Chances are, you may have heard a thing or two about essential oils. It seems to be somewhat of a growing trend right now, which is great, because they are so amazing! I have had so many questions about what they are and how to use them, that I thought I’d write this quick guide for those who are interested in learning more about them. Read on, learn, and incorporate them into your daily life for an aromatic and very pleasant boost to your health.
- So just what are essential oils, anyway? All plants contain volatile oils. These oils are a powerful combination of chemicals – the essence of the plant, and they are very, very concentrated. It is helpful to think about the uses of a particular plant in general, and then realize that many of the therapeutic, healing compounds in a plant are contained in very concentrated form in the plant’s essential oil. Essential oils are obtained primarily from steam-distillation or cold pressing, though be aware, that sometimes chemical solvents are used for extraction (you want to stay away from oils that are chemically extracted).
- How do they work? Essential oils have a multi-sensory effect, working on multiple levels – pharmacologically (which involves how the oils interact with your body’s own chemistry), physiologically (the effect they have on your body systems, such as relaxing, sedative, stimulative, anti-inflammatory, etc., and also the various systems they work on – circulatory, digestive, respiratory, etc.), and psychologically (how the scent or aroma affects an individual (calming, refreshing, soothing, uplifting, warming, etc.).
- Ways to use them. Essential oils can be used in so many different ways, and it will vary slightly according to the oil. They can be used simply for their fragrance, on the skin, orally, in bath and beauty product, and for natural home cleaners. Because each oil contains its own special properties, the possibilities are wide and varied, and you have an exciting journey ahead of you in learning the multiple uses of each oil. Not only does each oil have a whole host of different uses, most of them are so strong that they must be diluted before using, so they really do last for a long time.
- Purchasing. Here is the thing – 100% pure essential oils, and only 100% pure essential oils, possess therapeutic properties. Fragrance oils are made from synthetic chemicals, and not only are they worthless when it comes to therapeutic properties, they can cause allergies, headaches, and other health issues. It is very common for things to be labeled as “aromatherapy” and not even contain essential oils. Also, be aware of things that contain “natural fragrances.” Kind of like the term “natural flavors,” you really have no idea what you are getting. It may smell pretty, but if you are going for something with therapeutic properties, be sure the ingredient list contains specific essential oils or essential oil blends. In addition, there are various grades of essential oils, and while all contain some of the healing properties of the plant from which they were derived, higher grade oils will be more effective and organic oils will not contain possible chemical residue from herbicides or pesticides. Also, there is a huge variation in the prices of essential oils, depending on the plant and the quality. For example, rose oil is going to be on the expensive side because it involves a two part process and takes approximately 60,000 roses to extract just one ounce of rose oil!
- Warnings and contraindications. Because essential oils are so concentrated, most of them should not be used either internally or on the skin without being diluted, especially for children. Please read, and be aware of any special, specific warnings, such as those for pregnant or nursing mommies, before using, too. If you are allergic to the plant the oil comes from, be aware that you will also likely be allergic to the oil. Please note that essential oils are going to be much stronger and more concentrated than teas, tinctures, infusions, or decoctions.
- Storage. Essential oils by themselves are extremely volatile, and will evaporate or vaporize into the air very readily. They should be bottled in a dark glass bottle and stored in a dark, cool place (glass is necessary as the oils will melt plastic and chemicals from the plastic can outgas into the oils). Sunlight and air can both change or damage essential oils, so storage is very important to keep your oils effective. It varies from oil to oil, but when stored properly, essential oils can be kept for years. I have oils that I am using from 15 years ago. Do be aware, however, that for therapeutic purposes, they may not be as potent if they are very old.
If you are new to the world of essential oils, I hope this has answered some questions, and I would love it if you are encouraged to try them. Start with one or two oils, learn about them, and then begin trying new ones. Lavender Oil is one of the best oils to start with because of its gentleness and wide variety of usages. It is literally good for almost everything! Before long you will be making your own blends, and instructing others!
I would enjoy hearing about how you use your essential oils, too. Any great ideas? Please leave a comment!