Aromatherapy & the Stress Response Cycle

Many of us are experiencing a tremendous amount of psychological stress due to the current worldwide pandemic. I spent the last year and a half researching and writing about Aromatherapy for stress. Since I cannot share this information one-on-one or in the Symposium that we had scheduled for spring, I decided there is no better way than blogging to share this information with you in hopes of helping in your current situation. We need many tools to cope with the crisis. The inhalation of essential oils offers a direct interaction with the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is known to be a powerful emotion processing center and is responsible for learning, memory, and emotional aspects of behavior. It is also the “brain’s alarm system” according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Limbic system along with the Hypothalamus and Amygdala are functionally linked. The Hypothalamus is in control of regulating various things in the body like heart rate, respiration, hormone secretion, blood pressure, and body temperature. It allows us to respond to our internal and external environment and maintain homeostasis.

The HPA Axis includes the Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenals. Acute exposure to stressful stimuli activates the HPA Axis. The Hypothalamus releases a hormone which stimulates a release of hormones from the Pituitary gland. Those hormones travel through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands where several types of hormones like cortisol are then released. Cortisol follows a circadian rhythm and is beneficial in many ways including the formation of glucose and suppression of inflammation in the body. With high levels of stress and chronic stress, however, the body releases high levels of cortisol which can lead to various health problems. People experience stressors in different ways based on our life experiences, and patterns of coping with stressors are effected by our environment.

Insert Essential Oils! Though my research was on “10 Essential Oils for Stress”, here I will highlight the five that I included in my Restorative Mind-Body Blend. Rose Otto, Sandalwood, Sweet Orange, Lavender, and Patchouli create a harmonious spa experience in a bottle.

In my research Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) was the only essential oil (EO) I came across that was shown to regulate cortisol. Rose Oil also caused significant decreases of heart rate and blood pressure (Songklanakarin J. Sci. Technol. V 26, 2004). The eugenol and linalool rich EO of Rose has the powerful ability to inhibit the HPA activation that occurs during acute and chronic stress (Chemical Senses Journal 37, 2012). From a Chinese Medicine perspective it regulates the liver and relieves stagnant conditions like tension and irritability (Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Mojay, G.).

The preferred essential oil of my 20’s, Sandalwood (Santalum album), has proven its place in anyone’s aromatic medicine cabinet in recent years. There is an enzyme in various cells of our body called PDE4 that triggers inflammation in the skin and activation of the HPA Axis. Sandalwood has been shown to inhibit PDE4, thereby deactivating the stress cycle (Frontiers in Pharmacology, V 9, March 2018). In a new field called psychodermatology discoveries are being made, specifically in the link between our mental health and skin health. It has been further shown to be one of the most potent EO’s for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Many studies on the therapeutic properties of Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) EO confirm its helpfulness in aiding depressive symptoms. In a human study, Sweet Orange EO “caused significant increases in heart rate as well as in subjective alertness” and suggest the relief of mild forms of depression and stress. (Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants V 5, 2005, p. 75). It can also support in times of anxiety. There is a noteworthy study suggesting that Orange EO has an acute anxiolytic activity, “giving some support to its use as a tranquilizer by aromatherapists”. (Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry V34, 2010).

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most highly regarded EO for moderate anxiety, evident in the overabundant commercial (and often adulterated) use. Essential Oils that are high in linalyl acetate have a calming effect on the nervous system (Aromatic Medicine, Skipper C.). Clinical study after clinical study, involving dental patients, hospital patients, and people receiving an Ayurvedic Shirodhara treatment demonstrate lavender’s anxiolytic properties (Flavour and Fragrance Journal V 26, 2011). On a side note, for high anxiety I would recommend Melissa, or Lemon Balm. I have personal experience helping someone out of a panic attack with a couple drops of Melissa on a handkerchief.

Lastly, Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) is an oil you either love or hate. Even if you’re a hater, blended with complementary oils Patchouli added a sweetness that cannot be matched. It contains the constituent, b-patchoulene, which exhibits a greater reduction in locomotor activity (Journal of Natural Medicine, 2011). Another study showed that Patchouli EO “caused a 40% decrease in relative sympathetic activity” (Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, 2002). At the same time, however, it helps with concentration and attentiveness as it has a stimulating effect on the brain (Songklanakarin J. Sci. Technol. V 26, 2004). Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute speaks of it so beautifully when we look at it from the perspective of the plant part used in distillation: “We can use oils made from leaves to support respiration and deeper breathing. These oils can also protect us from infection. They can help us breath when we feel stress and anxiety, while supporting expansion and creativity. Leaf oils can also support us when if we get into over-thinking and need a calm, clear mind.”

Whether you look at clinical studies, Chinese Medicine, chemical constituents, or the plant part distilled there is both science and intuition that can guide you towards the essential oils that can help you achieve greater equilibrium. 7% of the aromatic constituents that you inhale goes through the olfactory nerves and 93% goes through the lungs, so make every breath count! My blends are available here.

Video introduction of the Restorative Mind-Body Ritual here:

Aromatherapy Certification

I have exciting news to share…
After 20+ years of self study and 3.5 years in my Aromatherapy Certification Program, I am now a Certified Aromatherapist!

My program consisted of 7 lessons and countless webinars, 20 Case Studies, a research paper, blending exercises, and an anatomy and physiology class. My research paper is now available for download on our website if you wish to read about 10 Essential Oils for Stress.

What does it mean to be a Certified Aromatherapist? The Aromatherapy field is self regulated, which means there is no governmental oversight (for now). Anyone can say they are an Aromatherapist! I chose to become certified through our only national non-profit aromatherapy organization called NAHA, or the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. My course was a 235-hour program offered through the fabulous Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute.

When you choose to become certified through NAHA you agree to abide by their strict safety standards and code of ethics. In addition to my class through Aromahead I just completed the Essential Oil Safety Masterclass offered through the Tisserand Institute. I’m continuing with Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oils for Healthy Skin class which will be completed in June.

I am now offering an Aromatherapy Consultation for Stress based on my research findings. In this 1 hour Aromatherapy Consultation, I will take you through my 10 Essential Oils for Stress plus other supportive oils and connect you with the ones that will help you most. A personal inhaler, diffuser blend, or body oil will be created for you and can be refilled at any point without an additional consultation. The price of product is not included in the consultation fee.

In the future, my Aromatherapy Consultations will be moving out to our new Farmhouse. As many of you know we bought a farmhouse in Milan back in December. It has been glorious connecting with the land and watching what is blooming these early spring days. We have a lot of work ahead of us including the creation of a Farmhouse Lab and consultation space. If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening out there, including all the animals we are aquiring, the best way is to follow us on instagram @stonycreekaromatics.

Throw back photo of the day. Circa 1997 in Kathmandu, Nepal. No makeup, no sunscreen, bad taste in footwear, but I brought my peppermint essential oil! It has been an amazing journey and it’s only just beginning!

Carrier Oil vs. Essential Oil

In the past, I wrote about my summer and winter body oils in which I mention carrier and essential oils. Today, I thought it would be helpful to establish the difference between carrier oils and essential oils and the benefits of each one.

Image by Ken Bosma under Creative Commons license

Carrier Oil

Carrier oils come from the oils of seeds, nuts, and kernels. They are rich in two main groups of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. In skin care, these acids are known for their abilities to nourish the skin.


While there are a few different ways to extract carrier oils from seeds, nuts, and kernels, cold-pressed is the best method for extraction.  Cold-Pressed extracts oils from seeds, nuts, and kernels through the use of hydraulic press machines. These specialized machines crush the seeds, nuts, and kernels; thus, releasing the oils.

What it Does for Your Skin:

Carrier oils dilute and carry essential oils to the skin for absorption. Each carrier oil offers different beneficial properties such as the promotion of cell regeneration, calming inflammation, providing vitamins and minerals, and moisturizing the skin. Depending on the mixture, textures of these oils can be luxuriously rich or charmingly light.

Essential Oil

Naturally occurring aromas come from plants containing special oils known as essences. Certain cells and glands of these plants produce these essences to protect themselves against bacteria, fungi, and herbivores. After distillation humans can use these concentrated substances for similar purposes: to protect against disease and affect our skin and nervous system.

Glass dropper with amber bottle
Glass dropper with amber bottle

Distillation Processes:

The two most common distillation processes to extract essential oils from plants are steam distillation and solvent extraction.  At Jessica’s Apothecary, we only source steam distilled essential oils.  (In a couple instances a CO2 method of distillation comes into play but let’s keep things simple here).

Steam distillation uses only heat and water to transform essences into essential oils. Plants are placed inside a still (a container) with pressurized steam. This steam circulates through plant material to open up the cells and glands to release essences. When the essences release from the plants they follow the steam to the condensation chamber to cool down. During cool down, the oil and water (from the steam) condense and separate themselves from each other.

Solvent Extraction involves pouring a solvent compound (a chemical called Hexane) over the buds and petals of delicate flowers. The essences then dissolve themselves into the solvent.  Many essential oils on the market use this type of process.  Again, we don’t advocate the use of chemically extracted oils.

Quality of Essential Oils:

It is common to hear that an oil is “Therapeutic Grade” in a manufacturer’s attempt to express that their oils are more “pure” than another companies, but there are no established regulations on defining a “grade” of essential oil.  The purity of an essential oil is based on how they are grown, distilled, and packaged.  Jessica’s Apothecary only sources Certified Organic and Wildcrafted essential oils.  The plants will have the highest level of therapeutic effect when they are carefully handled.  We make sure that we only source oils that have been tested with Gas Chromatography (GC).  This quantifiable process tests for purity and identifies the constituents that make up an essential oil.  The oils then need to be protected against extreme heat and light as to not damage its therapeutic benefits.

We are proud to offer the highest standard: Certified Organic, Cold-processed Carrier Oils and Certified Organic and Wildcrafted, Steam-distilled Essential Oils that have all been GC tested and packaged in amber glass bottles.  To see the blends we make visit our products page.


Natural Medicine Suite 101. The Extraction of Carrier Oils <>
Describes the extraction methods used for carrier oils.

Aroma Web. <>
Contains information about fatty acids found in carrier oils.

Aroma Web. <>
Defines carrier oils and how they can be used.

Aroma Web. <>
Describes essential oils.

Aromahead. Free Introduction to Essential Oils,
Defines essential oils and how they are distilled.

Tisserand, Robert. Essential Oils
Why plants produce essential oils.

Young Living Essential Oils. Young Living Therapeutic Grade (YLTG). <>
Describes the importance of therapeutic grade oils.

Amrita Aromatheraphy. Essential Oils.
Description of therapeutic oils.

Aroma Web.
Describes the gas chromatography process.

Jessica’s Scrubs, Hydrosols, & Specialty Body Oils

We have been busy!  There are 5 new products to introduce to you!

ginger-lemon-salt-scrub4First off, I have created beautiful body scrubs from (mineral rich) Pink Himalayan Salt and Organic Sunflower Oil.  Directions for use:  Use once per week in the shower on body after cleansing.  Scrub in circular motion and rinse well.  For best results, follow with one of my body oils after bathing. The results are silky smooth skin like you have never experienced before!

The Ginger Lemon is inspired by my favorite tea from back when I worked at Sweetwaters Cafe.  The Ginger stimulates the circulation in the skin while Lemon naturally exfoliates.

The Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub is the same blend of Salt and Sunflower oil.  It has no essential oils added to it so we can customize it for you!   Consider a Lavender Rosemary blend, Orange Lime, or Eucalyptus.

Next, we have HYDROSOLS!

lemon-verbena-hydrosol1What is a hydrosol?  From Andrea Butje, owner of Aromahead Institute, a hydrosol is created when a plant goes through a steam distillation process.  Steam breaks open the structure of the plant that contains its essential oils and its fluids.  The oil and water are separated as the steam cools, leaving us with a hydrosol.

One of the ways I recommend using my hydrosols is simply in place of a toner (after cleansing and before applying a moisturizer).  For other uses see the guest article I wrote for the Aromatics International blog.

Lastly, but the 1st in my Specialty Body Oil line, is the Dancing Without Inhibition Body Oil.  Probably the most sublime product I have made yet, this body oil uses Certified Organic Neroli to lift the spirits and hydrate the skin.

dancing-without-inhibition-body-oil-small3Visit our newly updated Products Page for details on all the products we make!

This is a day for Roasting Marshmallows

Don’t take me literally when I talk about roasting marshmallows.  I am not talking about eating them,  and my perfume oil, “Roasting Marshmallows”, does not smell like marshmallows.  But this rainy, cool summer day calls for an oil that is warm, woody, spicy and sweet.  Essential oils can bring balance to the body.  Just by inhaling, our brain responds with sedating or invigorating impulses.  An oil can balance your mood, the weather, and your dosha (your ayurvedic body type).  The dominant presence of Cedar and Cardamom in Roasting Marshmallows provides emotional strength and stability, warmth and dryness to a cold, wet day, and balance to a Kapha dominent dosha.  When I wear an oil that balances the climate I actually feel more of an embrace for the day.  Just days ago I was almost bathing in “Laying in a Hammock”.  The heat was almost unbearable but when I walked outside and a breeze of lavender and bergamot mixed with the air, my body spoke “Ahhhh, this is summer!”