Aromatherapy is the use of therapeutic grade essential oils for health and healing. These oils are derived from plant material and their chemical compounds are both aromatic and beneficial to the wellness of body, mind and spirit. The practice of aromatherapy dates back to ancient times and some essential oils have been found in some Egyptian tombs.
I have chosen to feature a brief overview of my top three picks for aromatherapeutic oils from Africa.
- Ravintsara essential oil
Overview: Commercial ravintsara is grown on the island of Madagascar. The leaves of this tree are distilled to produce ravintsara essential oil (not to be confused with ravensara essential oil; but that’s a discussion for another time…). It can be inhaled or used topically (on the skin) in a carrier oil.
Botanical name: Cinnamomum camphora
Therapeutic Properties: Anti-bacterial, anti-infectious, antispasmodic, antiviral, immune stimulant, and nerve tonic
Travel Applications: Good for use on colds and flu; assists immune system function; helps manage stress; good for muscle aches and pain.
- Atlas Cedarwood essential oil
Overview: The Atlas mountains can be found in Morocco (also Algeria) where the cedarwood tree grows (hence the name). The wood is steam distilled to produce cedarwood essential oil. It can be inhaled or used topically and is also used in perfumery.
Botanical Name: Cedrus altlantica
Therapeutic Properties: Antiseptic, anti-sebhorreic, astringent, sedative, insecticide
Travel Applications: Good for the skin and scalp; such conditions as acne, hair loss and dandruff are helped with the use of cedarwood. Also an insect repellent and grounding oil. Can be used in meditation and for stress.
- Shea butter
Overview: Shea butter is actually a wax, not an oil. It comes from the kernel of the Karite or Shea tree and is used as a carrier oil. After being melted, essential oils can be added and the mixture used topically for use on skin and hair. Ghana is known for providing shea butter that is commercially used. However, caveat emptor! There are many ‘fake’ shea butter products on the market that do not have the therapeutic benefits of the real thing.
Botanical Name: Vitellaria paradoxa; also Butyrospermum parkii
Therapeutic Properties: Emollient; antioxidant; anti-inflammatory; contains vitamin A, D and E
Travel Applications: Use on insect bites, burns and rash as well as on dry hair and skin. Can provide some UV protection
*Note: This list is by no means exhaustive of all the properties these oils possess.
**Disclaimer: Consult with a trained aromatherapist before using essential oils to ensure authenticity and quality of the oil along with any contraindications for you and your condition.
Cooksley, V.G. (1996). Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils. USA: Prentice Hall.
Manniche, L. (1999). Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times. Cairo, Egypt: American University of Cairo Press.
Sellar, W. (1992). The Directory of Essential Oils. Essex, UK: Daniel Company.
Worwood, S. (1995). Essential Aromatherapy: A Pocket Guide to essential Oils & Aromatherapy. Novato, CA: New World Library.
A Taste of Travel & Aromatherapy in Africa
- Highland Essential Oils, a company based in South Africa.