There are certain smells that just stick.
From the comforting fragrance of freshly baked bread, to the pungent odour of Vicks VapoRub, smells are embedded with memories.
“For some people, if they smell lavender it can remind them of when they were little and they grew lavender plants at their grandma’s house,” noted Lisanne Watchell, a trained aromatherapist and yoga instructor in St. Albert.
“It can create an instant sense of relaxation or even transfer you to a time and place.”
Relaxation and pain relief are just two of the reasons people come to Watchell for her custom blends of essential oils. The fragrant compounds are extracted from plants and are used as fragrances in cosmetics, as well as for medicinal purposes.
Watchell started her business, Lilyfern Botanicals, five years ago when her first daughter Lily was born.
“I was searching for products to use on her and I found that even the ones that were natural still had synthetic fragrance. Fragrance can mean over 200 chemicals in that one listing,” she said. “Something like that I am wary to put on a baby because their skin is so much more quick to absorb and their systems are still maturing.”
Watchell started off making baby balms, butters and massage oils and has since worked her way to designing custom blends of essential oils that can be massaged into the skin, or inhaled (the most popular method) to stimulate the olfactory centres in the brain.
Depending on the oil, ranging in scents from the rich licorice odour of anise seed to the calming ylang-ylang, each has a different purpose.
“Oils from the citrus family – lime, lemon, sweet orange – are stimulating and energizing, while rosemary is good for sharpening brain function,” she explained.
“Frankincense for example can really help deepen your breath and calm the breathing, so that’s a nice one to use if you’re trying to get somebody to relax and … get into a more peaceful state,” Watchell added, referring to the use of the oil in yoga practice.
Research has linked the treatment of many ailments and diseases with aromatherapy, including mild anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, nicotine addiction, respiratory problems and fungal infections.
Several review papers have noted however, that due to small sample sizes in trials and poor study designs, more research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of aromatherapy and before it can be widely accepted as an alternative remedy.
Laurie Niles, an essential oil therapist certified through The British Columbia Alliance of Aromatherapy, said essential oils are being integrated with modern medical practices in hospitals in the U.S. and the European Union.
Niles heads the Alberta Aromatherapy Institute, which runs online aromatherapy classes available to the public.
She said although Canada doesn’t have a professional association for aromatherapists like in the U.S., U.K., France and South Africa, the Canadian government did recognize the professional designation in 2010.
Watchell also thinks the practice of aromatherapy is gaining momentum.
“I think it’s on the rise because of the increase in awareness of common (allergy) triggers. People who are sensitive to fragrance can still use essential oil as a perfume,” she said.
Watchell said her go-to oils are those of lavender, tea tree and sweet orange. Although she admitted they are basically “foolproof” people should consult with a professional before ingesting essential oils. Some oils can irritate the skin or cause photosensitivity, while the active ingredients in others can interact with certain medications.
“If someone was undergoing an estrogenic type of cancer treatment for breast cancer then I would omit soy in their oils,” she said, since soy can mimic estrogen in the body.
She advised that when purchasing essential oils, people should look for where the oil is sourced, if the Latin name is on the bottle, and the oil should be packaged in a dark glass bottle.