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Working with tree essential oils

I have to be honest and say I have always had a great affinity with essential oils that are derived from trees. I suspect this is because I spend too much time in my head and often need the sense of grounding that they afford.

As we continue to walk through the challenging times of lockdowns, restrictions and COVID-19, their role seems every important for a number of reasons.

They bring peace and stillness to the mind

Essential oils such as palo santo (Bursera graveolens) and buddah wood (Eremophila mitchelliiare) are often used for calming the mind. Just like Frankincense (which is derived from the resin rather than the actual wood) they are useful aids to meditation or times when the mind needs to be calm in order to allow us to sleep or shut off from work. Perhaps this is why they have become increasingly popular amongst the wider health and well-being community? Difficulty sleeping seems to be a particular issue for many in our current climate, and a sense of peace is imperative to a good nights sleep.

They help keep us centred and grounded

Trees may be smaller like Buddha wood,  immensely tall like the cedars, or shorter and pointy like a cypress but one things for sure, they all have splendid, intricate root systems that hold them firm in the soil. By taking time to observe a tree (or better still sitting with your back against its trunk or wrapping your arms around its trunk), you feel acutely aware of this grounding aspect to them. On inhaling a wood essential oil you are reminded of your connection to mother earth, something that immediately draws you out from your head and enables you to feel the ground beneath your feet.

They provide focus when our thoughts are racing

This is true of the resins that come from trees as well as essential oils that are derived from the wood alone.  Sometimes the focus can be on calming the mind in order to meditate or do yoga, at other times, helping the mind to still gives space for focus and clarity in the mind. Several woody essential oils may therefore be useful in study or work blends.

They provide strength and wisdom

The strength we derive from wood essential oils is perhaps related to the amount of time the tree has to live for before we can obtain the essential oil. Such oils often imbue a sense of encompassing wisdom, support, reassurance and strength. In my book, Working with unusual oils – an aromatic journey with lesser known essential oils. Volume 1 I describe Katafray as a ‘guiding strength’ and a masculine ‘wise elder’.  Trees also often work together in multiple ways to help each other survive. If you wish to know more about this I highly recommend Peter Wohlleben’s book The hidden life of trees (2017).

They balance, harmonise, relax and even refresh us

The art of forest bathing is known as Shinrin yoku by the Japanese. The idea is that you simply sit or walk in a forest and take time to observe the sites and sounds that you see. Whilst modern technology feels like it connects us more than ever, it is also addictive and can be very invasive. A simple walk, free of technology where you can immerse yourself in nature can be relaxing and restorative. It can help you feel more balanced and evoke a sense of harmony internally and with nature. When we smell the aroma of tree essential oils we are reminded of a walk in nature. I particularly like those derived from the trees needles such as silver fir (Abies alba), blue spruce (Picea pungens) or pine (Pinus sylvestris) if I want to be reminded of a walk in the forest. These essential oils tend to tonify and uplift us when we feel stressed, frazzled or run down.

They are spiritual oils

I should say I believe ALL essential oils have spiritual benefits as well as physical and emotional properties based on the chemistry amongst other things. Essential oils that come from tree bark or resin seem particularly so. Again I think this links to the age of them. When taking a walk in some local woods I often wonder at what these trees have ‘seen’ in generations before me.  Many have been seen as sacred in certain cultures or used in religious ceremonies precisely because of their spiritual properties. Finally, it would be entirely remiss of me to write a blog on tree essential oils without touching on sustainability. Many of our favourite essential oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood atlas and rosewood have dire concerns regarding sustainability. For more information on this please, and to check their status, take a look at the IUCN red list of threatened species You can also sign up for a bi-annual list of endangered or near threatened essential oil bearing plants at

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