“Nothing is more memorable than a smell,” writes Diane Ackerman, author, poet, and naturalist. Smell acts like a time capsule, instantly transporting you back in time and space. But beyond causing a blast from your past, specific scents can also be used to improve your health.
Enter aromatherapy, which calls itself the art and science of using natural aromatic essences for healing body, mind and spirit. And lest you think you need more scientific evidence, there is a growing body of research that backs this up: studies on essential oils show positive effects for a variety of health concerns including pain, anxiety, premenstrual syndrome, nausea, and many others. So even though there may be no such thing as a magic pill, there may well be the power of the right smell at the right time.
To get you started, here is a roundup for a handful of innovative ways to use aromatherapy this season.
1. Enhance sleep
Valerian, widely known for its sedative properties, has a long history of use for stress and anxiety. Valerian has a warm woodsy smell—it’s also been compared to smelly feet—that can be used with an essential oil diffuser or applied topically on the back of the neck or on the bottoms of feet.
2. Treat lice
Tea tree oil, with its pronounced minty smell, is renown for its antiseptic properties. There is some evidence that it has a repellent effect on lice and works especially well eliminating active lice. One of the advantages to using tea tree oil as a treatment method (dilute a few drop of the essential oil in a carrier oil such as olive oil) is the gentleness factor. (The prevailing protocol for lice is death by pesticides.)
3. Soothe digestion
Peppermint is credited with being mildly effective for reducing some I.B.S. symptoms, especially flatulence, abdominal pain and distension. The compounds of peppermint oil can help soothe the colon and intestinal tract, making peppermint oil useful not only for digestive issues but also for soothing menstrual cramps, The safest way to consume peppermint essential oil is in coated-capsule form, which reduces the likelihood of heartburn.
4. Increase alertness
Lemon and other citrus essential oils such as grapefruit have a strong, energizing, uplifting scent. If you need a pick-me-up, a few drops of lemon essential oil in a diffuser can do the trick. Lemon has a multitude of uses, from laundry stain remover to grease-cutting counter and surface cleaner (just add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water). My favorite tip: Put a few drops on a cotton ball and put in your trash or fridge to neutralize odors.
5. Relieve achy joints
Cinnamon essential oil has warming and anti-inflammatory properties, a dynamic duo that’s perfect for cold, achy joints. Mix a few drops into a massage carrier oil, such as coconut or almond, and give yourself (or better yet, have your partner give you) an invigorating deep tissue massage.