About Rhododendron Essential Oil:
Rhododendron essential oil is obtained via steam or hydro distillation from the aerial parts of Rhododendron anthopogon; its leathery leaves being the most aromatic part of the plant. Also called “Sunpati” in its native Nepal, this short, evergreen shrublet is categorized into the Ericaceae family-which includes azalea, bog Labrador tea, blueberry, bayberry and wintergreen-a commonality being these plants generally thrive in acidic soil and infertile, yet moist, growing conditions.
Anthopogon is considered to be one of the smallest plants in the Rhododendron genus as it grows no more than 2 – 3 feet. It thrives in the high altitudes (3,000-4,800 meters) of the majestic Himalayan mountain range; found across Nepal, Pakistan, northern India, Bhutan and SE Tibet. The plant is mainly harvested in Nepal for its aromatic essence, where annual production of the essential oil is roughly 250-450 kg.1
This sacred plant is a national symbol of Nepal2 and revered for its medicinal use. The plant material (i.e., flowers and leaves) is often used in native medicine for digestive (i.e., stomach, liver) and respiratory disorders. More specifically, it is thought to promote digestive fire and work with symptoms manifesting as wet catarrh.
On a spiritual level, anthopogon leaves are often mixed with needles from members of the Cupressaceae family such as Cryptomeria japonica (called “Tsugi Pine” in Nepal) and burned as incense to support Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practices.
Demure and subtle, anthopogon transports you to a place of quietude and respite. Its oil fills the mind with a calming stillness: Nepal’s frankincense. The molecules permeate tissues with a circulating energy that goes into the lungs, down to the solar plexus and into the digestive organs, offering a container for stability and peace. Anthopogon is truly a gentle, contemplative and easeful friend.
Core applications for Rhododendron essential oil:
|Musculoskeletal & Circulatory||Pain, inflammation|
|Respiration||Antimicrobial (antibacterial, anti-fungal), general immune stimulant, clearing, decongesting (especially wet catarrh)|
|Nervous/Psyche/Emotion||Anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, encourages states of stillness and calm|
|Energetics||Promoting sacred space, energy clearing, holding space|
Chemistry highlights: Rhododendron essential oil is abundant in monoterpenes (notably alpha and beta pinene, d-limonene and cis-ocimene) and supported by sesquiterpenes (e.g., delta and gamma cadinene and beta caryophyllene).
Is Rhododendron Essential Oil Safe?
Yes, Rhododendron anthopogon essential oil is generally recognized as safe. However, it is a known skin sensitizer when oxidized due to is rich monoterpene content. Avoid using oxidized essential oils on the body — but don’t throw those away — use them to clean with. Store monoterpene-rich oils in the refrigerator and keep air/head-space to a minimum to slow oxidation.
Note: there are over 800 species in the genus Rhododendron3, most of which contain the water-soluble toxin (andromedotoxins) in the leaves and pollen4,5. R. anthopogon is NOT the rhododendron many of us know and grow in USA or elsewhere around the globe; this species is one of the very few to be considered non-toxic. Needless to say, do NOT go out foraging for Rhododendron ssp. with the intention of using it to make a tincture, infusion or distill the leaves and flowers for the hydrosol or essential oil.
Blending with Rhododendron Essential Oil:
Anthopogon delicately fills the air with a sweet and slightly floral aroma. It presents an herbaceous, balsamic backbone layered with spicy, slightly-smoky-woody undertones. The dry-down is fast—pay close attention—as the aromas ease into a quiet, mossy green and settle into a leathery-dampness. The ending ever-so-faintly brings to mind a clear, watery-blue pool, reminiscent of Opoponax.
Anthopogon essential oil blends well with: many of the conifers (Pinus sylvestris, Tsuga canadensis, Picea mariana, Abies alba, Juniperus communis), Galbanum (Ferula galbanifera), Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), Cape chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus), Khella (Ammi visnaga), Frankincense (Boswellia ssp.), Combava petitgrain (Citrus hystrix), Lemon (Citrus limon).
Creating Wellness Products with Rhododendron
A Gentle Synergy to Move Catarrh and Support Expansive Breathing
Tap into Rhododendron’s gentle but expansive nature with the following synergy of essential oils that may be used for people with reactive airways (e.g., asthmatics) or those prone to labored breathing due to panic attacks. Rosemary CT verbenone combined with Rhododendron may help with catarrh; Cape chamomile and Khella are gentle anti-spasmodics.
I find this synergy to be incredibly relaxing, gentle and very chill. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing happens without thinking about it. The first word in my blending notes is “WOW.”
What you need to make 5 ml of synergy:
- A 5 ml bottle with cap and orifice reducer
- 45 drops Rhododendron (Rhododendron anthopogon)
- 18 drops Cape chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus)
- 18 drops Rosemary verbenone (Rosmarinus officinalis CT verbenone)
- 12 drops Khella (Ammi visnaga)
- 12 drops Combava petitgrain (Citrus hystrix)
How to make:
Combine the essential oils in a 5 ml bottle. Be sure to let the synergy sit for a few days before using so the oils mingle together. Label appropriately.
Following are some ideas on how to deliver this synergy of allies to your body-mind-spirit:
- Aromatic inhaler
- Atmospheric diffusion: add 20 – 40 drops of the synergy to your diffuser (I use this one). As a best practice, diffuse for 10 – 15 minutes for every 60 minutes. Do NOT continuously expose yourself and others to essential oils for a continued period of time.
- Direct palm inhalation: apply 1-3 drops of the blend onto the palm of your hand then rub your hands vigorously together. Cup your hands and take time, at least one minute, to breathe in the aromatic molecules.
Sacred Peace: Finding Calm and Stillness Amongst the Buzz of Spring
I write this post as some parts of the world (e.g., here in NYC) are slowly emerging into spring, when the azalea and rhododendron flowers will soon blossom. Ah, yes, this is when life gets more “productive,” days get longer and we may find ourselves being more active. Give yourself permission to slow down. Work with the following synergy of sacred aromatic essences to engage with regenerative stillness and expansive contemplation. I have come to think of anthopogon as “Nepal’s Frankincense.”
Following is a blending suggestion for a synergy to put in a 5 ml bottle:
- A 5 ml glass bottle with cap and orifice reducer
- 50 drops Rhododendron (Rhododendron anthopogon)
- 20 drops Hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa)
- 2 drops Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
- 1 drop Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)
How to make:
Combine the essential oils in a 5 ml bottle. Be sure to let the synergy sit for a few days before using so the oils have time to mingle. Label appropriately.
Consider placing 1 drop of the synergy onto the palms of your hands before practicing alternate nostril breathing. This is an excellent way to meditate on the breath and open your mind along with your airways.
Be with the plants, take their messages and let them guide you. Namaste.
2 Innocenti, Gabbriella, et al; Chemical Composition and Biological Properties of Rhododendron anthopogon Essential Oil; Molecues 2010, 15, 2326-2338.
Written by: Amy Anthony
(Aromatic Studies Instructor)
Amy Anthony B.A, is a certified Aromatherapist with a private practice in Manhattan, NY. Her focus is on customized aromatherapy and education: she consults with clients and teaches workshops at the NYIOA and around the NY metro area. Amy also enjoys formulating and devising delivery methods that encourage the safe, practical use of aromatherapy—like fizzing bath balls, shower bars and sleep mists.
Amy has been a gardener since the age of 5 and has continually found ways to connect with plants since moving to NYC in 1999. Her knowledge of plants brings a holistic, plant-based approach to her teaching and practice of aromatherapy. Amy is also a certified master composter, has volunteered at Saint George’s Common Table since 2012 and is a trained doula. More can be found about her aromatherapy practice at http://nycaroma.com.