*What Are Essential Oils
What are essential oils, and how might they be used for therapeutic purposes?
Essential oils are ultra-potent oils, extracted from plants and flowers that have been utilized in medicine for centuries. Before you dismiss essential oils as a means to support the body’s natural defenses against injuries and illness, take a look at the historical evidence of the oils’ medicinal competence in practice.
Your average age-old medical text will demonstrate that essential oils, herbs, and plenty of other natural ingredients have, for thousands of years, successfully enhanced immune function to meet and defeat any number of ailments and injuries. Though traditional medicine is considered “alternative” now, it was once the gold standard. And, frankly, perhaps it still should be, as these natural age-tested remedies can fortify the body’s battlements against everything from simple maladies, like headaches, cuts and bruises, to serious diseases, like cancer.
Essential oils are deemed “essential,” because the oils are composed of the “essence” of the plant. The difference between essential oils and other oils – like olive oil or vegetable oil, for instance – is that essential oils have high volatility and reduced fixation, which results in faster evaporation, enabling their popular use in aromatherapy. Even at high temperatures, olive and vegetable oils don’t evaporate.
You probably don’t realize that you already use essential oils every day. They’re in perfumes, shampoos, soaps, ointments...they’re even used in furniture polish. Why are they found in so many aromatic products? Well, basically, because essential oils are super concentrated aromatic liquids, so their scent is remarkably strong. A small amount of oil can make a huge splash, aromatically.
Let’s put this into perspective: to steam tea, you use a few leaves of peppermint or juniper; to produce a single ounce of essential oil, five whole pounds of peppermint or juniper leaves are required. Some sources claim that to produce twelve pounds of essential oil would necessitate an acre of peppermint, juniper, or any other oil you’re looking to produce en masse. Unlike vegetable oil, you don’t often find concentrated therapeutic-grade essential oils sold by the tubload. Instead the oils are often sold in easily carried small, dark bottles, perfect for at home or on-the-go healthcare.
How Do They Work and Why Do They Support Wellness
Basically, essential oils are a preferred approach to wellness because they are natural. The human body responds to natural products are supportive of the healing process.
Moreover, the receptor sites of the body’s cells are more receptive to natural oils. Most allopathic medicines essentially are spliced-together chemicals which when introduced to the body, is treated as an unwelcome alien. Additionally, prescription drugs are often designed to mute a single symptom instead of addressing the core cause of the disorder. A single essential oil can offer a full-spectrum of therapeutic properties in support of the healing process.
For all these reasons, and more, essential oils are a natural way to approach your health issues and concerns. From mental health to inflammation to immune support, essential oils have got your back.
Introducing Essential Oils
Where Do Essential Oils Come From?
Plants and plant species naturally produce essential oils for various reasons, one being to draw pollinator insects to them, another being to repel invading organisms (bacteria, animals). Several chemical compounds compose each plant’s essential oil and the combinations of these compounds are specific to the oil. In turn, the oil instills its own unique properties.
Essential oils can be harnessed from all sorts of plant components, including flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, roots, and resin.
For instance, cinnamon oil is harnessed from bark, lemon oil from the peel, and lavender oil from lavender flowers. Certain plants can produce a few chemical variants of the same essential oil, which are acquired from different parts of the plant. Some of these parts produce a large amount of oil, while others produce just a smidgen. The oil’s quality and potency depend upon several factors, including the subspecies of the plant, its soil conditions, the time of year and even the time of day you harvest it.
How Are Essential Oils Extracted?Essential oils can be extracted from plants through various methods, including pressing, distillation, solvent and maceration. Let’s take a brief look at each method.
Pressing MethodCommonly used with citrus fruit, the pressing method extracts the oil through a technique involving pushing the fruit peels through a press. Oily fruits and plants are best suited for this technique. Orange oil, for example, is extracted from orange skins through the pressing method.
Distillation MethodThis technique harkens back to the days of old-timey moonshiners, as the same sort of method used to create strong liquor can be used to extract essential oils. Using a still, boiled water and plant materials will create steam which is then cooled by coils and condensed into a combination of water and oil. This combination doesn’t mix, so the oil can then be extracted from it.
Solvent MethodThrough a multi-step process, certain plant and flower oils can be extracted using alcohol and other solvents, which extort the essential oil from the plant materials.
A “carrier” or fixed oil or lard is mixed with the plant material and set out in the sun. Over time, the carrier oil is infused with the plant’s essence. Heat sources, other than the sun, are often used to speed the process. Throughout the process, more plant material is added to produce more potent oil.
Essential Oils versus Pharmaceuticals
Although small companies or even individuals conduct some studies about the effectiveness of essential oils, most are conducted by the food and cosmetic industries. In general, the pharmaceutical industry shows next to no interest in herbal medicine. One can only speculate why, but the industry depends on patented products. You can’t stamp a patent on an essential oil.
The historical uses of essential oils tell us what we need to know: these oils have been effectively administered for centuries. The therapeutic qualifications of essential oils can be plotted in the survival of the human race across cultures and generations.
Another reason that studies on essential oils have not turned out conclusive evidence as to their overall effectiveness is because definitive results are sometimes difficult to prove. Why is this?
The quality of each batch of oil can vary for several reasons.
Essential oils are impossible to standardize. Even the slightest variance in soil conditions and the time of harvesting – as well as innumerable other factors – will produce a different product quality and potency.
In addition, essential oils are often obtained from various species of the same plant; Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus globulus can both be used in the making of therapeutic-grade eucalyptus oil. This results in batches with slightly different properties and degrees of strength or effectiveness.
How to Use Essential Oils
Just as there are several methods by which to extract essential oils, there are several methods to administer them therapeutically. The variety of chemical compounds in each essential oil means that their benefits and applications also vary across the board. Below are a few of these methods.
Direct application of many essential oils works like a sponge. Your skin is a huge organ sopping up oils (or chemicals) you apply to your skin. Topical application is best when you want to clear up an ailment on the skin’s surface or in the underlying muscle tissue. When applying topically, you may either massage the oil into the skin or simply dab on the skin for therapeutic results.
Some essential oils are potent and should be combined with carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil or olive oil to dilute its potency. This is safer for topical use. You may support your body’s defenses against rash or muscle pain in this manner, but you should always test your patient for allergens before applying. Apply to a small area before expanding the application to larger areas of the skin.
To test for allergens, place a drop or two on your patient’s inner forearm. If a rash develops within 12 to 24 hours, then the patient is allergic. In addition, phototoxicity – sun exposure resulting in an exacerbated burn – may be an issue when citrus oils are applied topically and the patient spends time in direct sunlight. So one must proceed with caution when applying essential oils using this method.
Commonly known as “aromatherapy”, this essential oil application supports the respiratory system and minor sore throat or cold. Add a few drops of essential oil in a steaming bowl of distilled or sterilized water. Drape a towel over your head, bend over the bowl and inhale. The towel captures the vapors, making the technique even more effective. Essential oils can also be placed in a diffuser or potpourri throughout a room to produce somewhat diluted medicinal effects.
When using this method, proceed with caution. Direct ingestion of essential oils must be monitored and applied in small doses that are diluted in a tablespoon or more of any carrier oil – olive oil, for example. If you are unsure of dosage amounts, make a tea with the relevant herb instead. Although the effects of this diluted use may be weaker, this application is a better alternative than an overdose of essential oils.