As we are now well and truly into fall season, my next few weeks’ posts will focus on one of fall’s favorites: the pumpkin! This week, I am taking a look at the pumpkin and the use of pumpkin seed oil in aromatherapy, followed by the essential oils that go into making in a pumpkin-spice blend, and finally some pumpkin-spice recipes for aromatherapy products!
The Pumpkin Botanically Speaking
The pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo; C. maxima) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family and it is a fruit, not a vegetable. The pumpkin is botanically related to the melon, squash, cucumber and gherkin. Pumpkins are orange or yellow in color, with occasional color variations of green, white and red. Pumpkins average in weight from nine to eighteen pounds, although there have been some record breaking pumpkins; records are broken every year in the thousands of pounds range for pumpkins!
The Pumpkin in History
Pumpkins are believed to be a native of the Americas and have been in use for thousands of year before they were introduced to England in the seventeenth century.1 The origin of the English word pumpkin is defined from the Greek word pepon meaning large melon. This in turn was translated by the French, the English, and finally North American immigrants to pumpkin.2
Although the pumpkin didn’t start out as a Halloween tradition, over time it began to be included in the Halloween traditions that we know today. The celebration of Halloween is thought to be a Celtic celebration dating back thousands of years; celebrated on October 31st each year, jack-o-lanterns were originally carved from turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables and placed in the windows of homes in Britain and Ireland to both welcome deceased family (much like the Mexican day of the dead celebrations) and to scare away evil spirits.
The legend of the jack-o-lantern is said to have originated in Ireland; Stingy Jack, having double crossed the devil and unable to get into heaven, was, on his death, given a burning coal by the devil for light. Stingy Jack carried the coal in a carved out turnip and has since been wandering the world; people made jack-o-Lanterns to scare away both evil spirits and to keep Stingy Jack from their doors.
The tradition was taken to North America through European immigrants who quickly saw that the pumpkin made an excellent jack-o-lantern. However, there is little documentation verifying both the jack-o-lantern legend and the use of jack-o-lanterns in Celtic celebrations, making the true origins of the jack-o-lantern uncertain.
Use of the Pumpkin Seed
Pumpkin seeds are of great nutritional value; they contain approximately 30% protein.1 Traditionally, the seeds of the pumpkin have been used for travel sickness and to maintain a healthy prostate gland in men.
The seeds are also pressed to make pumpkin seed oil. The oil is used both for culinary purposes and in aromatherapy practice. Pumpkin seed oil contains:
Each of these fatty acids are of value nutritionally and to the skin. In addition, pumpkin seed oil contains a high quantity of zinc, and other vitamins and minerals.
Pumpkin seed oil can be used like many other carrier oils in aromatherapy practice.
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Price, Len, 1999, Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, UK: Riverhead Publishing
All About Pumpkins website, History, accessed October 3, 2016
Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.