The Sweet Smell of....Stress!
Because of the tremendous passion people have lately for essential oils I want to state at the outset that I have worked with them in my practice for almost thirty years; my first natural health certification was in Unani Aromatherapy. I am not anti-oil!
I had a call from a client recently with questions about her infant grandchild. The parents have been told that he is pretty much allergic to everything, including his mother's milk. To her credit, she has continued breastfeeding, but the child is miserable and the parents are following suit. She was shocked when my first question was what kind of other stress was in the home; the family is in financial crisis, the mom is working full time while pumping so the unemployed dad can feed the baby and watch the toddler, and a variety of other challenging situations exist. So-called "allergies" (look up some of the other posts on the topic) always involve imbalanced adrenal glands, and usually disappear when a normal stress response is restored. The real clincher came when the grandma said that the mother was "really into essential oils and she's been using lots of them, but things just keep getting worse and worse". BINGO!
Herbally speaking, all substances fall into one of four primary categories: bitters, astringents, aromatics, and mucilants. They expand or contract tissue, or increase or reduce circulation and energy, respectively. Essential oils are aromatic, hence we smell them. They are the volatile elements of a plant or other substance. They stimulate the limbic region, a part of the brain that controls the autonomic or reflex areas of the brain. Put the italicized words together and what is happening to the child makes sense.
The tremendous cost associated with extracting oils before the advent of modern solvents prevented most people from having easy access to them. They were prized as medicines, and used sparingly-which is completely adequate. A drop of peppermint oil will trigger a liver reflex, which can resolve some headaches or digestive upsets in a matter of minutes. Since it does not have any nutritional components or other properties which actually change the quality of liver cells or function though, the problem will recur and require perpetual treatment unless something else changes. So, while it is effective for the symptom, it is not really a solution to the problem. (Drinking several shots of Scotch will reduce muscle tension, but I don't think it's a good idea!)
Every essential oil triggers a different frequency in the medulla. In the case of the baby, this is a simple case of overstimulation, where the brain and body are just completely overwhelemed so start rejecting everything. Imagine trying to listen to fourteen different radio stations at the same time! Using frankincense, lavendar or clary sage on the feet or in a warm bath might help to calm a baby, but several combinations of several oils on several body parts will have the opposite effect, even if they are 'calming' blends. The best thing a baby can smell is its mother; second best would be a fragrance worn by the mother on a regular basis.
I remember having similar discussions several years ago when magnets were all the rage. A client who was always 'uptight' (carrying tension under the sternum and 'sucking up' the stomach into the diaphragm!) anyway came to me with severe stomach aches that had not previously been a problem. Magnets, like essential oils today, were being touted as cure-alls and her company recommended everyone wear them over the solar plexus to ensure good digestion. When her stomach hurt she was told to add another magnet; when she came to see me she had four or five taped into place. Imagine having someone tell you to briskly rub a burn with hot water and cinnamon and you get the idea. Health is always a result of balance, not excess. Used appropriately, externally, and in moderation, essential oils are a great gift for body and spirit.