The Essentials of Essential Oils

Essential oils can make small work of illnesses and promote long-term health. They just must be used wisely.


Essential oils are the topic of nearly every alternative health discussion, especially with the onset of cold and flu season. Distilled from herbs, they are an extension of herbalism and have been a part of medicine and pharmacopoeia since the earliest times. They are extremely effective medicine in a time of rampant drug-resistant germs. However, anytime something becomes popular, it easily gets misused. Essential oils are no different.

Unlike traditional medicine, which isolates and then standardizes a particular “active” ingredient in an herb which evokes the desired response, essential oils are a concentration of the whole herb. Herbs have multiple active ingredients, which complement one another in a synergistic way. In their whole form, they can never be standardized or controlled because soils, growing conditions, and processing all differ.

Intact herbs address the body naturally and as a whole. Concentrating those herbs maintains their innate complexity for use at therapeutic levels. Essential oils work on emotional, physical and energetic levels simultaneously, making them truly holistic medicine. And they are powerful: since the body’s sense of smell is by far the strongest sense, simply breathing in the aroma of the oil diffuses healing to all parts of the body.

Upon the first whiff of an essential oil, the body identifies the scent and an emotion is triggered, influencing the brain directly with excitement or relaxation. The fragrance then enters the sinuses, killing germs on contact, and begins absorbing into the bloodstream to distribute the particular strengthening or calming effects throughout the body. Like every living thing, each herb, and therefore its associated oil, has a unique frequency which causes the body’s cells to adapt their vibratory frequency. The human body becomes vulnerable to disease if the overall frequency dips below the healthy range. Eating too much processed (and thereby dead) foods and not enough fresh (and alive) ones influences the body to a lower frequency. Essential oils have extremely high frequencies, which shift each cell and the entire body toward vitality. What’s the first noticeable sign of healing after an illness? Revival of energy. You can feel the frequency of health. And all of that from just a sniff.

Diluted oils can also be applied topically for absorption through the skin on arthritic hands, sore muscles or a congested chest. The Alliance of International Aromatherapists recommends most oils be diluted at 1%, which is 3 drops to a tablespoon of a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a natural vegetable oil or lotion which “carries” the essential oil into the skin. It can then be easily smoothed into the skin, and all the above distribution happens similarly. The bathtub is another viable option, but remember that oils are not water soluble, so they can rest in a thin film which could sting or burn sensitive skin. Better to add 5 drops of your desired oil to a tablespoon of bubble bath or shampoo and then add it to your water so it disperses properly. Many oil companies make it easy for consumers by selling oils already diluted, or blending several oils to address a broader symptom profile.

Another simple approach is to diffuse essential oils into the air. Diffusion bypasses the dilution requirement in exchange for a small loss of effectiveness, since more goes into the room than the patient. Don’t dismiss this as mere room freshener, though. Filling the air with a therapeutic aroma is a very approachable, effective means of treating the entire family while they sleep or relax in the living room.

Many recommend taking oils internally, but this is not advised by experts. Each person is unique, with genetic weaknesses and strengths, nutritional gaps, and developed strengths or compensations that make each individual’s use of a particular remedy singular. It’s much safer, and often more effective, to use inhalation or topical applications. Hundreds of documented injuries occur annually from ingesting essential oils. The goal is to encourage the body to work properly, not force it into submission.

It is therefore very important to know the quality of the oils being used. Fragrance oils commonly included with diffusers are highly adulterated so as to withstand warehousing, and generally poor quality. “Therapeutic grade” is a commonly used but not officially recognized term, since there is no governing body certifying grades of oils. Look for high quality oils in dark glass bottles from reputable sources that have been stored in cool, dark places. If it smells “off” or rancid, it probably is. Don’t use that one. Grocery stores don’t have clerks knowledgeable in the care of oils; the local health food store is a better source.

Essential oils are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal; they are good medicine. It is no wonder they are being considered for hospital use in Europe as a truly integrative approach to healthcare. The notable hangup is safety, both of formulation and of administration. Moderation and safety were even the theme of this year’s Phyt’Arom, the international aromatherapy and phytotherapy conference. Experts from all over the world recognized the need to stress the importance of proper dilution and emphasized inhalation or topical administration in favor of the oral route. Robert Tisserand, the de facto expert on essential oils, has been preaching this message for years. It would be prudent to heed their counsel.

Moderation and safety are important. More is not better with essential oils, and anything therapeutic has contraindications. Many essential oils have blood thinning properties, so can accentuate prescription drugs or counter them – a good doctor can modulate essential oils alternately with prescription drugs to get the best response from your body. Another aspect to consider is emergency situations. Paramedics are not trained in how essential oils work, which can render life giving care ineffective or overactive in a time-sensitive situation. While essential oils can be very effective in emergencies and mishaps rarely end badly, a healthy dose of respect is always a good thing.

My introduction to essential oils was by a convention floor salesperson. The woman knew a lot of interesting facts about which I knew precious little. I had a problem and, of course, she had a solution that was “totally safe and effective.” I bought. Within the week, my child was another line in the doctor’s notes why alternative medicine should be outlawed. The salesperson prescribed powerful medicine for a child she had not met. She portrayed herself as an expert and I ignorantly acted on her advice. A shameful mom moment, to be sure. If you want to take control of your health, do your own research and be responsible. Essential oils are not the only answer to whatever ails you, and sometimes they are not appropriate. They are powerful therapeutic agents, and should be handled with care. I do believe there are distributors who truly know their stuff, but there are plenty more who are just looking to making a sale.

Essential oils can definitely make small work of illness and address underlying issues for long-term healing and health. They just must be used wisely.

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Author: Brenda

I'm a married, homeschooling mother of 6 who avidly seeks out God's truths in the world around me. I can usually be found studying health and wellness if I'm not in the kitchen practicing it.

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