Essential oils are all the rage in wellness culture. It takes a lot of plant material to produce just one drop of oil, so they are highly concentrated and can be dangerous without appropriate dilution guidelines.
When used correctly, these potent oils can relieve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, boost mood and reduce congestion. They can also make cooking healthier and more flavorful.
Aromatherapy is a treatment that uses essential oils to promote relaxation and health. These oils are extracted from different parts of a plant, including the flowers, leaves, barks, roots and fruits. They can be used for various purposes, such as inhalation, local application or adding to baths.
When inhaled, the scents of the oils stimulate the olfactory nerve in your nose and send messages to the limbic system of the brain. The oil’s chemical compounds can also be absorbed through the skin.
You can buy essential oils in health food stores and some regular supermarkets. Make sure you use only pure, organically grown oils. You should also avoid taking essential oils by mouth or putting them on your skin if you have sensitive skin. It’s best to work with an experienced aromatherapist or your doctor. The PDQ cancer information summary does not endorse this practice. (1, 2)
Essential oils can be applied to the skin (topically) as part of a massage or other body treatment. They can also be mixed with a carrier oil like jojoba or sweet almond oil and rubbed on, used in aromatherapy diffusers or applied to pressure points (relaxation). When topically applied, the oils are absorbed through the epidermis into the bloodstream where they can be transported to the areas needed for healing.
Cooling oils like Eucalyptus or Peppermint can be inhaled to soothe sinus congestion. Sleeping aids such as Lavender, Rose and Ylang ylang may be diluted in a bath or placed on bedding for a good night’s rest. Essential oils can also be added to a water-based solution in a spray bottle and sprayed around the room to deodorize or set a mood. For safety reasons, it is always a good idea to dilute essential oils before applying them directly to the skin. See the Storing Your Oils page for more information.
Typically, we inhale essential oils and they may also be absorbed through the skin. Most common skin care products, creams and lotions contain essential oils but are diluted and do not present the potential hazards that can occur when applying pure, undiluted essential oil directly to the skin.
Essential oils are very small molecules with a low molecular weight and can penetrate the cell membranes to reach various body systems and deliver therapeutic benefits. They are also very volatile and can quickly vaporise, diffusing into the air, and therefore must be dispersed in an emulsifying carrier oil before being applied to the skin.
Internal applications may include inhalation, diffusion or dilution in massage or in a vegetable oil, cream, gel, ointment or carrier product such as jojoba or coconut oil. Internal use of essential oils may provide natural remedies for many conditions, including headache and migraine relief. Oils such as lavender and peppermint soothe headache and migraine symptoms; chamomile helps relax the nervous system and encourage restful sleep; while sandalwood acts as a natural aphrodisiac.
Many essential oils are safe for cooking and can be added to a variety of food items. This is typically done in a very small amount and should be added at the end of cooking because heat degrades the oil’s beneficial properties.
When used properly, essential oils can enhance the flavor of a dish as well as provide other health benefits. It is important to only use high quality oils that have been labeled as safe for culinary usage, such as Young Living or doTerra. Also, it is important to choose the right oil for your recipe as some have more potent effects than others. For example, wintergreen oil has the potential to be toxic if ingested in large amounts.
Essential oils can be used in savory as well as sweet dishes to create an entirely new realm of culinary experience. They can be used to substitute for fresh herbs, citrus zest, or spices and make recipes easier and faster.