As we head towards the middle of autumn and straight into winter, the word that keeps coming to mind is hearth. Hearth as in home, as in making a space for yourself that you can retreat to.

When the weather gets colder, I make sure to take the time to do a deep clean, get rid of what no longer serves me, and add additional rituals or offerings. When home feels like a good place to be, perhaps it is a little easier to come home to ourselves.

Diane Ackerman, in her book The Natural History of the Senses, writes, “Nothing is more memorable than a smell.” One of the first things I return to in the fall and winter are essential oils. Scents help us to maintain and invoke a safe environment.

How best to use essential oils?

First off, if you choose to use an essential oil on the skin, make sure to never use it directly without diluting in a carrier oil. I made the mistake of using essentials oil directly on my skin for years before a very wise aesthetician and herbalist told me it could be irritating and difficult for the body to absorb, not to mention (depending on the oil) potentially disrupting hormonal balance.

In the Bath or Shower:

This is one of my favorite ways to use essential oils. I’ll add a few drops of my favorite scent to the hot water, along with some Epsom salts and dried flowers. If you don’t have a bath, you can add a few drops to the bottom of the shower. It’s an easy way to enhance your bathing time and personalize it for whatever mood you’re in that day. I especially love using eucalyptus oil if I’m congested.

In a Massage Oil:

Add a few drops to your favorite carrier oil (I’m partial to jojoba) and use it to moisturize and smooth the skin. I like to dry brush, rub jojoba oil with a few drops of lavender essential oil, and then step into the hot shower.

In a Diffuser:

This is ideal for creating a space you want to come home to. Add a few drops of whatever scent you would like to a little bit of water, place in your diffuser, and enjoy. A quick note: some people can find diffusers irritating for the lungs, so observe your body to find what’s right for you.

In a Facial Steam:

Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a pot of boiling water, take off the stove, and hover your face over the pot (you can drape a towel over your head to make this more intense). This is great for your pores or if you’re congested.

Essential Oils To Try:


Bergamot has a citrus smell, and is an anti-inflammatory. Bergamot Oil was added to regular black tea to create Earl Grey Tea. Used in aromatherapy, bergamot essential oil can help reduce anxiety and stress and alleviate symptoms of depression. The oil’s α-Pinene and Limonene constituents make it uplifting, refreshing, and stimulating.


Pronounced “Ee-lang Ee-lang,” receives its common name from the repetition of the Tagalog word “ilang,” meaning “wilderness.” Used in aromatherapy, Ylang Ylang Essential Oil can soothe stress, anxiety, sadness, tension, and sleeplessness. It is known for being an aphrodisiac and enhancing sensuality. Used topically, Ylang Ylang Essential Oil is known to balance and regulate oil production in the skin and hair.


Lavender, is a perennial evergreen plant that has produced some of the most popular essential oil in the world for over 2500 years. The plant thrives in oceanic climates with dry, rocky, sandy terrain, Lavender can be found in the Mediterranean region, Europe, Africa, the Canary Islands, the Middle East, and India. As an essential oil, it is wonderful for relaxation and relief from stress. Topically, it can help soothe burns and also acts as an anti-bacterial.


Eucalyptus trees, besides being associated with koalas, are known for having a fresh, crisp, camphoraceous scent, sometimes even described as having hints of lemon, peppermint, and wood. Eucalyptus essential oils support the respiratory system, and can also be a slight stimulant if you’re feeling sleepy. I especially love this one for when I have a cold or am feeling congested.


The name Oregano is derived from the Ancient Greek: “oros” and “ganos.” These two roots mean “joy of the mountains.” Oregano can relieve cough and cold symptoms when inhaled in steam, and it can also disinfect surfaces.  You’ll often find it in organic cleaning solutions. Beyond just being anti-bacterial, oregano essential oil can boost the immune system and improve the efficiency of the respiratory tract.


Rosemary belongs to an aromatic family of herbs which include Basil, Lavender, Myrtle, and Sage. The Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews, and Romans used rosemary to improve their memory and for protection in rituals. Used in aromatherapy, Rosemary helps reduce stress levels and can boost mental activity. You’ll often see rosemary in shampoos and conditioners because of its tonic properties, which stimulate hair follicles and moisturize a dry scalp.

This autumn and winter, try out essential oils for yourself! There are so many ways they can heal and make a space or body feel more like home. Check out essential oils sold at The Alchemist’s Kitchen here!

Information about essential oils sourced from New Directions Aromatics Blog. 

Raisa Tolchinsky

Raisa Tolchinsky hails from Chicago, received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, and is currently a candidate for an M.F.A in poetry at the University of Virginia. A 2019 Brooklyn Poets Fellow, she has read and edited for Tin House Books and Tricycle Magazine, and is founding editor of SIREN. Her poems, essays, stories, and interviews have appeared in Muzzle Magazine, Tricycle, Blood Orange Review, and KR Online. When she’s not writing, she’s boxing or dancing like a weirdo on her roof. Learn more about Raisa and her work on Instagram @raisatolchinsky and on Twitter at @raisaimogen.

  1. So true, an essential oil in massage is truly devine. My favourite massage oil also has Jojoba, Ylang Ylang and Rosewood on its ingredient list. I also use my massage oil in the bath, but have never thought to try addding a few drops to the base if the shower. Thanks for the tip!

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