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SPIKENARD

Spikenard or Narde (Nardostachys jatamansi / N. grandiflora): It belongs to the Valerian family and has similar properties as its cousin Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). A flowering plant that grows to a height of about 1 meter, the rhizomes are distilled to produce the essential oil. It is native to the Himalayas; China, northern India and Nepal, mostly cultivated in Nepal and India. The best quality oil comes from Nepal. Spikenard is a slightly viscous, greenish-brown oil, darkening with age. The scent is deep and fresh, reminiscent of earth after rain, with a hint of fruity overtones.

History: Nard was (and is) used in the Indian tradition of Ayur veda. In ancient Egypt it was a luxury perfume and upon investigating the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1926, small alabaster vessels were found with a solidified, scented unguent (ointment, solid perfume) which turned out to be perfumed with spikenard and frankincense. Spikenard was also one of the ingredients in the ancient Egyptian perfume “Kyphi” that was burned at dusk to make sure the life-giving sun would return the next day. It was an important part of the Hebrew traditions where it was a component of the sacred incense, HaKetoret, wich was burned in the Jewish temple of Jerusalem. Spikenard in Hebrew is Nard and translates as Light. Most people recognize the name due to its mention in the bible (Song of Solomon, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9). Spikenard was the oil used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus at the last supper (John 12:1-10). At the time, spikenard was extremely costly and Judas Iscariot was outraged by the fact that it was used, seeing as the amount used was worth about a year’s wages for an ordinary working man. The Greek word for Spikenard means genuine and pure.

With such an illustrious history from ancient times, Spikenard is bound to tickle the imagination. Many believe that its claim to fame is due to the high cost it carried, but spikenard was not the only costly scent at the time; myrrh and  frankincense  were also extremely costly – even more so than gold. On researching the oil I find a red thread which points to the spiritual properties of the scent; Spikenard connects us to the divine.

USES:

  • SKIN: Balancing, regenerating and healing. Mature skin, psoriasis (1% blend), allergies, itching, skin-problems. Healthy skin maintenance.
  • DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: Antispasmodic and digestive: nausea, constipation, colic and cramps.
  • CIRCULATION: Harmonizes & stimulates circulation. Haemorrhoids, varicose veins. Regulates heartbeat.
  • NERVOUS SYSTEM & EMOTIONAL: Balancing, calming, grounding, harmonizing: Insomnia, migraine, stress, nervous tension, insecurity, anxiety. Deep emotional wounds. Can be of use in working through addictions, especially drugs.

Spikenard works on the solar plexus in a deeply calming manner. It is liberating and profoundly soothing. It releases emotional tension and being  at the same time grounding and opening it bring us in touch with our inner spirituality.

Personal: The word that comes to me is surrender. Spikenard brings us to a place of such peace and tranquility, enveloping us in a deep sense of safety. In this place we can allow ourselves to let go of emotional wounds, fears and insecurities. It connects us to the divinity within and lessens the stresses of the outside world. It shows us the way to heal from within. I mainly use this beautiful oil for emotional work. Its wonderful skin-care properties make it easy to incorporate as a releasing agent in the every-day life. Used as a facial oil you have the healing emotional benefits as well as excellent skin-care.

This oil resonates deeply within me. The first time I met Spikenard I was in the midst of a tremendously painful and difficult period of my life. It transported me to a place of such calm serenity, that all the difficulties fell away and I could see – for the first time –  solutions and possibilities. This moment brought me forever out of the worst trauma of my life. Till this day Spikenard is my doorway to assurance, peace and spirituality. It is probably the one oil I would always carry.

Considered a safe oil to use. As it has a ovary-stimulating action, I avoid using it during pregnancy. Spikenard is sometimes used in natural perfumery as a fixative.


CHAMOMILE

There are mainly 2 different chamomiles used in aromatherapy: German or “blue” chamomile and Roman chamomile.

German chamomile (Matricaria recutita): An annual aromatic plant, up to 60 cm high. It has a branching stem, feathery leaves and simple white flowers with a yellow center. It is native to Europe, but is now naturalized in North America and Australia. It is mainly cultivated in Hungary and eastern Europe where most of the oil is produced. All over Europe it can be found growing along fields and road-sides. The name “German” comes from earlier days when Germany was its main producer. It is often called Blue chamomile thanks to its deep blue-green color due to the chemical chamazulen. Chamazulen is not present in the fresh flower, it is only produced during the distillation process. The oil comes from steam-distillation of the flower heads.

It has a long tradition as a medicinal herb for all kinds of tension and for its anti-inflammatory properties. Usually it has been used in the form of tea or infusion. The scent is herbaceous with a fruity tinge.

USES:

  • SKIN: All kinds of inflammation; Acne, boils, dermatitis, eczema, inflammations, insect bites.
  • MUSCLE: Anti-inflammatory; rheumatism, inflamed joints, aches and pains, neuralgia, fibromyalgia.
  • EMOTION: Calming and relaxing to the nervous system; Headaches, insomnia, nervous tension, stress.
  • STOMACH: Anti-inflammatory and calming; Colic, indigestion and nausea. (Massage, tea & infusion)

This is a safe oil to use for children, elderly and weak individuals. Remember to keep the dosage down. The oil will stain both skin and materials.

Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile): A small perennial plant, up to 25 cm high with a branched hairy stem, feathery leaves and white flowers with yellow centers, the flowers are larger than those of German chamomile. The whole plant spreads in a creeping manner and has an apple-like scent. It is native to southern and western Europe, now naturalized in North America. It is cultivated in England, Belgium, Hungary, USA, Italy and France. The oil comes from steam-distillation of the flower heads, the scent is warm, sweet and herbaceous.

It has been used as a medicinal plant for at least 2000 years, especially in the Mediterranean area. The ancient Egyptians made note of it, as did the Romans. The ancient Greeks called it earth-apple (kamai – earth +melon – apple) which later turned into chamameleum.

USES:

It is used much in the same way as German chamomile, being calming, anti-inflammatory, hypnotic and a nerve sedative. The roman chamomile has a different, more profound calming action than the German C. According to Dr’s Franchomme & Penoel, Roman chamomile is useful as a calming agent before operations.

This oil is safe to use for children, elderly and weak individuals. Remember; lower dosage. Excellent oil for babies suffering from colic.

Experience: I have had great use of Roman chamomile for my children when they have suffered from stomach-ache or anxiety. Colic: Blend 1 drop in 5ml vegetable oil, rub on tummy (clockwise) cover with a warming pad, lay against shoulder and rock baby gently. The oil, soothing motion and the massage that is given by the rubbing against the shoulder usually helps baby to calm down.

German chamomile is brilliant as an anti-inflammatory for most skin-problems, even eczema. Just pay attention to dosage. I find the scent reviving though calming. I have used it with great success for horses; both emotionally and as a healing agent for wounds.

SENSUAL FRAGRANCES

Fragrances have through time been associated with sensuality, love and passion. Humanity has forever looked for the scents which are aphrodisiac in nature, turning people’s heads, making them breathless with desire. Essential oils are amongst these scents; since ancient times have they been used to induce passion and love. Scents as widely removed as clover and rose are on this list.

When researching aphrodisiac scents I noticed that the idea of aphrodisiacs has changed through the times, depending on society and whims. At one time the strongest aphrodisiacs were thought to be musk and civet – taken from the sex-glands of the muskrat and civet-cat. These are strong pheromones that supposedly stimulate the vomeronasal organ, or VNO. Today it is known that this part of the olfactory system is used to “pick up” pheromones between individuals of the same species.

Over time the idea of aphrodisiacs has gone through most scents we know today, from grasses and spices, through woods and roots to flowers. (Though some flowers were always thought to be aphrodisiacs.) I think it also had something to do with the abundance of human smells in the earlier days. In a letter from Napoleon to Josephine he writes: ” I will be home in 3 months, don’t wash”. This gives an idea of the pheromone power!

I personally believe that sensuality is a combination of many things; pheromones – we enjoy the other person’s smell, food, relaxation, scent and, of course for women, monthly cycle. Body smell is made up of pheromones; as much as we enjoy the scent of our loved ones, as badly do we experience the smell of someone we don’t like. One of the first signs of “falling out of love” is when we no longer enjoy the other person’s smell.

(“Researchers have already shown that ‘man sweat’ can elicit some unusual physiological responses in some women: an increased heart rate, a better mood, and sexual arousal.” Read the article here)

Perfumes are designed to make people attractive to each-other. Male perfumes are usually the scents that mostly attract women and vice verse. Today there is a whole industry creating perfumes with pheromones (synthetic) to enhance the attraction of the other sex.

Here is a list over the most commonly used aphrodisiac essential oils, there are of course many more. Sniff around and go with your feelings. The best-known aphrodisiacs are often warming and bring you into contact with emotion and body. To access the emotional areas of the brain, true essential oils are needed, not synthetic scents.

  • Jasmine (Jasminum officinale / J.grandiflora): Helps when there is tension or fear.
  • Rose (Rosa centifolia, R. damascena): Heady scent that helps open up the heart.
  • Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata var. genuina): Euphoric, releases tension and anger.
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album): Deeply relaxing and balsamic.
  • Cinnamon (cinnamomum zeylanicum): Warming and opening.
  • Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum): Exciting, releases tension
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Hot, fiery, stimulating.
  • Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea): Very close to female hormone, deeply seductive.
  • Clove (Syzygium aromatica): Liberating, seductive. (might work best in a blend, since many associate it with the dentist!)
  • Black Pepper (Piper nigrum): Warming, fiery, movement.
  • Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia): Sensual, relaxing.
  • Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin): Playful, straightforward, fun. Used as a perfume by the hippie-generation.
  • Oud (Aquileria malaccensis): Use it straight up as a perfume, deeply sensual and sexy. Enhances floral notes.

Use them in the bath, as air-spray, massage-oil, perfume and/or room-scent. Spray them on your linen and on your hair. Use your imagination and have fun. Just remember dosages and possible sensitization. For best effect, use them sparsely – too much scent dulls the mind and can give head-aches instead. Be careful with floral oils if there is asthma or allergy.

ESSENTIAL OIL & SCENT HISTORY part 4

During the 16:th to 18:th centuries the art of distilling plants had grown to become an every-day matter. Every mansion had its own distillery and the pharmacies of the time distilled essential oils for medicinal purposes. The doctor would make out a recipe, and the pharmacies would blend the medicines.

In this time herbal medicine grew immensely with the founding of the Royal Society in Britain, the plant classifications by Linnaeus and the great herbals by, amongst others, Culpeper, Gerard and Parkinson. By the end of the 18:th century, essential oils were widely used in medicine alongside herbs, essential oils being the strongest form of medicine in existence.

The late 19:th and early 20:th century saw the flourishing of chemistry as a discipline. As plant cures and essential oils could be synthesized in a laboratory – the cures both stronger and faster in action, essential oils began to lose their place in the pharmacopoeiae.

In the early 1900’s a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé – the father of aromatherapy, rediscovered the effectiveness of essential oils when he after a severe burn dipped his hand in pure lavender-oil and noted the speed of recovery; the pain was instantly subdued, there was no infection nor scarring. This made him devote himself to the study of esssential oils. He discovered that the oils could penetrate the skin to access the blood-stream and chemically interact with the chemistry of the body. In 1937 he published the book “L’aromathérapie” that became the first textbook on essential oils.

Dr. Jean Valnet followed in Gattefossé’s footsteps. He was an army-doctor during WW2. As antibiotics were hard to come by in wartime, he used essential oils with great success. After the war he opened a clinic where he success-fully used essential oils for both physical and psychological healing. Much of his work was based on the antiseptic properties of essential oils. In 1964 Dr Valnet published a book; “Aromathérapie se soigner par les essences de plantes”.

At this stage aromatherapy began popping up all over Europe; Italian doctors Gatti and Cojola start researching the psychological effects of essential oils in the 20:s; In the 70:s their work was followed up by Professor Paolo Rovesti at the University of Milan.

Mme Maury, an Austrian cosmetologist, introduced the idea of massage combined with essential oils in the 50:s. Not being a doctor, she was looking for other ways of administering the essential oils. By blending – or diluting – them with vegetable oil, the resulting blend was milder and could be used directly on the skin without irritating it. Most of her clients were healthy women that wanted beauty-treatments and the results of the aromatherapy was astounding; not only did it make the skin look better, it also had other effects such as relief from rheumathic pain, stronger libido, better and deeper sleep and an overall mood-enhancing effect. In the early 60:s Mme Maury opened her first clinic in London where she also held workshops and training. Some well-known names trained for her in the late 70:s; Robert Tisserand, Shirley Price and Patricia Davis are some of them.

The final break-through for aromatherapy as a valued alternative health practice came in the late 80:s and early 90:s when it finally became a recognized profession in many countries. In Britain and Sweden the training is state-supported and sometimes subsidized.

ESSENTIAL OIL & SCENT HISTORY part 3

Asklepios

The Greek God of healing was called Asklepios and his attribute is a staff around which a snake curls. The Asklepios-staff remains to this day a symbol of medicine and healing.

When the Roman Empire fell, so did a lot of the knowledge about herbs and aromatic substances. What was left moved into the cloisters of Europe. Plants were grown and cultivated in the gardens of the monasteries, monks, and later nuns,  made medicinal potions, wines, vinegars, liquors, infusions and other herbal extractions.

distillation

The art and knowledge of distillation was rediscovered by the Persian physician Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) who had a passion for roses. He published his book “Canon of Medicine” in the 11:th century, which remained a standard work until the mid-sixteenth century. The Arabs were great explorers and colonizers and were responsible for introducing many new herbs and spices from the East, such as ginger and pepper amongst others. They created their main medical training center in Italy to which monks and nuns were sent from all of Europe. One of these nuns, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) wrote the much known herbal “Physica“. Her work is still referred to today.

hildegard von bingen

During the Plague or Black Death, it turned out that the glove-makers and perfumers seemed less susceptible to contamination, both these groups worked on a daily basis with essential oils. This knowledge was used by thieves who doused themselves in an aromatic vinegar to be able to rob the corpses. The essential oils used were: Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis), Camphor (cinnamomum camphora), Lavender (lavandula augustifolia), Nutmeg (myristica fragrans), Sage (salvia officinalis) and Cinnamon (cinnamomum ceylanicum). These were mixed with pure garlic in vinegar.

The doctors wore full-fitting leather-robes and gloves, over their heads and faces the “bird-mask” was worn. The mask was doused with amber, nutmeg, cinnamon and other herbs, oils and spices, and they washed themselves twice daily with aromatic vinegars. Though this seemed to work well enough not to get contaminated, once the disease kicked in there was no cure or help.

plague doctor

In 1492 Columbus landed in what he thought was East Indies, but in reality was the Bahamas. This opened a channel for new plants and plant-matter from The Americas, such as Coca leaves that were chewed by the Incas, and balsams of Canada and Peru. These plants now entered the European pharmacopoeia.

cocaleaves

Coca leaves

Erythroxylon Coca

ESSENTIAL OIL & SCENT HISTORY part 2

China

Essential oil and scent history is really the history of plants and herbal medicine, since they are a part of it.

All ancient cultures used aromatic substances and herbs for cooking, healing, scenting and praying. The earliest written herbal text is the “Pen Tsao” (Great Herbal – still in print) which was compiled by Shen Nung, an emperor, during the time of 1 000 to 700 B.C. In this work is listed more than 350 medicinal plants and remedies. Another great and ancient work of plants and medicine is the “Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine” also still in print. Acupuncture was already used at this time and has since then spread all over the world, growing in popularity.

Aromatic substances also played an important role in the lives of the Sumerians who lived along the rivers of Eufrat and Tigris ca 4 000 B.C. They left inscriptions showing the use of herbs for healing. The Babylonians and Assyrians left inscriptions of their laws among which there are instructions for the use of plants and spices in medicine. In Persia a clay-vessel was found that is believed to be a crude form of distillation-apparatus. It is dated to 2 500 B.C. Similar vessels are still used in the area for distillation purposes.

In India the medicine of Ayur Veda has existed in written form since 1 000 B.C. Ayur Veda has become an increasingly popular form of alternative medicine and can today be found all over the world.

ayurveda

In ancient Rome and Greece medicine developed into a science. Hippocrates (468-377 B.C), known as the father of medicine compiled scripts known as “Corpus Hippocraticum”. Pedanius Dioscorides wrote the classic “De Materia Medica” in year 60 A.D. This work became the standard basic for medicine during the next 1 500 years. During this time the practice of medicine slowly started to divide into 2 routes;

  • Empirical; Seeing the body and mind as a whole, interacting unit. Knowledge comes from experience and studies.
  • Scientific; Seeing the body as a machine that can be repaired.  Knowledge comes from studying parts in isolation.

Medicine

ESSENTIAL OIL & SCENT HISTORY part 1

incenseThe history of essential oils is exciting, romantic and mind-boggling. The stories are everywhere; the whole bible is full of allusions to essential oils. What makes it so exciting is that this part of history is continuously here and now. Each time I smell an oil, I am smelling the whole stretch of history…I am actually part of it, and what the oil does to me, it has done to every person since the dawn of time! And knowing the oils gives me insight to why some oils were used in specific situations. Mind-boggling!

The word Perfume is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning through smoke. Early man found that certain herbs gave a rich-scenting and healing smoke when placed on the fire. These plants were, naturally, special gifts from the Gods. Bad smells, such as rot and decay, were dangerous to health, so early man learned, by using the sense of smell, what was good and what was bad. I believe these early learnings have become part of a human hereditary trait; every person recognizes the smell of rot and bacteria infestation, even if they never smelled it before.

Queen Hatsheput templeEGYPT:

The Egyptians are the best-known when it comes to the use of aromatic substances. There are ample records on papyrus-rolls dating back to 1700 B.C of how they were used. Wealthy people wore perfumed wax-cones on their heads to melt during the day and infuse them in scent. (We need to remember that these times were stinky. People and their waste is smelly business.) The whole embalming-process was done with essential oils, resins and other scented substances. The process could take up to 6 months and would cost a fortune. This was done for royalty and very wealthy individuals. The “quickie-embalmings” for the not-so-wealthy would take as little as a day. When Tutankhamons grave was opened in the 1920:s (after being sealed for more than 2000 years) small pots were found with solidified scented matter, with the scent still discernible to the nose. Analysis showed it to be wax infused with Frankincense (boswellia carterii) and Myrrh (commiphora myrrha)

The Egyptian temples were in fact laboratories for the priests who were the connectors to God. Only the priests had the knowledge of how to create medicines and holy potions. There are records of medicine for hay-fever, youth-elixirs, and potions to prevent pregnancy. Each hour of the day had a special perfume. In Heliopolis, the city of the Sun-God Ra, Frankincense was burned at sunrise, Myrrh (commiphora myrrha) at noon and Kyphi at sunset. Kyphi is one of the first documented perfumes in history. There are 16 ingredients of which 12 are identified: Calmus, Cassia, Cinnamon, Cyperus, Frankincense, Hina, Juniper, Mastic, Myrrh, Saffron, Spikenard and Turpentine.

Kyphi

Each God had its own scent and the statues in the temples were anointed every day. Osiris had Marjoram (origanum majorana) and Ra had Frankincense.

Scented herbs, spices, flowers, barks, woods and resins were imported from Malaysia, China and India. Frankincense resin came from the Arabic peninsula. The resin comes from a small desert-tree and is to this day collected by nomadic tribes. At the time only  certain tribes knew where to find it and how to get it, and this made Frankincense a very valuable substance, even more valuable than gold.

frankincense resin