I've had so many comments recently asking me about Essential Oils, so I thought I'd give you a quick "101" on why I'm obsessed with them, and how they work. I a big "smell" person - just as some people are "visual learners" and others are "auditory learners," I am a "smell-learner"! I think my daughter is too, because I've noticed that from a really early age one of the first things she does when encountering a new product, is to sniff it. It can be anything from a new book/pencil to a new dress - it's scent has got to be checked out! Our olafactory response is way more powerful than most of us realize. The smells we take in from our environment can cave a profound effect on many of our bodily systems, most notably our nervous system.
My home is always filled with beautiful, natural fragrances from Essential Oils. I can't live without them. I take them on airplanes, and have to bring natural oils with me when I'm going to be staying in a hotel room because certain Essential Oils remove the mustiness of a sealed-up room, and help me to relax. Pure essential oils are so potent in their therapeutic powers, that in Europe they are used to treat clinical depression and severe anxiety. I want to address a bunch of questions that I've had from my community, in the hope that they might help you, too. So, here goes:
- What is a "pure" essential oil? It's a highly concentrated botanical oil, which has been extracted or distilled from a plant (flower, twig, seed, herb, or fruit). Each oil may have several benefits including being: anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-spasmodic etc.
- Why are they so expensive? PURE essential oils are expensive because it takes a lot of plants and a lot of work to make a tiny amount of oil. For example, it takes 60,000 roses to make just 1-ounce of Rose Absolute Oil. Keep in mind that you will only be using a few drops of oil at any given time, so even a small bottle will last you for a very long time. Their shelf life, when kept in a cool, dark cabinet, is about 1 year. So, buying a few bottles of oils you know you'll use is a great investment. Keep in mind that the shelf-life of different oils varies greatly. I recommend sticking a little sticker on the bottom of your bottle with the date of purchase on it. It's hard to tell if an oil is no longer usable, but the best way to tell is to sniff it: Because it's an oil, it won't go "bad" or rancid, but it might lose it's strong smell.
- How do you distinguish "pure" from not pure? Great question! I always talk about "pure" oils because there are so many oils on the market that are heavily diluted with a cheap plant oil. The product you are buying may have a tiny trace of the original essential oil in it. This is why it's super important that you buy your oils from a reputable company. There are quite a few great companies here in the U.S. and I've researched many of them. Mountain Rose Herbs is my go-to for oils because they are a small company in Oregon with an outstanding commitment to sustainability and organic farming. They have a huge selection of both organic and non-organic oils, and their prices are fair. I also like Now Foods oils, and Aura Cacia. I steer away from any pyramid schemes, as I don't like the hard sell. Pure Essential oils are always sold in dark, glass bottles to protect them from the light, which can degrade or oxidize them.
- Are they safe to put straight on our skin, and/or ingest? It depends on the oil, and you have to look up the safety/toxicity of each individual oil that you are interested in. Be mindful that certain oils can be very toxic to ingest. I wouldn't recommend that anyone put an undiluted essential oil directly onto their skin. Never assume that because something is "natural" is is safe. This couldn't be further from the truth - many compounds that come from nature can be irritating and/or toxic. For example, quite a few people are allergic to Lavender Essential oil. I always recommend a patch test before using oils on your skin or ingesting them: Simply make dilute 6 drops of essential oil in 3 tsp of a vegetable oil, and gently rub over a small patch on your inner wrist. Cover with a band aid and leave for a few hours and check that you don't have a reaction such as reddening or swelling of your skin. Keep in mind that Essential Oils should ALWAYS be diluted in a plant carrier oil before being applied to the skin because these oils are very strong.
- What about cooking with these oils? Yes - I love to use a few choice Essential Oils in certain dishes. My favorite oils to use in a culinary way are: Lavender (Lavender & White Chocolate Cookies!), Orange, Lemon. If you have other questions, feel free to ask away in the comments below this post, but I'm going to move on now and show you how to create a "Basic Home Care Kit". This kit includes the oils that I believe every home should have stored away.
Tea Tree: This is one of my big go-to oils because of it's incredible antiseptic action - it is 100 times more powerful than carbolic acid! It is also anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. The Aborigines have been using it in medications for centuries, and it is used in many Australian hospitals in place of regular anti-bacterial agents, because it guards against the spread of super-bugs.
Lavender: This oil is very good for treating burns and scalds. It is also a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, and an anti-depressant. It stimulates the immune system, and is great for alleviating stress.
Peppermint: Aside from helping to keep ants and fleas at bay, Peppermint is a great digestive aid, so is great if you suffer from heart burn, gas, and/or bad breath. It is my go-to oil for headaches, and also really helps with focus.
Chamomile: There are different types of Chamomile, and I usually use Roman Chamomile because it's great for treating anxiety and insomnia. It is highly anti-inflammatory. Chamomile is wonderful for children because it's gentle and safe enough to be used in low concentrations to treat anxiety and for babies/children who have trouble sleeping.
Eucalyptus: This oil is hugely effective in treating coughs, colds, and all respiratory conditions. It's very versatile - cooling the body in Summer, and protecting it in the Winter.
Geranium: Geranium is my all-time favorite oil because it lifts my heart! It works profoundly on emotion, and is wonderful for helping anyone to deal with depression and/or pain. I use it for it's anti-aging properties in skin care formulations, too.
Rosemary: Rosemary is physically and mentally stimulating, so perfect to use in the mornings to get you going. It's antiseptic and often used for scalp conditions. It's also great for migraines, coughs and flu.
Thyme: Thyme has very powerful anti-viral properties. When colds/flu are around, you always want to have Thyme oil to diffuse in every room. Thyme must be used very carefully, and NEVER be applied directly to the skin.
Lemon: I use Lemon Essential Oil a great deal in blends. It's antiseptic and anti-bacterial. It can treat insect bites and tension headaches, and can be used for flavoring. Clove: Clove is a very powerful oil. Traditionally used for toothache, it can also be very effective in the treatment of asthma, nausea.