ESSENTIAL oils are the fragrant, highly concentrated natural constituents that are found in plants. They are what give the plant its characteristic odour and contain the healing power of the plant from which it was extracted. When used correctly, essential oils bring a wide range of health benefits since unlike modern drugs, they have no side-effects.
The most common way in which essential oils enter the body is through the nose and the skin. Oils absorbed through skin pores and hair follicles enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. Because you smell the fragrances as the oil is rubbed on your skin, you can often benefit from both inhalation and the topical administration.
Smells are very important in our lives - they so often trigger memories of events in the past that we had almost forgotten. In addition, smells can initiate different physiological responses that can go so far as to affect our entire body and mental outlook and those healing properties in essential oils include the different smells produced.
How are they extracted?
Mostly, essential oils are obtained by steam distillation although other methods are used. Citrus fruits are cold pressed by mechanical means, and the oil from delicate flowers is obtained by a more sophisticated method that produces what is known as an absolute. This is because delicate flowers can not withstand the high temperatures needed for steam distillation.
After extraction, the resulting essential oil is a highly concentrated liquid that contains the aroma and therapeutic properties of the source from which it came. Nothing should be added or removed from this oil if it is to be used in aromatherapy.
Some industries process essential oils in order to make them meet a required odour or flavour 'profile'. To achieve this, synthetic chemicals are added to the oil and often certain unwanted non-fragrance components are removed (rectification). This 'standardisation' is common practice in the perfumery and flavour industries in order to maintain absolute consistency in fragrance or taste, but totally unacceptable if the essential oil is for use in aromatherapy. To us, this is adulteration - not standardisation.
Adulterated essential oils may often smell acceptable to the untrained nose, but because they are extended with synthetics or diluted with vegetable oil it makes them extremely poor value for money. Not only that, but if an essential oil has been standardised, adulterated or adjusted in any way it simply will not be effective. Therefore always look for 100 per cent pure essential oils.
The chemistry of an essential oil is extremely complex, and a typical example of oil will contain an elaborate mixture of aromatic constituents such as alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ketones, lactones, phenols, terpenes and sesquiterpenes that combine to produce a unique set of therapeutic qualities.
Essential oils possess a wide range of healing properties that can be used effectively to keep you in the best of health as well as looking good. These health-giving benefits include improving the complexion of your skin by stimulating cellular renewal, balancing roller-coaster emotions and fighting bacteria, fungi and other forms of infection. Essential oils have an almost endless list of therapeutic uses.
Today, aromatherapy (the use of essential oils) is one of the most popular of all complementary therapies, offering a wide range of highly effective treatments to both the acute and chronic stages of illness and disease. At the same time, regular use of aromatherapy treatments and home-use products can help to strengthen the immune system, thereby establishing a preventative approach to overall health.
The healing properties of essential oils are many, varied and extremely effective. The list of plants providing these healing essential oils is almost endless. Here is just a small handful:
Rose - Rejuvenating, relaxing and balancing. The beautiful fragrance of this oil is uplifting and balancing to the emotions making it an especially effective oil to use during the feminine cycle or indeed menopause. Rose oils have a very wide range of uses for both the mind and body.
Cedarwood - Astringent, antiseptic and relaxing. Cedarwood Essential Oil is steam distilled from the wood of the tree, and its strong antiseptic and astringent properties make this oil ideal for teenage and greasy skin. The soft and woody fragrance also makes this a very pleasant oil to use as an inhalation.
Citronella - Uplifting, refreshing and antiseptic. This oil is best known as an effective insect repellent, but it also has antiseptic and stimulating properties. Citronella essential oil has a deodorant action and helps neutralise excessive perspiration.
Clove Bud - Antiseptic, warming and soothing. Not to be confused with the inferior oil extracted from the leaves or stems, Clove Bud essential oil is a powerful antiseptic and fungicide with a rich, sweet and spicy aroma. Like most oils obtained from spices, it has a positive action on the digestive system when used in massage. Also great for toothache.
Eucalyptus - Antiseptic, clearing and stimulating. Traditionally inhaled for relief during a chill or the cold season, Eucalyptus essential oil is obtained from the deep green, sickle shaped leaves of the tree which can sometimes grow up to 200 feet in height. Highly effective in massage blends for muscular fatigue or as a pre-sports rub. Do not use on children under the age of 3 years.
Lavender - Soothing, rejuvenating and antiseptic. Lavender is the most popular of plants for its healing properties. It is a natural analgesic, anti depressant and anti inflammatory agent, while also very relaxing for the mind. Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin undiluted but should never be taken internally.
Lemongrass - Toning, stimulating, and refreshing. Tones and energises tired muscles. Lemongrass essential oil is often used by athletes as a pre-sports rub to enhance performance and help alleviate aches and pains caused by over-training. Lemongrass also makes an excellent insect repellent
Pachouli - Antiseptic, deodorant and sensual. The sweet, musky aroma of Patchouli essential oil is quite unmistakable and is often used as a fixative in oriental perfumes. A highly valued oil when caring for dry, itchy or mature skin.
Peppermint - Cooling, clearing and reviving. The fresh, sharp characteristic fragrance of Peppermint essential oil quickly revives and clears the head, and is an aid to concentration - especially whilst travelling. After a busy day, a few drops in a footbath will soothe and refresh tired, aching feet. Peppermint is a powerful oil and should not be used on children under the age of three.
Tea Tree - Antiseptic and cleansing. A very powerful natural antiseptic and anti-fungal oil, which forms part of every qualified aromatherapists first aid and travel kit. During the cold season, a few drops used in the bath induces sweating. You can also use a few drops to make a gargle or mouthwash. Great also for cleaning wounds and to treat acne (apply directly on pimples).
Ylang Ylang - Sensual, relaxing and balancing. The sweet exotic aroma of Ylang Ylang uplifts the spirit, relaxes the body, and helps put you in the mood for romance (aphrodisiac). This softening skincare oil is suitable for both dry and oily skin conditions
Quick Essential Oil Tips:
When having a BBQ, put a few drops of Citronella essential oil in the coals to keep the bugs away.
If you suffer from fatigue, try carrying round a bottle of Lavender with you. Inhaling straight from the bottle really does help.
After a long hot day add a couple of drops of Peppermint oil to a foot bath to soothe and revive your feet.
Place 2-3 drops of Lemongrass essential oil in your shoes or trainers to neutralise odours.
Add a couple of drops of geranium essential oil to a glass of warm water and gargle to relieve sore throat symptoms. You can do the same with Tea Tree oil (this is a safer option for children who can't get the hang of gargling).
All prices are in USD.