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I’ve been studying and practicing aromatherapy for years and have always appreciated the healing potential of plant medicine. Lately, I’ve been adding herbal remedies to my repertoire. I truly believe that the Earth provides solutions for most of what ails us, and I’m excited to be expanding my knowledge in this field.*

One of my recent and successful herbal creations has been homemade cough syrup. Making this syrup was so fun and easy! And I love having an all-natural remedy for coughing on hand (have you ever read the label on a pharmaceutical cough syrup bottle? yikes.) So, I just have to share this and spread the beauty of natural healing. Now, I think the recipes listed below are easy and fun, but I understand that not everyone wants to keep jars of medicinal herbs on hand. If this is you, be sure to scroll down to the bottom and check out my super easy version of this cough syrup.

I learned how to make this syrup during a winter wellness herbalism class at Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary in Boulder, CO. This is a wonderful, locally owned herbal shop with a focus on quality and sustainability. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area. And as a side note, I also recently took an herbal aphrodisiac class at Rebecca’s, so get ready for some Valentine’s Day posts ;)

English: Promethazine-codeine cough syrup

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Supplies

  • large pot
  • large glass/ceramic pitcher or bowl
  • glass bottles (for the syrup)
  • mesh strainer
  • muslin
  • measuring utensils (for liquid, kitchen scale)

Ingredients

  • dried herbs
  • water
  • liquid sweetener, such as honey
  • brandy (optional)

Ingredients can be flexible, and I’ve listed a few recipe ideas below. Basically, you’ll want to use about 2 oz. dried herbs per 4 cups of water and 2 cups of liquid sweetener. However, there is a bit of wiggle room here. If you’re unable to weigh out ounces of herbs, a general rule of thumb is 1 Tbs herbs to 1 cup water.

Most cough syrup recipes call for equal parts reduced herbal liquid and sweetener at the end of the recipe; however, if this seems too sweet and calorie-ridden, feel free to cut back on the sweetener a bit.

Adding a bit of alcohol, such as brandy or vodka, can extend the shelf life, but this is optional.

Directions

  1. Place the herbs in a large pot with the water.
  2. Mark the water level (perhaps with a wooden spoon).
  3. Bring the mixture to a low boil.
  4. Simmer the mixture down to half its original amount, which is 2 cups if you’re using the ratios above (this is why you mark the original amount on the spoon!). It’s best to simmer the liquid covered, as this keeps in those valuable essential oils. However, this version also requires 2 or more hours of simmering. If you’re short on time, simmering uncovered still produces an effective brew, and your kitchen will smell amazing.
  5. Once the liquid is at the halfway mark, remove it from the heat and strain the herbs into a large glass pitcher or bowl. It’s best to use a mesh strainer lined with muslin in order to ensure that no plant particles sneak through the straining process. Leaving plant matter in your syrup will shorten the shelf life and may lead to molding. Also, using muslin allows you to squeeze out all the excess liquid and potent medicine from the herbs.
  6. Stir in the sweetener. Add brandy or vodka if desired.
  7. Pour the syrup into bottles, label, and refrigerate.

Congratulations! You’ve just made cough syrup. The syrup should keep refrigerated for about 6 months.

Suggested Herbs

There are several herbs that you can use for your cough syrup, depending on the type of cough you have and your flavor preferences. Here is a list of just a few. I’ve included a few notes on the properties of these herbs, but if you have additional questions, an easy internet search or book on herbs should provide more information.

  • Osha: Also known as “bear root” because bears rub it all over themselves when they awaken from hibernation. Osha is wonderful for respiratory ailments; however it is also highly over-harvested and must be treated with respect. One way to use osha in a sustainable way is to use the same root again and again. Just rinse and allow the root to fully dry after each use. You can continue to use the same root until it is no longer potent.
  • Elecampane: A wonderful expectorant–meaning it will help you cough up all that gunk in your lungs!
  • Pleurisy: Also an expectorant, but especially good for dry coughs.
  • Licorice: Helps synergize all the other herbs and adds nice flavor.
  • Thyme: A great all-purpose germ killer.
  • Elder berries: Good for the immune system and antiviral.

Other recommended herbs: rose hips, marshmallow root, cinnamon, ginger, orange peel, fennel, garlic, coltsfoot, and peppermint. And there are plenty of others!

A Sample Recipe

This is the ratio of herbs we used in our class cough syrup:

  • .75 oz elecampane
  • .75 oz elderberry
  • .25 oz licorice
  • .25 oz thyme
Cough Syrup. made in class

cough syrup, made in class

When I later made more cough syrup at home, I replaced the elderberry and licorice with osha and ginger. And I got a little creative in my use of bottles . . . .

cloudy tequila? no, homemade cough syrup!

cloudy tequila? no, it’s homemade cough syrup!

Dosage

These recipe produces a fairly safe cough syrup. Take a few spoonfuls per day as needed, perhaps slightly less for children.

The Easiest Cough Syrup Ever

So, if buying up a variety of herbs to test your skills at making cough syrup doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to try out my super easy version!

Instead of purchasing a variety of herbs, let the experts do the work for you and simply buy some cold care tea. I like Gypsy Cold Care by Traditional Medicinals. The herbs are already blended for you, and tea bags replace the mesh and muslin strainers. Use one tea bag per cup of water, and follow the directions above. How easy is that?

Gypsy Cold Care tea

Gypsy Cold Care tea

*DISCLAIMER

I am not a certified herbalist, and all information here is to be followed at your own risk. I am a passionate amateur with growing experience, and I simply report here what I’ve learned and what works for me. That said, enjoy the healing power of plants!

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Yum. I made this dish for the first time few nights ago, and I am so happy with how well it turned out. Crunchy green beans and walnuts, combined with pungent blue cheese and red onion, make a wonderfully rich and savory salad. I served this as a side to a great (and garlicky) pot of healthy winter vegetable soup. The meal was a resounding success. Again, yum.

Green Bean and New Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound green beans, chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 2-6 golden and purple new potatoes*
  • about 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts (or roasted, if you prefer), roughly chopped
  • about 5 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

*For this version, I just threw in two little potatoes for fun and a bit of color. Next time, I would use about six–they were good! On the other hand, I think you could easily leave them out and make a strictly green bean salad that is equally delicious.

Directions

  1. Thinly slice the potatoes. Add them to the bottom of a steamer with already boiling water.
  2. After about 8 minutes, add the green beans. Continue to boil for another 6 minutes or so. Let cool.
  3. While the beans and potatoes are steaming, prepare the onions, walnuts, and parsley. Thinly slice the onion and coarsely chop the walnuts and parsley, mixing all together in a salad bowl.
  4. Once the beans have cooled a bit, add them to the bowl. Drizzle olive oil to coat, with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, to taste. Toss all ingredients together to mix.
  5. Serve immediately, or chill for a bit to let flavors meld.
© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

The Soup

When I prepared the soup to go with this meal, I really just threw whatever vegetables I had on hand in a bit pot with a lot of garlic and herbs. I didn’t take any pictures or write anything down because I wasn’t expecting an amazing soup–just a good healthy soup to fulfill my winter-weather cravings. But of course the soup ended up being ridiculously amazing, and my cousin’s wife (who was present at the meal) has been asking me for the recipe. So, for her and anyone else who wants to stick to our overall meal plan, here is my best guess for how to recreate my stellar soup.

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, chopped
  • 1 turnip, chopped
  • 1/2 white/golden onion, chopped
  • 4 new potatoes, quartered
  • 6 baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 1//4 cup green beans, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen kale
  • 1 head garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 quart broth/water*
  • splash white wine
  • grated parmesan to top

*I only had about half a box of veggie bouillon on hand, so I added that and used water to cover the rest of the vegetables. I honestly think water works just as well as bouillon in any well-seasoned soup.

Again, I just threw whatever I had in a big pot and hoped for the best. The soup was great, but next time I might decide to leave out the mushrooms. Or to add tomato. Feel free to play with whatever you have on hand. The key ingredient in this soup is actually the fresh parsley–it made a huge difference in the flavor. And of course the wine. As my regular readers will know, I add wine to everything I cook. I guess it’s my good luck charm.

Directions

First, prepare the squash by roasting it at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. At this point, the squash should be easy to remove from its skin, but not yet cooked all the way through. (Remember to save the seeds! Perfectly Cooked Pumpkin Seeds)

Next, set the potatoes to boil. Like squash, potatoes take quite awhile to cook through, so these extra steps make a difference in how quickly the soup is ready.  Allow the potatoes to boil until they are just over halfway cooked (about 12 minutes) and remove from heat.

While the squash and potatoes are cooking, begin to prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once everything is chopped and ready to go, add the onion, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil to the bottom of a big pot. Sauté these ingredients together over medium heat until the onion begins to turn clear.

Next, add the mushrooms, turnip, beans, and potatoes, and continue to sauté for another 8 minutes or so.

By this time, the squash should be done roasting. Turn the heat to low and let the veggies continue to cook gently while you prepare the squash. Once the squash is ready, turn the heat back up to medium, add the squash, and continue to cook everything together for another 5 minutes.

At this point, all the veggies should be just about cooked through and steeped in herby goodness, so add the broth and water. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat, and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer for another 12 minutes.

Next, stir in the fresh parsley, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

The last step is to turn off the heat and stir in a splash of wine. Top with salt, pepper, and parmesan to taste.

The bright orange squash and dark green kale make this quite a pretty soup, and with all the garlic and vitamin-packed vegetables, it’s incredible healthy and perfect for warming up during winter. I’ll definitely add a picture next time I make this!

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Aromatherapy involves much more than essential oils. Below are a few other important elements in an aromatherapy practice.

More Plant Extracts

While essential oils are probably the most common ingredient in aromatherapy products, there are three other main plant extracts that may be used: CO2s, absolutes, and hydrosols. The primary difference between essential oils and these other plant extracts is the way in which their essences are extracted.

Essential oils are extracted through either a steam distillation process (the steam carries the aromatic molecules to be separated and bottled) or an expression process (a machine presses the plant to release its essential oils).

CO2s are often labeled as essential oils–the main difference here is that the extraction process involves using carbon dioxide rather than water or steam. They are usually thicker than true essential oils, and are said to maintain more of their original components because no heat is used during the distillation process.

Absolutes are made when hot water or steam distillation would either harm the quality of the oil or simply not produce enough oil. They are very concentrated extracts and are produced using a solvent, which is later removed. Because of the possibility of trace solvent remaining in the absolute, they should not be used internally.

Hydrosols are the aromatic waters that remain after distilling essential oils. They are much milder than essential oils, but still contain many healing properties.

Carrier Oils

Also important in aromatherapy are carrier oils, which are fatty oils most commonly made from vegetables and nuts. As the name suggests, help “carry” essential oils (or CO2s, absolutes, or hydrosols) into your body.

One of the wonderful things about most carrier oils is that they have relatively small molecules. This means that these oils are unlikely to clog your pores or leave stains on your clothes. Their small molecules also allow the carrier oils to penetrate your skin and bring essential oils deeper into your body. This is one reason why it’s important to dilute your essential oils with some sort of carrier oil before applying them to the skin–the carrier oil actually helps the essential oil act more efficiently.

Yet carrier oils do much more than act as a means of transport. Each carrier oil also offers unique enhancements to the healing process. Here are just a few of our favorites at Essential Life Aromatherapy (ELA):

  • Sweet Almond Oil: an excellent emollient for chapped and dry skin
  • Apricot Kernel Oil: light and great for the face
  • Evening Primrose Oil: helps with balancing hormones, eczema, arthritis, inflammation, and regulating insulin
  • Jojoba Oil: a wonderful all-purpose oil, good for all skin types, healing for the scalp and hair, with a long shelf-life
  • Olive Oil: a highly nutritious oil, great for making ointments
  • Rose Hip Oil: one of my personal favorites, this oil helps reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging (it’s in our amazing face oil)
  • Sesame Seed Oil: long revered in Ayurvedic medicine, this is a wonderful warming and moisturizing oil
  • Fractionated Coconut Oil: great for moisturizing in general, this oil also has a long shelf life

A few other healing and infused oils we use in our ELA products are arnica (for aching joints and muscles), Calendula (for healing the skin and wounds), and argan oil (which is very nourishing for hair). We’re also experimenting with a few other fun ingredients, including a Saint John’s Wort infusion.

Just for Fun . . .

I thought I’d throw in a picture of a few products I use daily, which involve a variety of aromatherapy ingredients:

bedtime face routine © 2012, Juniper Stokes

On the left is a bottle of our amazing ELA face oil. I massage this into my face each night. It contains a variety of essential and carrier oils that are especially good for the face and skin, including carrot seed, jojoba, and rose hip oil . . . along with many other secret ingredients. (I make this for myself all the time, so the bottle isn’t labeled.) In the center is a rose/sandalwood hydrosol I made to use as a soothing face spritzer. And on the right is a small bottle of concentrated rose hip oil I brought back from a recent trip to Patagonia, where it was surprisingly popular. I massage a few drops of this directly into areas that need a little extra care (spots, wrinkles, all that). I love my all-natural aromatherapy nighttime ritual.

***

Essential oils are only the surface of what aromatherapy can offer. An effective, well-trained aromatherapist will be able to take from the plethora of ingredients available in order to create the most healing products possible. If you have any questions about using these ingredients, please write! And again, if you’re interested in any of our products that use these ingredients, feel free to contact us at elaromatherapy@gmail.com.

Also, I’d love to hear if any of you have more ideas about how to use all these wonderful ingredients in your own aromatherapy practices. Do you have other ways that you use these carrier oils? A favorite absolute or hydrosol? Ideas for how we will use our new Saint John’s Wort oil? Share your wisdom and let us know!

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During the past year, I have had some “issues” with yoga. After years of regular practice and deep immersion in the yoga world, I began to realize that the yoga community can be a little too extreme, as well as how a yoga practice can easily be taken in what I feel are unhealthy directions–physically, mentally, and spiritually. These feelings and changes in my relationship with yoga came about from a variety of experiences, and in order to fully process them, I found myself needing to take a complete break from my yoga practice, and eventually, from any type of spiritual practice at all.

Though losing what I thought had been a solid foundation in my life was difficult at the time, I now realize what a gift this past year has been. By gaining distance from the yoga world, from spiritual extremism on one hand to pop culture fads on the other, I gained the perspective needed to reintroduce various practices and ideas into my life with greater discernment. As a result, I am now creating a more sustainable practice (physically and spiritually), rooted in experience, balance, and a deeper understanding of myself and my subject matter.

During my years of practice and trainings in the yoga world, I studied many techniques and philosophies related to coming into balance and finding optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. As I begin to reintroduce the practices that I find most healing into my own life, I would like to begin sharing them here, with all of you. Take what works for you, forget what doesn’t (or come back to it later). Ultimately, the greatest way for any of us to reach wellness is to follow our own intuition.

Pink Lotus © 2007, Juniper Stokes

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Essential Oils Box

Essential Oils (Photo credit: luxomedia)

Why do aromatherapists care about using essential oils rather than fragrance oils?

First, let’s review: Essential oils come from nature. Fragrance or perfume oils are manufactured in laboratories. Fragrance oils are not inherently bad–I love some of my fragrance oil perfumes, and occasionally use some of the perfume oils I’ve purchased during my travels to make myself body washes and lotions. They smell good, and that’s good.

Yet when it comes to my health and beauty regimens, I prefer to use true aromatherapy products. Fragrance and perfume oils may smell good, but they do not offer the healing benefits as essential oils. Essential oils have amazing healing abilities (which I discuss in my previous post, I ♥ Aromatherapy: An Introduction), and they smell wonderful, often in deeply complex ways that fragrance oils rarely achieve.

Going Natural

I like to compare essential oils to food–more and more people are recognizing that real food (coming from nature) is better for our health than processed food (with elements created in laboratories), and essential oils are no different. In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan discusses the importance of consuming real, whole foods. He notes that for years, most nutritional research focused on identifying the individual vitamins, minerals, and nutritional values of the various foods we consume. While this has been helpful in many ways, we are beginning to learn that the synergistic effects of the vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in a whole food, such as an apple, are far more healing than the same elements in isolation, as in a vitamin-fortified product. The truth is, modern science still seems a bit crude compared to the genius complexity of nature.

The same principle applies to essential oils. Over time, various plant-based healing components have been identified, extracted, and reproduced in laboratories, and this has brought us many important medicines (think of aspirin, from willow bark, for a common example). Yet isolating these elements and reproducing them in factories removes the true healing potential of the whole, natural oil. The wonder of nature never ceases to amaze me–as with food, the unique chemical components of each essential oil work together in a synergy we are just beginning to understand, and when we isolate these components, we risk losing the full potential of the essential oil. Not only that, but in subtle aromatherapy, it is said that the true essence of the oil, the key element, is lost when it is reproduced outside of nature.

How can you make sure you’re buying natural products?

As I’ve mentioned before, the United States does not regulate the use of the term “aromatherapy”, or “natural” for that matter. This means that it is up to us as consumers to be vigilant in deciding which products we purchase and use. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Read ingredients carefully–you’ll probably start to notice that many aromatherapy products contain a few essential oils, but also quite a bit of fragrance oil. I often see something like, “made with essential and fragrance oils” on labels. Or worse yet, “made with all natural fragrance oil”, which I hope you now know is certainly not natural at all.
  • Avoid products with “nature-identical essential oils”, which are not essential oils from natural sources.
  • Some flavors just don’t come from nature. This is especially true for popular food fragrances–I’m pretty sure your pina colada body wash and bubble gum lotion aren’t made with essential oils . . .
  • Many essential oils are incredibly expensive, and products using real essential oils will reflect this. If the cost seems too low, the product may contain only a minimal amount of essential oil. Depending on the product and its other ingredients, this may be fine, or it may not actually contain sufficient oils to bring about healing.
  • Floral oils, absolutes, and more exotic oils are particularly expensive, so if you find a “rose” lotion for a low price, it’s probably a fragrance oil.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic, I’d love to hear from you!!!

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I love aromatherapy. It has been part of my life peripherally for as long as I can remember, and I have been practicing and studying aromatherapy in earnest for the past year. It seems there is an unending supply of information on aromatherapy, and I am constantly learning more about this amazing field.

I know I’m not the only one who loves aromatherapy, either. The proliferation of all-natural home and beauty products boasting aromtherapeutic benefits has been growing steadily for years. What I have noticed, though, is that the quality of these “aromatherapy” products varies widely, and at least in the United States, there is no government regulation on the use of the word “aromatherapy”. I have found that existing aromatherapy products range from being truly healing and powerful products, to misguided attempts by amateur aromatherapists, to products that really shouldn’t be labeled as aromatherapy at all. And despite the popularity of aromatherapy, I’ve found that relatively few people actually understand what aromatherapy is or the many ways it can heal.

I’m writing this series of posts about aromatherapy with hopes of bringing more awareness to this subject. I’m passionate about aromatherapy and am constantly researching and making new truly high-quality products (through Essential Life Aromatherapy–contact me if interested!). There is much to learn about this field, and there are many misconceptions that must be addressed. These posts will only scratch the surface of the depths of aromatherapy and its benefits, but I hope that they give you a clearer understanding of what aromatherapy is and how you can use it to enhance your own life.

What is Aromatherapy?

Of the many definitions I’ve found for aromatherapy, one of my favorites comes from certified aromatherapist Valerie Cooksley, R.N. and author of the amazing book Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore,Rejuvenate and Heal. She defines aromatherapy as the “skilled and controlled us of essential oils for physical and emotional health and well-being”.

There are a few key words in this definition that I want to take a closer look at. First, notice the words skilled and controlled. True aromatherapy comes from knowledge, experimentation, and training. Simply putting a random collection of essential oils in a shampoo does not necessarily mean that the shampoo contains the benefits offered by true aromatherapy. The other terms to note are physical and emotional. While many people associate aromatherapy with increases in emotional health, such as stress-reduction and relaxation, fewer seem to realize that aromatherapy also has direct, physical benefits, such as pain-reduction and the ability to help fight infections.

And Essential Oils Are . . . ?

Before I get overly excited writing about all the amazing benefits of aromatherapy, I think I better step back and clarify another part of the above definition: essential oils. Essential oils are liquids that can be distilled (usually through a steam or water distillation) from plants. They are found in various plant parts, including the flowers, leaves, bark, wood, roots, and peels (for fruit).

Essential oils contain the essence of a plant. They give the plant its unique fragrance and represent its chemical composition. Think of a fragrant herb or flower that you’re familiar with, such as rosemary. Imagine yourself pinching a leaf from the rosemary plant and bringing your fingers to your nose. You are smelling the essence of rosemary, brought to you via its particular essential oil.

Essential oils are also volatile, meaning that they are unstable and will quickly evaporate from a liquid to a gas–that’s why you can smell them so easily! The term “oil” is actually a bit misleading as well, since essential oils range from watery liquids to thick resins and rarely actually feel oily.

Another key fact about essential oils is that they are very concentrated. Valerie Cooksley helps put this in perspective, noting that one drop of essential oil usually equals about 30 cups of an herbal tea made from the same plant. Essential oils are powerful! This is why it is so important that aromatherapy is done with skill, caution, and education.

Finally, essential oils must come from nature. They are not fragrance oils, and they are not created in laboratories. While fragrance oils and perfumes may smell lovely, they do not offer the same healing benefits as essential oils.

*Check out my next post for more information about why aromatherapists use natural ingredients, and my upcoming post about more ingredients used in aromatherapy.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

This is a simple question with a very complicated answer. Contrary to popular belief, aromatherapy involves a lot more than scent, though scent is certainly part of it. For this introductory post, I’ll try to keep it to the basics, and I’ll follow-up with more detailed answers in the future.

There are two basic ways that aromatherapy heals:

  • First, odor molecules are received through the nose and go on to affect brain chemistry.
  • Second, essential oils are absorbed through the skin and go on to affect body chemistry.

Other ways aromatherapy can be used to heal are through oral doses and rectal supplements (sounds fun, huh). These methods are much less common than the first two, and should only be undertaken under the direct supervision of a certified aromatherapist or medical professional.

The ways in which both the brain and body process essential oils are fascinating, and I promise to go into more detail about this soon. For now, just remember that there is more to aromatherapy than smell!

A Holistic Approach to Healing

While essential oils are powerful and have amazing healing benefits, aromatherapy as a whole is part of a holistic approach to health and well-being. Rather than relying solely on one type of healing, aromatherapy is most effectively used to support an integrative approach to well-being, which may involve acupuncture, therapy, nutrition, yoga, physical therapy, doctors’ appointments and more.

Safety

Safety is another area of aromatherapy that really needs its own post. As I mentioned before, essential oils are powerful, and working with a certified aromatherapist can be very helpful. Still here are a few safety tips to get you started:

  • as a general rule, always dilute oils before applying them directly to your skin
  • avoid ingesting essential oils orally
  • some essential oils can be dangerous if used incorrectly, so do your research
  • certain medical conditions may have contradictions with some essential oils
  • extra care needs to be taken in certain populations, including children, pregnant woman, and our animal friends

When in doubt about a particular product or essential oil, ask! Ask an aromatherapy professional, or better yet–ask me! I’d love to hear from my readers with any questions or comments about aromatherapy, so let’s get the discussion going!

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Click, gurgle, hiss . . . and breathe in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Enjoying a cup of fresh, hot coffee is one of my favorite parts of my morning routine. For years, I’ve taken my coffee with a bit of cream and no sugar–though it’s often accompanied by a bite of organic dark chocolate. For the antioxidant benefits, of course.

Lately, I’ve been adding a bit of spice to my coffee. It started with cinnamon. One of my favorite local coffee shops serves a lovely cinnamon and honey coffee drink, so cinnamon was a natural choice. Then, I saw a bottle of pumpkin pie spice sitting on the counter (it is getting to be the season for everything pumpkin) and a new favorite was born.

pumpkin pie spice and a very special mug from Japan***      © 2012, Juniper Stokes

***A note on the mug: In general, the Japanese love their characters, and this aspect of the culture gradually rubbed off on me during my years in Tokyo. I don’t really know the whole story of this banana guy, but I do know that the writing on his face reads “fu fu shi” in katakana (a Japanese phonetic script). Unfortunately, I don’t know what “fu fu shi” means. The box this awesome little mug came in features a picture of this guy smiling with some sort of wistful tear, while another picture features him sitting in a large easy chair, in a bathrobe, with a fluffy cat. Strange and genius. I love it.

And back to the spices: Adding spice to your coffee, whether you take it black, white, or sweet, is a great way not only to enhance flavor, but also to sneak in a morning health boost. The following spices are some of my favorites (most are found in pumpkin pie spice), and all have some surprising health benefits:

Cardamom

Cardamom has been known to improve digestion and help the body detox naturally. It contains potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and manganese.  In ayurveda, cardamom is thought to help balance all three doshas, or types of body constitutions, though it is especially good for kaphas, the more earthy and grounded dosha.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is total powerhouse spice with a long list of benefits. It’s relaxing and calms anxiety, and it’s helpful for indigestion and nausea. It has antibacterial properties that fight bacteria in the mouth to help relieve bad breath. As far as detoxing goes, nutmeg is thought to be especially beneficial for the liver and kidneys. Nutmeg has also been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Nutmeg contains Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Cloves

Cloves are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant, and they may help provide relief from a variety of ailments related to these areas. They are also good for nausea, and may benefit the heart. They are also thought to encourage mental focus and creativity. Cloves are a source of Vitamin K and manganese.

Ginger

Ginger is another great warming spice. It’s well known for soothing all sorts of digestive issues, including nausea and gas. It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties, and is known to boost the immune system. Ginger is another spice that may help the heart, as well. Ground ginger is a great source of manganese.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another powerhouse spice. It has the ability to lower LDL cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and provide arthritis relief. Cinnamon has antibacterial properties and has been shown to help with fungal infections (such as candida). It has been connected to improvements in memory and cognitive functioning, and it’s packed with nutrients, including fiber, calcium, iron, and manganese.

cinnamon, from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even if coffee isn’t your thing, there are plenty of ways to sneak these health-boosting spices into your morning. Try adding them to oatmeal, yogurt, or a morning protein shake.

Safety–More is not always better. Some of these spices can have negative effects if taken in large quantities. A little daily flavoring is all you need to enjoy their benefits.

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