Picture this: a university library during the midsession exam period. Fatigue is sweeping through the building, as contagious as the bubonic plague, and whilst attempting to memorise the foundations of corporate branding, my friend and I are falling victim to the stress and tiredness that’s been holding us hostage for hours.
My inner MLM hun suddenly sashays into my mind, and I pull a bottle of peppermint essential oil out of my bag. I dab it on my friend’s wrists, promising her it will improve her alertness and ability to retain information. Desperate for anything that will help her, she acquiesces. Before long – and to be honest, I still don’t know how this happened – that peppermint oil has moved from her inner wrists to her eyes and she’s screaming and writhing in pain, tears pouring down her cheeks as her eyes try to reject the peppermint.
And that’s the story of how I almost blinded my best friend (she’s fine now btw – but won’t let me near her with essential oils).
It’s been about six months since a colleague introduced me to the world of essential oils, and each week I’ve felt myself slipping further and further into the 'white arts student' starter-pack meme, which is hugely alarming. But as an avid Harry Potter fan, hoarding essential oils around wherever I go is kind of the closest I’ll probably ever come to being a potion master. And so, the fantasy continues.
There are benefits to replacing particulars from your medicine kit, cleaning cupboard and bathroom with essential oils: they’re natural and unsaturated by harmful chemicals. Society does tend to overuse pharmaceutical products and Big Pharma has more than enough power to be concerning.
There are particular oil scents which reduce anxiety; rubbing vetiver on my wrists before a long day at work has worked wonders for me. Oils like peppermint, ylang ylang and rosemary are effective when it comes to focusing on study and fighting fatigue.
"Each week I’ve felt myself slipping further and further into the 'white arts student' starter-pack meme, which is hugely alarming."
For a 6pm exam last semester, I’d poured some drops of peppermint into my water bottle – not sparingly – which resulted in me grimacing way too hard as I tried to swallow what tasted like pure mouthwash. A filthy glance from an exam invigilator told me she must have thought I was guzzling straight vodka, but at least I stayed awake long enough to bullshit my way through the principles of communication management.
There are genuine ways essential oils have made awesome go-to's. Sunburnt? Soothe your skin with lavender. Caught a cold? Drop some eucalyptus on your chest and neck. Going on a date? Try some jasmine or rose oil on your wrists.
On a recent first date with a guy, I spent the half hour before I met him dousing my body with the likes of lavender, vetiver, spearmint (for confidence), a blend of cinnamon and clove (for protection) and other calming blends, so he wouldn’t find himself sitting in the café across the table from anxiety personified. I went hugely overboard; my friend was absolutely horrified by the time I was done. “Claire, you smell like a jungle. Stop.”
If I did indeed smell like an orgy featuring a fruit salad and a badly-put-together bouquet, my date didn’t comment, and overall I was pretty chilled out through the whole thing – so we can call this particular essential oil fable a successful one.
But my other recipes don’t always work out.
Recently, my twelve-year-old sister had decided it was a good idea to roll around in our backyard grass like a walrus, wearing her swimmers. Despite our warnings, half an hour later her body was covered in red, blotchy, open welts that itched and stung; she was in deep discomfort.
Something ticked in my mind: lavender! I grabbed my ‘potion kit’ and pulled out my bottle of lavender. “Hold still”, I told her. “If lavender won’t soothe your skin, nothing will!”, I said with Wonder Woman-esque bravado. In hindsight I really should have diluted the lavender with some coconut or grape seed oil, but I was so convinced that the soothing, healing abilities of lavender would work a miracle. It didn’t.
No sooner had I slopped lavender all over her back and arms that she started shrieking in agony. I was flabbergasted; no, lavender is a soothing healing potion, I’ll just have to use more. Bad decision.
Tears were flowing down her face and she began to kick and pummel me with her fists to make me stop the torture. My entire family freaked out, pulling ice bricks and frozen peas out of the freezer, sourcing towels to wipe off the oil residue, anything to stop the ear-piecing screams.
It’s safe to say my younger sister and best friend are no longer my essential oil guinea pigs; I have compromised all faith they had in alternative medicine and they’ve sprinted back to Big Pharma faster than Severus Snape being chased by a bottle of shampoo. Therefore, I am opening applications for anyone who wants to donate their bodies to science. Tweet me.
Claire is Hogwarts aficionado who will stalk your social media account to find your star sign as soon as she meets you. When she's not re-reading Harry Potter for the zillionth time or meddling in some casual witchcraft, you can find her thinking aloud on Twitter @silent_claire.