It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas. At homes around the country, the aroma of fresh pine trees and spices fill the air. These scents can be soothing compared to the chaos at shopping malls to purchase gifts for loved-ones, according to Stephanie Ross, MH, HT, CNC, director of Drexel University’s advanced certificate program in complementary and integrative therapies.
In a recent paper she explored the origins of these holiday scents and their therapeutic uses that date back to ancient civilizations.
“The use of aromatic spices and herbs made a bland and often tainted diet palatable,” Ross said. “Gum resins and aromatic woods brought spiritual enlightenment through the vapors they released when burnt as incense, whereas aromatic herbs and oils provided effective medicinal agents for afflictions of the mind, body and soul.”
Following are a few examples of holiday scents, their origin, ancient uses and soothing capabilities:
Cinnamon, a symbol of wealth, was one of the most valued spices in ancient times. Arabs used cinnamon oil to anoint sacred vessels for religious ceremonies. The Egyptians used cinnamon as incense and medicine, often given as a gift to the temples. It’s also mentioned in the Bible as part of the holy ointment given to Moses. The ancient Chinese used it in their herbal formulas. Cinnamon was used to calm the nerves and tone the nervous system, and it was considered an effective treatment of depression.
Peppery, sweet and spicy, the aroma of cinnamon has a restorative quality that is warming, uplifting and protective, according to Ross.
The needles, bark, resin, cones, and pine kernels have all been used for their therapeutic properties. The ancient Egyptians ate pine kernels for their restorative properties. American indigenous people used the top growth of branches to make a drink to prevent scurvy. Pine oil is extracted from the needles of Scotch pine.
The fresh, balsamic aroma of pine is invigorating and refreshing to the body, according to Ross. As an incense, it has purifying properties and is often used in meditation to help clear the mind and assist with concentration.
“The wafting aroma of pine needle essence on a crisp, clear morning after freshly fallen snow stimulates the senses to its invisible presence… cleansing and refreshing, the essence of creation, a message of hope, a glimpse of the eternal,” said Ross.
The Atlas cedar is closely related to the famed cedar of Lebanon, which the ancient Egyptians thought to be imperishable. They included cedarwood oil in their embalming process and used its wood to build ships. Cedar was also used and is still actively used in Tibetan medicine.
According to Ross, the resin of Atlas cedar produces an essence with tenacious aroma that is sweet, balsamic and woody. Its essence stimulates and strengthens the mind and spirit. It’s contraindicated during pregnancy.
The advanced certificate program at Drexel was created to address the widespread movement in the United States for a more holistic approach to healthcare management and disease prevention. Established in January 2007, the program is housed in the College of Nursing and Health Professions and couples complementary medicine with conventional medicine.
Data from the Journal of the American Medical Association show that 42 percent of people in the United States report having used at least one complementary or integrative therapy while the New England Journal of Medicine reported that patients spend about 40 billion dollars a year, out-of-pocket, on these therapeutic options.
*** To interview Stephanie Ross on the soothing effects of the above and more holiday scents, call the Drexel News Bureau at 215-895-6741. ***
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