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Tradtitional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - A different approach to Essential Oils

January 2020, posted by Emma

Water, wood, fire, earth & metal. What do these words mean to you? Perhaps your first thoughts are baths, forests, BBQs, gardening and tin cans. Or you might recognise them as the 5 Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In some of our newsletters this year we will explore some of the foundations of this ancient medicinal system and its relationship with essential oils. We aim to scratch the surface of this fascinating medicinal world, hopefully enough to pique your curiosity.

The first written records of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) date from over 2,000 years ago, though it is thought to have been practised for at least 5,000 years. Many of the underlying principals echo those of other ancient medicinal systems such as Ayurveda, Tibetan and Native American Cherokee.

Oriental medicine believes that our individual constitutions affect our innate strengths, weaknesses and propensity towards disease. Therefore a TCM practitioner will consider a range of factors, including which calendar season it is, our geographical location, age and health history.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is founded on the basis that all illness - spiritual, emotional and physical - are a result of imbalances of our body’s elemental energy called Qi (pronounced Chi). This is our vital life force energy. Qi imbalances can lead to illnesses which manifest when our Qi is low (deficient), in excess or when it becomes blocked, or stagnant.

Qi is described in a myriad different ways. Some of my favourites include that it’s our life-giving, transformative and universal energy. Qi is also the source of physical energy, warmth, nourishment and protects us from disease. It therefore makes sense that when our Qi is in disharmony states such as constant tiredness or hyper-energy, feeling too hot or too cold, suffering regular colds or digestive issues such as constipation may occur.

So how do we take care of our Qi? Well, by taking care of ourselves! Acupuncture, shiatsu therapy, Tai Chi and Qi Gong all work to re-balance the flow of Qi. Diet and lifestyle have a huge effect. We can also use essential oils to support our vital energy, a way of working that internationally-respected author and educator Gabriel Mojay has taught extensively about. To start with, we will take a look at two popular essential oils and how we can harness them to support our Qi, this vital energy. In general, it can be useful to explore the energetic qualities of essential oils alongside their known therapeutic properties. The energetic actions tend to reflect and enhance our knowledge of established essential oil therapeutics, thus widening our understanding and adding new, exciting dimensions to our essential oil choices and therapeutic blends.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum, linalool chemotype)

This is an essential oil to reach for when your core energy is low (deficient) and needs a boost.
Mojay describes the energy of it’s fragrance as invigorating, regulating and uplifting. Inhaling sweet basil can harmonise the spirit and give us a lift, having a special effect on the Qi of the Heart. This means that its useful when stress has depleted our energy levels and when we’re feeling down in the dumps, or despondent.
Sweet Basil also has an affect on the Qi of the Stomach and Intestines and as such may be harnessed to ease abdominal distension and pain. In particular, consider digestive-related conditions that are often strongly linked with stress and worry, such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
Sweet basil might already be an oil that you turn to when menstrual cramps take hold. Basil’s role according to TCM reflects this, thanks to it’s role in regulating Qi in the Uterus.
Be aware that when adding Sweet Basil to massage blends or other skin preparations it is best to stick to a maximum of 3% of the total blend, as it comes with a low risk of skin reactions.

Neroli (Citrus bigaradia)

A special oil from the very giving Citrus aurantium tree (C. biogaradia is a subspecies). The leaves of this tree provide us with soothing petitgrain essential oil and from the fruits come the uplifting bitter orange oil. Neroli is extracted from the tree’s blossoms. As is common with fragile blossoms they require careful handling. The steam-distilled oil is therefore expensive to produce, but Neroli’s exquisite aroma means this aromatic is well worth investing in.
Neroli’s fragrance has a cool and moist energy, so it will not come as a surprise to learn that it is recommended for cooling and calming hot energetic states. Like Basil, it has a special relationship with our Heart Qi. However whereas Basil is useful when we need a lift, neroli can play a key role in calming restless and agitated states.
It’s cool energy means it can be helpful on sleepless nights and to douse pesky hot flushes. Those who experience the latter will know that hot flushes are often a cause of sleep-disturbance. Neroli’s calming action on our Heart energy means that it can also be a great friend when anxiety strikes. In addition it helps regulate the Qi of our Liver. TCM teaches us that when our Liver Qi is in disharmony frustration and irritability can occur, which Neroli can is good at easing.
Try also adding neroli to blends for dry skin and eczema, particularly when aggravated by stress.

Try these inhalation blends in your burner or diffuser to shake up your Qi, or calm and cool agitated emotions.

Warm and Invigorate

4 drops Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
3 drops Basil, sweet / CT linalool (Ocimum basilicum)
3 drops Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
2 drops Coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum)

Cool and Calm

4 drops Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
3 drops Neroli (Citrus bigaradia)
3 drops Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium)
2 drops Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

Emma Charlton

• China Education Center (date unknown)
Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine, accessed 27/01/20, available from
• Mojay G (1996) Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit (1996) London: Gaia Books Limited
• Mojay G (2015) Aromatherapy & Oriental Medicine Reference Notes (ITHMA course text, unpublished).
• National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (2013) Traditional Chinese Medicine: what you need to know, accessed 27/01/20, available from
• Reichstein G (1998) Wood Becomes Water, Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, New York & Tokyo: Kodansha
• Tisserand R & Young R (2014) Essential Oil Safety (second edition), Edinburgh, London, New York et al: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier
• Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation (date unknown) What is TCM? accessed 27/01/20, available from