A Guide to Essential Oils
As part of our series on aromatherapy and essential oils, Christine Fessler, our Spa Manager at Hotel de Russie and aromatherapy expert, delves further into the world of essential oils used in aromatherapy since antiquity.
“As we touched on in our introduction to aromatherapy, essential oils are extracted from lots of different parts of plants, including the roots, bark, flowers and seeds,’ says Christine. “They’re actually not technically oils at all, but compounds of certain beneficial chemicals – including those responsible for flavour and scent – and during extraction, the other, unneeded chemicals are left behind.” These oils can then be used in a number of ways; absorbed through the skin, for example through massage; they can be inhaled, and in some cases even ingested, although not without the explicit prescription of a medical professional. “We already ingest a number of essential oils” Christine explains, “for example in our toothpaste, which includes peppermint.”
With so many essential oils available, it can be daunting to a beginner unsure of how to gauge their quality. How do you know if an essential oil is any good? “The key is in the detail,” says Christine, “it’s important that the oil is 100% pure, natural and undiluted. Ideally, also organic, biodynamic and traditionally grown in the area of origin.” The method of extraction can also make a difference to the quality of the oil, she continues: “It’s best if they’re extracted using the steam distillation method, without solvents. And another sign of quality to look for: check that the botanical name and chemotype, for example for rosemary rosmarinus officinalis borneon, is listed on the label.”
Can all plants yield essential oils, we ask? “No. It’s important to remember that not all plants produce essential oils, and some oils aren’t suitable for inhalation, ingestion or even direct contact with skin, depending on their properties.” It’s always important to ensure you check labels not only for the oil’s provenance, but for recommendations on dilution and safety.
Bearing those tips in mind, we asked Christine to recommend brands which meet her recommended criteria in terms of quality, authenticity and sustainability. “Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different essential oils, but I can recommend: Primavera, a sustainable, eco-friendly German company who offer oils made from wild, single-origin plants. Then there’s Lakshmi, a boutique Italian company with a very Ayurvedic approach and ethical philosophy; their products are only available in professional wellness studios or spas. Neumond is another good brand; in addition to their oils, they sell scent-related objects including diffusers and candles.”
After selecting a brand, it’s time to select a scent that suits your environment and meets your needs. Each is traditionally associated with different benefits, and we ask Christine to elaborate on some of the most popular.
“Lavender (lavendulan officionalis) is very popular. A subtle, floral scent, lots of people find it helps with relaxation and falling asleep, and some even with alleviating headaches.
Then there’s eucalyptus (eucalyptus radiata), which most will know for its anti-catarrhal properties; it’s often nicknamed the ‘lung of nature’ for this reason. It can be very soothing for respiratory problems and is an extraordinary antiseptic when diluted in the bath or in massages, but it’s also beneficial for concentration, awakening the mind and making one feel happier and more confident.
Moving on, rose geranium (pelargonium graveolens – not to be confused with rose oil) is also an antiseptic, beneficial for hormonal balance and can aid in relaxation, but in massage, it’s also good for stimulation of the lymphatic system and battling cellulite.”
There are many ways to benefit from nature’s essences once you’ve decided to explore aromatherapy, be it in a spa or wellness centre, as part of a course of complementary therapy or simply at home. In our next instalment, Christine will explain the different aspects of aromatherapy and offer practical advice on how to try them at home.