Essential oils, also called volatile oils, are scented oils extracted from plants. Historically, they’ve been used in medicine, cosmetics, perfumes, food, and, more recently, aromatherapy. Essential oils are “essential” because they contain the “essence” of the plant, meaning the taste or odor.
Not only are essential oils popular, they have legitimate therapeutic use and the science to back it up. Although the exact benefit depends on the oil in question, some have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Others can affect cognitive function, mood, and memory. Some can even help alleviate stiff, sore muscles and joints.
Some essential oils can be applied to the skin, others are best taken orally. However–and this is important–do not ingest or topically apply any essential oils unless you are absolutely certain that they can be used this way. Not all essential oils are safe to take internally and some can irritate the skin. Essential oils are a concentrated source of many phytochemicals and some essential oils must be diluted with an unscented “carrier oil” to be used safely on skin.
Essential oils are organic compounds extracted from plants with tremendous healing properties. Using essential oils for healing purposes is often called aromatherapy, which is a holistic treatment seeking to improve physical, mental and emotional health.
For over 5,000 years, many different cultures have used these healing plant oils for a variety of health conditions. They are often used for relaxation, beauty care, home cleaning and most often used as natural medicine.
Just adding some of the most common essential oils like lavender, frankincense, lemon, peppermint and tea tree oil to your natural medicine cabinet can:
- Fight cold and flu symptoms
- Relax your body and soothe sore muscles
- Heal skin conditions
- Alleviate pain
- Balance hormones
- Improve digestion
- Reduce cellulite and wrinkles
- Clean your home
- Used in homemade personal care products
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are extracted directly from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf, seed or root of a plant or tree, and just one drop can have powerful health benefits.
They are typically created through the process of distillation, which separates the oil and water-based compounds of a plant by steaming.
Essential oils are highly concentrated oils that have a strong aroma. By concentrating the oils of these plants, you are literally separating the most powerful healing compounds of a plant into a single oil.
For instance, in order to get 1 single 15ml bottle of rose essential oils it take 65 pounds of rose pedals!
These therapeutic oils in plants protect the plant from insects, shield the plant from a harsh environment and help them adapt to their surroundings. By taking essential oils, you are harnessing the protective and healing powers of a plant.
Essential oils are composed of very small molecules that can penetrate your cells, and some compounds in essential oils can even cross the blood-brain barrier. They differ from fatty oils (like those in vegetables or nuts) that come from large molecules because they cannot penetrate your cells, so they are not therapeutic in the same manner.
History of Aromatherapy
Since the use of essential oils is present in many countries, it is difficult to pinpoint where the practice originated. Oils have been used by the Jews, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both as cosmetics, perfumes and for their medicinal purposes. Some cultures even used oils in spiritual rituals.
In 1928, French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé used lavender oil to heal a burn on his hand. He then decided to further analyze the properties of lavender oil and how it could be used to treat other types of skin infections, wounds or burns.
With this the science of aromatherapy was born. Gattefossé’s main goal was to help injured soldiers during World War I. The use of these oils began to spread especially with practitioners of alternative medicine, such as massage therapists and beauticians throughout Europe.
Aromatherapy did not become popular in the United States until the 1980s when essential oils began to be added to various lotions, candles or other fragrances.
There are also trained professionals such as aromatherapists, physical therapists, massage therapists, nutritionists or even doctors of natural medicine who use aromatherapy in their practice and are trained in specific uses for essential oils.
Essential Oils Now Used In Medical Hospitals
Aromatherapy has a variety of health benefits and can be used in various settings. It is a great non-invasive way to treat a variety of medical conditions and can be used safely in combination with many other therapies.
Many traditional hospitals like Vanderbilt University Hospital are catching on to the benefits of essential oils and are using them in the treatment of anxiety, depression and infections in hospitalized patients.
A 2009 study found that pre-operative patients who received aromatherapy with lavandin oil were significantly less anxious about their surgery than controls. Other oils such as sandalwood, neroli oil and lavender oil have also been used in traditional medicine to help patients better manage anxiety.
Certain essential oils have also been used by midwives to help reduce fear and anxiety during childbirth. A 2007 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that women who used aromatherapy during labor reported less pain overall and were able to use fewer pain medications.
Essential oils can also have antibacterial or anti-fungal benefits used in medical settings. Many oils when massaged on the skin can heal or help treat skin conditions, such as burns or cuts and scrapes. Others may help boost the immune system, help with insomnia and aid with digestion.
Essential oils are even being used to help fight cancer; There is a plentiful amount of research on the correlation between frankincense oil and reduced brain tumors.
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