A day spa visit often begins with you choosing a preferred aroma from a range of essential oils. The idea is that you will be intuitively drawn to the one that most suits your immediate well-being needs. Treatments can then be tailored to whether your olfactory instincts indicated a desire to relax or re-energise. This is essential oil use at its most approachable, seen also in its match-your-mood use in home fragrances and body products. From the lavender bags of old, tucked under pillows to promote calming sleep, to the hippy flower-power era, where anointing yourself in pungent oils was common, to our time's interest in reconnecting with nature and our inner selves by using natural ingredients and focusing on personal well-being; essential oils have had a key role.

To highlight this, in our vitality issue we feature five New Zealand products with essential oils at their heart. Plenty more are available, especially if you are drawn to their use primarily for reasons of aromatic appeal. If you wish to delve further into their supposed healing powers, then head to a health goods store or a specialist aromatherapist.

Absolute Essential Sweet Lavender Oil $17.95
When the pioneering woman behind Absolute Essential, Bo Hendgen, arrived here 25 years ago she found few oils so set about sourcing and blending her own, including calming lavender to promote sleep and support skin. See absoluteessential.com

Linden Leaves Aromatherapy Synergy Absolute Dreams Body Oil $54.99
Christchurch-based Brigit Blair began Linden Leaves with a vision of exporting naturally based gift items that look lovely. For stockists see lindenleaves.co.nz


Kio Kio Aromacologie Antipodean Lavender & Rimu Hand & Body Lotion $29.90
Director Fiona Terry uses only natural fragrances for her original enticing products. Skin-friendly formulas are a focus because some oils can irritate. From selected gift stores and pharmacies, see kiokio.com

Spa Verite May Chang & Geranium Body Butter $65
The violet keepsake jar that houses this body butter has been chosen by Verite's owner Janin Dei-Conti for its luxury look and ability to preserve the essences within. From Forme spas or see veritespa.co.nz

The Aromatherapy Co Lavender & Chamomile Bath & Shower Gel $13.99
The country's biggest maker of essential oil gift goods uses economies of scale to keep prices well-pitched. Director Sarah Townsend's business brain and passion made aromatherapy mainstream. thearomatherapycompany.co.nz

Essence of it
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses essential oils in the belief their fragrance can improve overall health and well-being, particularly your state of mind. Most people who buy aromatherapy products do so simply because their natural fragrances appeal. A few essential oils, such as tea tree, have scientifically validated antimicrobial benefits, but the therapeutic effectiveness of other oils is largely unproven.

What is hard to dispute, however, is that certain aromas do seem to have a temporary calming or energising effect. This is similar to how certain colours seem to evoke particular feelings or memories. The hazy subject of our emotional response to stimuli is part of ongoing research into how the brain functions. In terms of aroma perception, the body's olfactory system links to its limbic one, connecting aroma intake with nerve networks.