What are Essential Oils?
In a remarkable and recent turn-around, essential oils are now taking their place as an invaluable healing substance following the misuse and overuse of antibiotics (once predicted as the vanquisher of all infectious diseases) to such an extent that drug resistant bacteria pose a considerable and sometimes overwhelming threat to life. Studies have proven that just 4 essential oils will kill 100% of the bacteria and virus in any room where they are diffused.
Pure essential oils contain hundreds of different chemical constituents, making it impossible for a virus to mutate and adapt to so many constituents while on the other hand, drugs are manufactured by isolating just one or two such constituents. The power of essential oils is now being discovered by modern medical science but historically, ancient cultures considered essentials oils to be more valuable than gold. Essential oils can be help to make you more healthy, more beautiful, stronger and calmer.
Aromatic herbs and their essential oils have been popular with perfumers, alchemists, physicians, chemists, royalty and more, since the earliest times. It is thought that essential oils were first discovered and used for embalming in ancient Egypt as well as for cosmetics and medicinal treatments while around the same time, China started to use herbs and aromatic plants and India commenced their Ayurvedic medicinal system. Next in line were the Greeks and in particular, Hippocrates who liked to carry out aromatherapy massage as part of the treatment process for his patients. The Romans continued the tradition of aromatherapy with essential oils and the power of fragrances. With the end of the ancient civilizations, essential oils took a back seat although they proved useful during the Dark ages for disguising unwashed bodies with the added advantage of their anti-bacterial and anti-pesticide properties.
During the Renaissance, there was a small swing back to folk medicine but the big break-through in the renewed popularity of essential oils came in the early 1900s when the French chemist Gattefosse burnt his hand in his lab. He immediately treated the burn with lavender oil – the closest substance available - with the result that it eased the pain and helped to heal the hand with no infection and no scarring. He began to experiment with essential oils. Others followed in his foot steps and a Dr Valet went on to treat injured soldiers in the second world war with essential oils. The 1950s saw the start of essential oils being used in massage treatments so that by the 1970s and 1980s, essential oils and the art of aromatherapy became widely popular. Along with aromatherapy, essential oils today have a world wide following for every type of alternative and health therapy.
Although many of the secrets of essential oils have already been discovered, it is said that there are enough new compounds of essences to keep the world's chemists busy for at least a thousand years.
How Essential Oils Enter the Body
Essential oils usually enter the body through the nose and the skin and leave the body through the skin, breath, feces and urine. When we inhale essential oils, tiny particles travel to the roof of the nose and up behind the eyes to the olfactory system which is attached to the limbic system, linking the left and right brain and the nervous centers. When we absorb essential oils through the skin pores or hair follicles, they enter the bloodstream capillaries and circulate throughout the body but of course because they are not taken by mouth, they bypass the stomach and the liver, going directly to the area where they are needed most. Unlike chemicals or drugs, essential oils do not accumulate in the body.
Positive results from essential oils being inhaled for non medical reasons include Japanese corporations piping lemon essential oil fragrance through the ventilation system to increase worker performance or keeping long haul truck drivers away and alert with the use of eucalyptus oil. You do not even need to be aware of the smell to be affected – such is the power of essential oils.
The Healing Properties of Essential Oils
Essential oils are divided into three “notes” - top, middle and base.
- Top notes are uplifting and refreshing
- Middle notes affect the body's systems and metabolism
- Base notes are sedating
The mixing of different essential oils to get the correct formula for a specific condition can take years of experience and great accuracy. Synergistic blends contain two or more oils mixed in such a way as to produce an end product that is different to the component parts because they are powerful, direct and vibrant. The technician needs to understand who should and who should not use a particular essential oil or mixture of essential oils.
Essential oils contain many healing properties – antiviral, anti-bacterial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-allergic, anti-asthmatic, antibiotic, anti-coagulant, antidepressant, anti-dontalgic, anti-neuralgic, anti-rheumatic, anti-scorbutic, anti-sudorific, anti-venomous and carminative as well as being astringent, haemostatic, cicatrisant, cytophylactic, diuretic, deodorant, haemostatic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary. From this long list, you can see the power behind essential oils.
In addition, the function of enhanced circulation also makes essential oils especially useful for promoting healthy skin care by cleansing the skin, shedding off dead skin cells and reducing wrinkles as well brightening pale and dull complexions and enhancing the quality and smoothness of the skin,
Essential oils will heal and comfort on both the physiological and emotional levels.
The naturally occurring substances in essential oils are known as the life blood of the plant and made up of hundreds of chemical compounds each with many tiny and aromatic molecules. Such substances are what keep plants healthy but they also benefit people too because their chemical structure is similar to that found in human cells and tissues.
The quality of essential oils relies on the growing conditions of the plant, soil, weather conditions and the timing of harvest, all influencing the fragrance, the color and the potency. The raw plant material can include flowers, leaves, wood, bark, roots, seeds and peels. The chosen plant ingredients are placed into a distiller over water that is then heated to produce steam. The steam penetrates the plant material and vaporizes the volatile compounds. These vapors then travel through a coil and condense back to a liquid which is collected in a receiving container.
Of all the hundreds of essential oils available, here are just two that can easily be used for their health benefits.
Jasmine essential oils is extracted from the flower of the jasmine bush and is one of the most expensive. The aroma is especially helpful in cases of extreme nervous anxiety and stress while, combined with a carrier oil, absorption by the skin will assist dry, sensitive or mature skin and ease period pain when massaged into the lower abdomen regularly.
A very small amount of lemon essential oils can be dabbed onto bites and stings neat to remove the pain and discomfort or inhaled to reduce the symptoms of colds and congestion.
Conditions that Respond to Essential Oils
These are numerous but include pain, insomnia, headaches, stress, depression, high blood pressure, all types of skin conditions (such as rosacea, psoriasis, skin tags, moles and many more), hemorrhoids, varicose veins, cellulite, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, bacterial infections and viral infections. Essential oils can even be used for sexual enhancement.
The Aromatic Thymes magazine published a case study in which aromatherapy and the use of essential oils were used to improve the health of a quadriplegic in the acute injury phase, improving respiratory infections, promoting mucus clearing, fighting depression and encouraging sleep.
Today there are thousands of alternative health practitioners who take advantage of, and recognize the healing powers of, essential oils in their natural state.
Effectiveness and Citations
Essential oils have been used on humans for thousands of years but unfortunately they don't fit into the conventional clinical science approach of testing a substance in the lab first, before animals and finally on humans. If a researcher proposes to test an essential oil with humans first, they may be turned down because research review boards tend to approve research studies that follow the more usual scientific research path. In addition, many conventional drug studies are funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Obviously, there is little or no financial motivation for these companies to fund research on natural plant substances because they cannot easily be patented, limiting the potential for profit. Nevertheless, research studies on essential oils show positive effects for a variety of health concerns including infections, pain, anxiety, depression, tumors, premenstrual syndrome, nausea, and many others. There are literally hundreds of studies and citations attesting to the effectiveness of essential oils, many of which can be found at the University of Minnesota's site at http://takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/aromatherapy/what-does-research-say-about-essential-oils
Apart from the internet, there are several books on the subject of essential oils available, giving interested people a permanent reference tool, and these include:
The Complete Book of Essential Oils by Valerie Ann Worwood
The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple by David Stewart
The Essential Oils Book by Colleen K Dodt
and Reference Guide for Essential Oils by Connie & Alan Higley