The right mix of pure essential oils can help you relax, recharge, or melt away fatigue, stress, and depression. Derived from plant secretions, the oils are astringent, antibacterial, and highly concentrated (always dilute before using). Cost usually depends on how difficult a particular oil is to extract, but, fortunately, essential oils are so effective that a little goes a long way. Here's how to try aromatherapy oils at home.

IN THE TUB

What could be more relaxing on a winter day than a hot, fragrant bath? Place 9 or 10 drops of a gentle oil, such as lavender, in a full tub. The oil will pool on the water's surface, intensifying the aroma, says Jade Shutes, founder of the East West School for Herbal and Aromatic Studies in Willow Springs, North Carolina, and author of Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007). If you prefer a mellower experience, add the drops to a dispersing agent — such as a tablespoon of honey, whole milk, or vegetable oil — before placing in the bath water. Oils can be added individually or in combination with other scents. To find a complementary blend, slowly waft two or more open bottles under your nose at the same time. They should smell balanced and not too pungent. Use less of the dominant scent.

Essentials

“Lavender sedates the nervous system and can calm stress,” says Shutes. It may also help induce sleep. For deep relaxation, Shutes recommends combining 5 drops lavender with 1 drop Roman chamomile and 1 drop comforting neroli. Although too cooling for use in a full bath, peppermint and rosemary essential oils stimulate circulation and relieve pain — perfect for soothing tired, sore feet. Mix 4 to 5 drops peppermint oil or 5 to 8 drops rosemary oil in a large, hot footbath.

ON YOUR BODY

When muscles tighten up, work out knots at home with sedative essential oils. As long as it has very little scent, any light oil — such as vegetable, sunflower, or walnut — or oil-based professional massage lotion can make a good carrier. Don't use over-the-counter lotions, however; they soak in too quickly. Start with 1 drop of essential oil for every teaspoon of carrier. “If you know your skin sensitivity, you can increase that slightly,” says Ingrid Martin, author of Aromatherapy for Massage Practitioners (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2006). “Using a strong blend, though, without assessing your skin sensitivity first can result in allergic reactions. But eventually you may want to add more essential oil to have a greater effect on physical injuries.”

Essentials

Mild, sedative oils, such as clary sage and mandarin, calm muscles. Ginger's warming and anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for lower-back and joint massage. Ginger gets hot, though, so use it only on specific sore spots.

In the Air

Their germ-fighting abilities make essential oils superb natural household cleansers. “The easiest way to mix them is to add essential oils to a spray bottle filled with water... Learn More...

Essential BRANDS

  • AURA CACIA

    This easy-to-find aromatherapy line includes many essential-oil-based body care products.

  • EO

    All of EO's hair, bath, and body products are scented with natural essential oils.

  • OSHADHI

    Farmers in 60-plus countries supply more than 650 single essential oils.

  • SIMPLERS BOTANICAL COMPANY

    This herbalist-owned outfit offers more than 70 organic essential oils.

5 essentials we love

Katy Neusteter

  WHAT IT DOES HOW TO USE IT
Cypress Among its other benefits, this vasoconstrictor can diminish the appearance of varicose veins over time if used every day. Add 2 drops to a hot footbath to control perspiration and odor; place 6 drops in a full bath for arthritis, asthma, and cramps; or blend 2 drops into 1 ounce of massage lotion and apply to skin.
Eucalyptus Ideal for treating most respiratory problems and relieving muscle tension, eucalyptus loosens flu-related congestion. To make a natural vapor rub, add 1 ounce melted beeswax to 1½ cups sweet almond or vegetable oil; pour into small containers. Mix in 30 drops of essential oil per ounce of base, shake, and let it harden. Apply to chest and back.
Geranium Less expensive than rose oil, geranium relieves PMS symptoms, stress, and anxiety. It also helps clear up eczema, treats burns, and repels insects. Mix 5 drops into a hot bath or blend a few drops with massage lotion and apply to skin.
Jasmine Use this antidepressant oil to ease muscle pain, relieve tension and nervousness, and soothe coughs. Add 1-2 drops to a hot bath.
Mandarin A mild sedative, mandarin has a peaceful effect and is safe for children. Add 7-10 drops to a bath; add 3 drops to a humidifier.