Aromatherapy in the Kitchen: Cooking with Essential Oils for Culinary Pleasure

Essential oils with their therapeutic properties, have been used historically in rituals, for beautification, and as medicine for hundreds of years. While many people now consciously turn to aromatherapy as an alternative healing modality to help them manage their stress or just as a gentler, safer alternative to over-the-counter medicines, most people have unconsciously experienced essential oils and their beneficial properties in one form or another without even being aware of it. That’s because essential oils, the purest and most potent form of plant extracts available, have been widely used by the food and fragrance industries almost since their inception.

From spearmint, peppermint, or cinnamon flavored gums and candy, to teas and flavored waters and soda pop, there’s a pretty good chance that an essential oil was incorporated into the product. A quick glance at the spice rack in your kitchen reveals herbs and spices commonly used in cooking that are also available as essential oils.

If you like aromatherapy and you like to cook, there’s almost no limit to the endless culinary creations you can up with when combining the two together. Whether its sweet or savory you fancy, essential oils can add deep and vibrant flavors to your food and beverages in a way that working with dried and powdered herbs and spices can’t. Needless to say, because essential oils are so concentrated and potent, you only ever need add a tiny amount to your soups, marinades, salad dressings, dessert toppings or baked goods to make them and your taste buds sing!

So how can you begin to master the art of working with essential oils in a culinary mode and transform your kitchen into an aromatic oasis of sensual delights? Well, let’s start by categorizing essential oils to simplify your understanding of what foods you can match them up with. Once you get comfortable with the basics then you can start to stretch out a little and mix things up just for the fun of it.

Essential oils can be loosely organized into four main categories: herbs, spices, citrus fruits, and flowers. Examples of essential oils that correlate to herbs include basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram and sage, while spices would include black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, cumin or clove bud. Citrus fruits consist of orange, mandarin, tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot (which is used to scent Earl Grey tea), and lemon verbena. Flowers would naturally include lavender, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, geranium and neroli (orange blossoms) but not flowers like gardenias, lilacs, or plumeria for which no essential oils exist.

Knowing which essential oils fall into which categories can help you decide the ones to use for savory dishes versus desserts and sweets especially if you’re just getting started or are not quite ready to be super adventurous. Keep in mind, too much of a strong essential oil like ginger, oregano, cinnamon or peppermint can quickly overpower a dish and even ruin it, so it’s best to start out with very small amounts until you get a good feeling for how much is just right for the intensity of flavor you’re seeking. Some oils, like citrus fruits tend to be light and somewhat volatile so you would likely use a little more of these –especially if you’re using them in dishes requiring heat to prepare.

Essential oils that fall into the herbs category are great for meats, poultry, some fish, savory soups, sauces, casseroles and baked goods. Citrus oils are lighter so they are great in marinades for fish and poultry, dressings for salads and steamed vegetables, and in beverages and desserts. Flower oils are usually best in baked goods, desserts and sweets though some can add surprisingly good flavor to vegetables and cheeses (this is where a sense of adventure can come in handy). Essential oils that fall into the spices category are a mixed bag as most can be used for either sweet or savory dishes depending on your personal preference.

Check back over the coming weeks for blending guidelines, recipes, and additional tips. If you’re already an old hand at this then post some of your favorite recipes or culinary tips in the comments section below.

Spring Clean Your Air: 5 Tips to Reduce Allergens & Hidden Health Hazards in Your Home Part 1

Springtime with its fresh blooms and high pollen counts, is typically the time when the allergy-prone suffer most. Most of us dismiss our sneezing, wheezing, drippy noses and goopy eyes as the inevitable result of this sequence of events and pop a few antihistamines or cold tablets to manage the symptoms without a second thought. But what if the cause of your allergy misery was the result of something else?

The simple truth is, there are numerous hidden health threats in your home that can cause allergies and other health problems year-round. If you suffer from chronic allergies, there are ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to these hazards if you know where to look for them.

Here are two of the five hidden (and not-so-hidden) hazards in your home that may be contributing to your misery and what you can do to eliminate them:

    1. Common Household Cleaning and Laundry Products to Die For

      Many of the everyday house hold cleaning products we use are loaded with ammonia, bleach, and a host of dangerous chemicals that can burn your lungs, eyes, nose, and skin –if not used with great caution. Most laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and even dishwashing liquid are made with synthetic fragrances containing phthalates — chemicals used by industry to soften plastics that have been shown to be endocrine disruptors.All those noxious smells can be extremely irritating and harmful especially when you come in frequent or constant contact with them. The good news is there are a growing selection of plant-based, chlorine-, ammonia- and phosphate-free detergents and multi-purpose cleaners to choose from. Or you can make your own safe, highly effective and “green” cleaning products from ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, borax, white vinegar, castile soap, and essential oils.

 

  1. Synthetic Air Fresheners & Scented Candles with Leaded Wicks

    According to one Consumer Product Safety Commission study, as many as 40% of candles on the market still contained lead wires inside their wicks. A candle with a lead-core wick has been shown to release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for childrenand exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air.It’s now believed that frequent candle burning –especially synthetically scented candles– is a major source of soot and toxic exposure because the chemicals (i.e. phthalates) used in “fragrance” oils tend to soften the wax, increasing the need to add metals to the wicks to stiffen them. Though candle soot is primarily composed of elemental carbon, it can include phthalates, lead, and other toxic ingredients such as benzene and tuolene.

    Scented aerosol sprays, gels, and plug-in air fresheners contain harmful chemicals linked to breathing difficulties, developmental problems in babies, and cancer in laboratory animals.

    Using essential oils in a diffuser or in a water-based aromatherapy spray is a perfectly safe and healthy way to scent your home. And certain essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and lavender, can assist with sinus congestion associated with allergies, reduce stress, and enhance wellbeing. Always use candles made from 100% vegetable (soy) wax or beeswax with coreless cotton wicks, and scented with essential oils only.

How Make Your Own Deodorant Powder

Here’s the last of my make your own natural deodorant recipe series. This one is for a deodorant powder.

Natural Deodorant Powder
½ cup of Base powder
1-2 tablespoons of clay or ground dried herbs (or a combination of the two)
1 teaspoon of other powders (i.e. Goldenseal, Myrrh, Sandalwood)
12 to 15 drops of EO (your preferred combo –should be compatible with whatever dried herb you use, if any)

Supplies: Cardboard or plastic bottle with sifter top, glass measuring cup, medium glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, glass eye dropper, a canning funnel (stainless steel is preferred), a coffee grinder, and a whisk for mixing.

Ingredients: Your powder base can be made from Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Arrowroot Powder or some combination of these. Follow directions for the liquid recipes regarding essential oils to use. If you want to work with clay powders your best bet is White Kaolin clay or Bentonite clay (which is usually grey) but you can experiment with other clays as well (Rhassoul or French Green)

Directions: Measure and pour all powders into a mixing bowl. Use a dropper to add essential oils and scatter them around the bowl then quickly whisk the mixture to distribute as evenly as possible. Use the canning funnel to transfer to your container. Shake before each use and apply as you would a regular deodorant powder.

Once again, if you’re not sure where to find the appropriate ingredients or supplies I highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.

If you try this recipe and it works for you please let me know and share what you did so other can learn from you. Or if you have one of your own that you really like, please share it with us here. Thanks!

How Make Your Own Natural Roll On Deodorant

In my last post I gave you a recipe for creating your own natural deodorant spray. Since not everyone likes to use a spray, today I’m offering up my recipe for a natural roll-on deodorant.

Natural Deodorant Roll-on
65% Liquid Base (Purified Water, Hydrosols, Aloe Vera Juice, Aqueous Infusions of Herbs or Teas)
20% Witch Hazel Extracts, Herbal Tinctures, or Cider Vinegar (or a combination)
10% Vegetable Glycerine
5% amount of essential oils

rollon deodorantSupplies: Glass bottle with sprayer top, glass measuring cup or graduated cylinder with minimum increments of 5ML, glass eye dropper, a funnel (stainless steel is preferred), and a stirring rod (preferably glass but a chopstick will work too)

Ingredients: See my previous post regarding ingredients for the liquid base as well as suggested EOs. Other ingredients can include things like Goldenseal tincture and in the case of a roll-on you want to add some Vegetable Glycerin as well to help thicken the mixture and emulsify the oils. If you’re so inclined, you can try a pinch of xanthan gum powder to thicken the mixture and make it more gel-like but you’ll need a high speed stick blender and should blend the xanthan gum in the glycerin first then with the remaining liquids.

Directions: Measure and pour ingredients into measuring cup (use dropper for measuring essential oils). Stir gently using a stirring rod, pour into bottle and screw on top. Activate the roller. Gently shake the bottle before each use. Apply under each arm as you would with a regular roll-on deodorant. Note: You may have to experiment with the amount of glycerin in this recipe to get it to a consistency you like. Glycerin is thick and a little sticky so too much will make the finished product too sticky or gooey so go easy n that one (remember the recipe is a guideline).

If you’re not sure where to find the appropriate ingredients or supplies I highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs. Roll-ons are a little trickier to make than sprays. You may need to experiment and adjust the amount of glycerin to get the consistency where you want it. If spray or roll-on deodorants aren’t your preference, check back in a couple of days. I’ll have a recipe for you for a deodorant powder.

If you try this recipe and it works for you please let me know and share what you did so others can learn from you. Or if you have one of your own that you really like, please share that with us here. Thanks and enjoy!

How to Make Your Own Natural Deodorant Spray

spray canHere are some recipes you can try out if you want to make your own natural deodorant. I tried to make them as generic as possible with suggestions on different ingredients you could mix, match or substitute in a particular category (i.e. powder base, liquid base, etc.). I’ve also used percentages for the liquid products so you can easily calculate how to make them in different sizes, though I recommend you start with small amounts (i.e. 2 oz of finished product) until you find the combination you like best then scale it up.

Natural Deodorant Spray
75% Liquid Base (Purified Water, Hydrosols, Aloe Vera Juice, Aqueous Infusions of Herbs or Teas)
20% Witch Hazel Extracts, Herbal Tinctures, Alcohol or Cider Vinegar (or a combination)
5% Essential Oils

Supplies: Glass bottle with sprayer top, glass measuring cup or graduated cylinder with minimum increments of 5ML, glass eye dropper, a funnel (stainless steel is preferred) and a stirring rod (preferably glass but a chopstick will work too)

Ingredients: Your liquid base can be made from Witch Hazel Extract, Apple Cider Vinegar, Hydrosol, Pure Grain Alcohol, Aloe Vera Juice, Sage, Chamomile, Green, White or Black Tea or any combination of these ingredients. Choose any combination of essential oils that please you but be sure to include at least one of the following to ensure efficacy: Tea Tree or Manuka, Cypress or Pine, Sage, Lemongrass or Petitgrain. One of these should be the primary EO and then you can add others that complement the one you choose like Lavender, Lemon, Rosemary, Grapefruit, Lime, Geranium, etc.

Directions: Measure and pour ingredients into measuring cup (use dropper for measuring essential oils and remember that 20 drops is approximately equal to 1 ML). Stir gently using a stirring rod, pour into bottle and screw on spray top. Activate sprayer. Gently shake the bottle before each use. Spritz 2-3 times under each arm.

Adjustments: To adjust quantities start with a 2 oz batch (60ML). Using the percentages provided above that would come out to 45 ML of Liquid Base (i.e. 75% of 60 ML), 12 ML of Other Liquid Ingredients, and 3 ML of Essential Oil (or combination of oils). If you prefer less scent then lower the amount of essential oils from 5% to 2 or 3% and increase the liquid base accordingly, but keep in mind, the essential oils play an important part in eliminating bacteria so staying in the 4-6% range will yield the best results. When you find the combination you like best then you can double or quadruple the amounts o get a 4 oz or 8 oz batch, and so on.

Do not use more than 6% of essential oils and always do a patch test to rule out any possible allergies before using an ingredient.

If you’re not sure where to find the appropriate ingredients or supplies I highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs. If spray deodorants aren’t your preference, check back in a couple of days. I’ll have a recipe for you for a roll-on deodorant.

Experiment and have fun with the process. If you try this recipe and it works for you please let me know and share what you did so others can learn from you. Or if you have one of your own that you really like, please share it with us here. Thanks!

Father’s Day Gifts: Skin & Body Products to Treat a Man’s Oft-Neglected Spots

feetLet’s face it. If you were to keep tally how much time you spent tending to the various parts of your body (i.e. cleansing, toning, moisturizing, etc.), you’d probably find that you mainly focus on the parts that are most visible to others (i.e. your face and hands). Women of course are more inclined to pay attention to the condition and presentation of the skin on their arms, legs and even their feet –especially during the spring and summer months when they are more likely to wear sandals, sling-backs, or open-toed shoes. Women are also far more likely to tend to their lips and their cuticles.

But how many men do you know pay attention to those vulnerable spots? For better or worse, lips, cuticles, elbows, knees, heels, and feet in general, are usually the most neglected parts of a man’s body. If you’re considering giving a Father’s Day gift of natural grooming products, then don’t forget to include some of these items in your gift set:

  1. Petroleum-free lip balms to keep lips hydrated and soft –especially when exposed to the elements. While men are very focused on shaving and the quality and appearance of the skin on their faces, remarkably, they somehow manage to ignore their lips –at least until they become a problem. Help your guy keep his lips in tip-top shape by encouraging him to apply a natural (preferably organic) hydrating lip balm as part of his daily grooming routine. Since these items are small and easy to misplace, you may want to get him a couple (one for his shaving kit and one to carry around in his pocket).
  2. A protective and emollient balm for elbows, knees, and heels (and even cuticles). One made with herbal extracts, olive oil, and/or shea butter will work wonders. For cracked skin include a small bottle (10 ML or 15 ML) of therapeutic grade (or organic) Tea tree essential oil which can be applied directly to the skin and is an excellent first aid assistant that disinfects and promotes the rapid healing of damaged skin.
  3. Exfoliating salt or sugar scrubs can help slough off dead skin cells and soften skin on cuticles, elbows, knees, heels, and feet. Sugar scrubs are especially effective because they’re made with sugar cane, which produces glycolic acid –one of the natural alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) commonly used in chemical peels (at much higher concentrations than you’ll find in an over the counter product). The primary purpose of AHAs is exfoliation but they also aid in the penetration of other substances. By facilitating removal of the outer layer of dry cells, additional skin care ingredients can treat the new skin more efficiently. For best results, look for a scrub that’s made primarily from sugar but also includes some salt and is in a base of antioxidant-rich plant-based oils like olive, coconut, sunflower, or grapeseed.

Aromatherapy Tips for Using Essential Oils to Cure Insomnia

Now that you know which essential oils are best for helping you get to sleep and stay asleep, the next question is what’s the best way to use these oils? Well there are a couple of ways you can do this. As with any type of aromatherapy, the two primary ways to use essential oils are via direct inhalation and topical application (usually massage).

When it comes to using aromatherapy for stress and sleeplessness, the most effective way to use the essential oils is via inhalation using some kind of diffuser. Place 5-15 drops of your preferred essential oil or “sleep” blend in a diffuser and run it in your bedroom for 15 minutes before retiring. If you have a nebulizing diffuser with a built-in timer you can set it to run for 5 minutes every hour through the night but the drawback of this type of diffuser is it can be noisy which is not conducive to helping you get to sleep!

Another type of diffuser is the fan-based type like our SpaScenter Diffuser, which is a low-noise unit with variable settings that can be hooked up to a timer. Or for a totally silent diffuser, you can use a low-heat plug-in like our ScentBall Plug-in Diffuser that can be safely left on all night.

You can also add a few drops of an essential oil or your “sleep” blend to a cup of Epsom salts or baking soda and add to a hot bath before bed. In the absence of an aromatherapy massage, a hot bath with Epsom Salts is recommended because it relieves muscle tension that can otherwise lead to a lot of tossing and turning during the night. With the essential oils added to the mix you can get the same inhalation benefit you’d get from a diffuser without the hassle and potential noise of running one through out the night.

Of course, if you’re prone to waking up in the middle of the night then having a diffuser running intermittently throughout the night is probably your best bet. If you don’t have a diffuser then a really easy alternative is to place a drop or two on a handkerchief or cotton pad that you place under your pillow, or dilute approximately 15 drops of essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil (either jojoba, olive, safflower, coconut, or even canola will work) and rub a small amount onto your chest where you’ll be able to inhale and smell the blend. Before applying essential oils to your skin, be sure to conduct a patch test first to make sure you’re not allergic to any of them.

Always remember not to overdo it with essential oils – a little goes a long way. Too much can have the opposite effect of the intended result. Refer to our Guidelines for Using Essential Oils for more on this.

The Best Essential Oils for Relieving Stress and Insomnia

Essential oils can play a valuable role in managing or relieving your stress and can help you induce a state of calm for a restful sleep. The trick is to find the right combination of oils that resonate with you, and then the best way or ways to use them for maximum benefit.

Let’s start by look at which essential oils have calming, soothing, and sedative properties that can be used alone or combined for even greater impact. Of course the first ones that immediately come to mind are Lavender, Chamomile, Geranium, Clary Sage, Cedarwood and Sandalwood.

Next up are citrus essential oils like Sweet Orange, Lemon, Bergamot, Petitgrain, Grapefruit, Tangerine, Mandarin, and Lime. While these oils are generally stimulating and uplifting, when used in small quantities and properly combined with other essential oils, they can do wonders for your state of mind, and state of mind is really what it’s all about when it comes to relaxing and falling asleep!

Other essential oils that are also useful in this area are Marjoram (Sweet or Spanish), which is a muscle relaxant, Fir Balsam, Spruce, Peru Balsam, and Melissa, all of which calm and balance the nervous system and assist with opening your breathing passages – enabling deeper breathing. And last but not least, Frankincense & Myrrh, which are often used to assist with meditation.

That’s a lot of essential oils I just listed! The key is to find three to five oils that work together and create a blend. If you’re not that into experimenting or don’t have access to a wide selection of essential oils, then start with individual notes and see how each makes you feel. Keep a notebook handy and record which ones and how much they helped. Then after you’ve identified a handful of oils that seem to work on their own, you can try combining them. Of course you can always try our Sleep Ease Diffuser Blend, which combines Tangerine, Lavender, Pine, Marjoram, Fir Balsam and Petitgrain, as a starting point.

Aromatherapy and Cats

My last article about selecting the right diffuser for your needs prompted one of my newsletter subscribers to email me and ask me to alert readers about the potential harm to cats from exposure to essential oils via diffusers. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this subject for the benefit of those of you who have cats and may be worried or concerned that your use of essential oils could pose a threat to their well being.

Let me start by saying that there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that even the tiniest amount of essential oil administered orally or topically to a cat can be toxic and even life-threatening. Stories abound of people whose cats almost died when they applied Peppermint or Tea Tree essential oils directly to their cat’s skin unwittingly expecting the oils to work the same way they do on humans. But cats and humans are not built the same way!

This problem arises due to the fact that cats are unable to metabolize some of the components found in certain essential oils –-namely compounds known as terpenes. Depending on the type and amount of exposure, this deficiency can lead to rapid toxic build up in their kidneys and in extreme cases, liver failure.

Thanks to Judith Pynn for forwarding the following links to sites with some additional information on this topic:
http://cats.about.com/od/housekeeping/a/aromatherapy.htm
http://www.thelavendercat.com

The Lavender Cat web site is the only one I’ve come across that offers fairly technical medical information on this topic and worth the read if this is an issue of concern for you. According to this site inhalation of essential oils can be unsafe for your cat so precautions should be used when repeatedly diffusing essential oils, since the development of liver damage can be a slow process without any visible symptoms.

For what it’s worth, my cat companion who, for the better part of the 15 years we were together was routinely exposed to essential oils both via diffusion and just from being present whenever I was transferring essential oils to different containers or when I was blending or using them on myself or others. Sadly, Fluffer passed away from Lymphoma at the end of 2007 –which I now attribute at least in part to the commercial dry food diet I fed him his entire life.

fluffer-sm1Personally, I think the evidence of harm to cats from indirect inhalation through diffusion is not definitive or convincing. I certainly don’t believe that this type of exposure is any more harmful to cats than exposing them to the myriad chemicals and synthetic fragrances present in most household cleaning products and commercial air fresheners.

That having been said, I do feel it is wise to err on the side of caution so here’s a summary of some of the precautions to follow when diffusing essential oils:

  1. Try not to use excessive amounts of essential oil per session and try whenever possible to use oils with lower volatility. Citrus oils are the most volatile and, not coincidentally, tend to be high in terpene content. If you want to diffuse these oils do so intermittently with proper circulation.
  2. Ensure good air circulation at all times, but especially during the diffusion process, to prevent essential oil vapor build up in areas inhabited by the cat that are not ventilated (i.e. closets, pantries, or other rooms without windows).
  3. Make sure your cats can get to fresh ‘undiffused’ air at all times
  4. Don’t diffuse essential oils continuously or for extended periods of time without a break. Ideally, essential oils should be diffused for no more than10-15 minutes per hour depending on the efficiency of the diffuser.
  5. Avoid placing or using a diffuser in areas where your cats like to nap or sleep, unless they are not present and there is adequate ventilation in the room.
  6. Toxicology studies show that the feline liver usually needs 48 hours to process and excrete terpenes, so if you have diffused a lot during any 24 hour period, then allow 48 hours between the end of the last diffusion and starting another to avoid potential over exposure.
  7. Humans become quickly used to the intensity of a nice aroma and have the habit of ‘freshening it up’ by adding more essential oils when this may not always be necessary. To test this, leave the room or area for about 15 minutes, when you re-enter the room, you will know if the aroma needs to be refreshed.

Remember that essential oils can have an impact on you even if or when you don’t smell them. As with everything in aromatherapy, a little goes a long way. For the best results, don’t over-use or over-diffuse essential oils. If you follow that simple guideline your feline friends should be just fine.