Aromatherapy for life

Living where we do, on a mountainside in the Southern Peloponnese, Greece, it’s difficult to ignore the abundance of flora and the compelling draw of nature. The vast canvas of  the land is breathtaking;   from vertiginous crag to shining shingly  bay, the wild flowers and vegetation  in Spring are tremendous. Growing wild in early Spring,  in our olive grove, we have giant orchids, pyramid orchids, anemones, calendula,  fennel, chamomile, marjoram , thyme, oregano and borage to name a few wonderful plants used widely for aromatherapy worldwide. Given this abundant array, in  our wild garden alone, it’s easy to see how my ‘healing ‘ shop soon became open, and our herbal retreat built on the land.

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I have always had a deep love of plants and flowers and a lifelong belief in the healing and therapeutic properties of herbs, after all, the greater  proportion of our current bio-medical practice stems from  chemical compounds synthesized originally from plants, fungi,  barks and saps: penicillin and  aspirin for example. That certain plants have healing properties is undeniable and there is a wealth of excellent historical and modern research and   literature  available on the topic to fuel one’s interest. After many years of research, experimentation and study into herbology  and aromatherapy for  healing herbal remedies for simple and common complaints,  our smallholding in Greece seemed the perfect location to begin to practice some healing remedies of my own.

As any gardener will tell you, the first job in creating a garden is to dig. In my case I dug rocky  terraces as we live on a mountain slope. I planted these terraces with various types of Greek lavender, strongly scented and vigorous, they flourished in the arid conditions  and some varieties flowered constantly throughout the year. Although  becoming parched in August after  months of relentless heat,  they are  refreshed in December January and February with onslaught of heavy  rain and warmish temperatures. Luckily, we already had growing an enormous hedge of fragrant rosemary on hand and so I planted borders of the lush creeping variety

In addition, I planted a medicinal herb and flower garden, some plants I grew from seed, others I took as cuttings from friends and botanical contacts or bought in as plugs from   garden centres out here in Greece.  Important plants for me were lemon verbena, peppermint, calendula, all varieties of sage, thyme and basil, jasmine, roses, rose- geranium, fennel, bay, oregano, lemon balm, marjoram, ginger, yarrow, helichrysum, echinacea and  St. John’s wort, in fact any plant with a documented  medicinal quality that could withstand the growing conditions and that I could use to create  healing remedies and aromatherapy products.  We decided to begin distilling  the  essential oils of as many of these   herbs, flowers and plants as we could, and others such as  eucalyptus, lemon,  lime and orange,  the trees  and shrubs  of which we now have in quantities on and around the estate. I was then  able to use the plants, oils and the hydrosols ( flower waters) in skincare preparations,  medicinally and  therapeutically around the home, hanging  bunches of eucalyptus and dried lavender  from the ceiling   for example to ward off summer flies.   Distilling the precious herbal oils and using them for  infusions, creams, balms, essences , home made  candles and linen fresheners quickly became  an  absorbing and fascinating past-time.

View from my veranda

After a couple of years I ended up with five raised beds made out of breeze-blocks in which I started growing so many plants; lilies, calendula, mint, ginger, echinacea,  and vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and peppers as of which grew to surprisingly  gigantic proportions. I cut down the watering subsequently.  In the herbiary beds,   after scratching out  several hundred stones, I  planted chives, sages, basils, fennel, lemon verbena ,thymes, marjoram and more calendula and rose geranium with the plan  of distilling more essential oils  and using flower heads, seeds, stems and roots for medicinal herbal infusions and oils.

Milk Thistle in our garden

This more or less worked out really well.  Our equipment was sourced from China and it is a simple glass distilling unit with heating flask which feeds into the  bio-mass flask for the plant material, the resultant steam contains the volatile oils released by the ‘cooking’ plant matter.  (lavender heads , rose geranium leaf flower and stem, clary sage flower heads  and leaf , for example)  The volatile oils released into the steam , rises  into the condenser pipes which are flanked by cooling pipes which circulate  cold water pumped up from the sink. After a couple of hours, the distillation will be complete and you are left with up to 2 litres of hydrosol and a precious 10 ml or less of essential oil floating on the top which you separate off at the end. We only get a small amount of essential oil with a 5 litre capacity bio-flask,  barely 10 ml  per  distillation, if we are lucky,  but it is incredible stuff, beautifully pungent ,fresh and medicinally very potent.  I learnt how to do this by reading books and watching some very helpful U tube videos. I recommend doing this before you start so that  you can be familiar with   the process before trying it yourself!

Rejuvenation and soothing skin balm

I’ve found that the hydrosols , which are the flower essence waters which condense in the distillery along with the essential oils, are a  fantastic additional by product with many uses around the home such as aromatherapy room sprays, cooling face and body sprays  and linen fresheners, and great  to put in the herbal therapy products too. So far, for us, the most efficient herbs for  releasing  essential oils have been  lavenders,  rose geranium,  rosemary, basil, lemon verbena, peppermint, eucalyptus, sages, especially, to my delight, clary sage which is an incredibly therapeutic herb for emotional balance and all things female and of course citrus peels ( orange , mandarin satsuma,  lemon and lime). We get a lot of oil and wonderful scented hydrosol from our fruit peel , a by-product  from marmalade making. The orange and lavender  oils  go into our candles and our celebration soaps and our  body-butter massage bars, all the distilled  oils and hydrosols  go into  our constantly  developing range of herbal healing products.  I think we would all agree that another  brilliant method of extracting the medicinal properties of herbs is through  infusion  in oil and sunlight. I  make  aromatic oil infusions of chamomile, calendula, yarrow, dandelion, thyme, echinacea  and hypericum. These can also be used in a wide variety of ways  in creams, salves and healing balms. In addition herbal tinctures can also be made very easily, once you have grown, or sourced your dried plant material. I make a strong concoction of Echninacea , dried roots and all parts of the plant with fresh ginger and thyme  for immune boosting and warding off colds and flu.  The overall aim is to use whatever  we can grow in as many ways as we can. #growyourownmedicine is really a thing

distilling orange essential oil

There are so many  medicinal and therapeutic benefits associated with using plant extracts, essential oils, plant butters and olive oil,  and a vast wealth of  simple, tried and tested  healing plant remedies from around the world, that after taking the plunge and making our own preparations for family and friends, I quickly had requests for more from word of mouth and increasingly, interested  customers who wanted repeat orders, especially of the arthritis balm, the rejuvenation cream and the echinacea tincture.  In general,  individual requests  for specific concerns, ailments and conditions have centred on the following:

  •  skin care ( to treat  and sooth  eczema and  psoriasis, sunburn, inflammation,break-outs, burns, scars and wounds)
  •  anti-fungal   and antibacterial ( preparations for skin , feet and  wounds  )
  •  back, joint, arthritic  pain sprains and bruises ( to ease pain and reduce inflammation around the joints and body  particularly back, hips, knees and  fingers or bruised or sprained body parts)
  • cold  flu  chest and cough   remedies  ( to combat the debilitating effects of winter  colds, flu and bronchial chest infections.

My current favourites to make are :

Artemis body balm:made with clary sage, lemon verbena, rose geranium, lavender ylang ylnag and may chang with clary sage, lavendeer and rose geranium hydrosol whipped with organic beeswax, shea , coconut and cocoa butters, and chamomile, calendula oil infusion a with jojoba and avocado oil.

Aphrodite Body cream : Made with  jojoba, avocado, coconut and olive oil whipped with  orange and geranium hydrosol , clary sage, melissa, sweet orange and vanilla essential oils.

Rejuvenation balm: for the face , made with rose-geranium,  lavender, melissa, lemon verbena  and  ylang -ylang  with vitamin E , avocado and and jojoba oil in a  creamy base whipped with lavender and rose geranium  hydrosol

Arthritis balm: made with juniper berry, peppermint,  lavender and  eucalyptus, beeswax , eucalyptus hydrosol , dandelion infused oil, yarrow, coconut oil  and  St Johnswort balsam

Soothing skin balm: made with infused calendula, chamomile and lemon balm oil, hydrosol of lavender and chamomile, essential oils of rose-geranium, lavender, frankincense, yarrow  and lemon verbena.

Minty foot balm: made with essential oil of tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, organic beeswax , shea butter, avocado oil, coconut oil  and cocoa butter

Frankincense shimmer cream: made with essential oil of frankincense, lavender and ylang-ylang  with gold mica, avocado oil, jojoba oil and orange hydrosol in a creamy base

Rosemary and lavender hand cream: circulation boosting with essential oil of rosemary, lavender, orange  and may-chang  with vitamin E and hydrosol of rosemary and lavender whipped into  in a creamy shea butter base

body butter soothing massage  bars: made with cocoa butter, coconut oil and organic  beeswax with essential oil of orange and  lavender and pure, organic vanilla essence

Aromatherapy glycerine soap slices and luxury molded soaps: in all sorts of colourful  designs and fragranced with my own pure essential oil blends.

Tincture of echinacea, ginger and thyme:  A miracle tincture for boosting the immune system when a cold comes on

Example of a body and Souls order for a friend

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4 comments on “Aromatherapy for life

  1. Great and inspiring blog. Can’t wait to visit your garden !!

    • Thanks Fiona ! Well I’ve been out in it all morning debating whether to cut back the marjoram and oregano before they flower as they are spreading so rapidly ! Going to have to distill a lot of lavender then prune back severely too if I’m going to be able to walk on the paths next year ! Just planted some dicthamus -dittany, that celebrated Cretan herb so I’m looking forward to see hoe it spreads! Come any time xxx

  2. Monica Warner on said:

    ….Just nursing my favourite face and body products – Artemis body balm, Frankincense shimmer cream and Minty Foot balm, while admiring the remaining decorative soap slices. We ‘swear’ by the Echinacea tincture for treating our very British coughs and colds and wait impatiently for fresh supplies of the incredible Verbena and Melissa bath oils……

  3. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…