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Herbal Essential Oils For Winter Cheer

by Barbara Payne(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 107 - January 2005

For some, winter can be depressing and a time to stay indoors until the warmer weather and lighter days come. Then there are those who love being outside for as long as possible.

During most of the year, my small garden serves as a backdrop to many activities, with numerous visitors coming for herb days and botany sessions as well as family gatherings, but as the weather worsens, I reluctantly have to concede that it is time to go indoors. Being outside with the plants not only makes my life more pleasant, but also keeps one in touch with the source of some of the most useful essential oils there are; essential oils from herbs. Observing the plants growing generates appreciation of them and the beautiful essential oils their commercially grown relatives give us.

If you are a person who does not enjoy the winter, there are ways of prolonging the feeling of warmer days. Having living herbs in pots indoors near a good source of light, like a windowsill, is a fine way of maintaining a continuation of fresh herbs for culinary use, and as these can readily be bought at supermarkets most of the year, even those without gardens can benefit.

One of the cheeriest ways of bringing the outside in is using essential oils whose aromas are reminiscent of the garden in spring and summer. Examples of this are rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and lavender (Lavandular angustifolia). When I see a burner's flame echoing its glow on a pile of shiny apples and the smell of spearmint, (Mentha spicata), drifting from the steam, it makes winter days feel spring-like, so uplifting and positive.

Using essential oils for the appeal of aroma, which admittedly can have an elevating effect on the psyche, is not the only benefit however. They are also valuable to us physically due to the efficacy of their proven therapeutic properties.

Inevitably, winter will arrive and some of its little irritations will come with it. Dark days are notorious for bringing on depression. Those who are feeling low may overindulge in stodgy 'comfort food'. Chest infections too are common in colder weather. The essential oils have a powerful, fragrant answer to all of this. What are some of these oils?

To Uplift the Spirits in Winter Blues

Fruits of summer such as bergamot (Citrus bergamia), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and lime (Citrus limetta), all uplift the 'inner man', as do the herbal scents of spearmint (Mentha spicata), and basil (Ocimum basilicum). They bring back the ambience of brighter days when breathed in. Some of these essential oils have a very strong smell so use them sparingly.

How can we use these oils to uplift our spirits in winter? To create a feeling of well being a simple burner is the answer. Blend a fruit aroma with a herbal one and recreate a summer garden atmosphere. A typical mix may be one drop of spearmint and two drops bergamot. After lighting the candle and positioning it in place, fill the top of the burner with hot water and drop the essential oils into it. In a good deep burner, the oil should volatilize at a steady stream and last for at least three hours.

To Counteract the Effects of Over Eating

It is very easy to overindulge in foods one finds consoling, especially at a time of the year when celebrations abound and excess is not regarded as an issue, but too much of a good thing usually ends up giving discomfort. Fortunately, nature has the answer. The most well-known antidote for dyspepsia is peppermint; sometimes just sucking a strong peppermint sweet can help. For a more chronic problem, one drop of peppermint oil in a teapot of Earl Grey tea is superb. As a pleasant tasting alternative, you may wish to use one drop of mandarin (Citrus reticulata) oil instead of the peppermint.

To Ease Congestion in the Bronchial Passages

Many of the essential oils are bronchodilators, that is, reducing the contracting spasm of the bronchi, thereby promoting ease in breathing. During winter, there is nothing more pleasant to use for this purpose than those oils which come from summer herbs such as chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana).

The oils above are antiseptic too, so as we breathe in the molecules they antisepticize the bronchial interfaces. How might we make the most of these oils? A burner is useful for a direct approach, but for comfort the oils are applied topically to the area affected.

To Make a Rubbing Ointment

I like to use something thick for the base to create a medium for the essential oils to discharge over a longer period. This is a more gentle approach and one which may be more pleasant for someone feeling a little delicate. A thicker base also remains where it is and does not quickly soak into surrounding clothing.

Rubbing Ointment for Congestion

• One tablespoon of petroleum jelly
• Four drops sweet marjoram
• Four drops rosemary

Mix well and apply thinly to the skin on the upper back, chest and the neck.

'The thin skin behind the ears facilitates penetration by the essential oils.'[1] In view of the fact that infections of the pulmonary system can originate in the ears, nose and throat areas, this seems like a sensible idea to me.

Whatever your preference, like it or not, winter is here, so enjoy it as best you can and before you know it, spring will be back and so will all the delicious herbs.


1. Price S et al. Care of the Elderly. Aromatherapy For Health Professionals. Churchill Livingstone. London. pp234. ISBN 0-443-06210-2. 1999.


Lawless J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Essential Oils. Element. Dorset, England. ISBN 1-85230-661-0. 1995.
BHMA Scientific Committee. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. The British Herbal Medicine Association. Exeter. ISBN 0-903032-10-4. 1996.


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About Barbara Payne

Barbara Payne taught clinical aromatherapy in various hospitals in the North of England, for School of Health, University of Hull, and was principal of an IFA and IFPA accredited college of clinical aromatherapy, for many years. She served as an inspector and examiner and was Chair of Education for the ISPA, (now IFPA). Barbara had regular interviews with BBC radio and appeared on national television occasionally and lectured annually for the RHS. Having contributed to Positive Health over many years, Barbara has now decided to retire from her PH Expert Regular Column after Issue 154 in Jan 2009. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 835358;

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