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Aromatherapy in the Kitchen

by Melissa Dale & Emmanuelle Lipsky

The benefits of aromatherapy are all around us - in flower and herb gardens, in scented candles and in the perfumes and shampoos we use daily. Chances are you have already taken advantage of at least some aspects of aromatherapy. Even a walk through a rose garden or brushing up against a rosemary bush can be therapeutic. Now, thanks to Melissa Dale and Emmanuelle Lipsky and their book, Aromatherapy in the Kitchen the benefits of aromatherapy can be used in a whole new realm-the kitchen.

Taste and aroma are intrinsically linked. Aromatics in food account for the vast majority of what we consider "taste." Without aroma, the flavor of foods would lack sophistication and uniqueness. We would be limited to the four basic tastes our tongue can detect-sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Anyone who has a cold knows how bland food tastes without your sense of smell. Since the aromas of herbs and flowers can positively affect the body and emotions in so many ways, why not use them to our full advantage?

Aromatherapy uses fragrant herbs, flowers and other aromatics to influence overall wellness through inhalation. By releasing the healing essences of flowers and other aromatic plants, we can positively affect our mood, emotions and physical health. Although the term "aromatherapy" is relatively new, scent therapy has been practiced for thousands of years, as far back as the Egyptians.

While cooking with herbs is nothing new, we wanted to bring the full sensory benefits of herbs, flowers and other essences into the kitchen in order to turn simple cooking into a complete aesthetic experience for the mind, body and spirit. Food preparation and feasting can and should involve all of our senses, so we decided to create a cuisine designed to influence mood using the principles of aromatherapy. Although traditional aromatherapy uses essential oils, we like to broaden this to include the practice of extracting essential oils directly into food through the preparation and cooking processes. The roots, leaves, stems, bark, flowers, seeds and fruit peels of whole aromatic plants contain the same essences used to make essential oils, and although less concentrated, they have the same therapeutic qualities.

The key to using aromatherapy in your cooking is to let the effects of the ingredients work on you as you work with them. If you have planned a romantic evening, take advantage of the natural aphrodisiacs that will enhance your table - and your evening. If you need some energy, choose uplifting ingredients with invigorating scents to spark your spirit as you cook.


Infusions are a great way to get the most out of your herbs and flowers, and we use them in quite a few of our recipes. An infusion is a liquid like water or oil that is imbued with additional flavor and scent from aromatic plants. By steeping flowers and herbs in the liquid, aspects of the plants are extracted and stay in the liquid.

Infused oils are very simple to make and are great to have on hand. Gather several small jars with lids to hold your oils. A lazy afternoon is the perfect time to prepare a variety of infused oils, and it only takes a few hours. Place a couple of large handfuls of your fresh or dried herb of flowers in a small saucepan. Select a vegetable oil with a natural flavor, such as canola, grapeseed or corn. Pour enough oil into the pan to cover the herbs or flowers. Heat over a very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. The oil should have the distinct aroma and flavor of your herb or flower, and often carries a faint hue of the herbs used, which is a visual plus. Let the oil cool, strain it in to a jar, close tightly and store in a cool, dark place. There are infinite uses for these oils including drizzling a little saffron oil over steamed asparagus, tossing fresh pasta with basil oil and adding some cracked pepper and fresh herbs to an infused oil for dipping bread.

Herb Butters

Classically called "compound butters," herb butters have been a staple in the culinary world for hundreds of years. In this health-conscious era, butter is almost akin to profanity, but we find that the use of butter has an appropriate place in our lives when used in moderation. To make an herb butter, simply let a stick of butter soften at room temperature, work in your herb and maybe some shallots or crushed garlic, then roll it into a log on a piece of waxed paper. Seal it in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to use. Use herb butters on a piece of grilled chicken, baked potatoes or on steamed vegetables.


In order to get optimal results when cooking with herbs, it is always best to use fresh herbs. If fresh is not available, dried herbs may be substituted, but keep in mind that the quantity must be altered, as will be the results. Dried herbs impart a stronger taste in dishes, so in general, use about one-third the measure that is called for in our recipes if you choose to use dried herbs instead of fresh.

Fresh flowers are harder to come by than herbs, however, so we generally call for dried flowers in our recipes unless otherwise stated. For suppliers of dried flowers and herbs, visit a local health food store. Of course, if you have a green thumb, by all means, cultivate your own culinary herb and flower garden.

Romance Recipes

The romantic "dinner for two" is a well-worn cliché, and for a good reason - it works. Creating an intimate evening can be even better if you incorporate some of the wonderful and natural herbs and essences that are renowned aphrodisiacs. From the spicy energy of ginger to the tranquility of lavender, you will find using these scents in the kitchen will enhance your dinner creations through the aromas they impart.

Shrimp with Ginger Butter

This very simple preparation pairs the ever-sultry shrimp with the sensuously spicy ginger to make a great start to a fabulous evening of romantic dining. Go ahead and get your hands a little messy with this fun and tantalizing dish. A loaf of crusty French bread makes a great accompaniment to soak up all of the delicious sauce.

1 lb raw shrimp, shells on
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 Tbsp Minced ginger root
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place shrimp in baking dish. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add ginger and herbs and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Pour over shrimp and bake in oven for 5 minutes. The shrimp should be pink and opaque. Remove the shrimp to a serving bowl, and drain the sauce into another bowl for dipping. Have ready a bowl for the shells, and a couple of small bowls with some water and lemon for cleansing your hands as you dive into this peel-and-eat appetizer!

Refreshing/Invigoration Recipes

Even those of us who love to cook can sometimes approach the kitchen with a groan. After a long, hard day at work, it can be difficult to get motivated and prepare a sensational meal. On these days, or any other day that you could use a little lift, turn to recipes that use herbs that are naturally invigorating. Rosemary immediately comes to mind, as do the essences of citrus fruits.

Roasted Salmon with Cinnamon and Cumin

Your taste buds will surely come alive with the wonderful flavors in this dish. Let the spicy aromas work their magic to invigorate the senses and stimulate the appetite.

4 6-8 ounce salmon fillets
¼ cup orange juice
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp grated orange zest
¾ tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper

Combine orange and lemon juice and pour over salmon in a marinating dish. Refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine sugar, orange zest, cumin, cinnamon, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Remove fish from marinating dish and place in an oiled backing dish. Rub the sugar mixture over both sides of the salmon and bake in the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, until the salmon is just opaque.

Relaxing Recipes

These days it seems like we are always fighting to get everything done yesterday, whether at home or at work. Life can be demanding. Sometimes you have to slow things down, turn off the cell phone and pager, and treat yourself, family and friends to a relaxing evening of great food and an atmosphere designed to offer some stress relief through the use of aromatherapy.

Tomato Linguine a la Chamomile Checca

The addition of chamomile in this twist on the classic pasta a la checca might strike you as a bit strange-it did to us, but we tried it and it is fabulous. As always, working with chamomile is soothing to the soul.

8 ounces of homemade-style tomato linguine
½ cup chamomile oil
6 shallots, sliced into wedges
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
salt and pepper
½ cup minced fresh basil

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until just al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water. Wipe out the pot with a paper towel and return to the stove. Heat the chamomile oil over medium heat, and cook the shallots until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Return the pasta to the pot and stir until coated with the oil and heated through. Divide the pasta into serving bowls and sprinkle with the basil.

Creating the Mood

Using aromatherapy in the kitchen can include all of the senses, not just taste and scent. Creating an overall ambience for your dining experience means considering other sensory details to se the ideal mood. As you start to think about cooking with herbs and flowers to release the aromas that stimulate particular emotional responses, you might also consider what atmosphere best complements that desired mood. Whether it is a romantic dinner for two or a festive occasion with many guests, we have a few pointers.

First and foremost, beware of scented candles. Although they offer a pleasant fragrance, those fragrances are often synthetic. These candles may clash with the scents of the food. Use unscented candles if you are not sure. You have worked hard to promote natural scents through your cooking, so do not spoil it.

Even though we do not advocate the use of scented candles, that does not mean you should not enhance the aromas that will be wafting out of your kitchen. For example, you can use a fresh herb or flower you are cooking with to add visual and aromatic appeal to your dining area. Fresh herbs and flowers are pretty and can be placed around a room in all sorts of ways - be creative.

Essential oils can also be used to perfume your room. Simply put a few drops of your chosen oil on a couple of pretty cloths and place them under a centerpiece, tuck them behind or under seat cushions or hang them in front of an open window to take advantage of a sultry breeze. You can also bring scents to the table by selecting your table napkins a day in advance and placing them in a shoebox or airtight bag with a few drops of essential oil. Just remember that essential oils are concentrated aromas, and a few drops go a long way.

About the Authors:

Lifelong food fanatics Melissa Dale and Emmanuelle Lipsky have been sharing a passion for life, friendship, and all things culinary for over twenty years. They are essentially home cooks, but have built upon their culinary foundations through numerous cooking courses, including the Pro Chef I program at the Epicurean School of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. They have also become increasingly interested in the practice of Aromatherapy, incorporating the therapeutic benefits of plant essences into their daily lives. The fusion of these two interests was the impetus for their latest writing effort.

Their new book, the well received 'Aromatherapy in the Kitchen', is a collection of over 85 delicious and healthy aroma-based recipes. Consider them fragrant foods for the body, mind, and soul. You can purchase their book online here.


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