In the ancient traditions of Greece, Rome, India and the Far East, medications and perfumes were one and the same; both were thought to have medicinal properties. Even today, breathing the forest air deep into your lungs is still good medicine, at least energetically.
Many aromatic plants can be burned for therapeutic benefits. Juniper gives off disinfectant fumes said to destroy airborne fungi; it was once burned in hospital rooms and is most often used during winter. Spruce is another evergreen burned for clearing the air of airborne illness, and so is pine, while cedar is noted for helping clear head colds. Smoke from mullein is especially healing to the lungs; it is disinfectant and has a long history of pulmonary use. Rosemary, one of the oldest incenses, is a powerful cleansing and purifying smoke, both physically and psychically. Birch twigs, leaves or bark can also be burned in the same manner. If you are sensitive to smoke, all these plants can be made into a strong “tea” and simply simmered in an open pan or slow-cooker (the mini versions are great for this), or run the strained tea through a vaporizer to release the healthful qualities.
I find it very practical to keep a bottle of lavender essential oil around. The aroma is both relaxing and refreshing, and I most often add a few drops (not droppers) to the wash and rinse cycle of my washing machine for fresh smelling laundry, it really does smell “clean” (I also use unscented laundry soap). Spruce essential oil is nice to use when mopping floors; just add a few drops to a bucket of warm water (or directly on the sponge) and mop away. I like it better than pine, although a small piece of pitch from either tree smells great when melted on the wood-burning stove.
I use an old-fashioned vaporizer laced with essential oils throughout the winter. This year, I haven’t come down with a cold or the flu, not even once. I don’t know if the herbal vapor has anything to do with it, but it doesn’t hurt. Plus, it smells really good. I use everything from citrus and eucalyptus oils, to rosemary, sage and tea-tree oil. Peppermint oil is very sweet smelling, and clove is downright enticing. I like them all.
You can use floral essential oils such as rose or ylang ylang in your vaporizer if you want to set a more romantic atmosphere to your living space, and a simple splash of vanilla extract or rose water can work wonders as well. The aromatherapeutic benefits of these essences are that of lifting the heart and engendering the light from within. Very useful during the grey days of winter.
© Doreen Shababy
This article is adapted from the one in my book, THE WILD & WEEDY APOTHECARY.