Adding a New Dimension: Sedative Essential Oils

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT
October 12, 2011

Adding a New Dimension: Sedative Essential Oils

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT
October 12, 2011

Since a large percentage of massage clients come seeking relief from muscle and joint pain, it is good to know that the sedative group of essential oils can provide another level of lasting relief for these common issues. The sedative group of essential oils also provides benefits for clients whose issues stem from stress and those who simply have a need to relax. Sedative essential oils address all of these areas while adding a pleasing fragrant dimension to your therapeutic work. Within this larger "sedative" classification are other therapeutic properties. Knowing which essences have which properties helps the therapist select the right ones to make the most effective massage blend for an individual client. The properties found in the sedative essences are:

  • Analgesic- German and Roman chamomile, lavender and sweet marjoram.
  • Anti-depressant- bergamot, clary sage, lavender, lemon, geranium and flowers.
  • Anti-inflammatory- German chamomile, helichrysum, yarrow.
  • Anti-rheumatics- German chamomile, lemon, sweet marjoram and pine.
  • Anti-spasmodics- Roman chamomile, clary sage, lavender, sweet marjoram and yarrow.
  • Detoxifiers (especially for joint pain)- carrot seed, lemon and sweet fennel.
  • Nervines (for stress relief)- Roman chamomile, bergamot, lavender, sweet marjoram, neroli (orange blossom) and vetiver.
  • Rubefacients (for increased circulation)- juniper berry, spike lavender and sweet marjoram.
  • Soporific (sleep inducing)- jasmine, lavender, sweet marjoram, neroli and orange.

The most famous essential oil for pain relief and relaxation is Lavender. Distilled from the flowering tops, the best lavender oil comes from Bulgaria, France, England, Yugoslavia and Tasmania, though it can be grown all over the world. Lavender vera is grown in higher altitudes which produces more esters and a finer scent. Lavender has a long list of applications for skin and because of its anti inflammatory and cell regenerating properties, it can sometimes be applied neat, or undiluted, to the skin. This would be best when there is a burn, cut or immediate need for the infection fighting effects. Lavender is antimicrobial and antiseptic, making it effective in the treatment of wounds and as a front line defense against respiratory infection. It is tonic to the cardiovascular and digestive systems, lowers blood pressure and due to the presence of coumarins, helps thin the blood. Lavender is indicated for muscle spasm, sprain, strain, cramp, contracture and it aids rheumatic pain. It is sedative to the CNS and relieves headache, nervous tension, insomnia and can help balance mood swings. Spiritually, it is said to balance the physical, astral and etheric planes.

Because of Lavender's many therapeutic properties, many aromatherapists say that if they were stranded on a desert island with only one essential oil, they would hope it was lavender (it also takes the itch out of insect bites and helps heal sunburn). But here in civilization, what other essential oils can be called in to use? And what should be used if the client doesn't want the deep relaxation or sleep inducing effect of Lavender, or if they have a tendency toward lowered metabolism or low blood pressure? What if they need to relax because they are about to take an exam, give a presentation, walk down the aisle? It's a good idea to ask the client who indicates a need to relax what their stress is about and what life circumstances may be contributing to their pain cycle. This will help you select an essence that is most appropriate for their needs. Keep in mind, too, that when too much Lavender is used in a specific treatment or over time, it takes on the stimulating affect of a cup of espresso, so it's good for both you and your client to vary the relaxing, pain relief blend.

We'll begin with an exploration of aromatherapy for pain and stress and profile some of the other sedative oils. Space allows for only a partial listing of the properties and you can consult books such as The Aromatherapy Practitioner Manual, Vols I and II, by Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, by Gabriel Mojay and others for more information on each essence. When you want slightly less sedation but powerful pain relief, there is another type of lavender, lavandula latifolia, L. spica or Spike Lavender. Lavindin, lavandula-super, is a hybrid consisting of lavender officinalis and latifolia. It is less expensive and often used to adulterate true lavender, but is still a powerful antispasmodic, well suited for muscular, respiratory and circulatory problems and not as sedative for the mind.

Moving away from the Lavenders altogether, more information follows on the other pain and stress relieving sedative oils, Chamomile (roman, anthemis nobilis and German, marticaria recutita), Clary Sage (salvia sclarea), Helichrysum (H. angustifolium), Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides). Chamomile is a highly effective anti-inflammatory. It eases headache, neuralgia, dull muscle pain, low back pain and TMJ syndrome. It relieves dysmenorrhea, PMS and stress that manifests as digestive symptoms.

Clary Sage (not to be confused with Sage, Salvia officinalis), is considered mildly intoxicating and euphoric and should be used in small quantity and preferably not before an evening of cocktails, as it augments the effect of alcohol. Apart from this, the ability of Clary Sage to relieve spasm, muscle ache and cramping makes it extremely useful in massage. It is a digestive aid and can be blended effectively with Chamomile for tension and discomfort due to PMS and dysmennorhea. Along with Lavender, it is one of the essences chosen to ease labor. It is also associated with dreams and increased inner vision.

Helichrysum has a long history as anointing oil, but well deserves an honored place in therapeutic massage. With many of the properties of Lavender, Helichrysum is also indicated for bruising and burns, for depression, shock and phobia and is helpful in detoxification from drugs and nicotine. Helichrysum is said to improve the flow along the meridians and to increase spiritual awareness.

Sweet Marjoram is highly sedative. It relieves pain, stiffness, sprain, spasm, neuromuscular contractions and is indicated for both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, dysmenorrhea and migraine. It has a powerful effect on the mind and emotions, relieving deep trauma, grief and heartache.

Vetiver is an interesting oil because it relieves arthritis, muscle ache, pain, sprain and stiffness, but increases venous circulation to help detoxification of tissues. It is said to balance the Central Nervous System and is grounding and revitalizing, while it relieves insomnia, tension and depression.

All of the sedative essences listed, apart from Lavender, are pretty potent and require few drops in a blend. More expensive but highly effective, the flower essences: Rose, Jasmine, Neroli and Ylang Ylang, relieve anxiety and have properties that induce relaxation and pain relief. Only a small amount of the flower oils is needed for the affect. Less expensive, the citrus oils: Sweet Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Tangerine and Mandarin, reduce tension and instill courage and optimism. Most of these, however, are phototoxic and must not be applied before prolonged sun exposure. Both flower and citrus oils blend well with the other sedative oils and add their own special dimension to the therapeutic experience. In the next Aromatic Message, we'll look at some of the stimulating oils used for pain relief.