Welcome to the letter B post in my #AtoZChallenge, in which I discuss aromatherapy and natural healing. Today, I will discuss the principles of aromatherapeutic blending.
Most people who know a bit about essential oils, will know that they often aren’t used singly, but rather in combination. That is, when I first bought essential oils, I used single oils only, because I was clueless about blending. Besides, being blind, I found it hard to count the number of drops I put in my diffuser, so I would just give the bottle a shake and hope something came out.
Now, I rarely if ever use single oils in my diffuser or in my homemade skincare products. However, you may be wondering, why not? What is the advantage of using essential oils in combination?
The simple answer might be that, just as with perfume, combinations of essential oils smell better (when done correctly) than the single scent. However, experience also shows that one oil can complement or strengthen another’s therapeutic benefits. This is called synergy.
According to Jennifer Peace Rhind, the author of Aromatherapeutic Blending: Essential Oils in Synergy, the first known example of synergistic blending of plant components dates back to ancient Egypt, around 1500 BC. The Egyptians used combinations of myrrh and frankincense. So did traditional Chinese healers when treating blood stagnation and inflammation.
Indeed, the author says, synergistic effectiveness of different essential oils has been proven in the lab, at least in some contexts. She said that a combination of frankincense and myrrh was shown to have significantly better antimicrobial properties than either alone.
Similarly, ayurvedic medicine uses combinations of herbs in its traditional treatment of illnesses. Jennifer Peace Rhind says that, indeed, the combination of for example ginger and long pepper has shown to have synergistic benefits. This might be because compounds in one prevent breakdown and enhance absorption of the other.
The first person to describe the effects of aromatic essences on anxiety and depression was Paolo Rovesti in the 1970s. He, however, also noted that combinations of oils work better than one oil on its own.
One of the reasons for this could be that single essential oils when not diluted often have a very strong odor. This may be experienced as unpleasant. When combined, though, essential oils’ odor may be more pleasant. If nothing else, essential oil blends are more pleasing to the senses than single oils and, as a result, contribute to mental wellbeing. After all, no-one is going to feel better when smelling an odor they don’t like!
So is there any evidence for synergy? Well, insofar as there is evidence for aromatherapy, that is. It seems there is, if for no other reason, then because essential oils are themselves a mixture of compounds. Peace Rhind cites a study in which various components of lavender essential oils were proven to work together against anxiety in animals.
Interestingly, essential oil blending is much more complex than the simple idea that certain oils promote one another’s effects. After all, Peace Rhind says, certain oils work together (synergy) at certain doses but work against each other (antagonism) at other doses. The author explains a way of plotting the effectiveness of essential oil blends in a graph. I won’t get into this though, as I barely understand it myself.