Ask any Pagan or Wiccan what they love most about working with herbs, and chances are good they'll tell you how much they love the smell. Herbs contain small glands that hold their essential oils, and when these oils are extracted they release scent molecules. The science of aromatherapy takes advantage of this natural phenomenon and expands it just a bit -- because olfactory sensation stimulates parts of the brain connected to memory and emotion.
Ever catch a whiff of a stranger's perfume and suddenly be reminded of your aunt who passed away when you were twelve? Have you suddenly caught a touch of magnolia on the breeze, and remembered the time you and that special someone went away for a weekend? Does the smell of freshly turned earth remind you of childhood summers at grandpa's farm? It's because the nose knows, and it helps us remember.
Vaporizing is the easiest method to release the aroma of essential oils, and causes the aroma to be taken into the body via inhalation. To use this method, add five or six drops of essential oil to four cups steaming water, and place it in a bowl. With your eyes closed, cover your head with a towel and lean over the bowl. Breathe deeply for about a minute to get the full effect.
You can also use massage techniques for aromatherapy, but it's very important not to rub essential oils directly into the skin. Essential oils should be diluted before coming into contact with bare skin, or they can cause irritation. Add a dozen or so drops of your favorite essential oil into a neutral base oil, such as grapeseed or almond.
Finally, you can add oils to your bathwater and allow yourself to just soak. Forget about those boxes of heavily perfumed stuff -- natural oils are a wonderful way to pamper yourself. Fill your tub with the warmest water you can handle and then add eight to ten drops of essential oil. Splash around a little so the oils blend with the steam from the bathwater. Spend a good fifteen minutes in there, breathing in the scent and enjoying some alone time.
Essential oils can be used for a number of different ritual needs: