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Massage Today
May, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 05

Stimulant Essences, Part I

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

In my previous article, I discussed some of the major sedative essential oils for relaxation and pain relief ("Essential Oils for Pain Relief." Feb. 2005,

But for those clients who require pain relief without relaxation and sedation, or have conditions such as arthritis, the properties of the stimulating essential oils will be of greater benefit. These highly aromatic essences have the ability to increase circulation, detoxify, and bring warmth and energy to affected areas, making them useful aromatic tools for therapeutic and sports massage.

There are more than a dozen commonly used stimulant essences. Those with application for joint and muscle pain relief are: basil, bay, sweet birch, black pepper, clove, eucalyptus, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lemongrass, peppermint, pine and rosemary. Stimulant oils can be blended with sedative oils for a more balanced experience or to add certain properties. The resulting overall effect will depend on the ratio of stimulant to sedative oil used. For example, a blend of lavender, rosemary and basil would be more stimulating than a blend of lavender, rosemary and sandalwood. Or, if using a sports massage blend of lavender, rosemary and juniper, a ratio of four drops lavender to one drop rosemary and one drop juniper will be more relaxing than two drops of lavender to two drops of rosemary and two drops juniper. Consider the first, more relaxing blend for a post-sport's massage, the second and more stimulating blend for a pre-match massage.

The qualities particular to each individual essence, along with its aroma, will indicate which one to use in a given blend. Because the stimulant oils are potent and can be irritating, especially for those clients with sensitive skin, it is best to use them highly diluted; that is, a small number of drops in a blend. Always dilute these essences in carrier oil before allowing them to contact the skin. Six of the commonly used stimulating oils are profiled below. Ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lemongrass, peppermint, pine and rosemary will be profiled in the next Aromatic Message.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) relieves headache and migraine, is tonic to the respiratory system, and helps relieve distress in the upper digestive tract. Basil stimulates blood flow and is thought to lower levels of uric acid in the blood. These properties make basil effective for joint pain, general muscle pain and deep muscle spasm. Basil also sharpens the senses and helps clear the mind, so remember basil when you are doing a relaxing, pain-relief massage on someone who has an event shortly after a treatment that demands focus and concentration - a meeting, an exam, a golf game, etc.

Bay, or Laurel (Laurus nobilis) stimulates appetite and settles the stomach while it is tonic to the liver and kidneys. Combined with juniper, bay is used for rheumatism, muscle pain and sprain. It can help remove congested blood in bruises, and lower inflammation and scarring in wounds. Think of bay if you are doing head and scalp massage for its stimulating action that clears dandruff and congestion of hair follicles.

Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) is an invigorating, pain-relieving essence with diuretic properties. Birch removes uric acid accumulations in the joints making it a good choice for the treatment of arthritis. It also relieves rheumatism and muscle pain, and helps the body release toxins by stimulating the sweat glands. Birch has high levels of methyl salicylate, the pain-relieving component in aspirin. It is a very powerful oil, best used highly diluted in acute situations for a short period of time.

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is a very stimulating essence that gives courage and vitality. It relieves muscle aches, pain and stiffness by dilating blood vessels and bringing circulation to the area. It promotes digestion and elimination and helps detoxification. Like other stimulant oils, black pepper is helpful to warm up muscles before participation in sports. Like birch, it is best used in small doses and for short periods of time.

Clove (Eugenia carophyllata) is an antibiotic digestive essence that has also been used in perfumes as an aphrodisiac. It has a long history of use for pain relief in dentistry and also relieves rheumatism, arthritis and tension headache. Clove is best used on a local area, as opposed to full body. It is uplifting and strengthening.

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is a familiar aroma that conjures the idea of medicine. It is cooling and decongesting and has the most pain-relieving effect when combined with juniper and lemon. Use the aroma of eucalyptus in a sports or pain-relief blend to encourage the image of healing and relief for the client.

Editor's note: Check out the new online Aromatherapy Center hosted by Shellie at

Click here for previous articles by Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.


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