For centuries, essential oils have been used for health, mood, appearance, and focus. And today, one does not need to seek out a hidden apothecary to purchase these oils. They are readily available at the local drugstore, specialty shops, and there are many companies on the internet that ship the plant oils; both local and worldwide. Essential oils are compounds that are extracted from plants. These oils retain the plant’s flavor and scent, and can be considered a concentrated “essence” of the plant.
To obtain the oil, there are two primary processes. One is via distillation, which uses steam/water to collect the oil. The other is from cold-pressing, which, as it sounds, the oils are pushed out of the plant. Both of these explanations are very general, as there is much more to the processes, but it’s important to note these basic definitions. This is because one should avoid oils that are extracted from a chemical process. This harms the oils and thus, makes them ineffective. If the bottle of oil does not specify the extraction method, do not purchase it. Another distinction between the two processes is that cold-pressed oils may retain a small amount of residue and could stain clothes or clog a diffuser but have a longer shelf life. You can chose oils from either method, depending on intended use.
There are various methods of use:
Some essential oils can be used to promote health on the outside. This can be something medical; such as soothing a skin rash or an insect bite, or it can be towards appearance; such as inhibiting wrinkles or reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Essential oils are also used in massage therapy, for both their external benefits, as well as the scent they exude, which creates relaxation. When applying an essential oil, it should be mixed with carrier oil. Carrier oil is appropriately named because it assists with “carrying” the essential oil through the skin. Carrier oils are thicker and do not evaporate like essential oils, because they are derived from the fatty part of the plant. If applied without carrier oil, essential oils can irritate or even burn the skin. Remember that they are concentrated.
Smelling essential oils impacts the limbic system, which is heavily responsible for memories and instinctual behaviors, as well as emotions. Have you ever smelled something and it brought you back in time to your childhood? You can thank your limbic system, which also plays a role in bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Essential oils can be applied to a cloth, or other vessel, and directly inhaled, or they can be mixed with water in an appropriate diffuser to disperse the oils and scent into the residing space. Smelling the oils can help to ignite relaxation, improve mental focus, treat headaches, clear sinuses, and suppress coughs, as a few examples.
If swallowed, essential oils can internally wreak havoc. Of course, these oils do come from plants, and we eat these oils all the time. So, the true focus of this particular use is the potency of the essential oils, as well as the quality. The FDA has approved a long list of essential oils to be considered safe. Examples include lemon oil, rosemary oil, and geranium oil. But even then, one must heavily understand the oil’s extraction process, age, and source. If one has done enough research to ensure they are ingesting high-quality oil from a trusted company, the oil can be mixed with food, or dropped into a gelatin or vegetable capsule. An instance where essential oil has been noted to help alleviate symptoms is peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome.
There are psychological peer reviewed studies that indicate a positive correlation between essential oils and a reduction in anxiety and stress as well as an increase in memory and mood. It is a very holistic approach that thousands of people advocate as a helpful method. However, as with any lifestyle change, speak with your physician about introducing new oils into your regime, to ensure there are no allergies or possible interaction with medication.
By: Kathryn Chambers
Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc