Costa Rica is full of delightful scents, blossoms on trees and flowers, leaves and grasses, barks and roots fragrance the air. As you drive down a road or take a walk in the jungle scent subtly plays a large part of the experience. Our olfactory system (nose and brain) works largely on the unconscious and plays a role in our sense of taste, digestion, memory, emotions and sex drive.
Heightening our awareness aromas have been used by man since ancient times both for pleasure and as medicine. Today we call it aromatherapy, highly concentrated volatile oils extracted from plants are know as Essential Oils. They has been used by health professionals in Europe since the 1930’s and in the past 30 years extensive clinical research has been done around the curing the causes of disease and to restore vitality to the body with these oils.
Many plants known for their scents grow in Costa Rica, some are wild, some primarily for food and spices, and some to enhance the landscape with color and scent. Commonly noted are ylang-ylang, lemongrass, citronella, vetiver, the citruses, chamomile and cinnamon. Some essential oils may be taken orally, a few drops at a time in a beverage or in a couple drops of honey. The majority are applied topically, you should remember that you skin is the bodies largest organ of absorption and everything you apply to the skin is assimilated onto the body. Many of the oils are so highly concentrated the only safe way to use them is to mix a few drops into a larger amount of a more neutral vegetable oil. Essential oil may be used in a diffuser, a bath, in a massage, compress or in a facial/skin, lotion or oil, or mask. Also, one should be cautious as many oils including the citrus should not be used in the sun as they promote hyper-pigmentation.
Chamomile – Makes a calming tea and as an essential oil it is also know for soothing skin issues as a anti inflammatory or analgesic, It is gentle enough to use directly on the skin without dilution. It may be taken internally for as an anti-spasmotic, anti inflammatory, sedative,
Cinnamon bark – Must always be blended with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin or it will be an irritant. It is antiseptic to infectious diseases, parasitic and it is stimulating to the digestive system. Cinnamon leaf – has similar medical properties.
Citronella – External use as s deodorant, insect repellent, antiseptic and internally to stimulate digestive issues.
Citrus – All citrus have bright, and uplifting scents that promote happy moods and are common to perfumes and household cleaning products. Medicinally they have common compounds that give them all a strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial power to kill germs and bacteria.
Lemon – Immunostimulant, that fights infectious and viral diseases, hepatobiliary stimulant, working on congestion of the liver and gall bladder.
Lime – Anti-viral and anti-bacterial it is used for skin conditions including acne and herpes. it supports and strengthens the respiratory and immune systems
Grapefruit – Is a metabolic stimulator, a diuretic, stimulating the lymphatic and vascular systems, cellulitis and edema
Ginger – Is excellent for digestive disorders and nausea, an expectorant in the treatment of colds and congestion, warming to muscular aches and pains, rheumatism and arthritis, cephalic for migraine treatment
Lemongrass – Most widely know as a fragrant addition to Asian foods, it’s scent also deters insects. It has strong anti-fungal, antibacterial and parasitical properties, so it is a beneficial skin tonic. Medicinally it it improves circulation and lymph flow, it regenerates connective tissue and reduces fluid retention.
Verbena, lemon – Is used to calm both the heart in cases of tachycardia and the nervous system.
Vetiver – Medically used as an anti-inflammatory, it is indicated for arthritis treatment, and as a relaxant where it is used in the treatment of ADD, ADHD in children, insomnia, anxiety and depression. A root or base note in perfumery.
Ylang – Ylang – Highly popular in perfumes, Ylang Ylang was traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and is a vasodilant (so is Viagra). It is a scalp stimulant promoting hair growth and preventing hair loss. Medically used for cardiac problems including arrhythmia, hypertension, anxiety and depression.
Carrier oils – To make the concentrated oils gentle enough for application blend a few drops of essential oil with any of the following as needed for each individual application, Coconut, Almond, Grape seed, Jojoba, or Rosa musceta (rose hip) oils.
Additional plants that grow in Costa Rica – Non-native: Basil, Bay Laurel, Black Pepper, Cardamon, Geranium, Lavender, Orange, Oregano, Patchouli, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Spearmint, Tarragon, Tea Tree, Thyme.
Bienestar offers a host of natural essential oil based wellness products that will help you achieve your aromatherapy and health goals. Contact us for more information.
(There are general characteristics of each oil. Please consult a profession before taking and essential oil or herb, to know the exact use thereof, and to be informed of pre-cautions and contraindications.)
This article was orginally posted in November 2016 for Costa Pacifica Living, Costa Rica's premier lifestyle and living magazine.