Benzoin is the resin obtained from the tree known as Styrax benzoin, a relative of Styraxjaponicus, or the snow bell tree, belonging to the family Styraceae. The tree is native to Borneo, Malaya and Java. It grows to heights of more than 50 feet (15 meters).
Benzoin in its crude form is a resin collected from the cut trunk of the tree. It is used in the East for its fragrance – primarily as an ingredient in incense – and also medicinally for infections of the urinary tract.
Benzoin, also known as gum Benjamin, is an important ingredient in friar’s balsam, or compound tincture of benzoin, which has been favoured for many years in the treatment of chesty colds and bronchitis. The essential oil – or resinoid – is produced from the resin by solvent extraction and is very viscous. Some kinds are solid. It is orange-amber in color. It is generally sold in solution. Benzoin can be used to benefit the respiratory system by steam inhalation, is an effective expectorant and has an anti-inflammatory action that soothes laryngitis. Additionally its antiseptic properties can help in the treatment of throat and respiratory infections. Its vanilla-like fragrance makes it enjoyable to use.
In massage, mixed with a base oil, benzoin is used as a stress-reliever, relaxant and mood enhancer. It is invaluable in soothing ‘jangled’ nerves and will warm body and mind, do much to relieve rheumatic and arthritic pain and stimulate a sluggish circulation.
Benzoin is generally kind to the skin and can be used as a cleanser and as a treatment for dry and chapped skin. It is also used extensively in the cosmetics industry as a fragrant addition to the ingredients in bath products, shampoos and perfumes.
Suitable methods of use
Friar’s balsam, or compound tincture of benzoin as it is also called, can be irritating to very sensitive skins, but any irritation is likely to be caused by the other components in the tincture rather than the benzoin itself, which is unlikely to cause problems of this nature. However, there can be problems with sensitization to benzoin in a very small minority of people.
The plant family to which bay belongs is Lauraceae, the same family as camphor and cinnamon. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the dried leaves and berries of the bay plant.
Bay, or sweet bay as it is also known, originally comes from the area around the Mediterranean, but is quite easily grown in sheltered, sunny positions in this country. The tree grows to as much as 60 feet high (18 meters) and is evergreen.
Bay leaves are a common addition to stews and casseroles, whether fresh or dried, and bay is one of the standard ingredients of a classic bouquet garni. The leaves are used whole and are removed from the dish once cooking is complete and their flavor has infused throughout.
In common with most of the herbs that are widely used in cooking, bay has beneficial effects on the digestive system. Bay can also help to combat flatulence, and chewing on a bay leaf will help to freshen the breath after a spicy meal.
History reveals that bay was widely used in ancient Rome and Greece. Apart from its benefits as a digestive aid, it was believed to offer protection from malign spiritual influences. The emperors of ancient Rome wore wreaths of laurel (another name for bay) in time of victory and it remains a symbol of victory, wealth and importance to this day.
The essential oil is extracted from bay by steam distillation of the dried leaves and twigs. The oil is yellow-green in color and smells strongly medicinal. Bay oil is used for its fragrance by the cosmetics and perfume industries and is also used in the production of a variety of foods and drinks.
Bay oil can be used in massage, bathing and inhalation. It has an uplifting effect on the spirits, and medicinally it can help in the treatment of minor respiratory illnesses such as colds and influenza. It helps combat flatulence and indigestion and can stimulate a jaded appetite. Bay oil is an emmenagogue – it can induce menstruation – and can help when periods are scanty and irregular.
Suitable methods of use
- Massage (well-diluted)
- Hair care
Bay oil can be irritating to sensitive skins. Use in proper dilution and in moderation only. Those with particularly sensitive or allergy-prone skins should avoid the use of bay oil in massage at home. Warning: Bay should not be used during pregnancy.
Basil belongs to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae) family of plants. The aromatic leaves and stems of the plant are a mainstay of many dishes in European cookery, adding a fresh, distinctively pungent taste to salads and sauces. Although basil originally comes from Africa, the plant is relatively easy to grow, flourishing in the area around the Mediterranean in particular. Even in the cooler temperatures of Great Britain it is a popular annual herb to grow, either in warm, sheltered gardens or in pots on the windowsill. There are several different varieties of the plant: French basil is the variety used in aromatherapy. Much of the basil that is grown for essential oil production comes from Egypt.
Whilst all cooks will be well aware of the versatility of basil as a cooking ingredient, not all of them will know of the beneficial properties of the plant when it is eaten. It is effective as an antispasmodic agent and thus its consumption is a particularly pleasant way to aid digestion. Basil has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years for the treatment of fever and stomach and digestive complaints.
The whole plant is used for extracting the essential oil of basil, which is obtained by steam distillation. The oil is either colorless or pale yellow and has a sweet, spicy herbal smell. Basil oil is used as a fragrance ingredient in the cosmetics industry and is also used extensively in food production.
Basil oil has many therapeutic effects. It is both soothing and uplifting when diluted in a base oil and used for massage; it has the effect of relieving gloom and fatigue, generally lifting the spirits and promoting a sense of well-being. Massage with a blend containing basil oil can thus be a wonderful tonic for stress at the end of a hard working day and will also improve circulatory function. Bath oils containing essential oil of basil can make a soak in a warm tub all the more beneficial as inhalation and absorption of the oil both work their magic. Steam inhalation of the oil is a favored treatment for many respiratory ailments, and basil is also known to be effective in soothing fever.
Basil oil will bring relief to insect bites and stings, applied in dilution, and also acts as an insect repellent.
Suitable methods of use
Avoid using neat. Dilute well to avoid skin irritation. Use with moderation.
Warning: Pregnant women should avoid the use of basil oil.
Aniseed is a member of the Umbelliferae plant family, which includes several other commonly used herbs such as angelica, dill and fennel. The plant is native to the warmer climes of Egypt and Greece, and is now also grown in several other countries, including Spain and Mexico. The seeds of the plant have a pleasant liquor-ice taste and, as a result, aniseed is used in the confectionery industry and also as a flavoring for-throat lozenges and cough preparations. Alcoholic beverages such as Pastis and Pernod are aniseed-flavored and aniseed can be used as an ingredient in some recipes for home cooking.
Like fennel and dill, aniseed can have beneficial effects on the digestive system, combating flatulence, indigestion and colic. Aniseed also has a deodorizing effect on the breath so is used in breath-freshening preparations. Other properties of the plant have enabled it to be used since the times of the ancient Romans as an aphrodisiac, an antiseptic and a stimulant to the production of breast milk in nursing mothers. Aniseed also has a decongestant effect on the upper respiratory tract.
The essential oil is obtained from the seed by steam distillation. The oil is very pale yellow in color and has a sweet and spicy smell. It is used extensively in the pharmaceutical and food and drinks industries.
Aniseed oil is used therapeutically in the treatment of respiratory and digestive problems but has a relatively high level of toxicity. Although the plant and seeds have culinary and medicinal uses, the essential oil is not recommended for domestic use.
Can cause drowsiness and dizziness in large doses and is an irritant, causing skin problems such as dermatitis in some people.
Warning: Not recommended for use in the home, unless on the advice of a trained therapist.
Essential oil of angelica is produced by the steam distillation of the roots or of the seeds.
The oil is colorless or pale yellow and has a strong earthy, spicy fragrance. It is used for its fragrance in the production of perfumes, soaps and cosmetics. It is employed by the food and drinks industries as a flavoring ingredient.
Therapeutically, angelica oil can be used in a variety of ways. It has a strengthening effect on the spirits and can also be used to treat nervous tension, anxiety and stress. It will give a boost to the flagging mind and body when fatigue has set in, particularly if this is stress-induced. Use in massage blends or bathing for this purpose.
Angelica can also benefit the digestive system, combating indigestion and flatulence and boosting a jaded appetite.
The effects of the oil on the circulatory system are primarily stimulating and detoxifying. Angelica also has a diuretic effect so can be used to combat fluid retention.
Angelica has expectorant properties so can be used to treat catarrhal coughs. It will also help to reduce the feverishness that is associated with coughs, colds and influenza.
Used in skin care, angelica oil is particularly good for treating dull, lifeless skin and will also benefit dermatitis and psoriasis, soothing associated irritation.
Suitable methods of use
Warning: Avoid during pregnancy. Not suitable for use by diabetics. Avoid exposure to the sun – may be phototoxic. Otherwise, generally safe to use.