Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Amateur aromatherapy has been a part of my life for nearly twenty years.  I go through phases of using it regularly, and phases of leaving it all in a box on a shelf, but I always come back to it.

I first discovered it when I was at university, studying for my finals. I bought some essential oils and a terracotta oil burner from The Body Shop and made myself a 'study blend' of lemon and rosemary oils, that was meant to aid concentration and study. I used this same blend of oils a few years later when I was studying for my accountancy exams. Even now, if I put those two oils together it feels as if I should be sitting down and doing some work.

When I was pregnant I switched my attention to the safe, calming and relaxing oils. Lavender at first, and then further into my pregnancies I used geranium and clary sage oils too. Both geranium and clary sage oils are very good for any problems to do with a woman's hormones or reproductive system. Painful periods and menopausal hot flushes are both very much soothed by geranium oil.

I had grand plans for various complicated and useful oil blends while I was in labour, but both times I ended up with just lavender oil - getting rather obsessed with it though and demanding imperiously that the oil burner be topped up, or that someone warm up my lavender wheat cushion in the microwave again, while I sucked manically on the gas and air canister.

When the children were young, and in that phase of endless teething, coughs, ear infections and poor sleeping I started to investigate oils that were suitable to use with very small children. Lavender and chamomile were the two oils that got me through these years. Chamomile is a very drowsy-making oil, and just one drop, together with one drop of lavender, on a cotton wool ball placed behind the radiator, would pretty much guarantee a decent night's sleep from a sickly child. We find that one drop of chamomile knocks out adults with insomnia too - it is an expensive oil, but powerful, so even a tiny bottle will last for ages.

At this time I also discovered the miraculous properties of an oat bath, which was the only thing I could find to soothe C's eczema. A large handful of porridge oats, tied into a thin muslin cloth and then dropped into the bath is an extraordinary thing. The creamy 'juice' from the oats is released into the water and calms inflamed or itchy skin in a wonderful way. Add a drop of lavender or chamomile oil to the oats and you have a bath that will soothe an itchy child AND send them off to sleep afterwards. Brilliant. One muslin package of oats will do two baths.
Having discovered this I also began to make other body care recipes. Sugar scrubs, face masks and bath bombs are very easy. Lip balms, hair conditioners and hand creams are only slightly more complicated. I don't make them because of any aversion to commercial products - and anyway, Radox is awesome - but because it is a fun thing to do, and the smells in body products are far stronger and more personal if you make them yourself.

There are two indispensable books to acquire if you want to find out more about aromatherapy or making your own beauty products: The Fragrant Pharmacy by Valerie Ann Worwood and Natural Health and Body Care by Neal's Yard Remedies. Both of them have all the information you will ever need, and a whole load more.

The Body Shop no longer sells essential oils, but it does still sell really good value terracotta oil burners. Culpeper and Neal's Yard Remedies are the two places I buy all my essential oils from now, as well as the more obscure ingredients I need for making beauty products like beeswax and raw cocoa butter. Tisserand and Napiers are also excellent sources of essential oils.

I haven't made any beauty products for a while, but this half term I'm planning on making some with the children.  They both love lavender oil, and smellies for the bath, lip balms and hand creams.  Our house is going to smell divine!


  1. What an interesting post ,now you have whetted my curiosity ,I going to try some of the things you suggest Jan xx

  2. great post! I never knew you made your own lip balms and hand cream! amazing!!
    I know what you mean about coming back to the oils after they have been sat somewhere for a while. I have a wooden box I keep mine in, also since I was at college, which too contains lavender and chamomile (although it was you that recomended chamomile, and it is AMAZING) I also use bergamot and geranium, firm favourites, and tea tree. I love burning mandarin but can only get away with it for a short time (despite hising the oil burner) before R finds it and blows the candle out!

  3. P.S-another good book is Natural Healing for Women, by Susan Curtis and Romy Fraser-not that it sounds as if you need any help though!x

  4. I used to be in to aromatherapy too. My favourite is Geranium. Like Anna, I have a little wooden box to keep them in. You've inspired me to dig them out again.
    I was looking at a soap-making workshop this morning too!

  5. I took lots of oat baths when I had chicken pox! Will have to give chamomile a try.

    I've actually signed up for a make-your-own beauty products class in November with a former Neal’s Yard product developer. Really looking forward to learning more.

  6. I loved this post. Seriously.

    I use tea tree and rosemary in cooled boiled water as an anti nit spray for the kids, and tea tree to disinfect the wooden toilet seat (sorry), but haven't done any proper aromatherapy for years.

    Where is my old oil burner?

  7. Interesting post, I know my local organic health food shop has essential oils but I don't really know where to start. I might look into the Neals Yard book as I've used some of their products. You never know I might find a magical cure for joint pain and muscle stiffness!

  8. Don't suppose you've got an oil that's good for wickedly sore throat and temperature to co-incide with half term, have you? The kids have given me a lurgy.

  9. Hey Jan, nice you have found Nancy! Nancy, I am with you on chamomile, I LOVE it and souse my pillow. I find it helps me settle back after dealing with night terrors with the kids. I have stuffed a cotton wool ball of lavender and chamomile down daughters radiator tonight, hopefully it will mean no waking at 2am with weird ranting about crocodiles.

  10. Really interesting post! I have dabbled a little in aromatherapy over the years. We always have bottles of lavender and tea tree oils at home, and lemon essential oil is lovely and zingy too! I have quite a few oil burners around the house but have just been using the Body Shop's home fragrance oils in them (which don't need diluting). I'd really love to have a proper go at making my own products too - I always make my own sugar scrub and once made a body butter but that's it. I must see if I can find that pot of beeswax pellets that I know is around here somewhere!

  11. I have been into aromatherapy for years and also used to use the oats in muslin for my little boy's excema! I also used to use Bach Flower Remedies when I had post natal depression and found them very good. I would love to see some samples of the creams you are going to make next week. I might have a go myself!

  12. oooh can I come and smell your potions once you've made them. Anna recommended chamomile for Miss K and it's great but I love the cotton wool radiator tip. although I sprinkle it on a little cloth mouse and he might not like it down the back of the radiators.... x

  13. Thanks for this post. I used aromatherapy when thinking about getting pregnant. I appreciate the tip about chamomile...I need it now for my daughters middle of the night "I've finished my sleep now" waking!!


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