Imagine the feeling of walking through a Christmas tree farm in December surrounded by freshly cut evergreen. Feel yourself being drawn to the sweet smell of roses on a warm June day. Picture yourself slicing into a lemon and the energized and refreshed feeling you get. You may not have even realized it, but you have already experienced how essential oils can impact your emotions.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils have gained popularity in recent years, and for good reason. These oils are natural substances produced by plants that give them their distinctive aroma, or essence. They also directly help the plant’s health by attracting pollinators, repelling insects, and protecting against the sun and extreme temperatures. For us, they are quickly absorbed by smell receptors that are linked to our limbic system which helps control heart rate, blood pressure, stress and breathing.
Interesting things to know about essential oils:
- Only about 10 percent of the world’s plants actually produce essential oils.
- Some of the more familiar plants used include peppermint, wild orange, lime, lemon, lavender, oregano, ginger and eucalyptus.
- Frankincense dates as far back as 1550 B.C. in ancient Egyptian culture.
– Extraction of the essential oil is done through steam distillation where the volatile oil is carried to the top of the water and can be separated or cold pressed (used primarily with citrus fruits).
– It takes a tremendous amount of plant material to make essential oils. For example, 250 pounds of lavender is needed to make one pound of lavender essential oil.
What to look for in an essential oil
All oils are not created equal. Production techniques, uses, and potential side effects can be different between essential oils. When looking for an oil be sure to read labels, keep certain guidelines in mind, and do a little research.
Not all manufacturers produce oils with the same standards and many companies will add synthetic fragrances to cut costs. Anything labeled as an extract of fragrance oil is not the same as therapeutic grade. Rigorous testing is needed for purity, so look for pure, therapeutic grade oils without pesticides that have been steam distilled or cold-pressed only. Avoid any oils that have been chemically extracted.
How to Use Essential Oils
Because essential oils are so concentrated, more does not mean better, and 1-3 drops at a time is sufficient. Be mindful about why and how you are using them. Each oil is unique and can affect the body differently.
There are three ways to use essential oils: as aromatherapy, topically to your skin, and through ingestion. Never directly apply to oil to sensitive areas of the skin such as eyelids or the inside of the nose. If there is an area that causes discomfort, use a carrier oil (like olive oil) to dilute the essential oil. Remember, oil and water do not mix so applying water may actually drive the oil deeper into tissue causing even more discomfort. Some oils may cause skin to be more sensitive to UV lights. Only a few essential oils are recommended for ingestion and must be pure therapeutic grade and contain a supplemental label to ensure safe internal use. As with all supplements many should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.
Common oils and their uses
Lavender- very gentle and versatile, helps with stress, pain, and sleep
Tea Tree – antiseptic, antimicrobial and antifungal, used to treat acne, typically diluted with other carriers, read labels carefully
Frankincense – the “king of oils”- it helps with inflammation, mood and sleep
Peppermint – anti-inflammatory, supports digestion, and can reduce gut spasms
Eucalyptus – soothes a stuffy nose
Wild Orange – an uplifting oil that helps with insomnia, nervousness and anxiety