The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese all relied on essences pressed from the aromatic peel, bark, seeds, roots, leaves and flowers of plants to prevent and treat illness.

When smoothed on the skin, added to a bath, or inhaled in the form of steam, these aromatic ‘essential oils’ were believed to ease tensions, heal wounds and revitalise the body.

Today, this practice, called aromatherapy, is gaining some acceptance among Western doctors as a way to use the senses to benefit health.

There is even a smattering of evidence to support the value of using aromatic oils to help the immune system fight a variety of ailments.

For example, tea tree oil – an antiseptic discovered by Aboriginal Australians – was found to make white blood cells more active.

And inhaling lavender oil was shown to be more effective for insomnia than a placebo.

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How to use essential oils
How to use essential oils
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To use the scented oils listed below, unless otherwise indicated, mix about 10 drops with 15 ml of an unscented carrier oil (almond or olive), then use as a massage oil.

For a compress, add 2–8 drops of scented oil to a bowl of hot water, mix well and immerse a clean cloth.

Squeeze the cloth out and place it on the skin.

For inhalation, add 6 drops of scented oil to a bowl of steaming water.

Drape your head with a towel, close your eyes, lean over the bowl and inhale.

Note: Aromatic oils are generally safe to use, provided you never take them internally or use them undiluted on the skin, unless directed otherwise by an aromatherapist.

The exceptions: tea tree and lavender oils may be used full strength on pimples, insect bites or minor burns.

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