What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are volatile liquids which are distilled or pressed from plants and plant matter (even parts of plants such as seeds). One of the factors which determine the purity of an essential oil is it's chemical constituents. These constituents are affected by many different things including but not limited to: the plant parts used, soil conditions, fertilizer used, geographic region, climate, altitude, season of harvest and distillation process.
Most essential oils are produced for the perfume industry for use in almost everything from shampoo to aftershave, however these oils are often made using unnecessarily high pressure and high temperature. Rapid processing methods are used with chemical solvents which means that although these oils may smell good and can be produced quickly and cheaply they lack most of the chemical constituents necessary to produce expected therapeutic results in regards to using them in a Medicinal way.
Chemists have had some success in replicating some known individual constituents but it is practically impossible to successfully recreate complete essential oils in a laboratory.
Many early civilisations used aromatic plants for their therapeutic properties, the Egyptians placed great value on aromatic oils and even laced them in alabaster jars for burial with their Pharaohs.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
No matter how costly therapeutic grade essential oils may be they are by far the best! They can require several thousands of pounds of plant material just to extract one pound of essential oil but embody the regenerating, protective and immune strengthening properties of plants.
How Are Essential Oils Extracted?
Essential oils can be extracted via "Steam Distillation" or "Expression" (aka "Cold Pressing").
The Expression Method
This method is normally reserved for the extraction of Citrus oils. A cold press is a mechanical press which physically crushes the plant matter, allowing the oils to run out and be collected.
The Distillation Method
The method of distillation being the most popular form with approximately 93% of all essential oils being extracted in this way.
How Do Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils Affect The Body?
Essential oils are small in molecular size and can quickly and easily penetrate skin and cell membranes. They even have the potential to affect every cell in the body within 20 minutes of application.
They have been shown to help support the body by:
- Promoting Relaxation
- Supporting Immune Function
- Calming Nerves & Tension
- Uplifting your Mood & Promoting Emotional Health
- Reducing Occasional Stomach Upset & Promoting Health Digestion
- Supporting Muscle Function
- Supporting Joint Function
- Protecting Against Seasonal / Environmental Threats
- Improving Skin Appearance & Occasional Skin Irritations
- Providing Antioxidants
- Maintaining Healthy Circulation
- Repelling Insects
- Promoting Healthy Respiratory Function
Essential oils can be very powerful antioxidants which neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are atoms with at least one unpaired electron and are created naturally by the body during metabolism. They perform important roles in gene transcription, cell signalling and other regulatory functions.
Many oils have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-infectious, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. They have been shown to destroy many harmful bacteria & viruses.
Many essential oils are powerful air-purifiers and when vaporized produce stronger antimicrobial properties than when used in a liquid form.
The Blood Brain Barrier & Limbic System
The blood brain barrier is a filtering system the body uses to protect the brain from damaging substances which may be circulating in a persons blood. Unlike most pharmaceutical drugs certain essential oils, such as Frankincense and Sandalwood are known to go beyond the blood brain barrier and therefore can directly interact with the brain.
Although not all essential oil chemical constituents can cross the blood brain barrier they can affect the brain through activation of the olfactory bulb (breathing them in through the nose).
The sense of smell is unique amongst our sensory systems as it is the only system to make intense direct contact with the limbic system (this controls emotions and memory).
How To Use And Apply Therapeutic Grade Oils?
Direct Application Methods
Applying the oils directly on the area of concern which can be done by simply just dabbing some diluted oil on the skin, alternatively you can massage it into the skin or even just add some oil to your bath water or shampoo / shower gel.
Warning: The Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) do not recommend using essential oils without first dilluting them with a carrier oil such as; Jojoba, Coconut or Almond.
The easiest way of creating a fine mist of oil in the air is to use a nebulizing diffuser. I do not recommend forms of diffusers which use a heat source, such as a bulb or candle, as these may alter the chemical make-up of the oil and therefore it's therapeutic qualities.
Internal use means consuming the oil either in capsule form or by adding it to a beverage or food. Some people are even known to use a pippette and deposit small amounts in the mouth under the tongue.
Warning: The Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) do not endorse the use of essential oils internally unless by a health care practitioner trained at the appropriate clinical level.
Essential Oils & Potential Interactions With Prescription Medication
It is important to discuss with your healthcare professional possible interactions with prescribed drugs, below is a table of possible interactions between essential oils and prescription drugs (this list is not exhaustive).
|POSSIBLE DRUG INTERACTIONS WITH ESSENTIAL OILS|
|Warfarin||Brich, Cassia, Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel (sweet), Marjoram, Oregano, Patchouli, Thyme, Wintergreen|
|CYP2B6 (Liver metabolizing ensyme) substrates||Melissa, Lemongrass|
|Heparin (anticoagulant)||Brich, Cassia, Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel (sweet), Marjoram, Oregano, Patchouli, Thyme, Wintergreen|
|Aspirin (antiplatelet)||Brich, Cassia, Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel (sweet), Marjoram, Oregano, Patchouli, Thyme, Wintergreen|
|Monoamine oxidase, inhibiting anti-depressants||Clove|
|Pethidine (opioid analgesic)||Clove|
|Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors||Clove|
|Indirect sympathomimetic drugs||Clove|
|Antidiabetic drugs||Cassia, Cinnamon, Dill, Fennel, (sweet), Lemongrass, Marjoram, Melissa, Oregano|
|Dermal medications||Use caution with all essential oils|
The above list is not exhaustive and was adapted from "Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young" (2014, pp. 58-59).