, yet lovely personal triumphs in life worth celebrating?
The point is, if I can make bread from scratch, anyone can! If you’re interested in having a go, read on!
The recipe comes down from my Grandma. (She also made the best lemon meringue pie ever, but that’s another post). This bucolic loaf contains just a handful of ingredients, including rosemary and garlic. (Of note, I didn’t weigh the flour like one probably should. Instead, I used a little less than this recipe calls for.)
Nell’s Rosemary & Garlic Bread
- 1.5 cups of water (temperature of that water should be between 105F – 110F to interact with yeast. (I ran water from the tap over the thermometer to get the correct temp.)
- 1 packet (1/4 ounce) of dry instant yeast
- 4.5 cups of unbleached flour (I used 4.25 cups)
- 1 tbsp pickling salt (I like it because it’s coarse)
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp dried & crushed rosemary
- Olive oil for bowl
*** Before you begin, take off those rings! They’ll get all sticky with dough. This saves cleaning them. 🙂
1 – Open packet of yeast and empty it into a good size bowl.
2 – Stir in the warm water, which activates the yeast. Stir for a couple minutes. It will start to thicken.
3 – Add the flour and mix it up with your hands. (This is one of the best parts, being at one with the dough! I’d have more photos if my hands weren’t covered in it)
4 – Next, add the salt, rosemary, and garlic. Mix it in well.
5 – There should be a good sticky ball of dough now, so transfer it on to a flour dusted surface to knead, which should be done for about 5 minutes.
6 – Work it into a ball shape by molding it with your hands, and it’s ready for its first rise.
7 – I put a little olive oil in the bowl. Not much, but enough to keep the dough from sticking while it’s rising, so you can get it out easily. Put the dough in the bowl and roll it around, gently, so the olive oil is evenly distributed.
8 – Place a towel over the bowl and leave it for one hour to rise. The dough should expand to twice its original size.
9 – Once that’s done, push your fist gently into the dough while it’s still in the bowl to let out the gas that forms inside.
10 – Dust your surface again and knead the dough for 2 minutes. Add flour as needed.
11 – Put the dough back in the bowl with the tea towel over it and let it sit for another hour.
12 – About 45 minutes into that hour, preheat an electric oven to 425F, or like me with a gas stove, to 450F. It should be good and hot when you put the dough inside.
13 – I used my big 4 quart cast iron cooking pan to bake the bread, and it’s pretty wide, so you could use a smaller one. Lightly oil the pan, (like with the bowl above) and dust it with flour, and some more garlic & rosemary, if you have any left over.
14 – Once that second rising is done, score it across the top with a knife. Not too deep, but enough that there’s some nice texture to it once it’s fully cooked.
15 – Gently place that now larger ball of dough in your pot. Dust the top with a bit more flour, (and rosemary/garlic) and place in oven.
16 – Bake it for about 35 minutes. Take it out, and check it to see if it’s done by piercing it with a kebab stick. If it comes out clean and not smeary, you’ve just successfully baked a loaf of bread. Well done!
17 – I put my loaf on our big cutting board to cool, but a wire rack works too. Don’t cover the bread while it cools or moisture will form on the bread, which is kind of yucky!
Cut the bread and eat it while it’s warm. Yum… Enjoy!
Over the last few years, I’ve surprised myself with just how much more interested I am in the act of creating food. Sure, I grow herbs and veggies in my garden, and can cook chicken, beef dishes, heat up vegetables, and bake muffins or a cake out of a box, but something was lacking.
Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because fast food is so accessible, and the fact that we live an ‘I want it now’ culture. In any case, I’ve found my food experiences inadequate of late.
What I’ve always cooked is edible and tastes fine, but upon reflection, shouldn’t the food we eat fully engage our senses? Shouldn’t there be less indifference and more attention given to what we put on the plate? Maybe we need to locate that enthusiasm again and fully participate in the act of creating food. These are the things I’ve been considering lately, along with this latent desire to mindfully enjoy each and every bite! And, does it take reaching middle age to find all of this out?!
Sometimes I think about my mom and how she valiantly tried to teach me how to cook. When I was younger, I just wanted to be outside, in the garden or in the pool, and as an admitted introvert, I preferred hanging out in my room listening to music or reading books. I was happy to eat what mom made, but not so big on the creating part! It seemed like a chore.
Fast forward to my thirties when my Mom died. Not only did I grieve for her, but as it turned out, for her cooking. That sounds outrageously selfish, and I do miss her, but I also miss her perfect Yorkshire pudding, scrumptious scalloped potatoes, oozing butter tarts full of plump raisins. I could go on. Really, I took her cooking and what she served us for granted. Maybe I thought I could learn by osmosis, and maybe that’s not far off because I have learned along the way how some of the things she taught or told me actually stuck.
So, not only do I miss my her presence, but I miss the smell of the kitchen when the aroma of the food wafted through the house. My dad and I were talking about her one day, and I brought this up. He felt the same way of course, and happily he’d kept all of her handwritten recipes and cookbooks.
He gave them to me, (probably thinking it was a futile effort, lol), several years ago, but in the interim, I discovered three more reasons to up the ante on my kitchen skills.
One is Pinterest. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noted how often I’m on that website when it’s getting close to dinner time and I’m hungry! All of those scrumptious recipes to save on my recipe pin board… It’s such a great place to find many a tantalizing food image, along with a link to the recipe. When I saw the breadth of choice out there, it was an epiphany. I’ve been persuaded to try cooking something new.
The second thing would be cooking shows, (and food blogs, too), but especially cooking shows, each hosted by many different personalities, because that host sets the flavour of the show, (pardon the pun), just like the food recipes they’re creating.
There’s a show about food for everyone. No wonder there’s a Food Network! Having said that, it was likely Anthony Bourdain’s show who first engaged my attention on CNN. I loved how he traveled the world, diving into different cultures and sharing their love of food. I still enjoy seeing the old Julia Child shows on PBS too, or Lidia’s Kitchen on the Telelatino channel. In their own way, each chef is so entertaining. Plus, you learn something new, and you get to eat!
The third is probably the most important reason. Along with my mom’s cook books, I now have in my possession the ones that belonged to my great-great grandmother. These books hail from the mid 1800’s into the early part of the 20th century.
This all hearkens back to my mom. Cooking or baking from a recipe passed down from our ancestors and people we love, but who are now lost to us, is a special way to visit them once in a while.
Back to the present. Today I baked my mom’s cream scones from her recipe. Talk about comfort food on a cold winter day!
Not only did they turn out really well, but boy, did I ever enjoy eating them again after so many years!
While they baked, I closed my eyes. The smell from my own oven took me right back to mom’s kitchen. It was truly wonderful, and the best part is that these scones are delicious, and so easy to make!
I’d like to share that recipe here.
- 2 cups all purpose flour (I used unbleached)
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup table cream (18%)
Mix dry ingredients, add butter, stir in cream, and knead
Roll into a pie shape, (on floured surface)
Bake on non-stick pan
10-12 minutes at 450 degrees
Enjoy! ~ Karen