Essential Oils Basics: A Look at These Time-Tested, Natural Therapies
Have you been hearing all the chatter lately about the positive impact of essential oils (EOs) on well-being, but are not sure where to begin to become a healer in your own home? Keep reading for some EO evidence-based basics to help you get started.
The Power of Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used for their healing and aromatic properties in many cultures since as early as 3000 B.C. As extracted volatile, aromatic compounds from plant flowers, bark, leaves, resin, seeds, roots, or pith, EOs support human healing via the same active botanical constituents that function as the life force of their plants of origin.
Extensive lab and clinical studies have shown that their fat solubility, coupled with the small molecular size of their active compounds, enable EOs to work efficiently and powerfully (they are 50–100 times stronger than herbs) by easily passing through cell membranes and skin layers, into the bloodstream, and even across the blood–brain barrier. EOs have been valued for their wide-ranging properties due to their ability to support cells, even those that are physiologically compromised by poor nutrition or environmental threats. They can detoxify, protect/strengthen/restore, uplift/energize, warm/soothe, and harmonize the body, mind, and spirit.
Selection and Safe Use
Since all essential oils are not created equal, it is first critical to ensure that you are using the highest-quality brand available to produce the desired therapeutic effects. Various factors influence quality, such as:
- Sourcing: Origin soil exposed to toxic chemicals affects plant chemistry (look for certified organic or better-than-organic); farmers must grow only the desired species of each plant and allow plants to mature properly.
- Processing: Essential oils should be extracted slowly and gently, ideally by hydro- or steam-distillation or cold-pressing, without toxic solvents or chemicals.
- Third-party testing: Every batch should be tested and certified as pure and guaranteed to have the same therapeutic potency and constituents from batch to batch, without synthetic additives.
Once you have selected a brand that offers high quality EOs, you can begin to explore using them aromatically (in a diffuser or specially designed humidifier), topically, and/or internally. While EOs can be used safely in all three of these ways, there are certain reasons for caution to consider:
- Labeling: Since not all brands, oils, or oil blends are manufactured for internal use, confirm that the label indicates clearly what uses are recommended.
- Dosing: Consuming EOs can call for more precision and proper dosing may need to take into consideration the individual’s weight, specific health condition, symptoms, and the established medical goal (this is a good reason to consume them pre-dosed in soft gels).
- Prescription drugs: Specific oils may interact with medications regardless of how they are used (for example, antidepressants should not be combined with chamomile, clove, blue tansy, sage, holy basil, bay, cinnamon leaf, or Melissa).
- Babies/children: While children often appreciate and respond well to EOs, to prevent adverse reactions be mindful of the dose, dilution, location of application, and suitability of the oil applied.
- Pets: Veterinarians that recommend EOs indicate that many are safe to use with pets; ideally, let pets self-select—give them the ability to leave a room when desired, mix oils with carrier oils (fractionated coconut, almond, jojoba) to prevent skin irritation, and carefully limit doses. Oils to avoid or use cautiously with pets: birch, tea tree, wintergreen, oregano, cassia, cinnamon, clove, rosemary, thyme.
Some Indicated Symptoms and Conditions
The available essential oils, the different ways each can be used individually or in blends, and the vast number of physical and emotional health conditions they have been reported or scientifically proven to address are all too numerous to address here. This is just a sampling of the science-based ways to address the symptoms of some common issues:
- Anxiety/Stress/Sleep. Essential oils that can help reduce stress/anxiety very often can also address insomnia. The authors of one systematic review concluded that lavender, bergamot, and wild orange effectively soothe anxiety. In a 2020 animal study, researchers stated that topical vetiver is useful for anxiety and depression, reduces cortisol hormone levels, and is comparable to diazepam when applied in a 30%-concentration balm.
- Depression. The researchers of one animal study concluded that clary sage oil could be developed as a therapeutic agent for patients with depression and that its antidepressant-like effect is closely associated with enhancement of dopamine activity. Just last year, one study recognized that frankincense, viewed as the “king of oils,” has been considered an anti-inflammatory agent potentially useful in the treatment of specific neuroimmune system disorders, and concluded that attribute makes it an effective agent against depression.
- Digestion. Numerous studies support the use of various essential oils (peppermint, ginger, fennel, anise, and cinnamon bark) for a variety of digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, IBS, and parasites.
- Immunity. Scientists recognize that many essential oils are antiviral (lavender, thyme, peppermint), antibacterial (eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, orange), and antifungal (oregano, cinnamon, citronella, geranium, lemongrass, orange, patchouli). The first papers on the anticancer activity of essential oils were published in the 1960s and, as of 2014, over 500 papers have been published.
- Weight Management. Essential oils can help increase metabolism (grapefruit, lemon), curb food cravings (grapefruit, cinnamon), combat water retention, diabetes, and obesity (juniper, sage, lemon), address cellulite, and enhance a workout (a combination of wild orange/peppermint/clove/rosemary).
Although essential oils can provide an immediate, convenient, inexpensive way to attend to multiple ailments, it would be wise to consider consulting a holistic practitioner for essential oil guidance when facing a serious acute or chronic condition.
Submitted by Erika Dworkin, BCHN (Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®), former owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe in Manchester, CT (www.cthealthshop.com), which operated for 65 years, and a Natural Nutmeg Magazine Readers 10Best Nutritionist (2019–2021). Erika is available for nutrition consultations and public speaking engagements in person or on Zoom. She can be contacted by phone at 860.646.8178, or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Ask her about her FREE 20-Minute Wellness Assessments and FREE Essential Oil Chats!) All statements in this article are practice- or science-based and references are available upon request. The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice. The products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Erika Dworkin, Board Certified in holistic nutrition, is the former owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe in Manchester, CT (www.cthealthshop.com), which operated for 65 years. Erika is available for nutrition consultations and to speak to groups, in person or on Zoom. She can be contacted by phone at 860.646.8178, or by email at: email@example.com. Ask her about her FREE 20-Minute Wellness Assessments and FREE Essential Oil Chats! All statements in this article are practice- or scientific-evidence-based and references are available upon request.