Essential oils have been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of ailments. Before the pharmaceutical industry acquired a stronghold over medicine, plants were one of the only sources of relief from symptoms. Despite centuries of use, scientific studies into these treatments have only recently been conducted, and they often back up the historical claims.
This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that there are 50 million smell receptors that connect to the brain’s limbic system, the area responsible for memory, emotions and even sexual arousal. It may not be coincidental that chronic stress and adrenal fatigue often affect memory, emotions and sexual arousal, and the herbs that work to alleviate the stress seem to promote well-being in these areas. The following herbal essential oils are well-known for the sense of calm they impart on the user, and they are great options for anyone who is adrenally fatigued or suffering from chronic stress.
Lavender is one of the most popular and perhaps best known of the essential oils. It has a calming soapy scent that’s been a favorite for hundreds of years. One of the most medicinally useful oils, it’s no surprise it’s known as the “universal oil.” It’s often used for stress relief, short-term memory enhancement, anxiety relief, restlessness, nervousness, and simply to relax. Safe to use topically, the best way to use it is to apply a few drops to the palm of your hand then inhale deeply. Some people like to rub a few drops into their temples. Studies have shown lavender essential oil positively affects hair loss, loss of appetite, nausea and pain, and can also be used as an antiseptic.
Vanilla The scent of vanilla often evokes a pleasant memory of home and baking cookies or other delightful treats. If the scent of warm vanilla makes you feel all warm and relaxed inside, it could be that it’s the fragrance that most closely mimics breast milk. According to a study performed at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients undergoing MRIs reported less anxiety when breathing in vanilla-scented air than those who didn’t. Drop a few drops into a bath, or add to vegetable oil then rub into your temples or the nape of your neck for relaxation.
Rose Another instantly recognizable aroma is that of the rose. Rose essential oil can be expensive because it can take up to 60,000 roses to create one ounce of rose essential oil. In a 2009 study published in Natural Product Communications, the group receiving the essential oil rather than the placebo through their skin felt greater feelings of calm and relaxation, as well as a decrease in blood pressure and breathing rate. Another study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior showed that inhaling rose essential oil reduced anxiety in rats. To use, mix with a vegetable oil and apply directly to the skin or apply a few drops into bath water
Lemon Balm Lemon Balm essential oil is used more often in Europe for stress and anxiety than it has been used in the U.S., but its use as a medicinal herb dates back to at least the Middle Ages. In a study conducted by Berkem, a plant extract company based in France, it was reported that there was a 72% reduction in anxiety-related symptoms after using lemon balm for 15 days. Other studies report similar results. As an added benefit, lemon balm oil has been shown to have antiseptic qualities. To use, mix with vegetable oil and rub into your hands, then breathe in the aroma.
Chamomile Most people know that chamomile tea is a calming drink. However, many people don’t know that there are two types of chamomile essential oils and they are used for different purposes, although both have some anxiety reducing qualities. The German type is used more for soothing skin ailments, while the Roman type is used more for anxiety, hostility and paranoia. Roman chamomile has a wonderful sweet apple scent.To use, inhale the aroma or put a few drops in bathwater.
Rosemary Rosemary essential oil has so many great qualities it’s difficult to focus on just one – it’s used for digestion problems, to stimulate blood circulation, to help treat dandruff, for pain relief, and as a disinfectant. As a stress reliever, rosemary essential oil was shown in a 2007 study to decrease cortisol in the saliva. Excess cortisol has been linked to decreased learning and memory and increased weight gain, as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease issues. This same study also found that the treatment, which combined inhaling the oils with oil massages, increased the strength of the immune system.
Frankincense This herb has been used for thousands of years and is even mentioned in the Bible. It has many medicinal uses, among them the ability to act as a sedative. It has a comforting aroma, and may be used for anxiety, anger and stress. Added benefits include calming respiratory conditions and repairing skin problems. It is also said to enhance introspection and insight. It can be applied to the skin or breathed in.
While some methods of essential oil use are mentioned above, there are a number of other ways to use them: they can be used in a warm compress; drops can be applied to a handkerchief or pillow; or, they can be burned in a diffuser. Essential oils are potent and often blended with other type of vegetable-based oils such as almond or jojoba oil – known as a carrier oil.
Be sure to research carefully any essential oil you intend to use, or consult a professional. Some people are allergic to certain herbs; the first time they are tried they should be applied very minimally until you know what effect they have on your body. Some herbs react negatively with exposure to the sun, while others might interfere with medications. Pregnant women should avoid essential oils unless taken under a doctor’s supervision.