Over the years I’ve had a passing interest in essential oils but had never really studied the subject. The ones I have used have typically been those that are familiar to most of us – tea tree oil (melaleuca), eucalyptus, lavender, lemon. I didn’t really know about the vast number of oils available, the number of ways they could be used, and whether there was any evidence to support their effectiveness. It’s only been recently that I have delved more deeply into learning about them, how best to use them, and for what purposes. Today I’m sharing a simple overview of what essential oils are and how they might be used to support health and wellbeing.
Essential oils have been used therapeutically for thousands of years, as early as ancient Egypt. Essential oils are extracted in a concentrated from natural sources of plant life – flowers, leaves, bark, roots – depending on the type of plant. These oils have been developed by the plant itself as a protection against pathogens in the environment. The most common method of extraction is through steam distillation and, once extracted, each batch of oil is tested to assure quality and purity.
In the last century, researchers began a more formal and extensive exploration of essential oils’ applications and benefits, which continues today in universities and research laboratories. As a result, there is more information documenting their usage and value. Many essential oils have been shown to contain strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. As interest in natural and alternative health care grows, so has interest in the therapeutic use of oils.
Here are a few of some of the more well-known oils that I use and like:
Lemon – is fresh and citrusy, which I love. It’s said to ease mental fatigue, and provide immune support when diffused, and also to fight airborne germs. I love using it in a diffuser in the kitchen – it makes everything smell clean and fresh. It can also be used (diluted in water) to clean up sticky surfaces, polish wood and disinfect, again leaving that lovely scent behind.
Eucalyptus – has an energetic, somewhat green fragrance. I didn’t always care for it but have grown over time to like it a lot and appreciate its benefits. It’s perfect to diffuse in the winter months during cold and flu season. Its properties provide excellent respiratory support, assist with clear breathing, and purify and cleanse the air. It’s also used to soothe body aches and sore muscles. Now it’s one of my favorites – who knew?
Lavender – most everyone loves this one, I think. It’s both floral and herbal, and is often used to promote a soothing and tranquil environment, which is my favorite use. I love the fragrance of a lavender-infused home or office. The fact that it’s also effective in supporting a feeling of calm well-being makes it one of my go-to’s.
Wintergreen – is minty and sweet, and is diffusing in my kitchen as I write this. I happen to love the fragrance – energetic and happy without being overpowering. It’s used to support healthy respiratory function, and also to freshen the air in the environment. It can also be used as an analgesic when diluted and applied to the affected area for joint and muscle aches.
Melaleuca (also known as tea tree oil): is most commonly known for its purifying properties. It has a distinctively “green,” rather pungent fragrance and might take some getting used to for some. It delivers, however, and is often recommended to treat and heal skin conditions, such as acne and other irritations. Diluted with water and used in a spray bottle, it’s effectively used on surfaces to deodorize and protect against environmental threats.
Patchouli: This sweet and spicy oil is often used in the perfume industry, and in other scented products. To some, it’s reminiscent of the l960’s hippie generation. It’s said to provide emotional support, and is frequently used for this in aromatherapy. It is also frequently used as an antiseptic and to soothe inflammation. I like to diffuse it for the sweet and calming fragrance.
A word about safety – Not all oils are created equal, and it’s important to look for the highest quality oil you can afford. Be sure to purchase from a company that guarantees high quality oils, which results from optimum means of growing, harvesting and extraction.
How an oil is used is also extremely important. Some oils must always be diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut, when applying topically. Others are most effective diluted with water. Care should also be taken with babies, children, pregnancy, and individuals with sensitive skin or other conditions. When in doubt, it’s important to consult with a qualified aromatherapy professional or practitioner as to the safest and most effective means of use.
I’m going to talk more about these natural wonders next time, and include some lesser known but equally valuable oils. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or want to know more about the use of essential oils for yourself or your family, just send me an email at Suzanne@evergreenlifeandwellness.com.