Alternative medicine enthusiasts have subscribed to the power of essential oils for years. But with their increasing availability (and claimed health benefits), they’re going mainstream.
“Essential oils are fantastic. They have many benefits,” says integrative medicine specialist “Yufang Lin”, MD “The problem lies in how people use them.”
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. “Plants are made of structural materials and phytochemicals. These chemicals have properties that not only benefit the plant but benefit people, too,” explains Dr. Lin.
It takes a tremendous amount of plant material to make essential oils. For example:
- About 250 pounds of lavender flower make 1 pound of lavender essential oil
- About 5,000 pounds of rose petals or lemon balm make 1 pound of rose or lemon balm essential oil.
“Because it takes so much of the plant to make an essential oil, it’s a powerful botanical medicine,” she says.
1. Lemon oil:
Lemon oil is commonly used in the kinds of commercially available products you encounter every day. If you walk down the aisles of any grocery store, you’ll find everything from household cleaner to hand soap to flavored sparkling water with the essence of lemon. As is the case with many citrus oils, the scent closely mimics that of the fruit from which it’s derived: bright, light, zesty, and clean.
These days, of course, a lot of those flavours and smells are made artificially, but still, there’s a reason that lemon has become so universally identified with freshness and cleanliness: Its oil is a powerful antibacterial, astringent, and antiseptic agent.
“There’s a reason that lemon has become so universally identified with freshness and cleanliness: Its oil is a powerful antibacterial, astringent, and antiseptic agent.”
Diluted lemon oil can be wonderfully effective when it comes to skincare because of its high concentration of D-limonene, a compound that assists in diminishing the appearance of wrinkles, promoting circulation, and toning the skin. Recent research showed that D limonene has skin repairing and anti-inflammatory properties.
The scent of lemon oil has also been shown to have a powerful effect on mood. One study’s findings suggest that lemon oil vapour has anti-depressive properties. Another compelling study found that the scent of lemon oil boosted participants moods, a finding confirmed through self-reported data as well as empirical data (elevated levels of the anti-stress hormone norepinephrine were measured in the blood of participants).
2. Cinnamon oil:
If lemon oil is bright, cool, and invigorating, cinnamon oil is its opposite: sweet and spicy, musky and warm. For me, cinnamon conjures up a distinct mixture of sexy exoticness and cozy familiarity, which makes sense because it’s both a Far East import and a spice drawer mainstay.
Derived from both the bark and leaf of the Cinnamomum verum tree, it’s actually one of history’s oldest essential oils, with the Egyptians recording their extensive use of it in Ebers Papyrus, a medical text dating to approximately 1550 BC.
“For me, cinnamon conjures up a distinct mixture of sexy exoticness and cozy familiarity.”
At that time, cinnamon was a hot commodity. It was expensive and hard to get because Arab traders controlled most of the supply coming from Sri Lanka and India and—in a pretty savvy marketing tactic—they kept the true source of their supply a secret. Cinnamon oil was affordable only for the very wealthy—emperors, royals, and, later on, Europe’s elite. Fortunately for us, price and access to this super-useful oil are no obstacle today.
In aromatherapy, the cinnamon essential oil can be used to help clear up chest colds. Applied topically, it can soothe muscle aches and pains, thanks to its antispasmodic and analgesic properties. It’s also an antiseptic and makes a powerful natural preservative. It is both antibacterial and antimicrobial, as well as being anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving. Some studies have shown that cinnamon oil contains powerful antioxidants and could potentially be useful in fighting neurological disorders & heart diseases.
3. Lemongrass oil:
Google “lemongrass” and your search will most likely garner a bunch of hits for Thai restaurants in your local area (yum!). I’m all for a killer curry, but I’m even more into the plant’s essential oil.
Lemongrass is a fast-growing, tropical grass native to Sri Lanka and south India and is now cultivated in warm climates in Africa and Asia. The entire plant is utilized in everything from tea to cleaning products, and it has been used for years in Indian healing traditions to treat maladies like gastrointestinal issues and fever (it earned the nickname “fever grass”).
“I like to use it for its cheerful, energetic scent alone, but there also happens to be plenty of evidence that it possesses powerful medicinal and pharmacological properties.”
Lemongrass essential oil is derived from the steam distillation of the plant and, true to its name, it possesses a mild, sweet, lemony-yet-herbal aroma. I like to use it for its cheerful, energetic scent alone, but there also happens to be plenty of evidence that it possesses powerful medicinal and pharmacological properties, including the potential to slow the growth of cancerous cells and tumors.
Research also shows that lemongrass essential oil is antibacterial and anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and can be a potent insect repellent. Its antifungal properties are especially helpful in combating the nasty yeast associated with dandruff. One study noted that participants who used a dandruff tonic with a 10 per cent concentration of lemongrass oil saw a significant reduction in dandruff in as little as a week.
4. Clary Sage:
Clary sage possesses myriad beneficial properties for the skin: It’s antibacterial, astringent, antiseptic, and can help improve circulation. I like the uniquely sweet herbal aroma of clary sage, which helps to cut through some of the more pungent ingredients used in natural skin care, too.
“Clary sage has been lauded for its reputed ability to regulate hormones, and its scent is thought to have antidepressant effects.”
Clary sage is a perennial plant that is native to the northern Mediterranean region and North Africa; its essential oil is derived via the steam distillation of the plant’s flowering tops and leaves. Although the ancient Egyptians used it in medicinal practices, it wasn’t until medieval times that clary sage really took off. During this time, doctors and herbalists used clary sage seeds to help treat vision problems; “clary” is derived from the Latin word for clear, “clarus.” And it was also used to flavor wine (and referred to as “muscatel sage” because of its similarity to German muscat wine). Someone, somewhere, got clever—maybe while drunk off clary sage wine?—and mashed up the two nicknames. Hence: clary sage.
Clary sage has been lauded for its reputed ability to regulate hormones, and its scent is thought to have antidepressant effects. A 2014 study of twenty-two postmenopausal women in their 50s—some of whom were depressed—showed that breathing diffused clary sage helped to alleviate participants depression by lowering cortisol levels and improving thyroid hormone levels. And a 2012 study revealed that clary sage—along with lavender and marjoram—makes an effective massage treatment for alleviating menstrual pain and cramping.
5. Lavender Oil :
Okay, okay. I know you’ve heard about lavender oil so many times in your life (and in this book) that you’re rolling your eyes at me. Why did the Taylor Swift of the oil kingdom make it onto my top 10 list? Because the honest truth is that it’s impossible to deny how amazing lavender oil is.
First of all, what we call lavender is Lavandula angustifolia, one type of lavender among 39 total species. Different species have different properties, but all types contain large proportions of linalool, linalyl acetate, eucalyptol, and camphor. That’s a lot of components to have in high quantities, and it’s the reason it’s such a powerhouse essential oil. Lavender is sedative, antispasmodic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, anaesthetic immune-boosting, and antiviral.
It’s super safe, but it does have a high content of linalool, which can be sensitizing for some people. As with all essential oils, and ingredients in general, be sure to try a small amount on your skin, diluted at about six drops in one tablespoon of carrier oil, and watch for a reaction.
If your skin loves lavender, you can use up to a 50-50 mix of half lavender oil, half carrier oil in your DIY products. I use lavender in a million different ways, all day, every day.
6. Tea Tree Oil :
Tea tree oil (also called melaleuca oil) is definitely enjoying a moment in the natural-beauty-world sun right now, and deservedly so. It’s pretty awesome stuff.
The only place that tea trees grow naturally is in Australia, but they grow super abundantly there. Traditionally, native Australian cultures used tea tree leaves to treat coughs and colds, heal wounds, and alleviate sore throats and skin ailments.
“Tea tree oil is antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and exhibits anticancer activity.”
Tea tree oil is antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and exhibits anticancer activity. It kills oral bacteria for up to two weeks, can be used for gingivitis, heals mild to moderate dandruff, kills the influenza virus, and has been shown to slow the growth of tumours in mice. This Australian wonder also works like benzoyl peroxide to treat acne. It takes longer but causes fewer side effects while being less drying than the common drugstore ingredient.
I put tea tree oil in virtually all of my DIY products; I recommend diluting to a 5 per cent concentration, which is about 14 drops per tablespoon of carrier oil. One of my favourite ways to use it is to add a couple of drops to my store-bought mouthwash.
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