Essential Oils That Capture the Holiday Spirit

Essential oils being used in a diffuser at the Weitz residence. Michael Heller photo
Essential oils being used in a diffuser at the Weitz residence. Michael Heller photo

By Emily Weitz

“And they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” –Matthew, 2:11

Gold and frankincense and myrrh. Even though the value of gold has stood the test of centuries, frankincense and myrrh kind of dropped off the radar for a while there. But their intrinsic benefits, in terms of mind, body, and spirit, are still lauded by those in the know. And as essential oils become generally more commonplace as a means for setting a mood, healing a wound, or flavoring a pastry, those connected to the winter holidays find renewed meaning.

“The word frankincense literally means high quality incense and is used for stronger immunity,” said Jessica Bellofatto, who studies essential oils and uses them in her work at JB Yoga. “It has anti-inflammatory properties, so is great for health issues such as asthma and the common cold.”

JBYoga founder Jessica Bellofatto uses some essential oils on a participant during a yoga session at her East Hampton studio. Michael Heller photo

But just like yoga, essential oils are multi-layered, and while they are working on a physical level to fight germs or clear the airways, they are also working on a spiritual level.

“Frankincense promotes feelings of calm and wellbeing,” said Bellofatto, “and as for the religious aspect of the holidays, frankincense is known as the oil of spiritual wisdom. Just a drop on the top of the head can be really powerful for any sort of meditation or prayer.”

In the New York Institute of Aromatherapy’s handbook, aromatherapist Amy Galper describes how frankincense has been prized by cultures worldwide for thousands of years. In Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, frankincense is used in rituals. In Japan, it’s been incorporated into Shinto meditation, and in modern day Saudi Arabia, it’s the main ingredient of incenses used at births, marriages, deaths, and daily prayer calls. In Chinese medicine, frankincense is used for tissue trauma, pain relief, and increased immunity.

Myrrh, which is an anti-fungal and anti-viral as well, is also known to improve blood flow and to help with circulation.

“When applied to wounds,” said Bellofatto, “myrrh acts as a vulnerary — protecting from infection and speeding up healing.”

Myrrh is a tree resin, and the essential oil is extracted through steam distillation. Because of its anti-fungal properties, myrrh is used as a natural way to help cure things like ringworm and athlete’s foot, and it’s often found in natural toothpaste or oral care products.

But again, the physical applications are only a piece of the puzzle. Even if you’re using myrrh in a mouthwash solution, it still has the spiritual benefits of being grounding and earthy. When combined with frankincense and a lighter brighter oil like sweet orange, myrrh can be a beautiful blend for meditation or setting a spiritual mood.

“Myrrh is a powerhouse,” said Bellofatto. “No wonder these oils were gifted.”

Because the winter holidays fall right around the winter solstice, when the days are at their shortest, darkness is a major factor in how we feel. Often, people struggle with depression in the darker days of winter, and there’s a high emotional charge around the holidays.

“When there are a lot of emotions,” said Jolie Parcher, aromatherapist and owner of Mandala Yoga in Amagansett, “oils give you the ability to move through a little more smoothly.”

She finds herself turning to bright, warming citrus oils this time of year, like mandarin or sweet orange.

“The smell is fresh and bright and sweet for the darker days,” said Parcher. When you put these oils in the diffuser, you step in to a room and they capture your attention right away.”

For health, she turns to oils that are known for their antimicrobial, antibacterial properties, like rosemary, lemon and clove. These oils help to ward off winter ailments like the common cold or the flu, but they’re also great for aiding with the processing of big holiday meals and big holiday feelings.

“These oils stimulate digestion,” said Parcher, “and that’s about more than just digestion of food, but also digestion of attitudes and emotions, and memories.”

Jessica Bellofatto’s Favorite Holiday Blend

In a diffuser:

2 drops frankincense

2 drops white fir – noted for feelings of soothing comfort

3 drops grapefruit- to lift mood and revitalize the entire body


3 drops frankincense

3 drops myrrh

3 drops wild orange – uplifting, refreshing

Jolie Parcher’s Favorite Winter Blend

In a diffuser, or combined with almond oil for a massage blend:

5 drops of rosemary – helps with circulation and warmth

5 drops of mandarin – bright and sunny