Reflections on the Simplicity of Essential Oils

The desire to live healthy, improve your well-being, find your zen, or being green all circulates back to living in a healthy, clean environment. This shift in society’s mindset from the 1950’s to burn coal, build cars, consume, consume, consume is now about organic foods free of pesticides, formaldehyde-free make-up, and the demands from consumers to list all ingredients on foods. Oh, and maybe one day to reduce the tear in the ozone and reduce our carbon footprint. I know. One step at a time. It’s a shift to create a world of synthetic consumption to a more natural earth-bound lifestyle leading us to a microscopic part of this movement, which is essential oils.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils have been around for 6,000 years (2,3) long before Cleopatra’s use in perfumed baths and oils infused with essential oils to create her signature scent that was deemed so irresistible. It has been recorded by Shakespeare that Cleopatra perfumed her sails so that Mark Antony would get a whiff of her ships before seeing her face (4). That’s what I call womanly prowess! Essential oils of frankincense and myrrh were also offered as gifts to baby Jesus by the three wise men. Just read any bible in any version. 

Essential oils are volatile aromatic liquids extracted from plants, leaves, flowers, bark, or a part of a plant. It is the most potent part of the plant more so than dried herbs. For example, it takes about 250 lbs. of lavender to extract 1 lbs. of lavender oil and now that would make it an expensive commodity! Can you imagine how many lemons it would take to produce 1 lb. of lemon essential oil? Yes, you guessed it. A lot! A lot as in 1,500 lemons. Now that’s a lot of lemonade! Those cheap store brands may raise an eyebrow of concern so check those labels. Sometimes to raise profit and lower the cost different oils can be mixed together to get the scent of an expensive oil, but that changes the properties of the oils. 

How are essential oils extracted?

There are many ways to extract essential oils however, the impurities left from extractions using solvents or with carbon dioxide, CO2, is a concerning factor to consider when picking an essential oil or company. Why, you ask? Well, aromatherapy is derived from the word aroma for fragrance and therapy as in treatment. Obtaining unadulterated, pure oils is vital in creating salves, rub-ons, or pills for natural healing. It’s like saying you will take an aspirin that wasn’t filtered in the lab! There goes your intestines bleeding out. 

There are different aromatherapy treatment methods. Depending on the use only a small amount of the essential oil is needed due to its potency. Oils can be diluted for inhalation, massage, or applying it to the skin’s surface and rarely is it ingested. There are different methods of practice across the globe such as, the French who practice aromatherapy without ingesting it and the Germans who practice aromatherapy with more openness to ingesting essential oils. 

There are many ways to extract the oils and depending on the plant different methods are used. Steam-distillation or cold pressing allows scientist and DIY-ers to obtain these precious oils with no impurities unlike using a solvent (1).

What are the benefits of essential oils?

So, the simplicity of essential oils is it has to be in its purest form. Essential oils have made its oily trail across the timeline throughout history. Research today is finding that essential oils are effective and beneficial in all aspects of the human embodiment of emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health. One such study revealed that mouthwash with tea tree oil has proven to be effective in managing gingivitis with its anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties (5). Other studies show that lavender helped reduce anxiety in the Intensive Care Unit before gastrointestinal surgery. The skepticism about these plant juices is that there is no standardization in treatment for specific illnesses, which leads to poor consistency in research on these oils as described in the intercept from an article by the Physician Data Query (PDQ) (6). 

“Different aromatherapy practitioners may have different recipes for treating specific conditions, involving various combinations of oils and methods of application. Differences seem to be practitioner-dependent, with some common uses more accepted throughout the aromatherapy community. Training and certification in aromatherapy for lay practitioners is available at several schools throughout the United States and United Kingdom, but there is no professional standardization in the United States, and no license is required to practice in either country. Thus, there is little consistency in the specific treatments used for specific illnesses among practitioners. This lack of standardization has led to poor consistency in research on the effects of aromatherapy, because anecdotal evidence alone or previous experience has driven the choice of oils, and different researchers often choose different oils when studying the same applications. However, there are now specific courses for licensed health professionals that give nursing or continuing medical education contact hours, including a small research component and information on evaluating/measuring outcomes.”

What is not clearly stated is that essential oils are heterogeneous meaning they are diverse in their effects and can produce several functions! One single oil may have 200-800 constituents and all them work together to provide its heterogenous effects. Some of the benefits of essential oils are antifungal, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-infectious, antiviral, and the list goes on. If the oil is impure, then it will not be as effective. These plant juices are as complicated as humans! So if you think about how complicated these oils are you must remember that the simplicity is oils are most beneficial in its purest form.

Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor and somethings should be left to the fellas in white coats. 

  1. https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/how-are-essential-oils-extracted/, Accessed 08.04.2017
  2. Worwood VA. Aromatherapy for the healthy child: more than
    300 natural, non-toxic, and fragrant essential oil blends. Novato:
    New World Library; 2000.
  3. Krishna A, Tiwari R, Kumar S. Aromatherapy-an alternative
    health care through essential oils. J Med Aromat Plant Sci 2000;
    22: 798-804.
  4. https://perfumesociety.org/discover-perfume/an-introduction/history/the-ancient-greeks/, Accessed 08.04.2017
  5. Salvatori, C, et al. “A Comparative Study of Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Mouthrinse Containing Tea Tree Oil.” 10 Apr. 2017.
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032645/, Accessed 08.04.2017

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