Growing up in a small farming community, I had no idea what my friends in college were talking about when they mentioned essential oils.
Are they household perfumes? Smokable drugs? Tiny vials of snake oil they bought at a music festival?
Turns out, they are none of these things.
Essential oils, also referred to as ethereal oils, volatile oils, and aetherolea, are plant extracts said to capture the “essence” of their source. In more scientific terms, an essential oil is a concentrated, hydrophobic liquid extracted from a plant.
They are obtained using methods including distillation and cold pressing. Keep in mind that essential oils made from using chemical processes are not true essential oils.
They provide the basis for aromatherapy, an ancient healing treatment that uses plant extracts to promote physical and mental health. You can also use them during massage to boost relaxation and as an ingredient in DIY skincare products.
As noted by blogger Tabitha Blue, the first two prescriptions in recorded history were for frankincense oil and peppermint oil.
“Some of the most widely used medications today were originally sourced from plants,” writes Tabitha. “By using essential oils, we are simply remembering the things many people and cultures have used for thousands of years. Returning to ancient solutions where healers and caretakers used the pure essential part of plants, trees, and vegetation to help with stomach ailments to sleep apnea and everything in between…solutions that don’t have a long list of side effects or warning labels.”
You inhale or topically apply essential oils (never swallow them) for a variety of reasons.
Here are some of the most commonly-used essential oils and their health benefits:
- Peppermint: to boost energy and aid digestion
- Sandalwood: to calm anxiety and improve focus
- Lavender: to relieve stress and promote relaxation
- Rose: to improve mood and reduce anxiety
- Bergamot: to promote skin health
- Ylang-ylang: to reduce nausea, headaches, and skin conditions
- Chamomile: to improve mood and promote relaxation
- Jasmine: to ease depression, to help with childbirth, and to boost libido
- Tea Tree: to boost immunity and fight infection
- Citronella: to repel mosquitoes
While I don’t believe every claim associated with essential oils, I have had success with lavender oil (for relaxation) and peppermint oil (for headaches).
In both cases, I inhale the oil while listening to calming music or have my partner give me a massage using one of the oils.
If you’re thinking about trying essential oils, I encourage you to read the reviews before you buy. Check for oils that contain only aromatic plant compounds (no additives or synthetic oils).
Essential oils are generally safe, but may cause the following side effects in some people: asthma attacks, rashes, headaches, and allergic reactions.
Before applying to the skin, it is important to dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil to prevent irritation. Carrier oils include: coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, castor oil, emu oil, and flaxseed oil. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to products like lotion, shampoo, conditions, Castile soap, and aloe jelly.
Let me know in the comments section below your experiences with essential oils and which one is your favorite!