Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2001.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Whenever I consider aromatherapy treatments for women who have been traumatized by painful sexual, psychological or physical traumas, I think of the supreme woman's oil, Spikenard, and its angelic sister oil, Rose. These two oils are consummate healing agents with remarkable purifying powers. Together, they are spiritually uplifting and capable of encouraging pure love and true forgiveness. Where Spikenard is grounding and calming, Rose is angelic in its ability to help one rise above personal pain. These oils are powerful vehicles for healing women's emotional wounds.
When I think of Spikenard, I am often reminded of the biblical story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' feet at the Last Supper: "Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of Spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her beautiful hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold and the money given to the poor?' Jesus replied, 'Let her alone; for she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me, you do not have always.'"
This story aptly reveals the value at which Spikenard was placed in those times; in fact, it was worth a year's wages. And perhaps rightly so, as it is a powerful and therapeutic substance. Just as Rose oil now is deemed incredibly valuable and therapeutic (and hence highly priced), so then was glorious Spikenard.
Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi
), also called Nard, has long been prized for its manifold healing properties, both emotional and physiological. Because of its warm, stabilizing effect, Spikenard serves to nourish and pacify both mind and soul when inhaled or applied topically, thereby helping one overcome emotional wounds, grief and deep anxieties. For healing longstanding hurts, it can lend acceptance and compassion to a heart downcast from long-harbored resentment. When used in baths, it has a noticeably calming effect on hysteria and trauma.
Spikenard's numerous other healing features include a regulating action on the skin and nervous system when inhaled, and a cardiotonic effect when inhaled or applied topically. Additional effects of inhalation include the easing of menstrual problems and a mild carminative action. Spikenard can also be used in cosmetic body care to heal deep problems in the skin. In fact, when combined with Rose and Lemon oil, it makes a stunningly effective synergy in bodywork applications. It can also be used in douche treatment formulas or on a tampon (1 drop) to treat everything from some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to candida albicans, as it has both anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, with some bactericidal value as well. In short, Spikenard is the supreme all-purpose woman's oil that can be harmonizing, grounding, relaxing and balancing.
Rose (Rosa damascena
) has a history of applications for treatment of skin, emotional issues and, lately, for survivors of traumas including rape and other sexual violations. The ritual, psychological and spiritual aspects of Rose oil are obtained primarily by inhalation. Rose, called "the queen of flowers" by the Greek poet Sappho, has ancient use in invoking spiritual love, hence its angelic quality. For this reason it has been termed "the scent of saints" and has often been associated with the Virgin Mary. It is reputed to be a source of beauty, joy and happiness, and as a vehicle for uniting the spiritual with the physical. Like its sister Spikenard, Rose can heal deep emotional wounds, rekindling the fires of a heart grown cold and fearful through abuse or hurt, making love bloom once again.
In addition to its psycho-spiritual characteristics, Rose is a general tonic, powerful neurotonic, aphrodisiac and tonic astringent. It is indicated as a topical or oral treatment for chronic bronchitis and asthma, as well as for sexual weakness or trauma, frigidity and impotence. Rose also acts upon the liver, the stomach and the blood. It is cleansing and regulating, as well as cooling and antidepressive, with powerful effects on male and female sex organs. It is considered to be slightly laxative.
In skin care, Rose is used for mature, dry and sensitive skin, and for treatments of the external sex organs. If the labia is torn, irritated or scratched, a 2 percent to 8 percent blend of Rose and Spikenard in Calendula-infused oil is recommended as an application to be used several times daily. Apply gently with clean fingertips.
Rose absolute is generally used topically to treat the skin, and via inhalation, as well as in a variety of carrier oils for massage. Rose distilled is used primarily for physiological ailments of the heart (no more than 1-3 drops per day in a gelatin capsule and for no more than 10 days when self-treating). Rose can also be used in baths and massage, or internally either as Rosewater or Rose oil dissolved in honey or in gelatin capsules. For centuries Rose petals have been preserved in honey as a "sweetmeat" in the last course of a fine dining experience.
Calendula flower (Calendula officinalis
) is widely known for its astringent, detoxifying and superb wound-healing properties. It is antiseptic and anti-bacterial, and also good for treating inflamed and ulcerated skin conditions. It is frequently used in herbal salves and as a carrier oil for essential oils. Calendula grows easily in warm climates (although it doesn't like intense heat) and the sticky, resinous flower heads can be harvested in the morning after all dew has evaporated. Most herb stores carry the dried flowers in bulk, and some mail order companies can send fresh ones too (see "Sources" for more information).
Calendula oil can be made through a warm infusion method. Place 6 ounces of fresh-picked Calendula flower heads in the top of a double boiler. Make sure to eliminate excess water by "wilting" the flowers a day in a spot shielded from the sun. Add 2 cups olive oil. (Olive oil is the most medicinal of the vegetable oils because it is nutrient-rich and has the longest shelf life.) Macerate the flowers in the oil for 10 minutes to 24 hours (with only natural heat, in a warm room). Then, turn on the heat, bringing the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a boil. Simmer until the oil and flowers are hot and have been gently heated for at least two hours. Turn off heat, cool and repeat. The fragrance should be a delicious, toasty one. If it begins to smell burnt, turn down the heat and get the flowers out of the oil immediately. Let cool about an hour and strain (twice is best) into a one-quart container using muslin or cheesecloth over a metal strainer. To add shelf-life, add the contents of one 400 IU vitamin E capsule per ounce of oil, or refrigerate until your oil is needed. This is a living product and it won't last indefinitely.
I make mention of Lemon oil here primarily to lighten the scent of the formula of Spikenard with Rose. Other essential oils which can be used for women's emotional needs include Cedar (Cedrus atlantica
) -- calming, protective and grounding; German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) -- anti-inflammatory, soothing and calming; Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile
) -- antidepressive, restorative and sedative; Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea
) -- relaxing and euphoric; Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) -- wound-healing, especially when applied for deep, traumatic bruising, as it is antihematomic; Lavender -- gentle, healing effects; Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii
) -- as an anti-viral and soothing inhalant; and Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata
) -- sedating and antidepressive.
Like essential oils, hydrosols benefit mind, body and spirit and can be used either alone or in conjunction with essential oils synergistically. Water is a vital component for healthy skin tissue, and hydrosols are water with power. Hydrosols are useful in all manner of skin and body care. They are cooling, anti-inflammatory, stimulating or relaxing, and antiseptic for healing traumas to the skin, with emotional qualities that can be uplifting, gentle and balancing. They can be used as vaginal douches, facial spritzers, aftershave, makeup freshener, facial toners and revitalizers. Plus, hydrosols are nearly free of irritating components -- such as the terpene hydrocarbons -- and are extremely well-suited for sensitive skin. They are a valuable ingredient in all body care products: creams, lotions, shampoos and facemasks.
A spritz and one instantly recognizes hydrosols have more than surface value. Since hydrosols contain micro-drops of essential oils, their effects on the mind and emotions are the same as those of both aromatherapy and herbal therapy. Yet, while you would never spray a bottle of Rose essential oil in your face, Rose hydrosol is delicate enough to do just that. It is a toner for all skin types, an aftershave and an after-bath splash, and also serves to ease nervousness and mental strain. Other useful hydrosols for healing traumas to the skin include German and Roman Cham-omile (anti-inflammatory, soothing), Lemon Balm (excellent for herpes and in baths), Peppermint (relieves itching, redness, inflammation and acne, cooling in baths), Rose Geranium (cellular regenerative, balances oil glands for all types of skin, good in baths and steams), Orange Blossom (hydrating to dry skin), and of course Lavender (gentle, balancing, cooling, hydrating, universal toner, for burns, for oily or impure skin, sensitive skin, good in baths).Jeanne Rose is an internationally-known teacher and author of 16 books on aromatherapy and herbalism, and has created two home-study courses in these areas. She lives in San Francisco and is working on an herbal autobiography. For more information, contact the Institute for Aromatic Study at 415/564-6785, or e-mail at email@example.com