When applied sensibly and appropriately, essential oils are highly beneficial.
Essential oils support the immune system (for example, they are anti-microbial), they are skin healing, rejuvenating, they directly influence the Limbic System (the instinctive and emotional centre) and indirectly influence the pituitary gland and frontal lobe through connection via the thalamus and hypothalamus, in a way that affects mood and emotion, memory and concentration, alertness and attitude, and various other physiological, hormonal and neural responses (via olfactory receptors found, not only in the nasal cavities, but also in other tissues and organs throughout the body). Essential oils are adaptogenic, protective, and restorative.
What is an essential oil?
Essential oils comprise of a highly concentrated mixture of various (more or less) volatile organic chemical components or compounds extracted from certain plants or their parts (such as, leaves, fruits, flowers, bark, sawdust, roots and so on). While essential oils demonstrate some of the qualities exhibited by the plant, the process of extraction actually changes their chemical profile. For example, many of the oils non-distillable, non-volatile and hydrophilic (water loving) components are left behind in the plant material, or bond with water molecules, or with oxygen molecules in the atmosphere during separation (steam or water distillation, or in the case of fruit rinds, expression – crushing). The heat and pressure applied during steam distillation further alters the chemical presentation of the resultant oil; molecules transform during this process, sometimes creating chemicals that are not present within the plant. For example, matricin, a colourless sesquiterpene found in chamomile, wormwood and yarrow, is biosynthesised during distillation to form the blue-violet compound chamazulene, which does not exist in the plant. Essential oils are, thus, the unique product of extraction.
It takes 35 pounds of lavender flowers to produce just 15ml of essential oil (or approximately 300 drops), 2,500 to 4,000 kg of rose petals to produce just 1 kg of rose essence. Just one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture (Krumbeck 2014).
They are mainly hydrophobic / lipophilic (water hating / fat loving) compounds. Their hydrophobic nature means essential oils do not dissolve or disperse in water; molecules will cluster together and float on the surface of water, or sink if they are denser and heavier than water (for example, vetiver, myrrh).
While they are oil-like in their behaviour (i.e. they do not mix with water), they are not ‘greasy’ or ‘oily’ like fat or vegetable oils (which are also known as ‘fixed oil’s); they are not lubricant and are, in fact, extremely drying and can be irritant to the skin, even in small quantity. This is why essential oils are always blended in an emollient substance, such as a vegetable oil, ointment, cream or lotion, when applied to the body (emollients can also add their own unique skin supporting qualities when carefully blended with essential oils, to create a very effective skincare synergy – see here for blending information).
When prescribed by a pharmacist or herbalist for internal ingestion, essential oils are applied in small controlled amounts, and are contained in a dispersant emollient within a ‘safe to swallow’ gel-like, preferably vegetable, capsule (composed of hypromellose, a polymer formulated from plant cellulose); the animal version (gelatine) is derived from skin or bone collagen (not suitable for vegans or vegetarians). Essential oils are not recommended for internal ingestion unless they are prescribed and/or administered by a professional healthcare practitioner, herbalist, pharmacist, or chemist who has appropriate knowledge about the chemical constituents of essential oils and how these constituents interact within the body, with other chemicals and medications.
Employing their antimicrobial, skin and underling soft tissue healing qualities, essential oils may be safely and effectively applied topically to skin in dilution in vegetable oil or vegetable wax (for example, jojoba), gels (such as aloe vera gel, or gels made from pectin or cellulose gum, among others, and distilled water), ointment and compresses to treat local conditions, such as eczema, sprains, insect bites, and to heal damaged skin tissue, improve the appearance of scars, and combat minor infections; or added to creams and lotions for their skincare qualities. They may also aid the digestive system (for example, to alleviate indigestion, or symptoms of IBS) and menstrual pain through topical application.
They are also effectively applied, in dilution or in small amounts (for example, one to three drops of essential oil), via inhalation using topical (that is, non-oral) methods of application, such as, vaporisation (room diffuser and/or drops on a tissue or cotton pad), aroma sticks (specially designed nasal inhalers), ‘therapeutic perfumes’ (for example, using a roller bottle), and steam inhalation. For example, respectively, applied as an ambient scent; to relieve the symptoms of a cold or sore throat; or for their psycho-emotional benefits (uplifting, calming, energising), and so on.
The following essential oils are collectively referred to as Serenity essential oils. This group of oils complement each others qualities well and provide a range of valuable qualities. They are safe (when handled appropriately), very effective, and provide all that you need to create your own basic remedies. Thus, they provide an ideal ‘starting kit’ and effective ‘tool box’ – a useful and valuable platform on which to build your essential oil repertoire.
You will find much more information about the therapeutic qualities and appropriate use and application of essential oils (those below and others), in my books, Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditation, and Essential Oils for the Whole Body, available to purchase at most online and high street book outlets.
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