Essential oils are extracts from the seeds, stems, roots, flowers, bark, and other parts of the plant. Extracting the oils from different parts produces an aromatic oil rich in terpenes that provide various therapeutic effects. Essential oils are used for various purposes depending on the type of plant and the part(s) extracted. Often they are blended with other plant-based oils. The potency and quality of an oil can change depending on how it is processed. There are roughly six ways to produce essential oil; however, to be considered a “true” essential oil, a specific extraction process called steam distillation is used, which keeps the plant’s integrity & chemistry.
Terpenes have a wide range of medicinal uses and are generally responsible for the fragrance, taste, and pigment of plants. They form the primary components of essential oils and are a foundational part of the essential oils’ aromatic and therapeutic properties. Some well-known terpenes include limonene found in citrus and the spicy and peppery caryophyllene found in black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and spices like oregano, basil, and rosemary.
Rich in history, essential oils have been used worldwide to heal and improve health for centuries. Many cultures, including the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, India, China, and the Middle East, have extensive documentation of essential oils. Their uses have varied from religious & spiritual practices (incense) to methods of treatments for ailments (medicine) and cosmetic application (perfume).
The name’s origin comes from the word “essence” due to the extraction of plant oils from their seed, bark, stems, roots, flowers, or fruits. Traditionally, people use essential oils (once called aromatic oils) by applying them to their bodies or diffusing them into the air. In India, natives have been using essential oils in Ayurvedic practices (considered the oldest medicine by many scholars) for over 5,000 years. Old texts from Ancient Egypt, Asia, and the Mediterranean describe various procedures and rituals involving “healing perfumes” and “oil ointments.”
Essential oils have a wide range of medicinal and therapeutic properties. Some of the commonly reported effects & benefits of these properties are:
Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful and directly linked with the limbic system of the brain. This area of the brain processes our memories and emotions. When we smell essential oils those molecules travel and transform in our bodies, are interpreted by the limbic system, and have an affect on our behavior and mood. Since smells have a direct impact on our nervous system it’s useful to incorporate essential oils as a tool for stress relief.
Passionflower & Chamomile are two examples of well-known plant oils to have a sedative effect and can help with insomnia and stress. They assist in relaxing the muscles, lowering blood pressure and reducing cortisol levels in the bloodstream.
Citrus oils (grapefruit), herbaceous oils (rosemary), and root/resin oils (frankincense) are best for focus and concentration. They help to calm & clear the mind while gently invigorating it to get things done.
Essential oils can uplift and give a good boost. Diffusing lemongrass oil or peppermint oil into the air helps revitalize and restore energy almost immediately.
Essential oils have a long history of being used as antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial agents even before the modern medical discovery of these microscopic influences. Thieves oil, a blend of cinnamon, rosemary, clove, eucalyptus, and lemon oils, has been shown in studies to eliminate bacteria and viruses, as well as mold. The blend is called thieves as it was used during the bubonic plague when “thieves” stole from those who had died as a way not to get sick. Lemongrass, peppermint, geranium, and eucalyptus can be used topically as anti-fungals. Oregano, basil, and thyme are helpful when antimicrobial action is needed.
Essential oils can help ease the digestive system by breaking down the nutrients for proper digestion. Peppermint and grapefruit are well-known oils that help the digestive process, which supports our energy, growth, and cellular repair.
It is hard to narrow down a list of popular essential oils as there are so many, and popularity is based on place, culture, and intended use. Here are a few favorites that are easy to find and provide a variety of benefits.
With thousands of years in history, Lavender is one of the most prolific essential oils out there. It has an unmistakable fresh, floral, and soothing scent and is the perfect starter oil along with peppermint. Known for its versatility, it is a popular go-to for everyday discomforts like rashes, sunburns, bug bites, or muscle spasms as much as for sleep support and stress relief. Linalool, a well-known compound in lavender, promotes relaxation by calming the brain waves and easing cortisol levels. Nevertheless, it assists with anxiety, mood swings, and depression.
Beta-caryophyllene is another compound aiding in the anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antioxidant properties of lavender. Lavender oil can benefit the skin in numerous ways as it can lessen acne, help lighten skin, and reduce wrinkles. Unlike many essential oils, lavender essential oil is safe to use directly on the skin, what people commonly call ‘neat’. Lavender blends beautifully with lemongrass, rose geranium, or grapefruit.
Commonly found growing naturally in Europe and North America, peppermint is one of the most common and is a prime choice for those new to essential oils. A highly versatile plant, peppermint and its oil are frequent ingredients in food, tea, capsules, and tinctures. Its recognizable cool and sharp aroma is quite common in blends.
Peppermint helps relieve muscle pain, fever, nausea, colds, headaches, and assist with digestion. Because it relaxes the muscles, it speeds up the transit of food through the gut and helps with bloating and flatulence. Menthol and menthone are two active compounds in peppermint that help stop the spread of bacteria while invigorating and energizing the senses. As an astringent, peppermint cools and tightens the pores, calming redness and inflammation.
Distilled from the leaves of the tea tree plant in Australia, tea tree oil is another very well-known and prolifically utilized oil. It possesses many compounds, including terpinen-4-ol, that have been shown to kill certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It assists when a topical anti-inflammatory is ideal. Individuals can use melaleuca oil on everything from bug bites to acne. It is important to note one must only use this oil topically, and never ingest.
The many uses of lemon essential oil attribute to its stimulating, bright, and citrus scent. Lemon oil originates from the rinds of pressed lemons with a load of beneficial compounds, making it calming, astringent, detoxifying, antiseptic, disinfectant, and anti-fungal. It’s common for individuals to use lemon oil as a household disinfectant and refresher. Lemon oil is also a mood booster, so a few drops into a diffuser or onto your hands will help lift spirits. It blends well with oils like ginger, sweet orange, or clary sage. Because of its limonene content, it’s also helpful for digestion.
Rose is one of the most precious essential oils on the planet. Fossil evidence shows that the rose has been around for 35 million years, and it has been a revered flower for centuries in many cultures. Today, rose continues to have a myriad of benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Rose oil is a natural emollient, creating a radiant supple “glow” as it reduces redness and puffiness while replenishing the skin. The aroma of the rose oil uplifts, nurtures, and conveys the sentiments of love and beauty upon its receiver.
Rose oil is quite precious–and expensive–as the extraction process is quite intensive. First, producers harvest the rose oil by hand before sunrise; then they distill it the same day as the harvest to keep its delicate aroma. It takes a large amount of petal to create a small amount of oil depending on the extraction method and plant species. The typical yield can be approximately 1:3,000, making it a costly oil to purchase.
Frankincense, most famously known as one of the gifts bestowed by the three wise men in the Bible, is famous for a reason. Originating as far back as 480BC in Egypt, natives first began using this oil for its anti-aging effects; some even using frankincense to fight cancer. It helps relieve chronic stress and anxiety, assist with reducing pain and inflammation, and support boosting immunity. Like rose, frankincense is a long-revered oil that is expensive but potent in small amounts.
Researchers and scientists alike believe sandalwood oil is beneficial in treating physical and mental disorders, including anxiety, high blood pressure, and indigestion. Likewise, sandalwood has been long a part of both Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine (CMT) practices. Individuals can use sandalwood as a powerful aid in meditation with its aroma calming the mind and body. Sandalwood is a slow-growing hardwood that comes from many places globally, including Australia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Pacific Islands.
Hawai’i sandalwood oil comes from the swaths of sandalwood forests grown in the Big Island’s higher elevations. It is another expensive oil. In line with its value, there is a lot of effort going into restoring sandalwood forests across the globe to preserve it for the benefit of future generations. For those seeking a less expensive oil with a somewhat similar earthy aromatic profile, cedarwood oil is an excellent option.
Depending on the need, essential oils can be taken in a variety of ways. Experts in this field recommend the practice of diluting the essential oil with a “carrier” oil (olive, jojoba, coconut, castor, etc). Here are just a few of the most common ways to use essential oils for natural healing:
Individuals are safe to apply most oils to the skin, but specific ones are best as a topical to help aid aches and pains or promote relaxation. One can also add his or her favorite essential oils into a carrier oil, like Mana’s Hemp Massage Oil Concentrate with CBD enhancing its efficacy. Then, massage the oil into a desired area. Essential oils are highly potent, so a carrier oil helps disperse the particles, protecting the skin from overexposure.
One of the most popular ways to use essential oils is by diffusing it into the air. Eliminating unhealthy toxic chemicals found in store-bought air fresheners–and using diffusers–has become far more popular for health reasons. Suggested oils to diffuse for the following benefits:
Steam Sauna: Add a few drops of essential oils like a bucket of water, then sprinkle the water on the hot rocks to create an aromatic steam. Peppermint & pine will invigorate while cedarwood naturally detoxifies.
Place a bowl of hot water on a table. Add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil into the bowl of hot water. Drape a towel over your head, so it is partially covering the back of it and hanging along the side to create a curtain effect. Lean over, so your face is close to the steamy hot bowl. Cover both the bowl & your head with the rest of the towel (try to keep the steam inside the enclosed towel area). Close your eyes and deeply inhale the steam for several minutes, taking care that it is not so hot that it burns. Repeat a few times throughout the day.
Soaking has many benefits, and adding essential oils to a hot bath gives a nice boost for a more therapeutic & relaxing experience. Soaking is a great opportunity to combine multiple oils. For instance, lemongrass to relieve sore muscles, lavender for relaxation, and geranium for some skin therapy.
Recommended: Create a bath oil by adding 15 drops total of your favorite essential oil(s) to one tablespoon of carrier oil. Then drop it into the bath as it is filling up with water.
Since essential oils come from a plant, you can add many to your food. Keep in mind the oils often have very potent concentrate so one drop will suffice. Cinnamon can add a warm and spicy layer to your favorite meal, coffee, or hot chocolate. Using peppermint & ginger in your food also helps the digestive tract. A drop of citrus in your water can make it more desirable to drink and cut any unwanted flavors. It’s important to know which oils are safe for internal use. When looking at your options, reference oils that the FDA generally recognizes as safe or GRAS.
Today, the production and use of essential oils are more popular than ever as it is considered an alternative method of healing. Many herbalists, natural therapists, and doctors use these extracts to promote good health and well-being. More and more people continue to discover the benefits of these concentrated forms from nature by integrating them into their lives and sharing their positive results with others.