Essential oils are organic compounds extracted from plants with tremendous healing properties. Using essential oils for healing purposes is often called aromatherapy, which is a holistic treatment seeking to improve physical, mental and emotional health.
For over 5,000 years, many different cultures have used these healing plant oils for a variety of health conditions. They are often used for relaxation, beauty care, home cleaning and most often used as natural medicine.
Just adding some of the most common essential oils like lavender, frankincense, lemon, peppermint and tea tree oil to your natural medicine cabinet may:
Fight cold and flu symptoms
Relax your body and soothe sore muscles
Heal skin conditions
Reduce cellulite and wrinkles
Clean your home
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are extracted directly from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf, seed or root of a plant or tree, and just one drop can have powerful health benefits. They are typically created through the process of distillation, which separates the oil and water-based compounds of a plant by steaming.
Essential oils are highly concentrated oils that have a strong aroma. Sometimes they are called volatile aromatic oils because of their high concentration of the aromatic compounds. For example, the oil of “absolutes” is obtained from delicate flowers by either enfleurage or solvent extraction. Absolute oils often mimic the natural aroma of the plant and are also more coloured and viscous than essential oils.
By concentrating the oils of these plants, you are literally separating the most powerful healing compounds of a plant into a single oil. For instance, in order to get one single 15ml bottle of rose essential oil, it take 65 pounds of rose petals.
These therapeutic oils in plants protect the plant from insects, shield the plant from a harsh environment and help them adapt to their surroundings. By taking essential oils, you are harnessing the protective and beneficial powers of a plant.
Essential oils are composed of very small molecules that can penetrate your cells, and some compounds in essential oils can even cross the blood-brain barrier. They differ from fatty oils (like those in vegetables or nuts) that come from large molecules because they cannot penetrate your cells, so they are not therapeutic in the same manner.
History of Aromatherapy
Since the use of essential oils is present in many countries, it is difficult to pinpoint where the practice originated. Oils have been used by the Jews, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both as cosmetics, perfumes and for their medicinal purposes. Some cultures even used oils in spiritual rituals.
In 1928, French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé used lavender oil to heal a burn on his hand. He then decided to further analyse the properties of lavender oil and how it could be used to treat other types of skin infections, wounds or burns.
With this the science of aromatherapy was born. Gattefossé’s main goal was to help injured soldiers during World War I. The use of these oils began to spread especially with practitioners of alternative medicine, such as massage therapists and beauticians throughout Europe.
Aromatherapy did not become popular in the U.S. until the 1980s when essential oils began to be added to various lotions, candles or other fragrances.
There are also trained professionals such as aromatherapists, physical therapists, massage therapists, naturopath or even doctors of natural medicine who use aromatherapy in their practice and are trained in specific uses for essential oils.
Essential Oils Now Used in Medical Hospitals
Aromatherapy has a variety of health benefits and can be used in various settings. It is a great, non-invasive way to deal with a variety of medical concerns and can often be used safely in combination with many other therapies.
Many traditional hospitals, like Vanderbilt University Hospital, are catching on to the benefits of essential oils and are using them in the treatment of anxiety, depression and infections in hospitalized patients.
A 2009 study found that pre-operative patients who received aromatherapy with lavandin oil were significantly less anxious about their surgery than controls. Other oils such as sandalwood, neroli oil and lavender oil have also been used in traditional medicine to help patients better manage anxiety.
Certain essential oils have also been used by midwives to help reduce fear and anxiety during childbirth. A 2007 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that women who used aromatherapy during labour reported less pain overall and were able to use fewer pain medications. In fact, a 2016 study published in Pain Research and Treatment showed that “aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments.”
Essential oils can also have antibacterial or anti-fungal benefits used in medical settings. Many oils, when massaged on the skin, can help treat skin conditions, such as burns, cuts and scrapes. Others may help boost the immune system help with insomnia and aid with digestion.
Essential oils are even being used to help fight cancer, as there is a plentiful amount of research on the correlation between frankincense essential oil and reduced brain tumour risk or spread.
Top 15 Essential Oils + Health Benefits
Each essential oil contains compounds with unique healing and therapeutic benefits. Here are some of the most popular essential oils and how to use them.
1. Cypress: Improves circulation, reduces varicose veins, lifts confidence and can help heal broken bones.
2. Eucalyptus: Improves respiratory issues like bronchitis, sinusitis and allergies. Also invigorating and purifies the body.
3. Frankincense: Builds immunity, reduces inflammation, heals age spots, supports brain and may help fight cancer.
4. Clary Sage: Calms the nervous system, helps with PMS, eases depression and anxiety
5. Ginger: Reduces inflammation, supports joints, improves digestion and relieves nausea.
6. Grapefruit: Supports metabolism and cellulite reduction. Mix with coconut oil and rub on areas of cellulite or take a few drops internally with water.
7. Lavender: Helps with relaxation, improves mood and heals burns and cuts.
8. Lemon: Great to use in homemade cleaning products as a natural antibacterial tool.
9. Patchouli: Natural antiseptic and may prevent or reduce infections and reduce inflammation of skin cells.
10. Thyme: Powerful antimicrobial properties, can kill fungus and help you kick a cold fast.
11. Peppermint (or Mentha Piperita): Supports digestion, boosts energy, fever reducer, headache and muscle pain relief.
12. Rose: Incredible for reducing skin inflammation and great for creating glowing skin. Add a few drops to your facial moisturizer. Also, this is one of the most valued essential oils in the world at $1000+ for 15ml.
13. Rosemary: Can naturally thicken hair, so it’s great to add to homemade shampoos. Also, it improves brain function and memory so it’s great to used when working, reading or studying.
14. Tea Tree (melaleuca): natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, reduces bad odours and can help stimulate the immune system.
15. Roman Chamomile: Natural calmative, eases stomach cramps and period paid, calms tension and anxiety, soothes red and irritated skin,
Different oils can be blended together to enhance each’s energy or can be blended with a base oil to be used for massage, shower gels or body lotions.
Essential Oil Applications
Ready to let essential oils guide you back to health? Here are the four most common ways these healing oils are used today:
Topically – Essential oils have a very small size and of the chemical weight of less than 1000m (m = weight of molecule). According to scientific testing, any substance with a molecular weight below 1000m should be absorbed by the skin.
This means that essential oils can penetrate the skin and pass into the bloodstream and into different areas of the body for internal therapeutic benefits.
Aromatically – There is great evidence that essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream when inhaled. The large amount of blood vessels in the lungs absorb the oils and then circulate them throughout the body.
Using a diffuser can help you experience the benefits of essential oils. You can diffuse lavender to reduce stress, Tea Tree to cleanse the air, wild orange to improve mood, frankincense for spiritual enlightenment and peppermint to improve focus and energy.
Ingestion – Essential oils can be used as a powerful form of medicine, but it should be remembered that again, essential oils are powerful. Most essential oils are safe for internal use, but a little bit goes a long way. Usually 1–3 drops are plenty mixed with water.
Oils like peppermint, lemon and frankincense have great internal benefits and can be taken with water. Other essential oils like clove and oregano need to be diluted and shouldn’t be taken internally for more than 1 week.
Personal Care – Today, the fastest way essential oils are being used is by making homemade DIY personal care products. This is an excellent away to take advantage of essential oils to improve your beauty, home and long-term health.
Some of the best DIY recipes to use essential oils with include shampoo, body butter, toothpaste, bug spray, lip balm and household cleaner.