Healing Oils of Arabia

In the traditional markets of modern Arabia, there are baskets overflowing with aromatic herbs and spices.  These items once came to Arabia atop camel caravans, requiring many months of transport under heavy guard.  While the herbs and spices still hail from Oman, Syria, East Africa, India, China, and other distant lands, they are easy to access and are available in abundance.

How do the peoples of Arabia utilize these fragrant treasures?  Apart from cooking, mothers and grandmothers continue to enjoy the rich heritage of natural remedies created, as families combined the use of local plants with goods obtained through trade.  These natural health solutions shared between generations include a unique form of Middle Eastern aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.  Aromatherapy applications which are part of the natural remedies of Arabia and incorporate the healing plants found in the traditional markets of the Middle East can be termed “Middle Eastern Aromatherapy.”

Following are authentic historical remedies used in the Arabian Peninsula as well as essential oil applications which can bring the benefits of ancient traditions into every modern home.  The reader assumes full responsibility when using any application described and should not consider any part of the text as a diagnosis or prescription for a medical condition.

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum, Arabic: mashmum)

Historical Remedies: To relax and reduce stress, drink basil tea.  Soak your feet in basil which has been soaked in warm water (effectually a basil tea foot bath).

Basil, Qatif Market, Saudi Arabia

Basil, Qatif Market, Saudi Arabia

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy: Dilute 1 part of the essential oil of basil in 4 parts of a carrier oil (pure olive, grape seed, or apricot kernel oil, for example) and apply to the feet.

CARDAMOM (Elettaria cardamomum, Arabic: hail)

Historical Remedies: For coughs and colds, infuse cardamom, black seed (Nigella sativa), and ginger in olive oil.  Warm over a fire.  Rub oil on the body when warm.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy: Dilute 1 part carrier oil with 1 part essential oil of cardamom and 1 part essential oil of ginger.  If available, use black seed oil as the carrier.  Apply to the chest and upper back (for coughs and colds).

This is also a very nice blend for stomach complaints such as indigestion or other digestive disorders in which case apply to the abdomen and/or the bottom of the feet.

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutita, Arabic: babunaj)

Historical Remedies: Massage a baby’s tummy with chamomile oil as a remedy for colic.
For menstrual pain, combine chamomile, cinnamon, and cloves in a tea and drink.
To relax the nerves and induce sleep, use chamomile.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  For centuries, mothers have used chamomile to calm crying children and soothe digestive problems.  In western Arabia, this is still a valued natural remedy.  Use the essential oil of Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, in an herbal compress made by placing one drop of essential oil in a bowl of warm water and soaking a folded piece of cotton flannel in the liquid before applying it to the abdominal area.  Cover with a dry towel.

Use Roman or German chamomile on the abdomen for menstrual pain.  Combine 4 parts chamomile, 1 part cinnamon, and 1 part clove with 4 parts carrier oil and apply to abdomen.

For a relaxing massage, use Roman or German chamomile in your favorite carrier oil.  Since this oil may be applied neat, simply dilute as desired to facilitate ease of massage application.

CINNAMON (Cinnamomum zelanicum or C. verum, Arabic: qirfah)

Cinnamon, Manama, Bahrain

Historical Remedies: The dried inner bark of the cinnamon tree has been treasured for thousands of years. Use cinnamon tea as a remedy for coughs, colds, menstrual pain, and stomach aches in general.   Use cinnamon with ginger for coughs and colds.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part essential oil of cinnamon with 4 parts carrier oil.  Apply to bottom of feet, abdomen, or upper back, as desired.

For coughs, colds, and respiratory congestion, dilute 1 part essential oil of cinnamon to 4 parts essential oil of ginger and 4 parts carrier oil.  Apply to upper back, chest, and/or bottom of feet.

(Syzygium aromaticum, Arabic: qaranful or mismar)

Historical Remedies: Clove and ground clove powder have been used for centuries as Arab tradesmen brought spices from the East.   For coughs and colds, place whole cloves in olive oil.  Heat then strain liquid and rub on the body.

To combat headaches, grind clove into powder and mix with olive oil. Warm the oil.  Rub the clove/olive oil mixture on the affected area.   A variation is to mix olive oil with cloves, henna, and fenugreek – also to relieve headaches.

For menstrual cramps, drink a tea of boiled cumin and cloves with honey.  To soothe a sore throat, drink a tea of cloves and ginger boiled in water. Apply ground cloves to aching teeth to reduce pain.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part of clove oil in 4 parts carrier oil. Apply to abdomen, chest, upper back, or bottom of feet, depending on condition. Apply a few drops to gums or mouth.

FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare, Arabic: shamar) 

Historical Remedies: As a treatment for rheumatism and pain in the joints, add black seed (Nigella sativa) and fennel to olive oil and apply externally.  This is a remedy from Northern Arabia.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Fennel is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti-spasmodic.  Dilute 1 part essential oil of fennel with 1 part carrier oil or apply neat (2-4 drops on location) to area of concern.

FRANKINCENSE (Boswellia sacra, Arabic: luban)

Frankincense, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Frankincense, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Historical Remedies: Clumps of frankincense were discovered among the treasures buried in the tomb of Tutankhamen, who died in 1339 BC, confirming its value to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.  To this day, the people of Yemen teach that frankincense helps to clear the brain while Saudi families share that it sharpens the memory and reduces coughing.  Certainly its healing and spiritual properties are many.

Soak frankincense resin in warm water for at least three hours and strain before drinking when someone begins to develop a cough or cold. Boil frankincense in water and drink to benefit the lungs. Burn the resin of frankincense to heal wounds and swollen areas with the smoke.  For example, women stand over the smoke of frankincense after childbirth to heal their wounds.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Diffuse frankincense daily to increase spiritual focus and direction.  Apply a drop of frankincense to the crown of the head or other desired location and rub it in.  Place a drop of frankincense in one hand and rub hands together.  Cup hands in front of nose and inhale deeply.

GINGER (Zingiber officinale, Arabic: zanjabil)

Historical Remedies: Preserved in sugar syrup, ginger was transported along the ancient spice routes in ginger jars.  Natural remedies utilizing ginger in the Arabian Peninsula include rubbing it on the stomach of a pregnant woman in combination with olive and walnut oil to prepare the mother for the delivery of a child.

For colds and coughs, combine ginger with black seed and cardamom in olive oil.  Warm on the stove and then rub on the chest and back. This remedy accompanies the drinking of ginger tea.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part essential oil of ginger and 1 part cardamom oil with 1 part carrier oil (Black Seed oil, if available).  Apply 2-4 drops on area of concern, such as the upper chest and back for coughs and colds.


Myrrh (front left), Dubai, UAE

resin and salt water bath.  Myrrh is antiseptic and astringent.

Apply myrrh water to external cuts.  Myrrh can be soaked in a small amount of water and the liquid put on burns to reduce scars and to speed healing of wounds.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Apply 2-4 drops myrrh to area of concern.
Inhale essential oil of myrrh directly; diffuse in your home.

MYRTLE (Myrtus communis, Arabic: as, or yas)

Historical Remedies: Villagers in Oman dry the leaves of the myrtle shrub and beat them to a powder to enjoy its aromatic properties.   Avicenna recommended myrtle as an astringent.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part of essential oil of myrtle with 1 part carrier oil and apply to upper and lower back, neck, and/or other areas as desired.

PEPPERMINT (Mentha piperita, Arabic: na’na’)

Historical Remedies: A refreshing remedy in Arabia is simply to smell fresh mint to relieve a headache, clearly recognizing the value of essential oils.  Soaking peppermint leaves in water and then drinking the liquid is believed to ease a sore throat. Peppermint leaves are used to make tea to remove flatulence (intestinal gas).  A mixture of shredded onion with peppermint oil or clove is applied externally to relieve colic.  Soaked peppermint and basil (forming an infusion – a natural tea) are used to treat indigestion.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part essential oil of peppermint with 2 parts carrier oil.  Apply oil to bottom of feet, abdominal area, or other specific area of concern.

Mix oils of peppermint, clove, and basil and dilute 1:2 in carrier oil.  Apply to abdomen to soothe stomach complaints.

ROSE (Rosa damascena, Arabic: ward)

Historical Remedies: Taif, Saudi Arabia is famous for its cultivation of the fragrant damask rose (Rosa damascena)and for its production of rose water and the essential oil of rose.  Rose water is a traditional remedy for the heart and the stomach. Roses are believed to dispel gases in the stomach, in the same way as do thyme and lavender. Rose water sweetened with sugar is also a remedy for insomnia.  The skin and face are cleaned with rose water.  Royal family members purchase the essential oil of rose produced in Taif.

Rose Harvester, Taif, Saudi Arabia

Rose Harvester, Taif, Saudi Arabia

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Rose oil is believed to bring balance, reduce insecurities, and create a sense of well-being.  Inhale deeply and allow self to relax and ponder. Apply 2-4 drops of rose oil to desired location.  Dilute 1 part rose oil, 1 part lavender, and 1 part thyme in 4 parts carrier oil.  Apply to abdomen and to soles of feet.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis, Arabic: maryamiya)

Historical Remedies: Hippocrates once asked, “How can a person die if sage is growing in his garden?” In the Mediterranean and around the world, sage has been used as a spice and a healing herb for centuries.

In the Middle East, sage tea is served for stomach and colon problems, abdominal pain, or flatulence.  Sage, fenugreek, cress, peppermint and cinnamon are used to strengthen a mother after childbirth.  Sage is linked in ancient legend to the Virgin Mary.  It is said the healing properties of the plant are somehow derived from her. Perhaps this is why the Arabic name for sage is “maryamiya.”

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part essential oil of sage with 1 part carrier oil.  At times of abdominal distress, including menstrual discomfort, apply 2-4 drops to abdomen and/or to the bottom of the feet.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris, Arabic: za’tar)

Thyme, Hibiscus, Sunflower Seeds - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Historical Remedies:  Thyme is a general remedy for colds, flu, fevers, coughs, and bronchitis.  Four to five cups of thyme tea are drunk each day for these conditions.  Sometimes myrrh and honey are added to thyme leaves in hot water (thyme tea) for coughs and colds.

Middle Eastern Aromatherapy:  Dilute 1 part of essential oil of thyme with 4 parts carrier oil and apply bottom of feet.  Dilute 1 part essential oil of thyme with 4 parts myrrh and 4 parts olive oil.  Apply to upper back and chest to combat coughs and colds.


When creating unique combinations of essential oils “Middle-Eastern style,” remember to employ common sense with each application.

To inhale, place two drops into the palm of one hand and then use the other hand to rub clockwise. Cup hands together, hold over the nose, and inhale.

To apply neat (directly on the skin), begin by applying 1-2 drops of oil to the bottom of the feet to see how you and the oil “get along.”

To create a compress, rub oils on location (1-3 drops), diluted in a carrier oil or neat depending on which oil is used and the location.  Then, cover the location with a hot or cold, damp towel (depending on condition), and then cover the area with a dry towel to seal in heat.

Heat should never be applied at a temperature that would burn the skin. Temperatures should be modified for children and weak or frail persons. It is most important to watch the skin for changes and to listen to what the patient is saying about the treatment. Also, do not use a compress if a person is unconscious.

For Middle Eastern Aromatherapy, essential oils obtained through Young Living Essential Oils and Creer Labs are regarded as therapeutic-grade.  For purchase details, contact Young Living Distributor Donna Evans (YL#517938) by email (herbaleducator@gmail.com) or by telephone (571-313-1650).

Natural Remedies of Arabia

Natural Remedies presented in this brochure are based on the results of a questionnaire distributed throughout the Arabian Peninsula in early 2002.  Families responded with explanations of how they, as well as their mothers and grandmothers, use various herbs, spices, and other substances in natural healing.  For greater in-depth coverage, refer to the book, Natural Remedies of Arabia, co-authored by Robert W. Lebling and Donna Pepperdine.

About the Author: Donna Evans is a Master Herbalist who specializes in historical herbalism.  She spent ten years in the Middle East and has conducted research on the herbs, spices, and natural remedies of the Arabian Peninsula.  She is co-author of Natural Remedies of Arabia and Herbal Explorations: A Journey of Discovery for the Young Herbalist.  She is an active Young Living Distributor (YL# 517938). Website: www.herbaleducator.com / E-mail: herbaleducator@gmail.com