What is an Essential Oil?
Plants are essentially chemical factories, and a most important middle-man between sun and earth. Essential oils are the high-grade fuel of plants.
Essential oils come from certain varieties of trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, and flowers. Depending on the variety, it could have been extracted from the roots, leaves, stalks, seeds, stems, resins, peels, beans, barks, needles, or twigs. Each essential oil consists of hundreds of complex and unique chemical compounds. Their use can be traced back thousands of years.
Because they smell no nice, many people mistakenly view them as perfumes – period. While many varieties do make the most excellent perfume, they are much more than that. They’re highly concentrated, very potent, natural compounds with an [almost unbelievably] long list of healing properties.
Why are some oils more expensive than others?
It takes a lot of work to produce a tiny amount of essential oil. Exactly how much work depends on the type of plant. For example… Sixty thousand rose blossoms are required to produce one ounce of rose oil. In the case of jasmine, the flowers must be picked by hand before the sun becomes hot on the very first day they open. The sandalwood tree must be thirty years old and thirty feet high before it is cut down for distillation. On the other hand, oils like lemon and lavender are rather abundant and easy to extract. This is what accounts for the great variation in price between oils.
It’s good to keep in mind that some of the least expensive oils are the most useful. In other words, if looking at two oils with very different prices, don’t think the more expensive oil is necessarily better. The higher price mainly reflects that it’s harder to come by. It will have a different molecular make up, and offer different benefits, but not necessarily better (I only mention this because many of us are accustomed to the fact that more expensive = better).
Also very important to note….. No reputable essential oil supplier sells their products all at the same price. In other words, if all the oils from ABC brand are priced identically, they may smell nice, but they will have no therapeutic value. They will either be synthetic imitations, or will contain only a minute amount of the true oil, processed in a way that renders it therapeutically useless. Regular old vegetable oil is what will be filling up the majority of the bottle.
How do Essential Oils compare to the “medicines” offered at my local pharmacy?
What’s offered at our local pharmacies often begin with a plant product, but ultimately becomes a chemically altered, synthetic imitation. Pharmaceutical companies, of course, know of the medicinal qualities of plants, but they can not legally patent something like a lemon. If you can’t own it, and can’t patent it, then you can’t make a billion dollars off of it. So, what they have to do is either use a synthetic imitation, or use a fraction of the real deal while adding other various chemicals. They come up with something unique that they can own. In the end, it may offer some of the original benefits of the plant they originally had in mind, but unfortunately, tied with it will be various negative side effects due to the chemical additives that confuse, and sometimes assault our bodies.
But why do Essential Oils work so well?
~ We & they are made up of the same material. The natural compounds found in essential oils are derived from phenylpropane. These are the precursors of amino acids which link to make the proteins which provide the building blocks for just about everything in the human body. Another large group of compounds found in essential oils are the terpineols which are formed from acetyl-coenzyme A, which plays a crucial role in the production of hormones, vitamins and energy within the body.
~ Their delivery system is extremely efficient. They get in & out of the body very easily, leaving no toxins behind. Because of the tiny sized molecules within essential oils, they easily and quickly penetrate the skin, or lungs. This makes inhalation and topical application the most effective way to use the oils therapeutically. Under supervision, essential oils can be taken orally, but this is actually their least effective pathway into the body, as they would then have to pass through the digestive system, coming into contact with food, bacteria, and digestive juices. All these substances interact with essential oils and can lessen their effectiveness (not necessarily making them bad, but simply forfeiting some of the benefits). If an individual has a weakened digestive system, this will further lessen their effectiveness. Via inhalation or topical application, essential oils are absorbed into the blood stream within minutes or seconds. They’re excreted within 3 to 14 hours (via urine, feces, perspiration, and exhalation).
~ Some essential oils act as adaptogens. An adaptogen will instigate a reaction in the body that is appropriate to achieve a state of homeostasis or balance. For example, hyssop helps to normalize either high or low blood pressure, and peppermint can be found listed as both a relaxant and a stimulant – depending on what’s needed.
Essential Oils can be used in any of the following ways:
~ Just open the bottle & take a whif =)
~ Apply a few drops to a tissue or handkerchief to pull out when needed, or keep on your nightstand when sleeping.
~ Apply to cotton balls and place in discreet areas around the room (window sill, air duct, behind curtains, on top of medicine cabinet, under bed…etc)
~ Apply topically on the skin as a perfume. (Keep in mind that some oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin.)
~ Apply a drop or 2 of oil to the bottoms of the feet. Aside from the sides of the nose, the bottoms of the feet have the largest pores. This makes it an ideal place to apply essential oils, as uptake into the bloodstream is easy and immediate.
~ Use a cool mist diffuser. This is a small device that disperses essential oils into the air. They’re extremely easy to use & very effective. This is my favorite method for using essential oils.
~ Inhale a warm vapor – Pour hot (but not boiling) water into a bowl, add 2 – 3 drops of oil, cover your head with a towel and lean over the bowl with your face about 10 inches away and your eyes closed. Breathe deeply through your nose for about one minute. This is great using eucalyptus and/or peppermint for sinus congestion.
~ Use for massage. 1 to 5 drops (depending on which oil you use) mixed into 1 teaspoon of a base oil.
~ Room spray – 4 or more drops of oil per 1 cup of water in a new/clean spray bottle. This can be any scent you’re in the mood for or feel you need.
~ Bath – Run the bath, then add the essential oil (up to 8 drops depending on the oil). Close the door of the bathroom so the vapors don’t escape. Soak for at least ten minutes & relax. Nice bath oils are lavender, frankincense, sandalwood, and patchouli.
~ Shower – Wash as usual. Now add the essential oil (up to 8 drops) to your wash cloth & rub briskly over yourself as you continue to stand under the running water. Breathe in the aromatic steam. Nice oils for the shower are lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary.
~ Foot bath/hand bath – Soak hands or feet in a bowl of warm water. 2-4 drops of oil for a hand bath. 2-6 drops for a foot bath. Peppermint is nice for a foot bath. Lavender, lemon, rosemary, sandalwood and patchouli are nice for the hands.
~ Sauna or Steam – Add a few drops of essential oil to a bowl of water & bring with you into the steam or sauna unit. (Some steam units have a small indentation, above where the steam comes out, specifically for a few drops of essential oils.) Using any of the following oils in the steam room will enhance the inherent detoxification effect of the steam itself: eucalyptus, pine, lemon, lavender, rosemary, grapefruit, cypress, birch, lime, bergamot, niaouli.
~ Jacuzzi – 3 drops per person (directly into the water). Public jacuzzi’s kind of gross me out. It’s a very good idea to use one of the oils known for heavy-duty antibacterial action. Thieves blend would be ideal, or you could use any one or combination of these: cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, pine, grapefruit, lime, thyme, niaouli.
~ Use as a compress – Put a few drops of oil on a warm, wet wash cloth or towel and apply to desired area. (For example – peppermint for a belly ache or nausea).
~ Use for cooking - Making guacamole and don’t have a lime? Peppermint or ginger tea (or ice cream)? Making a pepper steak? (Try adding a drop of lemon essential oil to the pepper before spreading on the steak). There are about a million ways you can use essential oils in your favorite recipes to enhance flavor (or create new ones). Try using oils such as lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, mandarin, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardamom, coriander, peppermint, basil, anis, dill, cumin, fennel, ginger, black pepper, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, thyme, sage.
~ Use for gardening – Trying to keep beetles (or other pests) out of your garden? Try thyme, garlic, or peppermint oil. Want to encourage the health & growth of your vegetables and flowers? Spray or water your plants with a few drops of the appropriate essential oil (too much to get into here).
~ Use for pet care – Does your dog have arthritis? Try rubbing rosemary (4 drops) lavender (2 drops) and ginger (3 drops) diluted in 2 TBSP vegetable oil into the affected area. Yuckie dog breath? Add 1 drop of dill or anis to the feed. Fleas? Worms? Cuts & bites? skin problems? etc…..
A few side notes:
A CARRIER OIL (or base oil) is used when a particular essential oil needs to be diluted before topical application. There are a lot of carrier oils you can choose from depending on your preference or what’s convenient/available. Any of the following will work: Jojoba, Grapeseed, Sesame (not toasted), Sunflower, Safflower, Olive, Almond, Evening Primrose, Hazelnut, Wheatgerm, Apricot Kernel, Carrot, Borage Seed, & Peanut.
Believe it or not, [real] essential oils are not oily like vegetable oils, and in fact, to test any particular essential oil for purity, apply one drop to a piece of paper. When it’s fully dried (several hours later), there should be no visible oil/grease stain. If there is, the oil you have is of poor quality, with little or no therapeutic properties. (As far as I know, the only exception to this rule is “vetiver” which will indeed leave a grease mark, even if it’s the real deal.)
At one time, to me, the idea of essential oils was more or less one of hocus pocus….weird voodoo stuff. That was of course, before I knew anything at all about them.
The effectiveness of therapeutic grade essential oils and their antibacterial/antifungal/antiviral activity is very much science based (please refer to the almost 10,000 research studies listed on the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=essential%20oils).
Of course, just because something is science based, doesn’t negate the miracle-like qualities of these amazing little substances. Nature is pretty cool (to say the least).
Please keep in mind, the same way an individual can be allergic to strawberries, they can also have a reaction to any essential oil (this mostly applies to topical application). Even though they’re natural, essential oils are very concentrated and potent. They can produce very strong and significant changes in tiny amounts. Always start off slowly, especially when applying topically. Test out just a drop applied to a discrete location, diluted with a carrier oil if necessary.
Also – NOT ALL ESSENTIAL OILS ARE MEANT FOR TOPICAL APPLICATION. Please check the label and be sure to be informed before applying topically.
Not all essential oils are safe to use during pregnancy (although many are).
Avoid these oils until after delivery: basil, calamus, clary sage, fennel, hyssop, juniper, nutmeg, rosemary, sage, idaho tansy, tarragon, wintergreen.
Use with caution until after delivery: angelica, cassia, celery seed, cinnamon bark, citronella, eucalyptus dives, marjoram, mugwort, palo santo.
Most other oils should be fine, but always check with your doctor during pregnancy.
Essential Science Publishing – Essential Oils Desk Reference – Fourth Edition (2009)
Price, S. & L. Aromatherapy for Health Professionals – Third Edition, U.K. (2008)
Worwood, V. A. The Complete Book of essential Oils & Aromatherapy, New World Library, Navato, CA (1991)