What are Essential Oils?
The scented liquid taken from certain plants using steam or pressure. Essential oils contain the natural chemicals that give the plant its “essence” (specific odor and flavor). Essential oils are used in perfumes, food flavorings, medicine, and aromatherapy.
They are also known as volatile oils and are the basic materials of aromatherapy. They are made from fragrant essences found in many plants. These essences are made in special plant cells, often under the surface of leaves, bark, or peel, using energy from the sun and elements from the air, soil, and water. If the plant is crushed, the essence and its unique fragrance are released. When essences are extracted from plants in natural ways, they become essential oils. They may be distilled with steam and/or water, or mechanically pressed.
There are very many essential oils used in aromatherapy. Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body.
Essential Oils are made up of a large array of chemical components that consist of the secondary metabolites found in various plant materials. The major chemical components of essential oils include terpenes, esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, and oxides, which are volatile and may produce characteristic odors. Different types of oils contain varying amounts of each of these compounds, which are said to give each oil its particular fragrance and therapeutic characteristics.
These oils are very concentrated. For example, it takes about 220 lbs of lavender flowers to make about 1 pound of essential oil. Essential oils are evaporating quickly when they are exposed to open air.
Fragrant plants have been used in healing practices for thousands of years across many cultures, including ancient China, India, and Egypt. Ways to extract essential oils from plants were first discovered during the Middle Ages.
The history of modern aromatherapy began in the early 20th century, when French chemist Rene Gattefossé coined the term “aromatherapy” and studied the effects of essential oils on many kinds of diseases.
Gattefossé’s famous burn: Translated from French, this is Gattefossé’s own description of the incident: “The external application of small quantities of essences rapidly stops the spread of gangrenous sores. “In my personal experience, after a laboratory explosion covered me with burning substances which I extinguished by rolling on a grassy lawn, both my hands were covered with a rapidly developing gas gangrene. Just one rinse with lavender essence stopped “the gasification of the tissue”. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating, and healing began the next day (July 1910).”
Gattefossé’s use of lavender oil was clearly an intentional act, and the result impressed him greatly, and possibly saved his life. It was a special moment for him and for aromatherapy. It also helped make him famous, and we still remember the incident 106 years later. Subsequently he collaborated with a number of doctors who treated French soldiers for war wounds using lavender and other essential oils. The accounts of these cases constitute a large part of his 1937 book “Aromathérapie”, by the way, this was the first appearance of the word “aromatherapy” in print.
In the 1980s and 1990s, aromatherapy was rediscovered in Western countries as interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) began to grow.
Essential oils are used in a variety of ways. The more common ways are by inhalation, in the bath, mixed with body/massage oils, creams or lotions, compresses, in aromatherapy diffusers and aromatherapy lamps. Essential oils should only be used by the drop and kept out of the reach of children. Never place undiluted essential oils directly onto the skin. The concentrated essence may cause skin irritation. Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as kukui nut oil, almond oil, coconut oil or other vegetable oil before applying to the body. Essential oils may be applied individually or mixed together and used as a synergistic blend. This enhances their power and amplifies their vibration.
Methods of using Essential Oils
AROMATIC BATH: Add 10 drops of essential oils to a cup of Epsom salt or sea salt, or into an emulsifier such as milk or sesame oil. Aromatic bath salts disperse the oils safely into the water, while milk and sesame oil emulsify the essential oil so that it disperses. Relax in bath for 20 minutes. Benefits: Aromatic baths are excellent for skin problems, circulatory problems, respiratory symptoms, stress and nervous tension, insomnia, muscular, and menstrual pains. Caution: Overuse of essential oils in the bath can cause irritation. Use only mild, non-irritating oils.
INHALATION: Place 1 to 6 drops of Essential oil on a tissue or cotton ball or put them in an inhaling device and breath in deeply the aromatic fragrances.
AROMATHERAPY MASSAGE: Add 6 to 60 drops of Essential Oil per ounce of natural unscented massage/body oil. Allow to penetrate for 2 to 4 hours before bathing or showering.
COMPRESSES: Add 10 drops of Essential oil to 4 oz of hot water. Soak a strip of gauze or cloth, apply to the affected area for 20 minutes. Lie down and relax while applying the compress. Soak and reapply the compress several times. Benefits: Good for bruises, wounds, muscular aches and pains, dysmenorrhea, and skin problems
FACIAL STEAM: 1 – 5 drops on hot water in a pot, cover head with a towel, steam face. Benefits: Excellent for opening sinuses, headaches, and as a skin treatment
FOOT BATHS: Add 4-10 drops of Essential oil in Epsom salt to warm water in a basin. Soak feet for 10 to 15 minutes.
AROMATHERAPY DIFFUSERS AND LAMPS: Candle diffusers Electric heat diffusers Cool air nebulizing diffusers
TOPICAL APPLICATION Use them as a natural perfume in specially created blends. Use them combined with reflexology points Read “Healing for the Age of Enlightenment” by Stanley Burroughs for a complete understanding and description of all techniques.
HOME AND CAR: There are numerous ways to disperse the oils in your home. We encourage every user of essential oils to inform themselves. There are lots of excellent books on the use of Aromatherapy.
Essential Oil Safety Guidelines
1. Always have vegetable oil or carrier oil close by when applying essential oils. This is to dilute and remove the oil if necessary. Do not try and dilute the essential oils with water, it will spread the oil and make it worse.
2. Do a skin test of the essential oil if you are using it on a person for the first time. The soles of the feet are the safest and one of the most effective places to use and test oils, especially for children and those with respiratory sensitivity.
3. People with respiratory sensitivities need to be extra cautious when using essential oils.
4. Certain oils should always be diluted. They can burn and irritate the skin if not diluted. We call them the “Hot” oils. These are essential oils high in phenols, citrals and cinnamic aldehyde, such as thyme, oregano, clove and savory (phenols), lemongrass (citrols), cinnamon bark and leaf (cinnamic aldehyde).
5. Always use a dispersing agent, such as bath gel base, Epsom salts, or baking soda when adding essential oils to bath water. Never add undiluted essential oils to bath water as they can injure or burn the skin.
6. Do not apply essential oils to parts of the body that are hot, dry, tender, damaged or affected by burns. Do not put them into the ears and take caution not to get essential oils into eyes. Certain oils may sting the eyes and other sensitive areas. Essential oil residue on the fingers may damage contact lenses or cause eye discomfort.
7.) Pure citrus oils may compound the effects of sun exposure. Limit prolonged exposure to direct sunlight for up to 12 hours (up to 24 hours for lime; up to 48 hours for bergamot) after applying these undiluted essential oils to the skin.
8) Check with a health professional before using essential oils if you have a serious medical condition or are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant. DO NOT use clary sage or wintergreen during pregnancy.