Friday, June 13, 2014

The Basics of Essential Oils

Fasten your seat belts because this truly is going to be a crash course. As time goes on I will get more in depth with the various ways to use essential oils. This is simply a primer to wet your appetite and hopefully start you on the journey of learning about aromatherapy. It's a very fascinating and complicated topic with tons of varying opinions. At the end of the article I will give you some great book ideas and web sites for more in-depth learning.


Essential oils are the highly concentrated essences found in various parts of plants such as the nut, seed, petal, branch, root, peel, etc. The result is a liquid that can be used for healing purposes. Again, they are highly concentrated and a little goes a long way. 

Essential oils are NOT the same as fragrance oils and perfumes. True essential oils are derived solely from the plant they are extracted from. This gives them powerful and beneficial properties along with a (generally) wonderful scent. 

Before we start keep this in mind:

Essential oils are not nuclear bombs. Meaning, you may be scared to touch them, but don't be! They have a hands-on approach so the more you use them the more you will learn. Start small and it won't be overwhelming. I promise that you won't melt or ignite by using them as long as you use a little common senseAll oils deserve your respect so don't start by slathering your body in them, or ingesting them like they are the next big thing. 

Some of the more popular oils to start with are:

  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
These oils are very well known and quite safe to work with which make them great "beginner" oils. 

Why use essential oils?

There are many reasons to use essential oils but here are a few reasons that I use them:

  • Essential oils have powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties which make them extremely useful in warding off and preventing colds and the flu.
  • Those same properties are also useful in making homemade non-toxic household cleaners.
  • Certain oils also have antifungal properties which are useful in conditions such as ringworm and athletes foot.
  • Essential oils smell delicious and are a great replacement for laboratory made synthetic fragrances and perfumes.
  • Essential oils also have uplifting, invigorating, calming, clarifying, and many other properties that can help a person cope mentally and emotionally.
  • Essential oils are perfect for homemade body care as they not only smell great but have properties that promote youthful skin, heal acne and other blemishes, reduce wrinkles, fine lines, etc.
  • Essential oils can help ease PMS, headaches, aches and pains, and many other general ailments. 
  • Essential oils are great for first aid purposes such as cuts, scrapes, and burns because of their regenerative and healing properties. 

Ways to incorporate essential oils in everyday life:

These are just a few of the ways I use essential oils in my everyday life:

Various applications of essential oils:

There are many, many ways to utilize essential oils for healing purposes. Here are just a few:

  1. Diffuser: A diffuser can be any means by which to evaporate essential oils into the air. Some devices use heat from a tea light candle, others are plugged into the wall. You can even simply drop essential oils into hot water and they will "diffuse" into the air. 
  2. Steam bath: A steam bath is basically using breathing the oils in to help with conditions such a coughs. It's done by dropping a few drops of essential oils into hot water, leaning over the bowl with your eyes closed and a towel over your head to keep the steam in. You then inhale through your nose for several minutes.
  3. Bath: Dropping a few drops of essential oils into a bath can be a very rewarding experience. Depending on the oils you use it can be relaxing, cooling, soothing, uplifting, etc. 
  4. Bath oil: A bath oil is made by mixing essential oils into a carrier oil such as apricot, almond, or olive oil and applying the mixture to your body. You then soak in a tubful of water and allow the oils to soak into your skin.
  5. Massage oil: Adding essential oils to various carrier oils such as coconut oil or almond oil make a wonderful massage oil. These can be useful for anything from sore muscles, to rubbing on the chest for sinus congestion, or simply a relaxing or romantic massage.
And of course you can use essential oils in salves, lotions, sprays, etc.

To ingest or not to ingest:

Currently there are several companies that are promoting their essential oils as therapeutic grade meaning they claim they are safe to ingest. That is going to have to be your own call. Personally, I have chosen not to ingest them (for the most part) because I feel that's what herbs are for. The very fact that there are roughly 20 lemons per DROP of lemon essential oil feels a little excessive to me. And possibly hard on your liver. 

I am not bashing any companies, that is just a personal choice I have made. The only exception I make to that is when I use essential oils in baking or occasionally flavoring my coffee with one drop in a half pot of coffee. In that case, most of the volatile oils evaporate anyway which I feel okay about. 

Another reason I choose not to ingest oils for medicinal reasons is because certain essential oils can be highly irritating to the skin, causing a rash and itching if applied undiluted. If you think about that for a second and the delicate tissue in your throat, stomach, and intestines, then it makes sense that essential oils can cause damage to those. Almost like burning them in a sense. Just because something is natural does not mean that there aren't side affects if not used properfly. Always use caution and common sense. 

Certainly there may be certain circumstances where using essential oils internally may be beneficial. But if you do choose to use them that way please research the oils you are using very well before doing so. And make sure you are using essential oils that are pure, organic, and unadulterated.  

Some words of caution:

There are a few things on essential oils I would like to point out that deserve special attention.

  1. Citrus oils such as grapefruit, lemon, lime, etc., cause photosensitivy which basically means use caution if you plan on being out in the sun. These oils attract the sun which could result in getting a sunburn very quickly.
  2. Highly irritating oils such as cinnamon, clove, thyme, etc., should never be used undiluted on the skin as they can cause irritation resulting in itching, burning, etc.
  3. Never use essential oils in the eyes. And make sure to close your eyes if you do a steam bath. 
  4. In general, essential oils should never be used undiluted. Occasionally I will use lavender, eucalyptus, or tea tree for an acute issue such as a bug bite, burn, etc.
  5. Children can benefit greatly from essential oils, however, their dosage is much smaller (generally half) of what an adult would be. Babies use even less, and they should stick with very mild oils. 

Essential oils and pregnancy:

This is a pretty hot topic out there in the essential oil world and you will find tons of different opinions. Since I have never been pregnant I don't necessarily feel qualified to give my "opinion", but here it is anyway. During pregnancy, essential oils can be a great help for many common ailments such as nausea, fatigue, anxiety, stress, etc. There are many beautiful oils that are perfectly safe during pregnancy. However. On the flip side there are definitely oils that should not be used during pregnancy simply because they have properties that can stimulate contractions, would be too harsh for a baby's tiny body, etc. 

The lists you will find on the web are going to be very diverse. Not one looks exactly alike so it's hard to give a definitive guide on which oils to use and which to avoid. I will list a few sites to check out in the reference section below. 

Essential oils versus herbs:

As you know from my blog I am a huge fan of herbs. Some herbalists strictly use herbs and some incorporate essential oils. I am of the latter group because I feel essential oils and herbs have very different, but very important, parts to play in the world of natural healing. For instance, I use herbs internally all the time to maintain my family's health. I take them as capsules, drink them in teas, use them in baking, take them as tinctures and infusions, and use them in body care. As I just stated above, I don't generally take essential oils internally, but I use them for cleaning, topically on the skin, in baths, steams, and facials, and in times of chronic sickness. Together I feel they make a killer team that promotes health, wellness and a great quality of life. 

Choosing a reputable company:

Quality definitely matters when it comes to essential oils. Many oils out there are not in their pure state. Finding a company you trust that produces consistently pure oils is very important. But how do you know if a company is of high quality? There are a few tell-tale signs to keep in mind. The following article is a fantastic guide to knowing if a company is high quality or not:


The books and websites I have found most useful in learning about essential oils are as follows, in no particular order:

I certainly hope this helped a bit in becoming more familiar with essential oils. They are super fun to have around, and once you begin using them you won't remember what life was like before!

My top ten favorite oils: (in no particular order)

  1. Lemon
  2. Eucalyptus
  3. Tea Tree
  4. Grapefruit
  5. Clove
  6. Rosemary
  7. Ginger
  8. Birch
  9. Lemongrass
  10. Fennel, Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Palmarosa...oh wait. That's more than ten. :)
Anyway, hopefully this will get you excited to explore the world of aromatherapy. Look for more recipes, profiles, etc. in the future! 

For a quick reference guide check out my alphabetical listing of essential oils. 

 **If you are unsure of where to purchase essential oils, I have found Mountain Rose Herbs and Garden Essential Oils to be reputable companies. 

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