I once had a peppermint bath, ‘once’ being the appropriate word here: it was at a friends house and there was a bottle of bubble bath in her bathroom that had peppermint essential oil listed as an ingredient, happy to have found an essential oil bubble bath, I poured some in and lay down into the bubbles. A very strange sensation then came over me. My skin was cool and tingling, even though the water was hot. It felt really weird, a bit unpleasant and I haven’t used peppermint essential oil in a bath blend since.
However, this cooling effect of peppermint essential oil is extremely useful in many other circumstances, it’s refreshing in tooth pastes, and tingling in lip balms but it really stands out as an effective ingredient in aftersun lotion and for treating sun burn.
This is a simple recipe for a very effective, cooling gel for sun burn. It is blended with lavender, which is very effective for treating serious burns and pain relieving (it is actually used in hospital burns units), as well as German chamomile which has a powerful anti-inflammatory action. These three essential oils blended in a base of aloe vera gel which is hydrating, soothing & helps heal wounds, make for a powerful treatment for sunburn.
After Sun & Sun Burn Gel (2.5% blend strength)
50ml aloe vera gel
5 drops peppermint essential oil*
15 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops German/blue chamomile essential oil – you can leave this out if it’s just for after-sun, and replace it with Roman chamomile essential oil which is more gentle, the scent is more pleasing and less intense.
Instructions: mix them all together and apply to the affected area.
Cooling Foot Gel
That cooling sensation is also really welcome for tired & weary feet, you can use the same recipe above as a cooling foot gel.
A list of the most popular Essential Oils, their Uses & Cautions (in alphabetical order).
To help you choose which essential oils to use in what ever you’re making, be it bath blend or room scent, here is a list you can refer to with some of their most useful properties and any cautions you need to be aware of.
I will be constantly updating this list, so if there are any essential oils that do not appear yet or that you would like more details on, then please contact me, or comment on the post and I can add to the list.
Caution ~ Avoid in pregnancy (due to varied methyl chavicol/estragole content). Maximum 2% blend strength.
Black pepper ~ Similar to eucalyptus in effect – powerfully clearing, specifically great for respiratory system, especially lungs. Also great for muscle aches & pains but black pepper is much more warming and gentle than eucalyptus. A lovely oil to use in the evening in a bath blend, or if you feel you are run down or ‘coming down’ with something.
Chamomile (german) ~ Very anti-inflammatory, so perfect for any condition with inflammation from bumps and bruises to arthritis and gout. It’s also good for skin inflammation especially bites, but Roman Chamomile ay be more suitable if it’s for delicate sore skin, as it’s more gentle.
Caution ~ Sensitisation possible, avoid with ragweed allergy.
Geranium ~ Very sweet and feminine, balances the endocrine system, a great oil to use to support females cycles and any hormone related issues, including irregular periods and menopause. A very lovely, sweet and fresh oil for young women. Read more on using geranium oil here: How to Use Geranium Essential Oil to Support Women’s Health
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) ~ Powerfully cleansing and clearing. Helps clear stress and tension. Great for supporting sleep. Very anti-microbial and great natural antiseptic. Since lavender is so versatile, there are several blogs on using lavender to help you make the most of it:
Caution ~ There are no cautions with Lavandula angustifolia, it is a very user friendly oil, but just ensure you buy a pure, good quality oil, especially if you intend to use it neat on your skin -you don’t want to be using a synthetic perfume quality oil on a spot or graze.
Lemon ~ Cleansing and detoxifying, ideal for using in a face cleansing balm (with lavender). Fantastic oil to use in a burner to cleanse and brighten the atmosphere especially when someone is sick.
Caution ~ Phototoxic, meaning it reacts with sunlight (and sun beds), so avoid use on skin if exposed to sunshine. Citrus oils have a shorter shelf life, meaning they react with oxygen much quicker and can cause sensitisation and irritation.
Mandarin ~ Very gentle to the skin, soothing and calming, a lovely one to add to an evening blend or for use in a blend for stretch marks. A great oil for children. Click here for the stretch mark balm recipe including mandarin oil: How to make a Stretch Mark Balm
Myrrh ~ Deeply healing skin oil, especially for festering, difficult to heal wounds. Great for connecting to and supporting breathing very gently. See my blog on Myrrh Essential Oil for more details and Gargling with Myrrh for oral problems.
Caution ~ Avoid in pregnancy, although can be useful in 3rd trimester to prepare for birth -seek professional advise here though.
Neroli (orange blossom) ~ Apart from smelling completely beautiful and delicate, it is very soothing and calming to the nervous system, and so has an amazing effect on all that the nervous system controls, so this would include digestion, muscle tension & emotions. It is a great oil for melting stress, and anxiety.
Peppermint ~ Great for muscle aches and pains, sometimes has a tingling sensation, great for refreshing feet. Supports digestion, would make a great tummy or foot balm. Read more on using peppermint oil in a digestive massage here: Digestive Massage with Essential Oils
Caution ~ Do not use if cardiac fibrillation. Maximum blend strength 3%. Avoid use with babies.
Rose (Rose otto – Rosa damascena or Rose absolute – Rosa centifolia)~ Deeply nurturing, great for those self-loving moments. Very supportive for women and men. A gorgeous oil to use in beauty and skin care, particularly for mature and dry skin. Rose is one of my favourite oils so here are a few blogs to learn more on this exquisite oil:
Thyme (Mild – Thyme linalool)~ Powerfully anti-microbial, and anti-fungal, great for coughs, especially deep chesty ones. A fantastic oil to include in a blend for athletes foot.
Caution ~ Use this mild version of thyme. Avoid use on hyper sensitive or damaged skin. Do not use with children under 2 years. Maximum blend strength 2%.
Yarrow ~ this unusual bright ink blue oil is highly anti-inflammatory and is great for any conditions where inflammation is present e.g. gout, arthritis, allergies, pain, breaks, strains. See my blog on Yarrow Essential Oil for more information.
Caution ~ yarrow can contain a varying amount of camphor in it, which means it is advisable to avoid with epilepsy, in pregnancy, and could cause sensitisation in ragweed allergy sufferers.
Note: Always ensure you buy good quality essential oils from a trustworthy source. Check out my own range of carefully sourced essential oils from organic farmers and artisan distillers: Essential Oils by Laura Hoy
I recently ran a workshop and used a mint plant to illustrate what essential oils are and where they come from. In the case of peppermint the essential oil is held in the leaves of the plant, and literally brushing your hand over the leaves is enough to release the essential oil, which in turn releases the scent. Peppermint is a great oil that really supports digestion and sometimes just the initial smell from the plant can stimulate our appetite, make our mouth water and our tummy rumble as our body releases various digestive enzymes in preparation for eating.
Fresh Mint Tea – a cup of mint tea is a great way to use peppermint regularly to support your digestion. Dried herbs which are usually used in herbal tea bags will contain a very small amount of essential oil which is why they don’t smell as strong as when fresh. So making a pot of mint tea using the fresh leaves from the plant will ensure you experience more of the benefits of the essential oils.
If you don’t happen to have a mint plant in your garden or close by to harvest from, you can buy a bag of fresh mint from most supermarkets, or a pot from a garden centre would be handy for regular use. All you need to do is pluck a few leaves from the stems, give them a rinse and pop them into a tea pot. I like mine strong so I usually use around 10-20 leaves, then add boiling water and let it brew for at least 5 minutes. It’s very refreshing, and I’m sure you will appreciate the difference compared with using a peppermint tea bag -I’m really not a fan of tea bags, but if it’s all you can get hold of, it’s still worth making it in a tea pot, because the boiling water releases the essential oils from the plant material in the steam, and once you have the lid on the tea pot you capture the precious oils to enjoy more fully when you pour. It also feels much more nurturing to have made a pot, I like the ritual of making the tea, taking the time to let it brew, choosing the cup, and I love drinking it when the temperature is just perfect.
When I go out to a restaurant or café, I often ask for a fresh mint tea at the end of the meal, as it supports digestion. Even if they don’t advertise it on the menu, they will usually have some fresh mint in the kitchen and are usually willing to make up a pot for me -so much nicer than a tea bag.
The essential oil is much more potent than the leaves of the plant, so if you want a more powerful effect to support more serious digestive complaints you can actually buy capsules that contain peppermint essential oil in, which can be very effective. Peppermint tea will still be very supportive for conditions such as constipation, IBS, bloating, indigestion. You may also like to read my blog on digestive massage for these symptoms.
Some other delicious teas to support you… Lemongrass Tea – for a lovely, light, slightly sweet tea, try this recipe for lemongrass tea by Thaïs from her beautiful blog Spice & Smile , again you will be benefiting from the lemongrass essential oils in this and it’s a great one to help with bloating.
Lavender or Chamomile tea – to support winding down in the evenings you can make a fresh floral tea with flowers from lavender and chamomile plants as they are all soothing and calming in effect. Lavender can be a bit bitter, so I prefer to mix it with something like mint or liquorice.
Rose petal tea – a few rose petals mixed with a fresh mint tea is a particularly good combination, a couple of rose buds is enough to compliment the mint, or half a tea spoon of petals. Make sure the rose petals or buds are suitable for consumption and for use in tea. You can purchase the roses and other herbs for use in tea from Fiona Pierce at www.loveinacup.co.uk
CAUTION: Do not ever put drops of peppermint essential oil (or any other essential oil) into a glass of water and drink it! This is extremely dangerous practice that is advised by unprofessional or untrained persons. Essential oils, in their undiluted form are highly concentrated and by nature hydrophobic, meaning they do not mix with water, therefore the very delicate lining of your digestive system is exposed to the concentrated peppermint essential oil. Even if there are no immediate problems, it can be causing issues that become apparent after time.
I noticed my car smelt a little damp when I got in the other day. This is not surprising considering the weather in the UK the last few months -which seems like constant rain, and my car is just a little old thing so it doesn’t cut me off from the environment outside.
Anyway, I decided that apart from a clean it needed a little freshening up with some essential oils. When I first bought the car, I didn’t like the smell, so I chose some strong, fresh, cleansing scents -Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Lemon -because I wanted something to overpower the current smell and to make an impact. I literally just sprinkled drops of each oil throughout the various surfaces of the car. The beauty of these oils is that as well as the refreshing aroma, they will have a cleansing and anti-microbial action in the car. Later on I got a little lavender bag to hang from the mirror, this is a bag filled with lavender flowers which hold essential oil in them and produce a beautiful scent). When I turn the car enough for the bag to swing, I get a little whiff of lavender from it.
After quite a while I stopped noticing the scent, so I sprinkled some lavender essential oil on to the bag to refresh the smell. Every so often, as the scent fades, I repeat this and will generally choose different essential oils depending on how I feel. I keep a couple of bottles of essential oil in the glove box and on a long journey I might sprinkle 2 or 3 drops of peppermint or eucalyptus on to the bag, as this will keep me refreshed through the drive.
Caution: Make sure you avoid any essential oils that have a sedating properties as this will obviously not support driving, avoid valerian, carrot seed, clary sage and vetiver. And if lavender essential oil makes you feel sleepy, avoid this too and try lemongrass or thyme.
Using essential oils to freshen the smell of your car is a lovely way to look after you and your environment, and I would say it’s preferable to the usual car trinkets as some of the ingredients I have come across include nasty chemicals.
You can also use lavender bags to freshen and scent your home; I have them in my wardrobe, and various draws and cupboards throughout the house. Use the same technique of adding drops of essential oil every now and then to freshen them up. For more details read my blog on How to Take Care of your Clothes with Essential Oils.
I have learnt far more by experimenting and actually using essential oils myself rather than from books, but there is still a lot of important information to know that will help you understand and get more of a feel for how to use them.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are naturally produced by many plants and can be found in their seeds (coriander & fennel), fruits (mandarin & lime), flowers (rose & orange blossom/neroli), leaves (basil & geranium), woods (cedar wood & sandalwood) roots (ginger & angelica) and resin (frankincense & myrrh). The essential oil is extracted from the plant material, usually by a process called ‘Steam Distillation’ which involves passing steam through the plant material to release and capture the essential oil molecules (more intricate details will appear in a future post).
There is another method, mainly used with citrus oils, called ‘expression’, where the oil is literally just pressed from the peel of the fruit. You can actually release the oil yourself if you dig your finger nail into the peel of an orange or lemon, as you pierce the cells you will be able to see and smell the essential oil. Make sure you use an ‘un-waxed’ fruit, the waxed kind have been sealed.
Citrus fruit peel yields a lot of oil compared to other parts of plants, but you can probably still imagine that it would take the peel of many oranges to make a little 10ml bottle of Orange Essential Oil. This should also highlight how concentrated the oil is. Some plants yield a very tiny amount of oil in comparison, for example, roses. It takes around 1200 rose flowers (that’s flowers not petals!) to make just 1ml of rose essential oil, which equals around 40 drops of extremely precious oil! This should go a little way to addressing the high price of rose oil and other delicate floral oils, which generally hold a very small amount of essential oil.
What are the effects of essential oils?
Hopefully, you now have a good sense of the potency of essential oils and perhaps an idea of how powerful their effects can be. You may be aware of how they are widely used to help us relax, and used as ingredients in bath oils or room sprays and that they are found in many beauty products to help improve our skin, but there are many other ways they can help support us both on a physical level and on the way we feel. The fact that they have such strong scents can have very tangible, immediate effects on our bodies and our moods. All essential oils I have come across have anti-microbial properties which make them particularly suitable for using to help treat illness and disease, and can have various effects on all systems in the body from the endocrine to the digestive system.
How do you use essential oils safely?
Realising the potency of essential oils can also highlight why there are some safety precautions to observe and why it’s important to dilute them when using them on your skin. In their neat form, they are way too strong for to use directly on the skin and can cause tingling or burning sensations, and other reactions. Diluting them in a vegetable oil is ideal as they themselves have many nourishing properties that your skin can also benefit from. Generally they are full of vitamins and fatty acids that help keep skin healthy and vital. They also help the essential oils absorb into your skin more easily. Some other modes for diluting essential oils include honey, milk or aloe vera gel -water based products are not appropriate as the essential oils are hydrophobic (water-hating), and will not mix together. You donot need to dilute essential oils when using them in a burner, diffusor or for inhalation (all methods to be covered in future posts). See my earlier blog post: Essential Oils in the Shower for details on using essential oils in a burner.
Various modes of application to the skin include: massage, bath, compresses, skin care preparations such as creams or balms and neat application*. They can also be used by inhalation (using diffusor, burner, steam inhalation or directly from a tissue) and they can also be used internally. The versatility and range of applications of the oils allows for your own personal input that means they can really support you in your life. For example you can chose to give yourself a foot bath each night, (with a mix of peppermint essential oil and olive oil) when you get home from work because you have a job where you’re on your feet all day, and that’s what really supports you; or there may be a certain oil that helps calm your breath when feeling stressed or anxious, (e.g. frankincense, lavender or neroli essential oil) and you keep a little bottle in a your hand bag to dot on a tissue and gently breath in for when you feel to use. This is what i really love about the oils, that you can bring them into your daily, weekly or monthly routine to support you in so many different ways -all shared throughout this blog!
*Note: It is generally accepted that lavender and tea tree essential oils can be used neat on the skin. See my blog post on Lavender, Essential First Aid, for more details on using lavender or tea tree.