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Massage Today
August, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 08

Stimulant Essences, Part II

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

Editor's note: Read "Stimulant Essences, Part I" in the May issue at

This article will continue an exploration of the properties and uses for the stimulating essential oils.

Used alone or in combination with sedative oils, the qualities of stimulant oils make them powerful allies in the treatment of muscle and joint pain, and whenever there is a need for a warming, invigorating effect and increased circulation. Many of the stimulant oils are powerful antibacterial and antiviral agents that help in the prevention and treatment of common infections. And many stimulant oils have a detoxifying effect, as well.

With one notable exception (eucalyptus), the stimulant oils have had a long history as cooking spices, used not just for their taste and aroma, but also for their healing properties and to help preserve foods before the advent of refrigeration. Their familiar aromas will bring up memories - one of the effects of aromatherapy. Hopefully, they are good memories that include a sense of feeling nurtured and satisfied. (In case you are wondering, birch has been an ingredient in chewing gum, and birch beer and juniper berries are used in the distilling of gin.) Because these oils are potent, it is best to use a small amount in treatment blends. In most cases, one to two drops in an ounce of carrier oil is sufficient. High dilution will also prevent potential skin irritation (See my previous columns for more information on the uses of basil, bay, sweet birch, black pepper, clove and eucalyptus).

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is familiar as a kitchen spice and used by herbalists as a warming stomach tonic. In massage, ginger has analgesic properties, which help relieve muscle cramps, spasms and sprains, and combat the pain of arthritis and rheumatism. Ginger gives energy and a positive attitude.

Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) is classified as a "euphoric" - a quality that makes it useful for all types of stress. It relieves headache, migraine, jet lag and exhaustion. Grapefruit has a stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, a tonic effect on the liver and digestive system, and a cleansing effect on the kidney and vascular system, making it a good oil to use for detoxification and weight loss.

Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a major essence for detoxification, having a tonic effect on liver, diuretic properties that relieve common fluid retention, and a decongestant effect on intestinal mucous. Because it helps the body eliminate uric acid, juniper is used for arthritis and sciatica. It is also a common ingredient in after-sports massage blends to keep muscles free from painful stiffening. Juniper also clears excess emotion.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) Stimulating and revitalizing, lemongrass is helpful in the prevention and recovery from colds, sore throat and laryngitis. It stimulates circulation, has a toning effect on muscles and helps elimination of lactic acid, which makes it a good choice for pre- and post- sports massage or pain from overexertion. Lemongrass is also helpful for symptoms of jet lag, headache, tired legs and general fatigue.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) helps regulate perspiration. It will cool you down if you're hot, but also provide warmth if necessary. A versatile oil, peppermint is famous for protection and regulation of the digestive tract; it is also a cold and flu preventative, and clears congested sinus. Peppermint is an analgesic and relives muscle pain as well as headache and migraine. It revitalizes and clears the mind and is helpful in cases of shock and vertigo, driving long distances, or studying for long hours. Caution: like the famous jalapeno pepper, peppermint will cause intense burning if it contacts the eyes and mucous membranes, so keep it well away from these areas and wash your hands after use.

Pine (Pinus sylvestris) was inhaled in Egypt, Greece and the Middle East to combat pulmonary infections. It is used in soaps as a deodorant and disinfectant ("Pine Sol," for one). Like peppermint, it can warm or cool as needed. Pine stimulates circulation and is indicated for rheumatism and arthritis. It has a decongestant and antibacterial action on the skin but can also be very irritating, more so as the oil ages. Pine, like juniper and cypress, is in the evergreen category and is helpful for people dealing with grief and transition issues as it imparts the image of everlasting life. This is also why the pine tree was the focus of the winter solstice celebrations that predated its use at the Christmas holiday.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is the most commonly used stimulant essence in aromatherapy. Rosemary increases circulation, including the brain and scalp so it is said to enhance memory and encourage hair growth (not from male pattern balding but from congested for muscles, headache, dysmennhorea and has many of the cleansing properties of juniper. Rosemary helps tonify the skin, and relieves congestion and bruising. It is said that rosemary should be used with caution where there is high blood pressure and epilepsy.

Some blending tips: The combination of rosemary and juniper with lavender is a favorite for massage. To this, one might add eucalyptus and lemon or sandalwood. Rosemary, marjoram and birch are an effective combination for arthritis flare-ups (Don't use this birch blend on a continual basis.) Peppermint and helichrysum help soothe the pain of sciatica. Rosemary, juniper and lemon are a good detox blend, especially after overindulgence in food or drink.

As stated previously, more drops of stimulating essences will create an overall stimulating effect, while more drops of the sedative oils will create a pain relieving, relaxing blend. Seven drops total in 1 ounce of cold pressed nut, seed or vegetable oil is the usual ratio for regular massage. Remind your client that the essences will keep working for up to 24 hours, and a rosemary/juniper blend will increase the experience of detoxification. It's always best to avoid consuming more than one glass of alcohol after an aromatherapy massage.

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


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