Piñon: The native aromatherapy of New Mexico

I’m back from a wonderful few days in Santa Fe! And while enjoying the clean mountain air and the majestic New Mexico sky, I was also working for you relaxation centre clients, learning about some little-known aromatherapy scents used by the native Navajo and Pueblo people.

The air in New Mexico is definitely unique. Down in the deserts, the air is dry. White sage and flowering cacti cover the ground. But up in the mountains, I found a wonderfully calming scent: a combination of northern juniper and a type of pine tree native to the area called piñon (pronounced pin-YON, sometimes spelled pinyon in English).

The mountain air atop Atalaya Mountain is scented with northern juniper and piñon
The mountain air atop Atalaya Mountain is scented with northern juniper and piñon

The aroma of piñon captivated me for good reason. Piñon is called the “tree of life” by the native peoples. Traditionally, homes were constructed from piñon logs. The edible nuts from the tree were used as food and currency. Smoke and resin from the piñon needles have been used as medicine by the Navajo and Zuni. In the Havasupai version of the Great Deluge (Noachian flood), the ark was made of piñon wood.

I was curious to find out more about the piñon.

Burning piñon in the kiva fireplace
Burning piñon in the kiva fireplace at El Paradero Inn in Santa Fe

At our lodge in Santa Fe, we burned some piñon wood in the kiva fireplace at night. Now when you think of pine scent, you might think of household cleaners or artificial “pine” air fresheners – well, this was nothing like that! The smoke from piñon filled the room with a mysterious, calm scent unlike any other evergreen I’ve smelled.

Amy Galper, who is the Executive Director of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy has described the scent as “offering a dream-like airy ‘high’… kind of transcendental aroma—relaxing to the lungs, deepening the breath.”

Naturally, I wanted to learn the best way to use this scent for relaxation. If you have a basic knowledge of aromatherapy, you likely know that burning the wood is not the most effective way to diffuse the aroma, and also introduces carbon monoxide into the air. I’m looking into steam distillation extracted essential oil and nebulizing the oil into the air for the purest effect. That way, the molecules go straight to the brain’s limbic system without fouling the air.

So stay tuned; I may soon be introducing this beautiful little-known aroma from New Mexico into your relaxation session later this year!

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Author: Colin Stone

Professional Relaxation Therapist (MASC, BSYA) and founder of the Relaxation Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Using guided imagery, therapeutic music and aromatherapy to relieve stress in the most relaxing room on earth!