Herb Basics

| May/June 2007

  • ©2007 Steven Foster

A Place to Start

Guide to Common Aromatherapy Terms

Essential oils. Highly fragrant, concentrated and potent plant essences. Essential oils can be irritating to the skin if used undiluted. The term originated with 16th-century alchemists searching for “quintessence,” or the secret of life. Until the early part of the 20th century, many medicines and personal-care products, such as soaps, were made with essential oils.

Carrier oils. As a general rule, herbal essential oils shouldn’t be applied to the skin—they are highly concentrated and can sting or otherwise irritate the skin. Instead, essential oils are diluted with carrier oils. The best carrier oils are virgin cold-pressed oils, such as almond, walnut, wheat germ, apricot kernel and hazelnut. Castor and jojoba oils also are acceptable carrier oils. Essential oils are volatile, so they evaporate quickly when exposed to air, but they are soluble in carrier oils.

Perfume. From the Latin per fumare, meaning “through smoke.” Asian cultures found religious and spiritual connotations in the aromatic smoke of burning herbs; Native Americans burn aromatic herbs to create smoke for their healing ceremonies. Today’s perfumes are largely synthetic.

Diffuser. Often made of clay or glass, diffusers are used to disperse essential oils into the air. Small “potpourri pots” hold a container of water, to which drops of essential oil are added. A candle heats the water and the heat releases the scent. Electric diffusers are more efficient and effective. They vaporize the drops of essential oil into a fine mist throughout the environment.

Ease the Pain of Canker Sores

Aphthous ulcers, more commonly known as canker sores, are small ulcers in the mouth that can be extremely painful. They’re often linked to food allergies and nutritional deficiencies (particularly of iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid). Here are some suggestions from Eugene, Oregon, herbalist Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa that might help provide relief:

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