Essential Oils to Avoid. Aromatherapy 101. Incense Sticks?

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Welcome , today I will be writing about the history of aromatherapy, the main functional groups of aromatherapy, essential oils to avoid and incense sticks.

The TLDR History of Aromatherapy

Using oil from plant extracts for the purpose of medicinal, relaxation or aromatic applications seems like common sense as around 30% of pharmacuetical medications in the U.S are based on naturally occurring compounds from plants, but has its roots going all the way back to ancient times with archeologists discovering and identifying an array of plants from the fossilized pollen that are known for their healing properties in burial chambers and ancient living areas.

Wealthy Egyptians would indulge in scented baths, fragrant massages and perfume their bodies with enchanted oils. The priests  would prepare scented blends for kings, queens and high dignitaries of governments and temples, making them the first perfumers and healers to dispense aromatics.  Using them for religious rituals, in annointing baths or burning incense to ward off evil spirits.  To prepare a Pharoahs body after death they were wrapped in fabric containing cinnamon, myrrh, cedarwood and other oils and resins.

Rome, the bathing capital of the world, with over 1000 bath houses, would use scent on just about anything.  From walls in houses, military flags or applied to the oil for a massage after bathing.

Egyptians were the first to extract the oil from plants, heating them up in clay containers.  A couple of centuries later, Greek alchemists came up with the distillation process which underpinned the use of essences for therapeutic and religious uses. Then around 1000 A.D, Avicenna, an Arabic physician introduced a cooling system into the distillation process of essential oils, increasing the potency and strength of the oils.

The great plague during the 14th century was a very dark time indeed, especially in Europe and Asia, killing millions of people.  But it was common to see thyme, rosemary, pine, sage, cypress, cedar and clove burnt in a desperate attempt to control the spread in the streets, hospitals, sickrooms and schools. To try and ward off and help contain the spread of the epidemic.  Funnily enough, people that closely worked with the oils and aromatics like perfumers were protected and were less likely to get the plague.

During the 1920’s, a French cosmetic chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse,  further advanced the study of the therapeutic effectiveness of essential oils while working in his laboratory.  It all started when Gattlefosse accidentally burned his hand and in
desperation, reaching out for the closest cold liquid, immersed his hand into lavender oil… or was it that he ran outside rolling on the grass after burning his hand and then coming inside to treat it? ( I’ve read conflicting stories in reputable books)

Regardless, he saw, first hand of what the lavender essential oil could do.  His hand healed rapidly and was left with no scar.  This is when he coined the term “aromatherapy” and started writing about the powers of essential oils.

Today, many people seek to get back to nature, turned off by the toxicity and side effects of synthetic chemicals and processed medications. Using essential oils for medicinal, cosmetic and therapeutic purposes.  The idea of being able to use something natural without the negative side effects.

Of course aromatherapy can be used by itself or in conjunction with typical medication treatments. An example would be using aromatherapy after surgery to help ease the pain.



Main Functional Groups of Aromatherapy

There are two clear groups that serve to form pure essential oils:

1.  Hydrocarbons

Terpenes;  Monoterpenes, Diterpenes, Sesquiterpenes


Monoterpenes-Antiviral – Antiseptic – Bactericidal – Stimulating

Found in most essential oils and have many different actions.  A lot
help with toxins from the liver and kidneys. A high proportion of
turpines are found in conifer oil and citrus oils except bergamont.

* Can cause skin irritaion when not used correctly

– Found throughout a lot of essential oils. Some of their stronger
healing properties are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.  Can enter
brain tissue by breaking the blood-brain barrier.

Found heavily in sandalwood, ylang ylang, vetiver, ginger and myrrh



2. Oxygenated Compounds:

Esters, Aldehydes, Ketones, Alcohols, Oxide, Phenols

Esters –  Esters are made by a reaction of alcohol with an acid called esterification.  Calming and relaxing compounds, nearly completely free of toxicity.

Fungicidal – Sedating – Pleasing aroma – Anti-Spasmodic
Lavender – Clary Sage – Bergamont

Aldehydes  –  Aldehydes play a major role in the fragrance of an essential oil. Also calming to the nervous system through their powerful aromas. The heath benefits of aldehydes have a wide range including anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, dilate blood vessels. Can cause irritation when applied topically, irritants found in high citral essential oil can be negated by mixing equal parts of d-Limonene.

Sedating – Antiseptic
Melissa – Lemongrass – Citrone – Cassia – Cinnamon

Ketones  –  Ketones help stimulate cell regeneration, good for dry asthma, colds, flu, dry cough.  Found in abundance in oils that help with the respiratory system. Ketones are found in abundance in rosemary.

Ease Congestion – Mucus Relief

Fennel – Hyssop – Sage – Mugwort – Tansy – Sage


Oxides   –  One major player of the oxide family is 1,8 Cineol or Eucalyptol. Helps with mucus and is also an antiseptic and anesthetic. Been shown to help with asthma in human studies and reduce pain in animal studies.

Expectorant – Bactericidal

Rosemary – Tea tree – Eucalyptus

Alcohols   –  These molecules are found in nearly all essential oils besides birch, clove, white fir, cassia, grapefruit, oregano, wintergreen.

Antiseptic – Anti-viral – Uplifting Qualities- stimulates blood circulation

Rosewood – Geranium – Rose

Phenols –   Some of most powerful anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-infectious compounds found in plants belong to the phenol group.  Known to be beneficial for stimulating the nervous system and immune system and found to contain oxygenating molecules and anti-oxidant traits.

Caution must be taken when using phenol rich essential oils on your skin.  They can be caustic so it is wise to dilute phenol laden essential oils and only used in short amounts.

Bactericidal – Beneficial for skin

Clove – Thyme – Oregano – Basil – Birch – Cinnamon – Mint – Wintergreen – Fennel – Peppermint


Some Types of Incense Sticks and Their Uses:


Amber – Helps stabilize imbalances in your system and calm disturbing conditions.

Indian Cedar
– Used to help with depression

– Helps stabilize hormones in both men and women.

– Relaxing

– Mild Sedative, help slowing down the heart rate and calming the nerves

– Similar to Indian Cedar and can help strengthen the nerves

– Great for meditating, promotes spriritual healing and attunement

Sandalwood – Helps stimulate pituitary and pineal glands

These incense sticks usually come in sets.  One packet contains around a dozen. But probably one of the best ways to get good value for money is to buy them in packs with 4 or 5 different types, it helps hone in on the ones you do like.

Hem Mixed Bulk Incense 10 Packets 200 Sticks Assorted    (Amazon Link)


The Risks of Essential Oils

Essential Oils can be very powerful, undiluted.  It’s a good idea to mix your essential oil with a carrier oil and to stay away from synthetic oils.

Organic essential oils are really the only way to get a therapeutic benefit out of aromatherapy, but on the downside they can get pricey, especially for the rarer plant essential oils.

Here is a list of HAZARDOUS essential oils and their associated risks:

If you have high blood pressure you should never use rosemary, thyme, hyssop and sage (common)

People with epilepsy should stay away from sweet fennel, rosemary, hyssop, sage (common)


Angelica should be avoided by diabetics

People who suffer from hypoglycemia shoud keep their distance from geranium

Juniper, sandalwood, coriander is no good for people with kidney problems.

Pregnant women should avoid wintergreen, rosemary, lemon verbana, lemon, peppermint, clary sage, hyssop, juniper, fennel.

Clary sage should be avoided if you are drinking alcohol.  It intensifies the effects of alcohol causing it to display narcotic like traits.

If you are driving or planning to drive or need to stay alert, avoid chamomile and marjoram as the can cause drowsiness.


Some essential oils known to cause allergies are citronella, clary sage, ylang ylang and verbana oils.

Calamus and sassafras are believed to be carcinogens and everyone should avoid them

If you are taking aspirin you should avoid sweet birch.  They both contain methyl salicylate and there is a chance you might overdose.

Oils that Should Not be used in Aromatherapy

Almond – Contains cyanide, which is a potent lethal poison

Aniseed – Irritates the skin

Arnica – Heart irregularities and can cause dizziness

Bergamont – Can cause severe sunburn due to phototoxicitiy when exposed to the sun (Beware of using ouside on skin)

Boldo Leaf – Can cause convulsions even with small amounts

Calamus – Can cause liver and kidney damage and has carcinogenic properties

Camphor – Taken orally can be toxic

Cassia – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane

Cinnamon Bark – Irritate the skin

Costus – Irritate the skin

Elecampane – Can irritate the skin severely

Fennel – Can bring on epileptic episodes

Horseradish – Can irritate the mucus membrane, eyes, skin and nose.

Jaborandi Leaf – Toxic if taken orally, skin irritant

Mustard – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane

Spanish Origanum – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane

Dwarf Pine – Irritates the skin

Brazilian Sassafras – FDA has banned this carcinogen and is toxic in low amounts

Savin – Irritates the skin

Southernwood- Toxic if taken orallly or used on the skin

Tansy – Can cause uterine bleeding, convulsions, vomiting and even death, from respiratory or organ failure

Thuja Plicata – Neurotoxin

Wintergreen – Skin irritant especially for people that are sensitive to aspirin.  The oil is poisonous

Wormseed – Supresses heart function, toxic to kidneys and liver

Wormwood – May cause convulsions and be a neurotoxins.  Consuming can cause visual and auditory hallucinations.

Essential Oils to Completely Avoid





Hopefully this has provided you with some help. Please remember to consult a professional medical doctor about your health needs or when thinking about undertaking new therapies or supplements.  There are a lot of medications that interact with other chemicals in that can cause serious health problems and it’s not worth the risk.

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