5 Celestial Aromatherapy Scents

A Quick Guide to 5 Popular Aromatherapy Oils


According to a fantastic document titled "The Smell Report" by Kate Fox, director of the Social Issues Research Centre, up until the 18th century, people who could afford fragrance preferred scents that accentuated the muskiness and sexuality of human body odor.  For example, these earlier people preferred heady scents like musk, civet, and ambergris (whale vomit).  With the rise of a bourgeois or puritanical middle class, however, Western tastes changed, and women started to wear lighter more delicate fragrances which were less prurient--a preference that continues to do this day.

In a previous article, I examined the science of aromatherapy.  With aromatherapy, volatile essential oils are extracted from plants.  Of note, these essential oils can then be applied topically, aerosolized or used during the massage.  These oils are absorbed through the skin or olfactory system.  I limned that although some scant evidence suggests a limited association between the practice of aromatherapy and improved mood and reduced agitation and anxiety, there's no denying that scents are tied to brain structures like the limbic system, a primitive seat of emotion and memory regulation which we all possess.  Thus, the happy nostalgia and subjective pick-me-up that pleasant aromas elicit are well explained. 

In this vein, I suggested that aromatherapy--a noninvasive, affordable and safe form of complementary treatment--may still benefit many of us, especially those in palliative or end-of-life care.  So, without further ado, I present 5 aromatherapy essential oils to stick in your diffuser. 



Most people like vanilla because it's a warm, comfortable, simple smell--a smell that evokes childhood innocence.  In the 1980s, potent perfumes were all the rage, but by the 1990s retailers figured that we had burned out our desire for such intoxication ... Enter vanilla.  The explosion in vanilla's popularity has been unprecedented and now vanilla is found in most perfumes.   

Apparently, long before retailers picked up on its popularity, vanilla has been the go-to "pleasant scent" for medical researchers and psychologists alike.  Some research suggests that vanilla may help alleviate anxiety and stress in people with cancer undergoing MRI.  Other research suggests that vanilla attenuates the startle reflex in research participants and calms them down.

If you're looking for a pleasant aroma that's bound to please not only you but family and friends, you can only do right with vanilla.



Lavender collectively refers to 30 species belonging to the genus Lavandula.  It's an evergreen shrub with light pale flowers indigenous to areas bordering the Mediterranean.  Romans used lavender in their baths.  Furthermore, for centuries, dried lavender flowers have been used to scent closets and chests.

Lavender oil, an opaque liquid used for aromatherapy, is procured by distillation of the plant's purple flowers.  Limited research suggests that lavender oils might help alleviate anxiety.



Peppermint is a perennial herb whose flowers sport a pied pink and white alternating pattern.  Although indigenous to Europe and Asia, peppermint made its way to the New World and has since become naturalized along streams, springs, and other watery environments.  

The menthol in peppermint gives its oil a pungent, sweet, cool smell.  In addition to aromatherapy, the essential oil of peppermint is also used to flavor gum, candy and medicine.

Next time you desire that Christmas feel, consider scenting your environment with peppermint.



Citrus oils are extracted from the rinds of citrus fruits.  Citrus refers to a genus of plants including limes, oranges, lemons and citron which all belong to the rue family.  All members of the rue family have pulpy fruit with thick rinds. 

The distinct smell of citrus is attributable to limonene, an odoriferous compound found not only in citrus fruits but also pine trees, too.  Interestingly, limonene comes as two isomers: d-limonene which gives off a citrus scent and l-limonene which gives off a pine scent.  When mixed in equal amounts, the resulting dl-limonene is a component of turpentine!

Next time it's snowing outside but you want to feel like you're in Florida, try scenting your surroundings with citrus. 

Tea Tree


Tea tree oils are derived from small subtropical trees or evergreen shrubs.  Tea tree kind of smells like nutmeg.  Please remember that tea trees are nothing like tea plants which are used to make black and green teas.

In addition to scenting homes and workplaces, tea tree oil is also used in a variety of medicines and healthcare products like shampoos.  Ever been to a salon and enjoyed the pleasant burn of a shampoo?  Yes, that's tea tree.

Even though tea tree oil is used in a variety of personal products, don't eat it.  Tea tree oil is toxic. (For that matter, don't eat any of these oils--we're talking aromatherapy not lunch.)

Aromatherapy: The Upshot


Although not discussed in the literature that I perused per se, in addition to a diffuser, another way to luxuriate in inviting aromatherapy scents is by burning scented candles.  Have fun!

Selected Sources

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 2/24/2015.

Article titled "Aromatherapy for stress reduction in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials" by MH Hur and co-authors published in Maturitas in 2014.  Accessed on 01/07/2015.

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