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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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