Making Scents of Winter

I think that during the winter months, the smells of a dinner, cinnamon rolls, homemade bread, a peeled orange, or a cup of Earl Grey tea — any fragrance — become all the more important. This may be because our bodies miss the smells of a garden and the earth. I think that most of us tend to savor the wonderful smells about us, even if they are limited to the indoors.

This may be a good time for you to try using some of the essential oils that have been obtained from plants commonly grown in gardens. Usually these are obtained from commercial sources (due to the huge quantities needed to obtain the oils). On average it takes about a pound of plant material to produce a drop of essential oil. Essential oils are usually produced in some form of distillation. Steam is used to carry the volatile chemicals away from the plant material.The steam is then condensed. Usually the essential oil floats on top of the water produced by the steam condenser. Citrus oils, on the other hand, are produced by pressing. Plants naturally produce these oils for many reasons, perhaps the most important being that of protection and attraction. Some species of insects will avoid highly scented plant leaves, such as those found on herbs. Other species of insects will be attracted to the flower nectaries. Many bacteria and fungi won't grow on a highly-scented plant or plant part. You are probably already familiar with several essential oils, such as peppermint and hot pepper capsaicin, as they are commonly used in liniments. I remember my mom putting Vick's Vapor Rub on my chest and covering it with flannel when I had a cold as a child. I still remember the smell of eucalyptus, wintergreen and menthol.

Let's look at essential oils. They are not really oily. Most are rather watery. Some are thick and some are even solid. They may come from fruit, leaves, bark, seeds, buds or roots. The neat thing about essential oils is that they are unique to each plant species. The quantity and quality of essential oils from the same species can even vary depending on growing conditions.

Many people believe that the use of certain essential oils can affect our state of being; some teach the medicinal value of essential oils. Nowadays, we've all heard of aromatherapy. Much of the purported medicinal effects of particular oils is anecdotal. Some believe for example that lavender, sandalwood and chamomile relieve tension. Others believe that the essential oils of basil, rosemary, and orange relieve one of fatigue.

You may be thinking "I have never bought a bottle of essential oil. How do I get started?" First, this month I would like you to concentrate on the fragrances that are already a part of your life. Consciously inhale the aroma from that cup of bergamot or peppermint. tea. Do you have sage from your garden? Smell it. How does it make you feel? Everyone loves the smell of lavender. Perhaps you would like to begin by purchasing a bottle of lavender oil. Be sure to read the label to make sure that you are purchasing an essential oil not a synthetic.The bottle containing the essential oil should be made of colored glass to keep out light. The species name of the plant should be listed on the label. In the case of lavender, the bottle should indicate that the oil came from Lavendula, the species name of the lavender. Sprinkle some in a drawer or on a pillowcase. Add some to your bath water. You can add some to a neutral oil such as almond or other unscented oil. Try using some in a body massage. Experiment with new oils but take care if you have allergies.

I am hoping that this new world of aromatherapy will make you interested in trying some new plant species in your garden this year. I love to hear from you.

Forever Young Magazine - January 2007