Aromatherapy as Medicine

By Hether Belew L.Ac.

You have had a long stressful day at work and you walk into your home and smell apple pie baking in the air.  Now, you are instantly transported to the time when you were eight years old at your grandma’s house on a cold fall day in November and her comforting, loving arms, all thoughts of work and stress forgotten.

Smell can have a strong visceral, time machine quality on us that our other senses might not always have.  One can hypothesize that this deep-rooted emotional trigger to smell is due in part to the fact that the nerve fibers of the olfactory receptor are the shortest of the 12 cranial nerves and connects right to the front bottom part of the brain.  Furthermore, when a signal of smell is transmitted it goes to the part of the brain responsible for emotion, and memory—hence its ability to shift us back in time (PDQ Professional, 2018).  From this, we can infer that smell can be purposefully utilized to impact emotion and our sense of wellbeing.  One of the ways we can do this through aromatherapy

Aromatherapy through the use of essential oils has significant health benefits that have been verified by science.  Here is a list of some of the benefits of essential oils:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Anti-Fungal for the skin
  • Antiseptic for the skin
  • Anti-Itch
  • Bug Bites
  • Sleep Quality
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Immune Boosting
  • Alertness
  • Energy

Perhaps in part because of its calming effects and its ability to help the immune system, aromatherapy is an ideal way to help relieve the adverse effects of cancer treatment (PDQ Professional, 2018).  Because essential oils have very little side effects and because modern medicine often overlooks the palliative care of patients, aromatherapy can play a vital role in complementary medicine at home and in a hospital setting.  Moreover, they are easy to administer, noninvasive and safe.  Aromatherapy is perfect to include in almost any self-care plan and can be used alongside other types of therapy.

What are essential oils and what is aromatherapy?  Essential oils are powerful healing substances that have been used for thousands of years.  They come from nature and offer an easy way for you to treat certain afflictions on your own (PDQ Professional, 2018).  They aren’t actually oils because they contain no fatty acids, but are a volatile liquid that is extracted from pungently scented plants via mechanical expression or steam distillation.   Essential oils are highly concentrated and one hundred pounds of lavender makes only one pound of lavender essential oil, and so one drop of essential oil can contain the scent of many plants.  Aromatherapy is the use of essential oil as medicinal therapy either topically via carrier oils or through inhalation via diffusion (PDQ Professional, 2018).  . 

There has been a lot of data that researches have published on the impact that odor can have on emotions and the human brain.  Some of these studies include the influence of essential oils on mental stress and mood alertness in healthy people.  In these studies scientists used functional imaging and electroencephalogram patterns to see how the brain responds with the use of essential oils.  These studies consistently demonstrated how odors could produce definite effects on autonomic function and neuropsychology.  The odors influenced perceived health, mood, and arousal.  As a result of these studies, one may can conclude that odors might be used therapeutically in adverse psychological conditions and in stressful situations.  Lavender is one of the essential oils that has been studied quite a lot in rat populations and it has been shown to have a strong sedative effect that can be used to treat stress, anxiety, and even PTSD (PDQ Professional, 2018).

Different studies have looked at the potency of aromatherapy in a hospital setting.  Several randomized studies used aromatherapy in massage of the whole body and just the feet.  The control group used bland oil, while the randomized groups used essential oils such as lavender.  “All the studies concluded that aromatherapy was better than the control intervention at reducing anxiety scores immediately after the treatment session (Cooke, et. al., 2000).”  Another specific study looked at the effect on aromatherapy on sleep, anxiety, and blood pressure in an intensive care unit (ICU) where the patients were to have percutaneous coronary interventions.  The essential oils used were lavender, roman chamomile, and neroli.  One group of patients received the intervention while another group of patients did not.  The patients who were given aromatherapy received 10 treatments of essential oils before the percutaneous coronary intervention.  “In conclusion, the aromatherapy effectively reduced the anxiety levels and increased the sleep quality of percutaneous coronary intervention patients admitted to the ICU (Cho, et. al., 2013).”  Furthermore, it was shown that aromatherapy had a BP-lowering effect for these patients before and after surgery, which scientists hypothesize is because of the calming effects of the essential oils (Cho, et. al, 2013).

If essential oils can easily be used in a hospital setting they can also be used in a clinic and so here at Open Mind Modalities as palliative support during your acupuncture treatment.  More importantly, because of their ease of use you should strongly consider using aromatherapy at home as a way of extending the benefits of your treatment and also as a way of self-care.  Cancer patients especially can benefit from the use of aromatherapy because it can help relieve stress and anxiety, increase quality of sleep, boost the immune system, and relieve pain.  Healthy people and parents of children should also consider using aromatherapy to improve the quality of life of you and your family.  Imagine if you could get that apple pie smell at home to comfort you after a long stressful day of work by combining essential oils such as apple and cinnamon, or just by using lavender to help you get a good nights sleep.


One of the easiest ways to use essential oils is in a diffuser.  The diffuser disperses the oil with water, humidifying the air and releasing negative ions* which can also be very good for your health.  We recommend using good quality responsibly sourced oils from Aromatic International.  You can purchase these oils and a high quality diffuser at Open Mind Modalities.  Below are my own personal recipes for the diffuser that have been beneficial for mine and my family’s health

For more information on essential oils talk to our staff or check out The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood.


Anxiety and Stress Relief Recipe 1

3 drops Lavender Oil

3 drops Bergamot Oil

2 drops Spearmint Oil

Anxiety and Stress Relief Recipe 2

3 drops Lavender Oil

3 drops Frankincense Oil

3 drops Sweet Orange/Grapefruit/Lemon/Tangerine Oil

Asthma, Clogged Sinuses, Sinus Headache

3 drops Eucalyptus Oil

3 drops Tea Tree Oil

3 drops Lavender 

2 drops Frankincense

Increase Concentration Recipe 1

3 drops Cypress Oil

3 drops Lavender Oil

3 drops Lemon Oil

Increased Concentration Recipe 2

3 drops Peppermint Oil

3 drops Lavender Oil

3 drops Lemon Oil

*Read more about the benefits of negative ions here:


Cho, M.-Y., Min, E. S., Hur, M.-H., & Lee, M. S. (2013). Effects of Aromatherapy on the Anxiety, Vital Signs, and Sleep Quality of Percutaneous Coronary Intervention Patients in Intensive Care Units. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine?: eCAM, 2013, 381381.

Cooke, B., & Ernst, E. (2000). Aromatherapy: a systematic review. The British Journal of General Practice, 50(455), 493–496.

PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (PDQ®): Health Professional Version. 2018 Jun 7. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. Available from:

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