Essential oils are one of the oldest type of treatment known to man. These oils, which include volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetheroleums and other plant oils are used in a variety of products including in cosmetics, perfumes, soaps and air fresheners. They are also the basis of aromatherapy, a type of alternative medicine in which the practitioner uses aromatic compounds to treat different health issues.
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What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to treat everything from headaches to sleep to sore throats. Health professionals are divided over whether essential oils are effective or not but most agree that their use can impact an individual positively if they are used in a safe way.
Essential oils are used in a number of ways. Many people are familiar with essential oils as the basis of aromatherapy, or smell therapy. They can also be applied topically to the skin, for instance, when having a massage. Essential oils are often used to improve sleep, skill bacteria, viruses and funguses, reduce inflammation, relieve headaches, reduce nausea and boost one’s mood.
Essential oils have been used throughout history in many different societies.
In pre-historical times essential oils were used to create paintings on walls but the first known incidence of essential oils being used for healing involves the Egyptians who used oils 4500 years ago to purify the air and to make baths, massage oils, perfumes, powders, tinctures, salves and ointments for both medicinal and spiritual ceremonies.
Around the same time period Huang Ti, The Yellow Emperor of China, wrote a book on medicine that included information about the use of aromatics – a book that is still used by practitioners of Eastern medicine today.
Indian literature from approximately 2000 BC references the use of oils in Ayurvedic healthcare. In Sanskrit, "ayur" means life and "veda" means knowledge and the Ayurveda natural healing system incorporates the use of essential oils as a core element of its philosophy of merging spiritual, philosophical and practical elements to effect healing.
In the Veda, a sacred book of religious texts and hymns, over 700 uses of herbs and aromatics are discussed for healing and religious purposes. The Old Testament also references essential oils including mention of the holy anointing oil which included cloves, cassia, cinnamon, olive oil and spikenard.
Essential oils were seen to be so powerful that the Catholic Church banned their use. They were, the Church said, decadent and inappropriate, and the Church banished or put to death anyone who was caught using the oils under the accusation that such healing was, in fact, witchcraft.
Only in the late 19th century did the use of essential oils go mainstream again and by the era of WWI, essential oils were being sold commercially and used to treat war wounds.
Researchers believe that essential oils work in a communication between your nose (olfactory bulb) and your brain (the limbic system) to effect positive physical and emotional responses. There hasn’t been a lot of research done on the use of essential oils or the practice of aromatherapy while the research that has been done thus far is inconclusive.
One John Hopkins study found that slow-growing “persister” forms of Lyme bacteria were more receptive to treatment with garlic cloves, myrhh trees, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, thyme leaves and cumin seeds than to conventional anti-biotics.
And studies on tea tree oil, a potent oil that comes from the tea tree of Australia and New Zealand, indicates that application reduces the activity of bacteria and can actually kill off bacteria and is highly effective in treating HSV-1 and HSV-2 (herpes simplex).
Common Uses of Essential Oils
Essential oils enter the body by being inhaled, ingested or applied to the skin (though conventional health practitioners caution against ingesting essential oils). Some of the most common uses for essential oils include:
- Tea Tree Oil is so potent that it is part of the kit bag given to Australian soldiers. It can be used for a wide range of skin issues including as an anti-biotic for many different types of infections.
Many people use it for acne by applying it, undiluted, right on the eruption, and for athlete’s foot and ringworms where it works best if diluted in a carrier oil like jojoba oil or coconut oil. Unless you live in Australia or New Zealand where you can access the tea tree plant, you’ll have to buy it at the pharmacy or health food store.
- Peppermint oil is a strong aromatherapy oil that is used to boost moods, fight fatigue, ease headaches and help with digestive issues, It’s also helpful with gastric irritations and irritable bowel syndrome. You can infuse the peppermint leaves in hot water to make a tea or rub or sniff peppermint oil.
To make peppermint essential oil, crush or chop fresh peppermint leaves and place them in a glass jar with a tight lid. Cover the leaves with a carrier oil (olive or grapeseed). Close the jar and shake it. Leave it sit for 3 days and then strain the oil into a bow, discarding the chopped leaves. Put fresh leaves into the jar and put the oil back into the jar with the fresh leaves. Cover with fresh oil and store in a cool, dark area.
- Frankincense oil is a great mood enhancer and is also known as a strong sleep aid. Many people believe that it can improve asthma but there is, as of now, no scientific evidence to indicate that this is the case. Frankincense oil should never be applied directly to the skin.
To make your own frankincense oil, grind the frankincense and add the ground resin to a carrier oil (olive, avocado, etc) in a jar. Heat the oil and then, after it cools, filter through a cheese cloth or coffee filter.
- Eucalyptus oil is a good oil to have to open up stuffed nasal passages when you have a stuffy nose. It’s also useful as a topical oil to treat pain and to treat herpes simplex virus.
To make eucalyptus oil, use 1/4 cup of eucalyptus leaves and place the them in a jar and cover with a thin layer of sea salt (which helps to extract the oil from the leaves). Mash the eucalyptus leaves into the bottom of the jar to release their natural oils.
Cover with 1 cup of carrier oil and let it sit in sunlight for at least 2 weeks. Strain out the leaves and keep the oil in sunlight for maximum effectiveness.