Essential Oils: The Basics

essential oils and medical flowers herbs

If you’ve ever tried to look up basic information about using essential oils you’ll know that typing something like “essential oils 101” into Google will actually give you hundreds of articles with 101 ways to use them.  If you’re interested in learning more about using essential oils, look no further! We’re here to help.

Essential oils are a highly concentrated version of the natural oils in plants. This means that you can get all of the benefits of the plant you’re using in one drop of its essential oil. These oils have an incredibly small molecular size, which allows them to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream quickly. One drop, the typical amount you would use, can make it through your entire body in about 20 minutes.

Essential oils have been in use since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians are credited as the first to create a distillation machine to extract the oils, and Hippocrates “the father of medicine” is said to have utilized aromatherapy in ancient Greece. The practice as we know it today really started in the early 1900s with French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who became interested in the healing powers of essential oils after using lavender oil on a burn he suffered in the lab.

Today, essential oils are gaining popularity as people learn about their uses for skin and mental health, physical well being, cleaning and more. Essential oils are giving people a way to eliminate harmful chemicals that are present in everyday items such as beauty and cleaning products.  For example, lavender oil is frequently cited as a fantastic oil for relaxation, a cure for acne, and a remedy for migraine sufferers. Lemon oil’s antibacterial and antifungal properties make it great for both body care and household cleaning. Even larger brands are seeing the benefits of these oils. You’ll find essential oils listed as ingredients for most organic or natural soaps, bath and body products, or organic cleaning products made by companies like Trader Joes and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day.

The process of extracting essential oils from the plant is as unique as each plant itself. Sometimes the plants are steamed other times they are pressed. Some plants have the oils taken from the roots, others from the stems, seeds, bark, flowers, etc.

When you buy essential oils they’ll come in a small, dark glass bottle to protect the oil from oxidation. Storing essential oils in a place where they aren’t exposed to a lot of light (specifically sunlight) is best to preserve the potency of the oils. In the absence of light, essential oils take a long time to expire. Archaeologists actually found jars of essential oils in ancient Egyptian tombs that were still potent.

Ways to use essential oils:

essential-oil-bottle-with-lavender-candle-and-stonesTopically– This means that you apply the oil directly to the skin. It is recommended that you always use essential oils diluted with a fatty oil such as coconut oil. However, there are some oils that are considered generally safe for use undiluted. These include lavender, German chamomile, sandalwood and rose geranium. If you are trying an oil topically, it’s always a safe bet to dilute it and try it out on a small area on the skin of your inner arm before committing to using the oil on a larger area. This way you can see if you are going to have any sort of negative reaction. If you do, don’t wash it with water. Use a vegetable oil to dilute the oil and then wash with soap and water. Water actually intensifies the effect of essential oils, which is great if you’re trying achieve that affect for things such as soothing sore muscles. For this you can use a hot compress or take a hot bath or shower to intensify the effects. If you’re going to add them to your bath, don’t add the oil directly to the water (it floats). Instead, apply the oil to your skin before getting in or add a few drops to some Epsom salts and add to the water that way.

Diffusing– This is a pretty simple one. By allowing the essential oils to fill the air of your home, you can have a wonderful smelling apartment and create a space where you get some of the benefits of essential oils. For example, if you’re looking to make a space where you can de-stress, or if you need help falling asleep at night, try diffusing lavender in your bedroom. When you’re diffusing essential oils remember that they shouldn’t be heated up. It actually breaks down the compounds and makes them less effective. You can purchase a diffuser specifically for essential oils, or add a few drops to a spray bottle and fill it with water to create a kind of air freshener you can spray on surfaces.

Ingestion– This is another pretty simple one, but you have to make sure to be very careful. You can put the essential oil directly on your tongue or gums, add it to a capsule, or add it to your food as you’re cooking. Generally speaking, essential oils should be diluted if ingested. If you are choosing this route, it is important to remember that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to many plants. One drop of lemon oil is the equivalent of 20 lemons, and one drop of peppermint is the equivalent of 28 cups of peppermint leaves. This is why ingesting essential oils can be dangerous if not properly researched before use. Wintergreen oil, wormwood oil, bitter almond oil, and mustard oil are all actually really bad for you if ingested. If you’re unsure, make an appointment to see a certified herbalist. A good rule is to always treat essential oils with the same amount of caution you would give to medicine you get from the pharmacy.

oilsThe benefits of essential oils 

The benefits of essential oils are as varied as they come. You can use them for mental or physical health. Getting through a big project at work or battling a nasty cold. Once you decide to purchase essential oils and have found a reputable company to purchase from, you’ll have a starting guide on what essential oils to use to treat different ailments.

If you’re looking to get started with essential oils, have a chat with certified herbalist to make sure you understand how and what to use in your journey with essential oils. Some great “starter oils” might include lavender (for stress relief), peppermint (for nausea, vertigo, and headaches), and frankincense (for an immune system boost and coughing). No matter which route you choose, incorporating essential oils into your wellness routine is a great way to boost mood and overall health. Enjoy!