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Essential Oils 101

The use of essential oils is rising dramatically as more people discover alternative health treatments and age-old remedies for feeling better. With all of the buzz out there you may have questions about using essential oils. What are they? Are they new? How do I use them? Is there a difference in quality? Are there any dangers? There are so many details and historical uses, let’s take a closer look.

So what exactly are essential oils? Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts taken from the leaves, seeds, roots, rind or blossoms of plants. Each contains its own complex mix of beneficial compounds that make it useful for a specific purpose. Some oils are used to promote physical healing such as to treat swelling, fungal infections or pain. Others are used for their emotional value such as calming anxiety.

Essential oils have been around forever, well almost. Archaeological findings tell us that humans have been using essential oils for 5000 years or longer. Their use as healing remedies is well documented in Egypt, China, India, Greece, Rome and many others. Once called Aromatic Oils, the term Aromatherapy was coined by French Chemist René-Maurice in 1928.

One of the more colorful stories from history is the origins of Thieves Oil. There are a few variations on the story but here is the common summary.

During an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 15th Century England, it’s been told that four thieves roamed the countryside looting and plundering the homes and even the bodies of the dying or dead. When they were finally caught the magistrate offered them a reduced sentence for their crimes if they would share the secret of how they protected themselves from contracting this fatal disease. Taking the deal, they told stories of their herbal knowledge gained from their travels and the powerful medicinal properties when combined in certain ways. This specific herbal blend that they had created was highly effective and is often referred to as “Thieves Oil”. Thieves blend is one of the most popular blends today. Many people insist this is the best way to fight off a cold, flu or any other type of infection. Clinical studies on one brand in particular have confirmed its effectiveness in some cases. You can find it in a premixed oil blend from various companies along with toothpaste, cleaning solution, hand soap and more. You can also easily make your own oil blend. I’ve shared a recipe at the end of this article.

Using essential oils aromatically is to simply smell them, the most common device for this is called a diffuser. They emit a fine mist into the air with just a few drops of essential oil and a little water being all that is need for most devices. Researchers are not entirely clear how aromatherapy works. Some experts believe the "smell" receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for emotions and memories, the parts of your brain that influence physical, emotional, and mental health. This is the mind/body connection that is activated when you smell something and you suddenly remember something, a place or experience. Scientists believe lavender stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work. Other researchers think that molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.

Using essential oils topically is generally considered safe although many need to be diluted especially for children and animals. Some oils are considered “hot” and should never be used undiluted as they may “burn” or irritate the skin, oregano is one such oil. Diluting with what is called a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil, is the best way to use most oils. The bottoms of feet are a great location to apply oils.

Ingesting oils is complicated and should be addressed by a certified aromatherapist.

Not all oils are created equally. The sourcing, distillation, or extraction process can vary greatly. Some manufactures do not recommend ingesting their oils due to purity while others promote it. Even for topical use, the quality can vary significantly. Many lotions, candles, and beauty products are sold as "aromatherapy." Unfortunately, many of these products contain synthetic fragrances that do not have the same properties as essential oils and may actually cause serious problems. With oils you often get what you pay for.

You should always consult a certified aromatherapist on the best and safe use of oils and seek the advice of a healthcare professional for specific health concerns.

Basic Thieves Recipe

40 drops Clove bud EO (Essential Oil)

35 drops Lemon or Orange EO

20 drops Cinnamon EO

15 drops Eucalyptus EO

10 drops Rosemary EO

The information contained herein has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention.

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