Category Archives: Aromatherapy

Autumn cleansing

Khoisan Home
Image: http://www.onsetimages.com

Inspired by the Khoisan tradition of burning fynbos and fragrant herbs in their homes when moving or after a death, I’ve blended a special cleansing oil for my friend who moved into her new home last week.  The combination of Cape Chamomile, Cape Geranium and Kooigoed essential oils in a burner would also assist her emotionally in this time of transition.

With the first cold front moving in over the long weekend, autumn has arrived in the Cape.  Most people do spring cleaning, but for me autumn is an excellent time to reflect on cleansing and bringing a new fragrance into my home.

We are conditioned to associate particular smells with certain activities of rooms. The characteristics of each aroma group can help you select an appropriate fragrance for each room:

Florals: bedroom and living room

Herbs: study and kitchen

Citrus and fruit: bathroom and kitchen

Spices: kitchen and bedroom

Woods: sitting room and bedroom

Resins: hallway and study

Why not try a new fragrance in you home this season?  What is your favourite autumn cleansing ritual? Or for those living in the northern hemisphere, do you have a spring fragrance ritual?

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From the bird’s mouth: geranium

Have you ever wondered about the origin of rose geranium essential oil’s name?  Pelargonium graveolens, the botanical name of the source of this oil, is not a geranium but a species in the Pelargonium genus, which is indigenous to various parts of southern Africa. So how did the essential oil get the name geranium if it is not from the geranium plant?  An interesting explanation for this was found in the book Cape Floral Kingdom by Conrad Lighton.

The garden and pot plants we commonly call geraniums are classified botanically as pelargoniums and they represent one of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s big contributions to the gardens (and window-boxes) of the world. There are actually very few true geraniums in South Africa and geranium is by far the older of the two names. The generic names for both species come from the mouths of two birds: geranium (geranos the Greek word for crane) was bestowed some 1800 years ago on a plant whose long-beaked seed vessel resembled a crane’s bill. More recently the name pelargonium (pelargos the Greek word for stork) was given to the plant whose seed vessel looked more like a stork’s bill. An example of the “crane’s bill”:

The seed vessel of Geranium sanguineum / Image: Wikipedia

If you’re still confused (as I was after this explanation) there is another way to tell the one from the other: the pelargonium has five petals which are unequally divided and the geranium has five equal petals symmetrically arranged.  This is an example of the geranium’s equal petals:

Geranium incanum / Carpet geranium / Horlosie / Vrouetee / Bergtee / Image: newplant.co.za

Pelargonium graveolens cultivars have a wide variety of smells, including rose (rose geranium), citrus, mint, coconut, nutmeg as well as various fruits.  Here is an example of the unequally divided petals of a pelargonium also used for the distillation of rose geranium essential oil:

Pelargonium capitatum / Image: http://www.newplant.co.za

Whether the seeds resembles a stork of a crane’s beak or the petals are equally divided or not, geraniums and pelargonium are both from Geraniaceae family, therefore the name of the essential oil. These modest plants bring colour to our gardens and window-boxes. And fragrance to our homes via the essential oil being used in food, soap (the Spanish Maja soap), and perfume (Geranium pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle and Geranium Perfume for Women by Yardley London). Indeed a word traveller from southern Africa!

A natural nose

My nose prefers natural.  Gradually he started rebelling against the artificially fragranced aroma’s I been wearing on my skin and using in my home. My mood joined forces and it seems as if only natural essences can make my happy or lift me up. What happened?

Maybe I want more authentic and genuine experiences now that I’m in my middle years? Maybe I need a closer or deeper connection with nature? To find answers to these questions I’ve been exploring natural perfume and the sense of smell.

According to Mandy Aftel natural essences bring emotional depth, mystery and complexity to a fragrance experience. Although synthetic essences have the same aroma they will not be able to “reach the animal place inside a person”.  As scent is not rational and a very un-languaged way of communication, we can’t always explain the emotional intensity and memories an authentic smell can create.

From an aromatherapy perspective the body knows what to do with natural ingredients.  Antoinette Pienaar mentions in her book The Griqua’s apprentice that the herbs and plants from the region you grew up in, works best for you.  For those fortunate enough to spend their childhoods on wine farms, Tammy Frazer created a natural perfume that reflects the terroir of the Helderberg Vineyards (and the wine from the grapes grown there).

So I came to the conclusion that a simple combination of rose and sandalwood essential oils as a perfume works in perfect balance with my (middle years) soul.  And for home fragrance fynbos essential oils transports me to the coastal plains of Cape  Agulhas where I grew up. Soon I may want something more exotic and challenging but for now my nose is happy and content with authentic and natural!

                                            The perfume of sandalwood,

the scent of rosebay and jasmine,

travel only as far as the wind.

But the fragrance of goodness

travels with us

through all the worlds.

Like garlands woven from a heap of flowers,

fashion your life

as a garland of beautiful deeds.

         Buddha

Blue Mountain Sage for clarity

Cape Town Minstrel Carnival / Kaapse Klopse / Photo: collectionmcgrath.com

Today’s blog is inspired by the colour blue: the vibrant costumes at the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival on the 2nd of January (Tweede Nuwejaarsdag in Afrikaans), the mixed shades of the Indian and Atlantic oceans at Cape Agulhas and then the shy Blue Mountain Sage (Salvia stenophylla).

The essential oil of this South African herb is my choice for the second day of the new year as it can assist in creating positivity in one’s self. It is also good for space clearing, as well as supporting mental and emotional clarity. Think blue if you need to remove negativity and bring in fresh clear energy!

The oil of Salvia Stenophylla is not blue, but light straw-coloured. The fragrance has been described as: herby, fresh, camphoric, and spicy with a maritime note.  The last description captures the essence of this interesting fragrance. It is an indigenous (and better smelling) alternative to Tea Tree Oil and known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflamatory properties.

Traditionally Blue Mountain Sage was used as a disinfectant by burning it in huts after sickness. The leaves were burnt as an insect repellant and also mixed with tobacco for smoking.

Try a combination of Kooigoed, Cape Chamomile and Blue Mountain Sage essential oils in a burner or use them individually for “smudging” – a Native American cleansing ritual. Something from Africa for an American tradition  could bring you clarity on Tweede Nuwejaarsdag…

Moving forward with Cape Chamomile

Cape Chamomile / Eriocephalus punctulatus / Boegoekapok

Whether you are reflecting on the past year or planning for the next one, Cape Chamomile can assist you in this time of transition.  This deep blue essential oil with its fine fruity fragrance is distilled from Eriocephalus punctulatus, an aromatic bush from the mountainous areas of the Eastern Free State and Eastern Cape Province.

Cape Chamomile will be my EOTD (Essential Oil of the day) for the last two days of the old year.  In some African cultures the fumes of the burning leaves, twigs and flowers are used to disinfect the home after a death has occurred and also to clear away any evil spirits (a similar way to Kooigoed) In the absence of having a twig to burn, I will have to use the essential oil in a burner.

Apart from the transitional properties, Cape Chamomile oil is used to alleviate stress, depression and anxiety. The presence of linalyl acetate in the oil means it has similar properties to lavender as a sleep enhancer and relaxant. It is not related to German and Roman Chamomile essential oil and is 100% South African.

Perfumers use Cape Chamomile to blend with delicate scents such as rose. I’ve discovered natural perfumes and candles with fynbos fragrances made by Mandy Aftelier. She combined Cape Chamomile with Blue Mountain Sage to create a true South African fragranced candle.

Whether you use Cape Chamomile for its fine fragrance, as a stress reliever or to clear your mind, heart or home – have a wonderful transition to 2012!

Cotton with Cape snowbush

Eriocephalus africanus / Cape snowbush / Wild rosemary / Kapokbos (Afr) Photo from anniesannuals.com

In Cape Town the closest you will get to snow in December will be the fluffy cotton-like seeds of Cape snowbush or wild rosemary (Kapokbos in Afrikaans). At this time of year we need to be gentle with ourselves but it is almost impossible with everything that must be done before Christmas. Holidays can be extremely stressful for some people, and especially for those who struggle with being out of their comfort zone. This is an excellent time to wrap yourself in the sedative, restorative and mood enhancing fragrance of the essential oil distilled from this aromatic plant.

Cape snowbush is a pale yellow oil with a unique combination of bitter, spicy and aromatic notes.  If you need to allow yourself time to heal, or if recovering from depression of addiction this warm fragrance may help by “warming your emotions”. It can also help with letting go and clearing the mind of negative thoughts.

Kapokbos have been used in South African households as a hair tonic as well as a muscle relaxant. I’ve created a bath oil that may help you to “cotton” yourself against the pressures of the “silly season”!

Snowbush bath oil 

Add to 50 ml of carrier oil like sweet almond oil: 8 drops of cape snowbush essential oil, 8 drops of cape chamomile essential oil and 8 drops of lavender essential oil in a dark container. Gently shake and try to spend more time in your bathroom than in shopping malls!

Geranium against the bugs

Pelargonium Graveolens / Roosmalva (Afr) / Rose-Scented Geranium (Eng)

A bottle of rose geranium essential oil in my “Drift” cupboard saved my life today. It may sound a bit dramatic, but I’m really grateful for this herb with its wonderful fragrance that not only lifted my mood but also helped chasing  a tummy bug away.

The pelargonium species are indigenous to South Africa and were traditionally  used as perfumes.  Dassiepoeier (Afrikaans) is the crushed and dried leaves of Pelargonium crispum that was used as a fragrant deodorant powder.

During Victorian times geraniums were exported to Europe to be planted indoors in winter and then taken outdoors in summer to release their fragrance when women brushed against them with their dresses. The antiseptic properties of the plant was already acknowledged at that time.  During the First World War geraniums were planted in boxes outside the windows of German hospitals to keep germs away. Maybe that is why we still find them in window boxes through Europe.

The traditional South African malvapoeding (translated as geranium dessert) is baked with the fresh leaves of the geranium plant. Talking about recipes, I’ve decided to share a recipe with every post, and the first home-made product will be a room spray I’ve created and named “Fynbos Mist”. It is uplifting and will  take you outdoors when you are confined to your bed on a sunny public holiday.

Fynbos Mist

200 ml distilled water, 5 ml ethyl alcohol, 5 drops rose geranium essential oil, 5 drops cape snowbush essential oil, 5 drops cape chamomile essential oil.

Combine all the ingredients in a bottle with a spray pump, give it a good shake and enjoy!