Plants have always been man’s first line of defense against the troubles this world can bring. Ancient cultures used essential oils as medicine, to beautify and care for the skin, to calm nerves and ease anxiety, to scent their bodies and their environment, in spiritual ceremonies, in cooking and pretty much every aspect of life.
Hippocrates, an ancient Greek doctor touted the use of essential oils in baths and massage as the way to health. He studied and documented the medicinal effects of essential oils from over 300 plant species. The more modern English, German, and French cultures revered the medical philosophies of the ancient cultures and helped to keep them alive.
By the 1800s essential oils had made a come back with many doctors prescribing them as a treatment for a variety of illnesses. The habit has persisted through to this present age but has been met with some skepticism by western medicine. Still, doctors in European countries offer essential oils as medicinal alternatives to the conventional treatments of certain diseases.4
Why Should I Use Essential Oils?
The use of essential oils may not be for everyone, but this modern age is seeing a return to the original teachings of the ancients to help mitigate the side effects that more modern remedies can often have. People are also wanting to live more organically and in environments that are free from synthetic chemicals. They are finding that they feel better when not exposed to harsh cleaning materials or artificial scents. This “return to the earth” mind-set has been growing for decades now. If this mindset appeals to you, why investigate a little more and finds out how essential oils can help enhance your health?
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are essences of the plants from which they are extracted. Though some essences may have an oily feel, they are not like traditional oils. Essential oils or plant essences are made of molecular compounds called phytochemicals and they are very volatile. These volatiles are not simple molecules. They are beautifully complex chemicals.
Phytochemicals are comprised of carbon atoms arranged in chains, rings, or a combination of both with other molecules and atoms attached (i.e. Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Sulfur). Most of these molecules fall into varying categories of compounds such as Aldehydes, Esters (most common), Ethers, Ketones, Alcohols, Phenols, Oxides, and many other too numerous to mention.
How do Essential Oils Work?
A single essence can be made of hundreds of phytochemicals. And, most essences have more than just one category of phytochemical present in their makeup. These phytochemicals are what gives an essence it’s characteristic health benefits. A phytochemical’s size and structure allow it to be volatile as well as to penetrate the skin and mucous lining of the mouth and intestine. Once dissolved in the mucous membrane, the chemicals directly influence the limbic system which affects major body functions and emotions.
A plant’s essence helps the plant supporting life and protecting it from disease and infestation. The effects within the human body are known to be similar. These effects have been studied, documented and passed down from generation to generation and culture to culture for centuries.
Most noticeable of characteristics include, antiseptic, antiviral, antibiotic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, pain relieving, and mood enhancing. Many other benefits such as enhanced effects for addictive substance cessation (i.e. Black Pepper), wound healing (Tea Tree), and expectorant (Eucalyptus), just to name a few, have been observed.
How Do I Use Essential Oils?
There are three basic ways to utilize an essence. Since they are very volatile (evaporate rapidly), the first and easiest way is by inhalation. Remove the lid and slowly sniff the cap or bottle directly. Your sense of smell has a direct line to the limbic system so inhaling plant essences is a great way to safely and effectively use them. Plant essences are very potent, so proceed with caution.
Second, apply topically by diluting in a carrier oil or cream. You can combine your essential oils in a blend or in a synergy. A blend is one or more oils combined in a carrier oil like Jojoba, Coconut, or Apricot. Make sure your carrier oil is certified organic and has been stored in a dark cool place. Research the carrier carefully. Each plant oil has different characteristics and health benefits. Choose the one which is best suited to your needs. Blends are used topically or as an inhalant. See below for a guideline to making your dilutions.
A synergy is various essential oils combined without a carrier. Synergies are used topically in a carrier or as an inhalant. What determines which oils to combine depends largely on the desired goal. For example, try combining Vetiver (earthy and grounding), Lavender (calming), and Grapefruit (energizing)for a calming yet energizing effect. As a an inhalant, put two drops in your palm, rub your hands together (being careful not to get any in your eyes), and take in several deep breaths. Topically, put a drop on your finger and wipe along the bottom of your foot or make a blend with your favorite oil or cream.
*Based on the chart from Foundational Aromatherapy by Leiann King, Brenda Wright and Amanda Reynolds5
Third is by ingestion (pharmaceutical grade only). The French favor this method and have been known to dip a toothpick in an appropriate essence, mix it in honey, and dissolve the mixture in warm water as a kind of tea**. In this modern age, they are the first to prescribe essential oils as alternative treatments for disease and illness (i.e. A doctor prescribing a sedative may offer his/her patient a more natural alternative via essential oil/s).
If you decide to use this last method be sure that the essence is one appropriate for ingestion (some essences are poisonous if taken internally). If you have never used an essential oil before, be sure to use just one at a time and either journal or make a mental note of your initial response and noticeable effects within one to two hours. Go slow.
Be sure that the essential oils you use are all-natural with no synthetic additions and are 100% certified organic. Never ingest an essential oil that has been diluted with an oil or another diluting agent. Never take an essence internally without first checking with a qualified health professional.
Here are the most common ways essential oils are used.
- Neat – Some oils can be used as-is on the skin. Lavender is safe for all ages and is great in healing wounds and calming nerves. A few drops on a damp cloth can help eliminate underarm odor.
*Some oils are not suitable for children ** AIA Rule on using neat or undiluted essential oils(https://www.alliance-aromatherapists.org/aromatherapy-safety)
- Rub On – Most oils require a dilution. They can be put by drop into oil, cream or another dilution agent.
- Spray-On –Oils such as eucalyptus can be put in a spray bottle with water. Then vigorously shaken and sprayed on areas of pain. Similarly, Lavender can be applied to pillows and sheets before bed to help facilitate relaxation.
- Diffuse – Put a few drops of Lemon in a micro diffuser (tabletop or car USB) to help boost the immune system and refresh the air.
- Inhale – Just a few drops of eucalyptus globulus in the palm of your hand and a gentle sniff can help lessen nasal congestion.
- Bath time – Add a few drops of Lavender, Chamomile, and Frankincense to a small glass jar of Epsom salt or powdered milk. Shake vigorously for a minute or two. Fill your tub with warm water and swirl in the mixture.
- Teatime – Dip a toothpick in your favorite pharmaceutical grade, 100% certified organic essential oil (such as Lemon, Lavender, Peppermint, Cinnamon…etc) and stir it into a teaspoon of honey thoroughly. Then mix the essential oil-infused honey into a cup of warm water. Enjoy!
* Use only pharmaceutical-grade oils and note that some oils are not suitable for consumption.
** Plant essences do not readily mix with water. Therefore, they must be emulsified (dissolved, i.e. honey, salt, powdered milk) before mixing in water.
AIA Internal Use Statement
AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal). Please refer to the AIA Safety Guidelines for essential oil use.
There are so many ways we can incorporate plant essences into our lives. Do your research and only buy unadulterated, 100% certified organic oils. Learn More
***Please be sure to read about the essence you are interested in including all the safety notes before using. Please refer to the AIA Safety Guidelines for essential oil use.
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Essential oils are Mother Nature’s own recipe and we may never fully know all the components of an essence. Plant essences are stored in small specialized pockets within the plant. They are extracted from the plant parts via various means. Depending on the plant, these pockets may be concentrated in the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, skin or bark. How they are extracted depends on the plant. Some are quite delicate like jasmine and require a chemical extraction, others are hardier like Lemon or Sweet Orange and can be cold-pressed.
It is also important to know when to harvest a plant for extraction. For example, Jasmine flowers must be harvested by hand in the morning hours whereas Sandalwood trees must be about thirty years old and as high before cutting down and extracted. Such details can only be known by experienced growers. Thus, reputable growers are many times family business where such details have been handed down from generation to generation.
An essence can be extracted in four basic ways: steam distillation, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, or maceration. The most common method is by steam distillation. Quality essential oils are always extracted at the source site or close by. And distilled essences are extracted at low pressures to avoid oxidation of the essence which will alter the look and smell of the essence and thus it’s beneficial nature. The extraction of a plant essence concentrates it so, the resulting essential oil is very potent and should be used with respect and caution. Learn More.
Essential Oil Safety
No matter how they are extracted plant essences are concentrated so caution must always be used. Here are some general safety rules:
- If you are taking medications, please ask your doctor or research drug interactions with the essential oil/s you have chosen to use.
- Test an essential oil (or blend) on a small patch of skin before using.
- Always dilute an essential oil
Always store your essential oils in a cool dark place with the lid tightly closed. Remember essential oils are volatile. An unclosed lid will cause the essence to evaporate and quickly! You can refrigerate or freeze them. If you freeze an essence, let it come to room temperature naturally before using. Stored in this fashion an essence can last up to 2 years or more. Check with your supplier for more information on specific essential oils.
Why Buy New Life Essential Oils?
The genus and species of a plant dictate the essence’s characteristics and benefits. For example, there are some 30 different varieties of Lavender.1 They may have the same genus name and even look similar, but they are different in composition and therefore offer different benefits. The most common are found in Central and Southwest Europe. They are Angustifolia (True Lavender), Latifolia (Spike Lavender), and Lanata (Wooly Lavender).2
How and when a plant is sown, harvested and extracted is vital to the integrity of the essence. Things such as altitude, temperature, rain (or lack thereof), and surroundings can alter the color, smell, and benefits of an essence. Experienced and ethical growers understand these parameters and account for such details in their yearly crops to ensure a year to year consistency and quality of the essence produced.
New Life is one of only a few essential oil distributors whose source requires an actual third-party organic certification. All our essential oils, as well as plant oils, are part of this certification program called Ecocert. Ecocert is comprised of field auditors, in-house analysts, and a review board. Certification is granted when a grower has successfully met the conformity requirements set out by the standard of organic specifications.3
5.Leiann King, Brenda Wright, Amanda Reynolds, Foundational Aromatherapy
6. Dr, Joel Wallach, BZ,DVM,ND; Dr, Ma Lan, MD, MS, LAC; Passport to Aromatherapy, Wellness Publications, 2015of Eucalyputus Globulus