Many people are turning to alternative therapies to aid in their health, and essential oils are often one of the first options they explore. These oils are extracted from plants using distillation or cold pressing and capture the scent and flavour, or essence, of the plants. Understanding the properties of these aromatic compounds and how to use them can give you a powerful tool in your quest for a healthy mind, body and home.
The scent of essential oils interacts with your limbic system, which is a part of the brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviours and some automatic bodily functions such as breathing and blood pressure. The system’s role in emotions means that introducing the right essential oil can be helpful for relaxation and stress relief, as well as feeling focused and energized.
People with insomnia may find that some oils help them get enough sleep, which has a range of additional health benefits. Some essential oils are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties which can help ease the pain of sore muscles and headaches. Many people also enjoy adding oils to their cosmetics to bring healing properties to their daily skincare routine.
Essential oils can also be used to keep your home fresh and clean. They’re especially useful for people who have a sensitivity to regular household cleaners. With their strong scents, oils are ideal for getting rid of household odours and can be used to freshen the air in a car as well. Some oils, like tea tree and eucalyptus, have been found to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, making them the perfect tool for cleaning bathrooms and floors.
Outdoors, essential oils are great for pest control. Citronella is a natural mosquito repellent, and peppermint works well to help deter ants, spiders and other pests. Gardeners can use them to treat fungus in plants and attract butterflies and bees to help with pollination. Even weeds can be eradicated using a spray of distilled water and cinnamon oil.
Generally, essential oils enter the body through being applied to the skin or inhaled. Aromatherapy diffusers are a popular method of spreading scent around a room for people to inhale and can be a great way to help set the mood for a party or romantic dinner. Steam can also be used to transfer oils, a method that’s especially useful for people with respiratory infections. Perhaps the easiest method is to add a few drops of oil to a tissue or cotton ball, which can then be sniffed or left nearby for a more subtle effect.
Applying oils to the skin takes a little more preparation. Generally, oils shouldn’t be applied directly to skin as the distillation process makes them quite strong. Instead they should be diluted in some way. As the oils aren’t water soluble, it’s easiest to dilute them in a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or jojoba oil. Many massage therapists use aromatherapy in this way, and you can do the same in at home massages. Essential oils can also be added to baths and absorbed through the skin in this way; however, you should still use a carrier oil dilution or add the oils to a foaming product like Castile soap.
If you plan to use an essential oil on a baby or young child, make sure you speak to a pediatrician or other expert to ensure it's safe. Pregnant women should also check with a doctor before using.
One of the most used oils is lavender. Many people use it for stress relief and aiding sleep. It’s also one of the few oils that can be applied directly to skin and can be used to take the itch out of bug bites. Peppermint and ginger are both good digestion aids and may make you feel more energized, while tea tree and eucalyptus can help fight infections and perhaps boost immunity. Students may find bergamot a useful addition to their study routine, as it’s said to help people stay focused. It also may be good for acne and may be used to help tame curly hair.
If you’re not sure what to buy, essential oil kits offer a selection of oils. Often the oils included are the most useful varieties or curated for specific health aims, so you can choose a selection that’s best for you.