What Are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils have been used throughout history for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Modern trends towards more holistic approaches to self care and growing scientific validation of alternative health practices are driving a rediscovery of the many possible health benefits of essential oils.

Many Essential Oils have powerful cleansing and/or healing properties and are naturally antimicrobial. Their unique chemical structure allows them to pass directly through the skin for immediate biological response. They can be a incredibly potent and effective means of treating common ailments and illnesses… IF you know how to use them!

Historical Perspectives

Medicinal use of plants and plant medicines dates back over 5000 years in India. Heiroglyphics in Egyptian temples document recipes for remedies using plant extracts and essential oils. Chinese manuscripts date Essential Oil use back thousands of years. Finally, there are over 188 references to Essential Oils in the Bible!

What are Essential Oils

Essential Oils are the highly volatile fluid constituents in plants. They can be extracted through steam distillation (the most common method), expression, or a solvent extraction process, and they are typically 50-70 times more powerful than fresh or dried herbs alone.

Each Essential Oil is made up of various chemical components, varying between 100-800 (depending on individual oil), though only 300 of these components have been identified by science. The average Essential Oil contains about 100 components, whether they be alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ketones, phenols, terpenes, as well as others. While each component (or type of component) has a particular effect, the whole Essential Oil is greater than the sum of its parts; the various chemical components interact with each other to produce a given Essential Oil’s overall effect.

Essential Oils are the basic building blocks to all bodies and animals on Earth; they can permeate cell membranes (affecting viruses), and some pass the blood-brain barrier, which is why they are so effective.

Types of Essential Oils

There are a few basic types of Essential Oils:

  • Stimulants – unsurprisingly, these Essential Oils are stimulating; they increase circulation, detoxify, and bring warmth and energy to an area.
  • Calmatives/Relaxants – these Essential Oils have a calming or sedative effect; they can reduce stress or anxiety and bring sense of release to body and spirit.
  • Adaptogens – these Essential Oils are natural balancers; they can be used to achieve a natural homeostasis or balance in the body or in a given area.
  • Synergistic – these Essential Oils are often added to blends to enhance the interaction between various components of individual oils.

Combining/blending of Essential Oils must be done carefully, with the right oils and in the right proportion. I caution self-blending unless you understand the synergy amongst oils.

A Word of Caution

Essential oils are becoming much more commonplace, but they are NOT a cure-all. There is limited scientific research (since one cannot patent/profit from natural products) and recommendations for use/treatment are based on tradition and anecdotal evidence. There continues to be disagreement among professionals.

However, they can be a very effective means of coping with and treating everyday ailments. Proven uses of Essential Oils include antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. There have been few reported problems with Essential Oils when used with proper dilution.

I recommend limiting self-treatment to short list of Essential Oils and consulting a health professional about concerns/questions. Also, be sure to use only pure, naturally extracted, therapeutic-quality oils and carriers from reputable sources.

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