Essential oils have been getting a lot of exposure over the past few years, and rightly so—their versatility is only surpassed by their range of use. They can be added to food, vaporized for aromatherapy, or massaged into the skin for a soothing and revitalizing treat.
With such a rich history rooted in traditional medicine, we take a look at the most powerful oils to cultivate natural, holistic health—without a prescription in sight.
The Bare Essentials
Essential oils are made from plants, and various parts such as roots, leaves, seeds, flowers, stems, bark and fruit, can be used for this purpose. These enriching oils are ‘essential’ in that they contain the essence of the plant’s fragrance. The oils are normally extracted by distillation, often through steaming the plant. This process produces a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing the plant’s aroma compounds.
The earliest known record of the use and production of essential oils is thought to belong to Ibn al-Baitar (1188-1248), a chemist, pharmacist and physician who originated from the Andalusian region of Spain. His manuscripts outlined a number of production methods, some of which are still in use to this very day.
A wide range of oils are available—such as lavender, cinnamon and eucalyptus—and bring with them an equally wide range of benefits. With such a large selection to choose from, it can be tricky to know where to start. Luckily, we’re here to show you which oils are the most essential for any household.
Tip: Would you like to try the healing power of essential oils at home? A good way to start is buy getting a small essential oil kit. This one contains lavender, sweet orange, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon and tea tree to get you started on your aromatherapy journey.
Lavender oil is made from the shrub-like plants found across Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, India and Africa—as well as Cape Verde and the Canary Islands. In fact, the production of lavender oil is the main reason for the plant’s worldwide commercial cultivation. Evidently there is a demand for it, which is hardly surprising once we consider its healing properties.
Lavender is fantastic for skin rashes or irritation—applying the oil topically unlocks its anti-inflammatory properties and soothes the skin. In addition, it also makes for a powerful antimicrobial, with properties that disrupt various types of harmful pathogens.[4,5] Lavender oil is even recognized as being effective in the treatment of several neurological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, thanks to its mood stabilizing, sedative and neuro-protective effects.
Lavender is well known for its sleep inducing qualities. One study published in 2010 reinforced this, stating that the oil showed ‘meaningful efficiency’ in treating sleep disturbances. Spray some on your pillow, or apply some to your neck or temples to help you unwind before settling down to sleep.
Frankincense has a long history of use in the traditional medicines of Africa and Asia. A holy oil steeped in religion and ceremony, frankincense has numerous health applications that make it one of the most popular aromatic boosts for general wellbeing. The gum resin is extracted from the Boswellia species of tree; this resin is then steam distilled to produce the oil.
One of the main applications of frankincense oil is pain relief; it can be massaged into the affected area to treat muscular aches. In one laboratory study, researchers found the extract provides more effective pain relief than aspirin. Frankincense inhibits the inflammatory molecules associated with ailments like arthritis and bowel disorders, controlling both pain and inflammation.
Frankincense has also been recognized as instrumental in the treatment of major disease. In a 2013 researchers at Leicester University discovered that AKBA, a chemical compound found in the resin, was found to be effective at killing cancer cells. Since then, clinical trials have gone on to confirm that this could indeed mean a new and effective alternative treatment for some types cancer.
It’s common knowledge that ginger is good for more than just your taste buds. This delicious and versatile root has been used for thousands of years in folk medicine, predominantly in Chinese, Greek and Indian civilizations. Ginger oil carries with it all the benefits attributed to fresh root ginger, making for a long list of reasons to use this essential oil.
Regular use of ginger oil does wonders for the cardiovascular system. In one recent 2015 study of 41 patients, ginger was found to cause a 28 percent reduction in the ApoB/ApoA-I ratio, and a 23 percent reduction in markers for oxidized lipoproteins, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease.
One reason ginger has become a staple in cuisine is because of its digestive properties. In 2013 an animal study verified this, documenting how a diet supplemented with ginger encourages nutrient digestibility and supports healthy bacteria in the gut. Ginger has also shown itself to be effective at treating many forms of nausea, particularly morning sickness experienced during pregnancy. Massage some oil onto the stomach to reap the natural digestive benefits, or rub some into your palms and inhale to settle your stomach.
Eucalyptus oil is distilled from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, native to Australia and cultivated around the globe. Around 3,000 tonnes of eucalyptus oil are produced every year, and it has an equally impressive range of application—including repellent, flavoring and industrial uses. Its pharmaceutical merit is undisputable and is used worldwide for its health benefits.
Eucalyptus oil possesses antibacterial properties which kill harmful pathogenic bacteria in the respiratory tract, making it effective for warding off a cold or relieving symptoms of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. It also acts as a powerful decongestant when added to boiling water and the vapors are inhaled, making it an effective solution to a blocked nose or congested sinuses.
You now know just how diverse the benefits of essential oils are. It should be noted that some oils have an extremely high level of purity, so some caution should be exercised—when applying directly to the skin it is often recommended to dilute the oil so as not to cause irritation. Carrier oils such as almond, jojoba, or apricot kernel are good options. Apply to a small area of the skin first, to ensure you’re not allergic. Food grade essential oils can also be used in cooking. You can speak to a neuropathic doctor, or herbalist, to get more information about essential oils and which ones to use for your specific requirements.
Ultimately, essential oils are a fantastic way to self medicate when illness comes calling; their general lack of side effects make them an attractive solution when compared to chemical-saturated products. When we use them, we unlock the power of nature that is all around us. Take advantage of Mother Earth’s medicine cabinet and rub some vitality into your skin today.References