Aromatherapy in Hospice: The Connection to Biblical Oils
By Valerie Hartman
More than a year ago, I started studying for my clinical aromatherapy certification, perhaps an unusual thing for a hospice nurse. The introductory weekend explored Biblical oils: more than 18 aromatic plant oils are mentioned in the Old and the New Testament. While I expected to be learning about essential oils that were used for religious purposes (such as an anointing), I discovered that the essential oils of Biblical times reflect a lifestyle. Dating back 4,000 years ago people of all faiths and traditions had a close relationship with, and reliance on, the extracted oils from a variety of herbs, flowers, and tree resins. Physicians and spiritual leaders relied on plants for health and spiritual care. Physicians used essential oils for healing ailments (anxiety, depression, insomnia); spiritual leaders burned aromatics in sacred rituals and used essential oils to prepare the body after death and to ease the grief of mourners.
Biblical oils comprise a list of some of the most effective essential oils in the day that protected against the plague, were used for healing, and promoted more peaceful spiritual practices. Among the list of precious oils: Frankincense, Myrrh, Balsam Fir, Sandalwood (Aloes), Rose of Sharon, Spikenard, Juniper, Pine, Olive, and Myrtle. Sandalwood is an example of an aromatic that was used in spiritual traditions of the Chinese, Sanskrit, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths in ritual ceremony.
In hospice, Biblical and spiritual essential oils still carry these traditional connections into modern day. You can use essential oils in a diluted carrier safely (one drop on a cotton square to inhale) as a way to bring the essence of spiritual connection into the hospice experience.
- A drop of Frankincense on a cotton square in ritual every Sunday can symbolize the Spiritual practice of one’s faith tradition.
- A drop of Hyssop on a cotton square can be used in active dying, useful for moist breathing; symbolic of the last plant oil given to Jesus on the cross before he died.
- Sandalwood on a cotton square can deepen a meditative state and assist with spiritual contemplation while easing anxiety.
- For those that find spiritual connection through the simplicity of nature itself, the aroma of a favorite flower can be enough to bring someone to universal contemplation: rose, lavender, sage, geranium, basil, sweet orange, bergamot, ylang ylang, or even patchouli can be used for the memories and symbolisms that they connect to.
- Simpler still, in the last days of life the use of lavender oil lightly massaged on the palms will hold symbolism, an emotional gesture. Lavender calms the nervous system and is a good antibacterial essential oil for the skin during this time. A drop of rose essential oil on the upper chest over the heart holds symbolism. Rose essential oil calms the nervous system, has an aroma that is connected to transitions and emotional life.
- Consider the practice of adding an essential oil to the ritual of post mortem care, cleaning and preparing the body before the funeral home arrives. A 1% or 2% dilution of lavender essential oil in a carrier oil (jojoba or coconut oil, or olive oil) can be applied to the arms, hands, legs and feet, the back, or the face of the body if it feels appropriate to the deceased wishes, the families wishes. Many families who participate in this lovely ritual feel that the essential oils honor the body and life of their loved one in a unique and special way.
To learn more about the safe use and application of essential oils please visit: www.NAHA.org
If your hospice program has a clinical aromatherapist on staff, inquire about using essential oils for spiritual connection.