Winter aromatherapy: what seasonal scents can do for your wellbeing
This time of year is full of delicious scents, from cinnamon to spiced ginger. But did you know these aromas can also boost your wellbeing? Here’s how to harness their power, whether you’re after a bit of calm or a festive energy boost.
What does Christmas smell like to you – fresh pine needles on the tree? Logs gently crackling on an open fire? Or maybe it’s your first gingerbread (soy) latte as you sprinkle on a layer of powdered cinnamon? Whatever it is, that first sniff (it takes 40 nerve endings to be aroused before we smell something, FYI), is powerful – transporting us back to special times and memories in ways other senses can’t do.
But smells aren’t just enjoyable, they’re beneficial, too. A useful tool since time began, smells alert us to both dangers and things of interest – from food to family – and it was only in the early 20th century that their capabilities were properly explored. With essential oils made from plants, nowadays aromatherapy is said to treat anything from stress and anxiety to chronic pain, with devotees waxing lyrical about its ‘miraculous’ effects. A-listers are in on the action, too – Miranda Kerr swore it helped her overcome depression after splitting with Orlando Bloom, and Sienna Miller and Dannii Minogue love aromatherapy products.
We asked aromatherapist Louise Crockart to talk us through four of our favourite festive smells, and how we can harness their power.
Cinnamon to boost your mood
What’s it good for? ‘Cinnamon is known as a euphoric oil – it has great “happy” properties,’ says Crockart. ‘It’s fantastic for digestion and a great immune booster (especially in cold and flu season). It’s excellent at aiding stress-related conditions, too.’
How to use* ‘Be careful not to use too much on skin as it can be quite allergenic,’ she warns. According to Crockart, one or two drops mixed with a carrier oil (try Natural Brand Aromatherapy Sweet Almond Oil Massage Base, £4.39 for 100ml, hollandandbarrett.com) should be plenty. Or try Cinnamon Scentchips (£2.99, hollandbarrett.com) in a burner (Scentchips Logo Burner, £5.95, hollandbarrett.com) to make the house smell more Christmassy than Santa’s grotto.
Black pepper for headaches
What’s it good for? ‘Black pepper is another euphoric oil, and as well as being great for digestion (it stimulates digestive juices), it’s also excellent at treating aches and pains,’ says Crockart. ‘It’s great for ailments such as arthritis or cold weather-induced issues. Mild headaches can be treated with black pepper, but if it’s a hangover, I’d suggest something more soothing such as chamomile or lavender oil.’
How to use ‘If using black pepper for headaches or muscular aches and pains, I’d recommend a massage to enjoy its full benefits,’ says Crockart. Blend the essential oil with a carrier oil like sweet almond oil (around two drops of the essential oil with a palm’s worth of the base oil) for a relaxing full-body or Indian head massage.
Read more: Could you be giving yourself a migraine?
DIY your own Christmas blend
Fancy your house smelling of Christmas for the holidays? Crockart recommends adding orange, nutmeg, cinnamon and frankincense essential oils (two drops of each) to an oil burner with some water. Then sit back and feel very festive indeed.
Ginger for nausea and pains
What’s it good for? ‘Ginger is a very warming, stimulating essential oil, great for warming up the joints and general circulation,’ says Crockart. ‘Some gingers can be a bit cloying and sickly, so I’d recommend those made via C02 extraction [a newer way of producing oil] which smell exactly like real ginger rather than the synthetic type. As well as helping with nausea and general aches, it’s also great for period pains and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, too.’
How to use ‘For nausea (or just to perk up the house) diffuse ginger oil on radiators around the home,’ Crockart recommends. ‘Just put a couple of drops on to a damp flannel and place it on a warm radiator to let the scent circulate. For aches and pains, use it with a base oil for a massage instead.’
Peppermint to clear your mind
What’s it good for? ‘The three types of mint we use in aromatherapy are cornmint, peppermint and spearmint,’ says Crockart. ‘They’re all strong, heady smells to help you feel less “fuzzy” and make you feel refreshed, and more awake, bringing you “into your head”. They’re also good for indigestion.’
How to use ‘Use mint in a burner (either an oil or electric one) for a fresh, invigorating scent around your home. Try cornmint as a starting point – it’s more bitter than peppermint with a higher menthol content, and is great in winter when we’re all full of colds.’