Essential oils and aromatherapy for natural health

'Summer's Lease hath all too short a date' - William Shakespeare

The onset of autumn is a good time to think about immunity and health, as the changing season often heralds the arrival of colds and flu.

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that offer many health benefits. Therapeutic quality essential oils are distilled in small batches from organically grown or wild crafted plant material; as opposed to oils that are produced by large-scale distillation for perfumery and pharmaceutical use. For health purposes, it is recommended that only therapeutic quality essential oils are used.

This article will look at a therapeutic aromatic approach to immunity and health using two Canadian essential oils which are a useful addition to an autumn/winter aromatherapy kit.

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) is an evergreen tree which is native to Canada and the north-eastern United States. This tree has a history of usage by the indigenous population due to its antiseptic properties. The oil is highly aromatic with the smell of the forest: think Christmas trees. Balsam fir elevates the mood and is an effective air purifier when diffused into the atmosphere. It also alleviates respiratory symptoms: for effective relief of sinus congestion a steam inhalation is most effective. Use 1-3 drops of essential oil only. Keep in mind that the steam increases the intensity of the inhalation, so it is best to be cautious and start with a low concentration; then adjust the drops according to tolerance.

Balsam fir oil is beneficial in reducing the effects of seasonal affected disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression which is associated with the shorter daylight hours of the winter months. Depression affects the immune system, lowering resistance and increasing susceptibility to infection. Balsam fir offers support to the immune system, especially when used in combination with black spruce.

Black spruce (Picea mariana) is another tree that is native to Canada and the north-eastern United States. The oil produced is also reminiscent of the forest, although the oil has an almost meditative quality about it which is difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced it. It is an expansive aroma that encourages one to breathe deeply.

This phenomenal oil is considered to be a general tonic as well as being a great 'stress-buster'. In order to understand the benefits of black spruce essential oil, it is first necessary to explain the stress response. Stressors may be defined as any stimuli that produce a stress response. Examples include, but are not limited to, environmental such as noise; workload; exhaustion due to insomnia or emotional reactions. The alarm reaction or 'fight-or-flight' response is initiated by the autonomic nervous system and the adrenal medulla or central part of the adrenal gland, which produces adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine). These hormones govern the fight-or-flight response and also help the body to resist stress.

The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and are affected by high-stress lifestyles. Release of adrenaline is appropriate for the caveman attempting to flee the woolly mammoth, but may not be appropriate in situations where it is not necessary to fight or run. Periods of extended stress can result in a situation in which the body is no longer able to differentiate between the various stressors and is in a constant state of alert and ready to take flight. Prolonged stress can lead to an increased risk of chronic disease and premature death.

Black spruce strengthens the adrenal glands offering support and an interesting cortisone-like effect. Cortisone is a steroid which is naturally produced in the body by the adrenal cortex or middle layer of the adrenal glands and regulates metabolism and resistance to stress.

The recommended protocol for treatment is 20 drops of undiluted therapeutic quality essential oil applied to damp skin on the back around the kidney area (across the base of the ribcage). This is easiest to achieve while in the shower. Take 20 deep breaths and then rinse with cool water - cold if tolerated. Follow this protocol on a daily basis for three weeks and repeat four times a year. If this is timed to coincide with the spring/autumn equinox and the summer/winter solstice; it is easier to remember. Although research continues into the effectiveness of this treatment; the results speak for themselves.

Black spruce is also an anti-inflammatory for arthritis and rheumatic conditions and is an effective analgesic. In situations where the body is exhausted and fatigue is severe; black spruce can bring welcome relief allowing the body to rest and heal itself.

The autumn and winter months can be a challenge for many people. With some forethought and planning it is possible to feel prepared for the season and better able to cope with any health issues that may arise. The inclusion of balsam fir and black spruce in a regime can bring many positive health benefits; both immediate and long-term, in the relief of stress and the prevention of chronic disease. Health is not static, but a constantly changing state of being and the individual must be proactive in achieving their health goals. Aromatherapy offers an opportunity to enhance well-being and its use throughout history is well-documented. It offers a healing approach to the stresses of daily life.


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