Many popular aromatherapy books offer lists of oils for specific conditions. One book may offer 4-5 oils for, say, depression, while another expert offers 3 additional or even seemingly contradictory oils for the same condition. It’s important to take into consideration the causes of depression when selecting the appropriate oils for treatment. A person who is depressed because of a sudden loss will have very different needs than a person who is chronically depressed whether life circumstances are good or bad. So it becomes important to know why particular oils are allies against depression.
Valerie Ann Worwood offers a number of formulas from the annals of traditional aromatherapy to affect mood. She chose her oils based on common usage to create or relieve specific mood states. We’ll explore her recommendations based on chemical composition and recent laboratory studies to tease out the rudimentary beginnings of why these oils have been used for centuries. We must keep in mind the intricacy of nature is far more vast and complex than anything we can isolate in the lab or replicate in double-blind studies. So with all honor and respect to Mother Nature, let’s explore. We’ll look first at relieving depression and then at promoting concentration.
Depression is popularly defined as a “lowered” mood including sadness, hopelessness, and despair. Energy levels are reduced, sleep patterns are disturbed (ranging from insomnia to sleeping too much), focus is difficult, and eating patterns are erratic (binging and/or starvation cycles). The following essential oils have been traditionally used: Mandarin, Bergamot, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Helichrysum, Clary Sage, Lavender, Roman chamomile, Lemon, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Rose Otto, Neroli, Petitgrain, Sandalwood, Marjoram, and Frankincense (Worwood, 1996, p. 145). Reviewing the list the first thing that jumps out is the list is primarily made up of florals: “oils made from the flowers or petals of plants or trees” (Worwood, 1996, p. 253) (Ylang ylang, Jasmine, Lavender, Roman chamomile, Rose Otto, Helichrysum, and Neroli) and fruits: “essential oils that are extracted from the fruit of a plant or tree” (Worwood, 1996, p. 254) (Mandarin, Bergamot, Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit, Petitgrain). This leaves some herbs (Geranium, Clary sage, and Marjoram), a resin (Frankincense), and a wood (Sandalwood). So what constituents make these oils effective in treating depression?
Let’s look at a few of the most popular florals first, Ylang ylang, Jasmine, Rose, and Neroli. Ylang Ylang’s (Cananga odorata) major components are esters. Esters are calming to the nervous system with sedative properties. An overwrought depressive may appreciate the calming effect but someone who barely has enough energy to get up in the morning may need to avoid the sedative aspect by blending with more stimulating oils. Another major constituent of ylang-ylang are ethers, which are antispasmodic and analgesic. Ethers are known for their euphoric effect and may trigger serotonin release (Battaglia, 2007. p.278), which can give the depressed person a needed boost. Ylang-ylang is shown to reduce the stress-response in humans. “At the behavioral level, subjects in the ylang ylang oil group rated themselves more calm and more relaxed than subjects in the control group. These findings are likely to represent a relaxing effect of the ylang ylang oil and provide some evidence for the usage of the ylang ylang oil in aromatherapy such as causing a relief of depression and stress in humans” (Hongratanaworakit, Buchbauer, 2006).
Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is considered a euphoric with an intoxicating aroma. Jasmine’s major constituents are alcohols, which contribute to its stimulating, tonic effect. Someone who has lost joy for living and is fighting depressive exhaustion can utilize the warming, stimulating effect of Jasmine.
Rose (Rosa damascene) is also traditionally indicated for a number of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Its primary constituents are terpene alcohols and according to Schnaubelt: “The unfortunately very expensive rose oil is best used for its fragrance. The scent alone has uplifting and tonifying effects and stabilizes the nervous system.” (1998, p. 87). But that hardly tells the whole story. Rose is one of the most chemically complex essential oils with more than 300 compounds, many of which have not yet been isolated (Battaglia, 2007, p. 255). So while the diverse efficacy of rose is mostly empirical at this time it remains one of the most beloved essential oils for treating mood.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara) is steam distilled from orange blossoms and is 40% terpene alcohols, specifically cintronellol, which has been shown to have significant sedative effects (Schnaubelt, 1998, p. 41) and 10-20% esters (Schnaubelt, 1998, p. 61). Its main effect is to reduce anxiety and calm the central nervous system.
Battaglia, Salvatore. (2007). The complete guide to aromatherapy. Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Hongratanaworakit, T, Buchbauer, G. (2006). Relaxing effect of ylang yang oil on humans after transdermal absorption. Phytother Res. 2006 Sep: 20(9): 758-63. Abstract obtained from http://www.pubmed.gov.
Schnaubelt, Kurt. (1995). Advanced aromatherapy: the science of essential oil therapy. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
Worwood, Valerie. (1996). The fragrant mind: aromatherapy for personality, mind, mood, and emotion. Novato, CA: New World Library.