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In June I visited the Ventnor Botanic Gardens on the south coast of the Isle of Wight for the first time. These twenty-two acre subtropical gardens have an unusual climate which is more akin to the Mediterranean region which enables a wide variety of plants considered too tender for much of mainland Britain to be grown there. Many subtropical plants and trees benefit from the moist and sheltered microclimate of the south facing under-cliff next to the sea, an area which is virtually frost free. Scientists have been tracking the effects of climate change in the garden for over a hundred years which show that it is now about five degrees hotter than the rest of the UK. This makes it an ideal location to research the future effects of climate change in the UK as the temperature warms.

One such study is tracking the change in leaf structure of Ginkgo biloba tree. I noticed a specimen of this lovely tree growing near the main walled garden and was intrigued to learn that this species has been specifically selected for study due to its long botanical history of over 230 million years! It existed well before the time of the dinosaurs according to the fossil records and today is still found growing in many locations throughout the UK. The particular aim of this research is to observe how this plant has responded to previous periods of climate change throughout history and how its structure adapted to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The whole garden is located on the site of a former therapeutic ‘retreat’ which was founded in 1869, where patients could recuperate and benefit from the warm climate as well as a range of natural health treatments especially aimed at treating respiratory conditions. Many of the tender aromatic plants used in aromatherapy can be found thriving in these beautiful gardens due to the protected microclimate. Many of them are well-known in the context of aromatherapy, such as several varieties of eucalyptus and bottle brush (tea tree) found growing in the Australian section of the garden, both of which species are renowned for their anti-septic and decongestant effects on the respiratory system. There are also numerous species of sage growing in the gardens: in medical herbalism the leaves of the Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) are traditionally prescribed for soothing sore throats. The more tender types of lavender, such as French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) also manage to survive in this sheltered location ... lavender oil is well known for its antibacterial properties and for its ability to soothe inflammation of the mucous membranes of respiratory system, as well as for helping with bronchial asthma. Several varieties of rosemary can be found growing in the herb garden, which is perhaps my favourite aromatic plant for combatting all kinds of air-borne viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold and flu.

In the context of aromatherapy, respiratory conditions respond extremely well to the use of essential oils simply through the process of inhalation. When we breathe in the aromatic vapours of a particular oil, the active therapeutic properties of that plant are readily absorbed by the mucus membranes lining the whole respiratory tract, including the lungs. This can be achieved via steam inhalation, by inhaling the oil directly, for example from a tissue, or by using a room diffuser. Essential oils which are especially valuable in this context include eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary, basil, sage, bay laurel, ravintsara, fragonia, cajeput, niaouli, peppermint, lavender and white thyme. I have also formulated formulated three synergistic blends aimed at supporting the respiratory system in different ways: Defence - to protect (also to boost the immune system); Mountain Air - to purify; and Clear Head - to decongest. Note: Essential oils should never be taken internally.