Herbalists swear by them. Holistic and alternative medicine gurus have stockpiles of them. In countries like France, China and India, few households are without them in one form or another. And, as of the past few decades, studies show that millions of Americans use essential oils on a regular basis too.
Perhaps it’s time you get on board. If you’ve been missing out on the miraculous benefits of essential oils, it’s never too late to jump on in.
What are Essential Oils?
An essential oil is a concentrated volatile oil that is derived from a plant using the flowers, leaves, bark, roots, seeds, stems, bark, fruits or other parts. There are several methods that can be used to achieve the results but steam or water distillation is the most popular. There are over 3,000 plants that provided sources for essential oils.
The uses of essential oils are many including medicinal, relaxation and luxury, beauty and cleaning. The oils are known to possess certain qualities which help to determine which purpose or purposes it best serves. Peppermint oil, for instance, is rich in anti-oxidants and is often used to combat illnesses. It is also a very effective anti-inflammatory so its quality as a pain reliever is appreciated. Because of its delightful, minty-fresh, camphor-cool fragrance and ability to stimulate these senses, it is also beloved for its aromatherapy as well.
In medicinal use, essential oils are placed into categories of their healing characteristics. Here are some of the groupings:
When it comes to aromatherapy or the use of inhalation of essential oils for their benefits, they are often divided into classifications according to their “scent families”. The eight most widely recognized are:
Essential oils can be blended together or used alone. They can be administered in various ways and your intent for one will greatly determine which method you choose to introduce it into your body. You can inhale the glorious aroma by way of a diffuser or other modes. You can take a nice hot soak in a tub containing one or more aromatic oils mixed with a carrier oil to help the oil absorb into your system. You can drink them in teas like peppermint tea or eat them in foods such as lavender ice cream. Or, you can simply massage the oil onto your skin topically which, of course, makes… great scents.
Essential oils are one of those things that have been around for so long, it’s hard to say when they weren’t. The use of plants and their extracts have been in existence for most likely as long as mankind has been. Implemented for medical, beauty, spiritual, aromatic and therapeutic purposes, plants and plant derivatives were once the equivalent of our drug stores.
Just where volatile oils as we know them today came into the picture isn’t exactly clear. Evidence points to them being used as early as 3000-2500 BC. Oils, including frankincense and myrrh are mentioned in the Bible at the birth of Jesus (around 4-6 BC) and even before. Some, however, do not believe the oils to be the exact chemistry of the oils as we know them today until the Alchemists in the Middle Ages formulated oils while searching for the “elixir of life”. Then there are those who feel it was Ibn al-Baitar, renowned scientist, pharmacist, botanist and physician, who lived from 1188-1248 in Muslim-controlled Spain who the glory should be given to because of the clear and descriptive records he kept on them.
While the exact origin date of essential oils is not set in stone, it is for sure that they play a rich role in history in many cultures through the ages. Egyptians used oils to prepare their dead and for spiritual purposes as well. They relied on “Kyphi”, a mix of 16 herbal ingredients, for religious, medicine, perfume and cosmetic uses.
Essential oils have long since been gifted to noblemen in many countries. Romans indulged in baths and massages in luxurious oils and even sprinkled them on their bedding. The Greek physician, Hypocrites who lived from 460 to 377 BC wrote about them in his documentations. Knights took oils with them on their crusades in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Eastern civilization heavily counted on the use of oils. In the West, Native Americans had their fair share of the potions on hand for spiritual and medicinal reasons as well. Aromatherapy was administered in World War l and became popular in Europe thereafter, frequently used for massages and in alternative medicine.
It wasn’t until sometime in the 1980’s, that Americans “re-discovered” essential oils and began to embrace them for more than their casual delightful scents. Today, a good number of people have turned from traditional medicine to essential oils for natural remedies. Some do so mostly for little aches and pains while others rely on them fully even for such serious diseases as cancer and heart conditions. Where or if to draw the line is a personal matter that should be well thought out.
These days, scientists have a good bit more figured out about how essential oils work. In aromatherapy, it has been discovered that the scent travels to your brain and sends out signals telling your body what to do. Lavender scents command relaxation. Peppermint exhilarates. It’s a complicated set up when you study all the different things that take place from the time an oil is inhaled or applied until it actually provides its benefit but the thing that most matters is… it works.
Top 20 Most Popular Essential Oils & Their Health Benefits
There are many essential oils and myriads more when you count blends. But no matter how many there are, some will always be the “go to” favorites. Here are the top 20 and a look at their miraculous healing qualities:
Derived from a little plant with purple flowers, Lavender is perhaps the most widely used essential oil in the world. Egyptians mummified their dead with the oil and in the Bible, Mary used it to anoint the feet of Jesus. It gets its name from the Latin word “to wash”. Known for its heavy-duty anti-oxidant qualities, lavender is superb in fighting free radicals that ultimately cause disease and illnesses. It’s a mighty antiseptic too. Lavender essential oil is popular for its calming characteristics. It is often used as a sleep inducer or relaxant for weary minds and bodies. The oil also helps with diabetes in that it promotes blood sugar balance and assists in preventing liver and kidney ailments caused by the disease. Lavender boosts moods and supports good brain health.
Peppermint is one of the most commonly used oils in existence and with good reason. It heals a multitude of ailments and smells like mint-heaven. Bursting with anti-oxidants, the hybrid cross between spearmint and watermint is a godsend for preventing and treating illnesses like colds, flues and bronchial conditions. Peppermint essential oil is also full of anti-microbial agents so coupled with its minty-fresh taste, it makes and excellent oral hygiene rinse. With cooling menthol in the mix, the mint is a welcome topical relief for aches and pains, like muscle cramps. It soothes digestive issues too and is often eaten ingested or drank in a tea to calm stomach discomfort, ease indigestion and relax colon spasms. When inhaled, peppermint energizes and increases focus and concentration.
This resin-based essential oil has recently experienced a new surge of popularity as essential oil enthusiasts are finding out just what it has to offer. Notorious for its use in the Bible, one of the gifts given by the wise men to baby Jesus, Frankincense is a very effective anti-inflammatory so it is able to heal a world of woes like muscle and joint pains and arthritis. It also helps to aid in digestive and respiratory issues. Applied as an astringent, the oil has anti-aging qualities and the ability to fade scars and wrinkles. When inhaled, the sweet, woody, lemony pine scent of the thick oil travels to the limbic system within the brain, reducing stress and clearing out negative emotions.
Bergamot is a refreshing essential oil derived from the peel of the “bitter orange tree”, the Citrus bergamia a hybrid cross between a lemon and a sour orange. Enjoyed as an ingredient in Earl Grey tea, this oil is appreciated for a wide spectrum of benefits. It relieves headaches, aids in digestion, balances hormones and kills intestinal worms. As if all that’s not enough, bergamot is a very effective anti-depressant. The oil has powerful anti-cancer properties and is being looked at more and more for its role in preventing and fighting the disease. As an aromatherapy, the refreshing citrus scent with floral and herbal undertones is popular for enhancing one’s mood and bringing feelings of confidence and well-being.
Cinnamon is another essential oil that is quickly gaining popularity, earning it a top spot on the list. Most commonly derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, this spice has many varieties but the best known two are Ceylon and Chinese. It is heralded as a powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-platelet, making it beneficial for a huge number of maladies. It excels in increasing circulation, fighting off colds, flues and infections and ridding the body of parasites. The musky-spicy aroma is uplifting to the spirit, making it one of the best oils to clear up depression.
Oregano has been used throughout the ages for a multitude of qualities it possesses. It is a potent anti-fungal, anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-parasite and anti-bacterial.While the broad ranges of its powers were well known in the days of old, they are just recently coming into their own in the modern day Western civilization. Used for everything from toenail fungus to killing off E.coli, anti-fungal this pungent sweet-spicy scented oil is a “must have” for every essential oil enthusiast.
Delightfully earthy and citrusy in aroma, lemongrass holds a number of healing properties as well. It’s an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, insect antifungal. It is helpful to relieve muscle aches and pains, promotes menstrual flow and good uterine health and is even known to reduce fever. It is commonly used in aromatherapy to soothe the mind, bring balance to emotions and to stimulate the brain.
Tea tree oil is a super astringent. It is powerful in fighting germs but is gentle as well, making it a coveted ingredient for quality cosmetics and hair care products. Derived from the narrow-leaved Melaleuca alternifoliate, this camphor-scented oil is well-rounded in benefits ranging from the healing of chicken pox to the use of it for head lice. It is effective for boils and even the toughest infections. The scent of tea tree is slightly medicine-like but it is pleasant all the same and when inhaled, it boosts immunities and clears out the respiratory system too.
Gentle yet effective. Chamomile is hugely popular for its ability to calm and lift stress. It’s a very potent anti-depressant but that’s not all. Chamomile is great for stomach and digestive issues. It also boosts the health of your skin, a fabulous antioxidant, relieves PMS discomfort, promotes a healthy heart and relieves muscle and joint pains including that of arthritis. If you elect to give your child an essential oil, this one would be an optimal choice as it is one of the safest.
Eucalyptus essential oil comes from an evergreen tree that is well known for sustaining wildlife as well as the health of humans. With it’s refreshing, woody, camphor-like scent, this miracle oil actually activates brain waves. Just the aromatic goodness of it has your senses up and moving in no time. It’s chalked full of anti-oxidants making it a leader for warding off colds and flues and has even been used to kill leukemia cells. It is superb at clearing out bronchial congestion. The anti-inflammatory properties make it fabulous to massage away aches and pains with.
Need a little lift? Try rose geranium. This sweet-smelling oil is appreciated for lifting spirits when inhaled. It is excellent for depression disorders and is a staple for beauty as well. Dating back to the Egyptians, rose geranium has strong anti-aging properties and is top-notch for treating skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. It is an anti-microbial and astringent so it is used frequently in natural beauty products.
If you’ve got a toothache, clove essential oil is one you’ll want to have on hand. Clove is super rich in manganese, calcium, potassium and other nutrients and not only alleviates pain, like toothaches, it’s good for female woes as well. With its strong, spicy scent, this oil is so stimulating it was, and perhaps still is, considered to be an aphrodisiac. Clove oil is bursting with anti-oxidants and is a potent anti-fungal. It is used to kill candida and most any germs, fungi or infections it comes into contact with. Clove oil is also fabulous for treating acne.
Myrrh is an ancient remedy that has been prized through the ages. It was one of the gifts given to baby Jesus in the Bible and has been offered up to gods in a number of religions. Its antiseptic qualities make it an excellent remedy to fight and prevent infections and it also promotes healthy skin. It is commonly used to reduce the appearance of stretch marks and to diminish scars and signs of aging. Myrrh is fabulous for balancing hormones. Its aroma is earthy, a pine-like scent with a hint of mushrooms is how some describe it. As far as its aromatherapy qualities go, if you are looking for love, this is the one to inhale.
Not to be confused with rose geranium, rose essential oil is one of the most expensive oils on the market but… well worth every penny. It is one of the most widely known of all oils and one of the oldest in existence as well. With a sweet, floral scent that is simply divine, this oil is rich in anti-oxidants and is second to none for anti-aging and softening skin. It is appreciated in aromatherapy for its love and libido promoting properties.
The sweet and delicate scent of this oil is beneficial to boosting your good mood and is said to promote joy and hope. Who couldn’t use a little of that? Derived from flowers, ylang-ylang is great for brain health as it increases cognitive functions. It’s also excellent for your heart, energy level and for antibiotic and antiseptic qualities as well.
Save yourself the expense of a psychiatry session. Just breathe in the intoxicating scent of sandalwood. Know to calm and cure depression, sandalwood oil boosts memory, balances emotions and is a natural aphrodisiac. It is also an anti-viral, antiseptic and top-of-the-line astringent. No wonder it is beloved all across the world.
Named for the needle-bearing evergreen tree it is derived from, cypress essential oil is woody, earthy and clean scented. Just smelling the aroma can be very energizing. Its hemostatic properties make it effective for preventing and curing blood clots. The oil is a diuretic so it is able to flush out toxins and get rid of cellulite. For these reasons and more, cypress has made our top 20 list.
Rosemary is a potent yet refreshing scented oil that will help you get things done. That’s right! It not only enhances your mood, it gets you going too! Derived from the common kitchen herb, rosemary, this oil is great for reducing pain and inflammation. Many swear by it to get rid of headaches. It is also good for your digestion, respiratory health and even for your scalp.
This citrusy oil is a favorite, muchly due to its ability to stop food cravings and to assist in weight loss. It is also loaded with anti-oxidants so it is fantastic to take with the onset of a cold or flu. Grapefruit is an anti-bacterial so it is helpful with salmonella and E.coli. Its effectiveness and an anti-fungal agent make it great for treating candida. And, it’s an anti-inflammatory too. When inhaled, the ripe, fresh and clean, citrus aroma is a mood enhancer that will make your stress slowly drift away.
Ginger is the most widely used herb in the world and it has amazing health benefits. It’s a root that possesses heavy anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities that make it a forerunner for heart conditions, ulcers, strokes and digestive issues. Ginger also may prevent and even treat cancer. It quickly calms nausea and is excellent at boosting immunities and ridding the body of bacteria too. Ginger has a woody, earthy, spicy, pleasant scent that is appreciated for the balance of mind and promoting memory.
Possible Side Effects
Essential oils are generally regarded as being safe and often times, the possibility of side effects is never given a second thought. The fact of the matter is, however, that although they are rare, negative effects are not unheard of. Some side-effects that can occur are:
- Skin irritations
- Allergic reactions
- Respiratory complications
- Premature labor
Rashes and irritations are not uncommon when oils are topically applied but the more extreme reactions, like death, are very rare and is usually a result of ingestion of tainted oil or when too much is taken. The majority of cases reported are young children. When it comes to children, the elderly and pregnant women, precaution should be taken at all times.
It’s imperative to use good quality oils no matter how you are introducing them into your system. Don’t be fooled. Not all essential oils are created alike. Some have unwanted chemicals, even toxins that can make you sick…or worse.
Although essential oils are generally considered safe, that’s not always the case.
Certain oils relax the uterus and can cause premature labor such as lavender. There are a good number of essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy (and some while nursing as well). Basil, clary, coriander, cedar wood, jasmine, marjoram, juniper, rosemary, rockrose, oregano, peppermint, myrrh, sage and thyme should never be used.
Menthol-based oils, like peppermint, are to be avoided around young children as they can cause severe respiratory complications.
When your doctor asks if you are taking any essential oils, there’s a reason. Some combinations are harmful and can cause a dangerous reaction such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove can bring on high blood pressure when used with anti-depressants. Some essential oils can block medications from working like bay laurel and eucalyptus can prevent anesthesia from taking effect. Always do your homework on the oils you are using and the possible negative reactions they may have with medications.
Essential oils can have adverse reactions in some medical situations. Diabetics should not take angelica. If you have hypertension, avoid rosemary and sage. Those with epilepsy can find their nervous system is overstimulated with rosemary, fennel and sage.
Skin and Beauty
The use of essential oils is a beauty secret that’s been around for ages. Cleopatra was known to apply rose, cypress, frankincense, myrrh and neroli to achieve her young and beautiful radiance. Essential oils possess qualities like potent anti-oxidants and very effective antiseptics.
Some of the best oils for anti-aging are:
- Carrot Seed
You don’t have to buy expensive astringents that are often laden with preservatives and other poisons. If you have normal or combination skin, try chamomile, lavender, rose, German chamomile or fennel. For dry skin, sandalwood, rose, patchouli, neroli, carrot, rosemary and geranium are awesome. If you lean to the oily side, lemon is your best bet.
Got acne? Petitgrain and patchouli are excellent cures. Lavender will help keep your face squeaky clean. It doesn’t get much better than rose to rejuvenate weary skin.
Essential oils aren’t just for cosmetic purposes when it comes to the skin. Here are some fabulous problem-solving essentials:
- Rosacea– chamomile, frankincense, sandalwood, lavender, cedar and tea tree.
- Eczema– lavender, geranium, juniper
- Psoriasis– rose, thyme, lavender, helichrysum, sandalwood, juniper, geranium, tea tree
- Stretch marks and scars– frankincense, tea tree, helichrysum
Hair Growth Stimulators
Essential oils and hair go hand-in-hand. They are often added to hair products to enhance the quality. Some oils make your hair shine while others condition it. Others make it grow… yes, like a weed. If you are wanting to grow your hair, here are some essential oils you’ll want to choose from:
- Carrot oil
- Cedar wood
- Clary sage
There are many methods you can use to apply the oil or oils of your choice to your hair and scalp. One of the best and easiest is to mix 3 parts apple cider vinegar with 1 part oil. Massage onto your hair and scalp. Leave for at least five minutes then rinse.
To condition and to promote growth, mix a combination of half coconut oil to half essential oil. Massage into your hair and scalp and leave on for at least five minutes. Rinse well with warm water.
Regular use of hair growth stimulating essential oils will not only help your hair to grow but will deposit other benefits into your system in the process. Talk about a win-win!
While humans love essential oils, bugs do not. Some they hate more than others. Since store-bought insecticides often contain toxins like DEET, it is optimal to make your own DIY insecticide. It’s easy and affordable and smells great too.
Here are some oils that bugs detest:
- Tea tree
Making up a batch is super simple. Start with an empty spray bottle. Fill a little over half-way full with distilled water. Add a sprinkle or two of glycerin. Fill almost to the top with witch hazel. Drop in about 50 drops of your favorite essential oil or mix of oils from the list above. Shake well and enjoy a bug-free outing.
Keep These in your First Aid Kit
If you could only have one essential oil in your first aid regime, let it be lavender. Lavender is excellent for insect bites, burns, migraines and muscle sprains. Peppermint is fantastic to relieve pain and inflammation. Tea tree cleans like nobody’s business. Chamomile is a cleanser and a calmer. Need to stay alert after an injury? Rosemary is a mild stimulant that can also be used for sprains and strains. Evening primrose oil heals chapped hands and soothes sore throats.
Making Scents of Weight Loss
What does skinny smell like? Maybe like…peppermint or grapefruit? These two essential oils are able to suppress your appetite so you might want to grab a diffuser and melt away your excess pounds. Grapefruit, ginger, cinnamon, bergamot and fennel are on the low-cal list too.
Why can these oils help you to eat less? To put it simply, they work on receptors within the brain that control hunger.
Clean Green Scents
When you clean your home with essential oils, you’re not just making it smell good, you are actually getting rid of bacteria and germs. In addition to disinfecting, some oils have qualities that truly make them shine in the way of spiffing up your house. They are economically friendly, actually good for the environment and easy on the pocketbook as well. Here are some of the best:
- Lavender– disinfects
- Lemon– cleans and shines
- Thieves– gets rid of mold and mildew
- Peppermint– destroys germs and leaves a fresh scent
- Oregano– gets rid of bacteria and is great to use around food areas
- Wild orange– fantastic degreaser
- Rosemary– anti-bacterial
Don’t forget that once you get your house all cleaned up, your floors vacuumed, swept and mopped and all your beds made, there’s still something more to be done. Freshen the air! Environmental agents such as air conditioners, heaters and pollutants that seep in from outdoors all make for dirty air. You and your family track in germs, stay home when you are sick and bring friends, pets into your home so be sure to sanitize it with essential oils that get rid of germs like lavender and peppermint. Blends are awesome because you can mix oil properties and their scents.
As mentioned before, carrier oils are mixed with essential oils to help them absorb into the body. It is important to use one, especially when applying highly volatile oils (those that tend to evaporate). Olive, carrot, grape seed, coconut, jojoba and almond oils are excellent choices.
There are essential oil grades as well. Class “A” is therapeutic or apothecary grade and is noted as being the best. While “Class B” is better than “C”, it may have some unwanted additives. Class “C” is less expensive and is fabulous for projects such as house cleaning. While classifying oils does require certification, be warned that it is not in strict regulation at all times and is NOT done by the Federal Drug Association.
An essential oil can be pure but of poor quality. It can, in essence, be purely poor. Purity denotes that the product has not been tampered with such as adding in synthetics to make the scent of the oil more enticing. Quality is achieved by things like what climate and soil the plant are grown in and distillations methods used.
When it comes to essential oil quality, you really do want to put the best of the best on your body. Organic varieties are certified to be free of pesticides, GMOs and chemicals. Don’t forget that essential oils bypass the filters your digestive system has so they sink right into you. Don’t settle when it comes to your health.
Now that you have read this Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils, you are ready to dive into the benefits that await you. Soothe your mind, bask in their glory, use them for to better your health and…above all… enjoy, for life is too short not to enjoy every essential moment of it.