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.
10. Tea Tree
Products made with this plant have a menthol-citrus scent.
The claim: Widely recognised as a powerful tool against a variety of harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds and parasites.
For best results: To ease skin infections and inflammation, add 3–5 drops to bathwater.
For relief of respiratory ailments, add 2 drops to a bowl of steaming water and inhale the vapour for five minutes.
Sources: Alan Hirsch, M.D., Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago, Il, USA; consultant John Steele, Lifetree Aromatix, California, USA.