We all know a good foundation is fundamental for success. And working with essential oils is no exception. In fact, when it comes to natural living, essential oils are one of the easiest and most powerful places to start. Here I want to give you the basics so you can feel confident and equipped to dive in.
What Aromatherapists won’t tell you
When I wanted to bring essential oils into my home, I tried to do the responsible thing and educate myself first. I spent a lot of time on blogs and reading articles, many of which were written by aromatherapists. Instead of helping me get started, everything I read scared me away. Essential oils seemed just…so…complicated. I had so many questions: which oils should I pick first? How much or how little? Why did costs vary so much? Where did I apply them? Were they still effective when diluted? How — and when — should I dilute and with what?
So if you’ve faced the same issue, I want to hit the pause button and encourage you: if I can do this, so can you. If I can bring essential oils into my home, apply them every area of my life and be successful with them, so can you.
I love this from Jen O’Sullivan, an aromatherapist:
“Today there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, using essential oils under their own supervision and without knowledge or understanding of how or what they are using. However, these people using oils on a regular basis have one thing in common: there have been no major issues with people becoming sick or dying from their use. The alarmist mentality in the aromatherapy industry on the whole is unnecessary, because people are using oils to raise their level of health and are doing it on their own. It seems as if the certified aromatherapists of the world are not too happy. And why should they be? Their would-be clients are self-diagnosing and self-treating with much success!” (French Aromatherapy)
See? With the right tools, we can do this. That being said, let’s get a bit more background on essential oils.
Essential oils are far from a new idea. In fact, the first archaeological evidence of distillation was found in the in northern India, dating back to 3000 BC. The Egyptian Ebers papyrus — dating approximately 1500 BC — mentions fine oils made from herbs used as aromatics and incense. Other ancient Egyptian references include mummification, incantations, beauty recipes, even deodorant! The Babylonians were suppliers of cedarwood, cypress and myrtle. There are also many Biblical references to essential oils including frankincense, sandalwood, Cinnamon and myrrh. In fact, during the Medieval ages Frankincense was considered more valuable than gold.
In a nutshell…
…Essential oils are volatile, concentrated liquids distilled from plant matter. They come from tree roots, leaves, needles (like pine), resins, nuts, seeds, shrubs, flowers… All sorts of plant matter. Oh, and citrus essential oils are cold-pressed from the fruit rinds.
Chemically speaking, essential oils are complex. They can contain hundreds of chemical constituents that enact change in the human body. Aim to use essential oils distilled from properly raised plants (grown in their natural environment, non-GMO, with no exposure to pesticides/weed killers/etc). And watch out for the extraction process: steam distillation at proper temperatures is the best, as opposed to chemical extraction. Why? Because those chemicals adulterate the essential oil and in turn will enter your body when used. Yuck.
A lot goes into a properly distilled essential oil. For example:
220 pounds of Lavender flowers make approximately 1 gallon of oil
60,000 roses produce 1 ounce of oil
Some oils like Sandalwood and Jasmine have to be harvested at the right time — when the flowers first open, or the tree is 30 years old for example — to produce the best quality oil.
Whoa…mind blowing. It’s no wonder quality oils seem pricey. Could you imagine buying 220 pounds of Lavender, or 60,000 roses? Ha! This is one of the reasons cheap oils are on the shelves — companies can produce a lesser product because people don’t understand the value and importance of quality oils.
How are essential oils used?
Great question. They are used three ways:
In short, smelling the oil. This can be done directly from the bottle, by placing a drop in your hands and hand-cupping over your nose and mouth, or using a diffuser. Aromatic use is very effective for soothing moods or stress and or eliminating odors in the air.
It doesn’t get much easier: put the oil on your skin. Where, you might ask? Where ever you feel you need them. The bottom of the feet is a great place to start for your first couple trials. Then you can try over pulse points, over the heart, back of the neck or across the shoulders…don’t be afraid of doing some trial and error. Remember some common sense; avoid inside the nose/ears, be careful around your eyes and anywhere else that might be particularly sensitive.
Some essential oils are considered “hot” oils and may require dilution, but many are safe to apply undiluted (such as Lavender). This is a great way to support skin health, cool/energize muscles before or after a workout, a soothing foot rub, etc.
Take a drop of essential oil in a veggie capsule, sipping with water or even in cooking. Use caution though, because most essential oil companies on the market are not safe for ingestion. Only ingest essential oils from organic, non-GMO sources with FDA GRAS certification for internal use (such as Young Living’s Vitality Line).
All methods are great ways to get essential oils into your body.
Congrats — you now know more about essential oils than most people! You’ve done your research, you feel confident… The only question left to answer is: is there anything stopping you from getting started right now?
The History of Herbal Medicine and Essential Oils, Sandra Kynes, 2014: https://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/history-of-herbal-medicine-ze0z1404zcov
Beginners guide to Essential Oils, Tracy Black, 2018: https://dontmesswithmama.com/beginners-guide-to-essential-oils/