I tell my kids every year how lucky they are to have an aromatherapist mother! How many children from the age of 3 can hold up their hands and say they know what frankincense and myrrh are? Every December I dot these oils onto their pillows at night, then they go to school smelling of wise men.
We don’t really know when the use of therapeutic extracts from plants started being used but there are records dating back to 5000 years ago of these being used in India and Egypt, among them frankincense and myrrh.
Whenever we think Christmas smells, we think cinnamon, cloves, oranges. There are some lovely ways to get these scents into our lives, the most popular being candles. Depending on how good the quality, you’ll either get comforting aromas of mulled wine or sickly sweet cinnamon and burnt sugar.
My favourite way to surround myself in scents is to use a candle oil burner, one where the oil sits in water above the candle. Scented candles are fantastic especially if you buy the ones that have been infused with essential oils. Aromastone is becoming more popular as it’s a less messy alternative and doesn’t involve flames. You drop your essential oils into the curved stone, plug in and go.
Cinnamon (cinnamomum zeylanicum) is from the tropical cinnamon tree. Although both the bark and leaf are used for many fragrant purposes, it is generally the leaf that goes into aromatherapy and perfumes. Apart from its association with fruit cakes and spiced drinks, cinnamon is relieving to chills, colds and nervous exhaustion. You will find it in toothpastes and chewing gum because it is good for teeth and gums. It also helps with nervous exhaustion and stress.
Moving onto another tree, the clove (syzygium aromaticum) is rich and spicy. It’s a warming oil so you’ll find it in blends for rheumatism and arthritis. It’s associated with pain relief and is included in preparations for oral care and bad breath. Although oils can be extracted from the bud, leaf or stem only use the clove bud as this has fewer irritants. The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils mentions clove bud steeped in wine as being good for easing the pain of childbirth!
Frankincense (boswellia carteri), a gum, is one of my favourites as there’s so much it can do. It’s often used in skin care because it’s fantastic for dry and mature skins, scars, wounds and wrinkles. It helps with coughs, asthma, bronchitis and catarrh conditions. For the mind and the soul, it helps with lack of confidence, lack of interest, emotional exhaustion and tearfulness. It has the remarkable ability to slow you down when you need it and deepen the breathing.
We move onto myrrh (commiphora myrrha) from another gum tree. This is a beautifully rich, heady oil extracted from the trunk of the commiphora species of tree. Once you smell this, you’ll see why it was used for embalming purposes in ancient Egypt. Nowadays, it is used extensively in perfumery but like frankincense, it has many great indications. Good for chapped and cracked skins and eczema; it is fungicidal so is used for gum infections, gingivitis, mouth ulcers and sore throats. Although myrrh is one of the few oils which improves with age, it becomes harder to get it out of the bottle as it’s fairly thick to start with. You need to warm it up between your hands or place it near a radiator and wait, but it’s well worth the effort.
Nutmeg (myristica fragrans) is one I've not used much probably because its top note is like conifer or pine, but don't let that put you off. It is a sweet, spicy odour, with a warming quality which is good for putting into oil blends for muscular aches. The essential oil can be extracted from the seed of the nutmeg or the mace, the outer husk. Psychologically, it builds confidence and helps frigidity and nervous fatigue.
Although there are some gorgeous blends around, you can make up your own Christmas blend. All the above oils go well together plus with other oils.
Myrrh goes with sandalwood, patchouli and lavender – a particularly heavy blend if you do all four together!
Clove bud blends well with ylang ylang, orange, lemon and lavender.
Frankincense with orange, grapefruit, black pepper, sandalwood, bergamot, geranium, neroli or lavender.
Cinnamon with ylang ylang, orange and mandarin.
Nutmeg with all spices and citrus oils, plus rosemary, geranium and coriander.
Source: Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils - Julia Lawless.