What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are natural, plant-based molecules that contain a wide range of healing properties. They’re potent and often a bit confusing, so start by learning the basics before you use them.

When used properly, essential oils can add flavor and nutrition to your food. Plus, they offer a chemical-free way to freshen your home and purify the air.


Aromatherapy uses the scent of essential oils to enhance health and well-being. The oils are extracted from parts of plants, including flowers, bark, leaves and fruits. They may be inhaled, massaged into the skin or, rarely, taken by mouth.

The scent molecules in the oils travel from the nose to the olfactory nerves, which send signals to parts of the brain that control emotions and physical responses. Scientists don’t fully understand how aromatherapy works, but they suspect that the oil’s smell can stimulate these nerves to relieve stress and anxiety.

Because they’re so concentrated, essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying them to the skin. Look for an organic carrier oil that’s free of additives, like jojoba or coconut oil. Before using an oil, do a patch test by putting a drop on the inner forearm. Wait 24 hours to see if there’s any reaction, such as redness or irritation. A professional aromatherapist can recommend appropriate dilutions for different body types and skin sensitivities.


Throughout history, essential oils have been used as flavorings in foods, beverages, and candies. They are powerful plant extracts that can add intense flavor and fragrance to many dishes.

When cooking with essential oils, it’s important to use the right ones. Food grade oils are safe to ingest and can be as effective in a recipe as whole herbs or spices. Look for 100% pure essential oil products that say “Food Grade” on the label such as Young Living, doTerra, or LorAnn. These will have a lower boiling point and more gentle distillation processes so that they can be safely ingested.

It’s also important to start with a very small amount of oil. Essential oils are potent and can overpower a dish if used too much. For a more controlled dose, try the “toothpick method”: Dip the tip of a toothpick into the oil and swirl it through your wet ingredients. This is especially helpful for oils that are strong enough to overpower a whole drop of oil such as cilantro, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

Health & Wellness

Essential oils have been found to be effective in reducing toxicity, promoting detoxification and easing the effects of stress. Oils with antidepressant properties include lavender, frankincense and peppermint. Some can reduce anxiety and help with sleep, while others like tea tree, eucalyptus and sandalwood have antibacterial and antiviral properties to prevent infections.

Anecdotal reports show that these potent plants can treat a host of health problems, including soothing sore muscles, relieving migraines and headaches, eliminating odors, and improving digestion. Research is ongoing to discover more uses for these natural remedies.

With healthy caution and proper label instructions, anyone can safely use essential oils for a wide range of purposes. For instance, if you get an oil into your eyes or mucous membrane, rinse the area thoroughly. You should also avoid ingesting essential oils unless they are pure and organic. They contain the most powerful compounds from plants, and inhaling them may cause a strong reaction, such as a rash.


Using essential oils for cleaning is an easy and effective way to cut out harmful chemicals found in many commercial cleaners. In addition to leaving your home smelling fresh, many of these oils also have antiseptic properties making them great for use in areas like the kitchen and bathroom.

Choose pure, high-quality essential oils for the best results. These are typically extracted by steam or cold pressing plant matter. Avoid synthetic versions as they may contain additives and are less effective.

For the most natural cleaning solution, mix distilled water with your EOs for dilution. Always store in glass bottles, as pure essential oils can break down plastic over time.

Combine the antiseptic properties of tea tree and lavender essential oils with the scouring power of baking soda to make this simple essential oil toilet bowl cleaner. Add all ingredients to a spray bottle and use as needed. This recipe makes 2 ounces of all-purpose cleaner.