The use of essential oils and aromatic plants to affect mood or health dates back thousands of years to cultures including China, India, and Egypt and in fact receives several mentions in the Bible. Interestingly, up until the twenty-first century, thyme and rosemary were burned by many Western hospitals as a means of medically disinfecting the air and some dental offices still use essence of clove for its calming effects. The use of incense in Catholic and other religious services is also an example of aromatherapy.
Two men are primarily responsible for bringing flower and oil essence into the twenty-first century. French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who coined the term “aromatherapie” in the 1920s, was convinced that oils had antiseptic properties and began working with them in his laboratory. Edward Bach, who was a medical doctor and homeopathic physician in London, left a lucrative practice and went on to develop the Bach flower remedies.
By the time Dr. Edward Bach died in 1936, using his intuition, natural gifts as a healer, and the energy in nature he had 38 wildflower remedies. He created most of these remedies by testing them on himself first. What he created over 70 years ago began a system of medicine that is used for healing all over the world today.
How Aromatherapy Works
Although there are very few empirical studies on aromatherapy many believe essential oils can enhance the mood, alleviate fatigue, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation. It is believed that when inhaled, the essence works on the brain and nervous system through stimulation of the olfactory nerves.
Basically, when a child breathes in an essential oil, electrochemical messages are sent to the emotion center of the brain, the limbic system. The limbic system then triggers memory and emotional responses, which send messages to the brain and body. This seems to produce a euphoric, relaxing, sedative reaction.
Peppermint oil is useful for nausea and upset stomachs, and has been used to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy in children. To use, place two or three drops on a tissue, hankie, or natural cotton ball, or under the pillow. Avoid getting the oil on the skin.
Because children are delicate and sensitive, you must be very careful when using essential oils with them. Although some practitioners agree that essential oils are not recommended for use on children at all, some believe that children over the age of six can use a short list of oil blends that are one-third to one-half as potent as what is recommended for adults.
Lavender, chamomile, and mandarin are generally considered safe for children. Chamomile and lavender both calm anxiety. Chamomile has the added bonus of soothing digestion and is great with babies who struggle with colic. Lavender has the dual effect of not only helping alleviate anxiety; it also lifts the spirits and is great for insomnia. In addition, lavender is known to have antiseptic properties and may help with headaches.
Cautions for Children
You should also be aware that many “carrier oils,” which are what the scent is blended into, are nut-based, such as almond, macadamia, or hazelnut. So be aware that if your child has a nut allergy, these should absolutely be avoided. Many parents do not know that even baby oil contains almond. Nut-free oil alternatives include olive, sunflower, grapeseed, and avocado. It is best not to use aromatherapy on babies. Always consult with an expert, and never try to blend a potion on your own.
How do you use aromatherapy with children?
You can spray or dip a cotton ball, a tissue, or use the essential oil on a pillowcase (for a really good night's sleep), and allow your child to breathe it in. A diffuser is a great way to fill the air with an aroma in your child's room. You can also massage your child with commercially prepared lotions, or use oils in her bath. Be careful to use only essential oils; synthetic blends can cause allergic reactions and are unlikely to provide the same benefits as the original source.