Essential Oils are among the first remedies I reach for in my family’s home medicine chest for common illnesses and home-care needs. Because these natural medicines are so concentrated, they travel well and are excellent additions to first-aid kits. Essential oils comprise about one to two percent of most plants. These potent volatile oils have many natural functions, including helping plants ward off insects or combat disease.
When we use essential oils, we are “borrowing” a given plant’s healing intelligence. Because they are very powerful, it’s always wise to test your reaction to any essential oil before using it. Start by blending the essential oil in a carrier oil and testing it on a small patch of sensitive skin, such as the inside of the wrist. If you have no reaction, proceed with caution. Test any oil intended for “neat” (undiluted) use in the same way. Err on the side of caution and trust your instincts; you are the best judge of your skin’s sensitivity. Also use extreme care with essential oils around children. Keep oils sealed and stored safely to prevent spilling or ingestion, and be aware that some oils are not recommended for use on children, including peppermint oil, which can have serious side effects when applied to the face or chest of infants or young children.
Here are six excellent essential oils to add to your home medicine chest:
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
This is one of the few essential oils that can be used “neat,” meaning applied directly to the skin without diluting. Tea tree can benefit nearly every skin condition, including skin cancer. Recent research with mice demonstrated that tea tree oil stopped the growth of skin cancer, and in some rodents actually reduced the size of skin cancers.
To Use: Tea tree is an excellent antimicrobial, meaning it addresses bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Tea tree particularly shines in treating fungal infections. To use tea tree oil for lung and sinus infections, add three drops to boiling water for a steam inhalation. To treat athlete’s foot, apply the oil to toenails twice a day for three to six months.
Caution: Only use tea tree essential oil topically. It can be used “neat” for six months after opening the bottle. After that time, oxidation makes the essential oil too caustic for undiluted applications.
Eucalyptus (globulusor radiata)
Eucalyptus essential oil fights a broad range of bacteria and viruses. It also has a special ability to increase skin absorption of anything in contact with it. In one study, 1,8 cineole, one of the major constituents in eucalyptus essential oil, increased the absorption of 5FU, a cancer drug, over 95 fold (not 95 percent, but 95 times!).
To Use: Try using eucalyptus oil to clear nasal passages by adding a few drops to a bowl of steaming water and inhaling deeply. It can also be added to a bath, an essential oil inhaler or diffuser.
Note: Take special care to apply eucalyptus only with products that are safe for deep absorption such as pure, organic vegetable oils, rather than lotions or creams laden with chemical additives.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is especially effective used as an aromatherapy oil for memory and concentration. In a clinical study of 12 women and eight men, inhaling rosemary essential oil increased speed and accuracy of recall. In another clinical study with 66 people, the group inhaling rosemary had a 60 to 75 percent improvement in memory. The group inhaling rosemary remembered to do seven things from a list while the control group remembered only four tasks and completed them at a slower pace. The rosemary group also showed improvement in remembering events, remembering to complete tasks at particular times, and increasing the speed of recall.
To Use: Include rosemary essential oil in an essential oil diffuser, or try adding it to a steam inhalation, massage oil or sea salt bath. Visit motherearthliving.com/rosemary-aromatherapy-recipes to learn more.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
This is another essential oil that can be applied “neat.” Lavender is profoundly calming and can even lower
blood pressure. After a heart attack, patients were given lavender essential oil to inhale. With twice-daily inhalation for 20 minutes, a short-term study (two days) showed improvement in anxiety, while a longer-term (15 days) study demonstrated improvements in sleep, as well.
To Use: Use lavender essential oil in an inhaler or diffuser (to reduce anxiety, inhale it for five to 20 minutes). It can also be included in an aromatherapy bath, or applied directly to promote relaxation and sleep. Place a drop of lavender essential oil on each palm, and massage the oil into your temples.
Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Orange essential oil brightens moods and improves concentration, even at levels below what our noses can detect. Inhaling orange essential oil has been shown to reduce anxiety.
In one study, simply quartering an orange and leaving it in cancer patients’ rooms after stem cell infusion surgery reduced nausea even more effectively than inhaling orange essential oil.
To Use: Orange essential oil makes a great room spray. Mix 8 drops essential oil with 2-1/2 cups warm water in a spray bottle. Shake well, and spritz as necessary, taking care to avoid eyes. To help with headaches or lift your mood, mix a few drops of orange essential oil with 1/4 cup sweet almond oil in a small jar, and dab the mixture on your temples.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint oil has an astonishing ability to improve athletic performance. In a research study, 30 college athletes were divided into two groups. Researchers measured several physiological and performance parameters. The experimental group then ingested one drop of peppermint essential oil. The athletes were tested again at five minutes and one hour.
Compared with the control group, the experimental group had improved grip force (36.1 percent); standing vertical jump (7 percent); and standing long jump (6.4 percent). After five minutes, the experimental group showed several improvements in breathing and lung capacity.
Peppermint relieves nausea and also relaxes the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract, which helps relieve pain and other symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Peppermint is one of several essential oils that repel mosquitoes. Researchers compared a five percent alcohol dilution of four essential oils — holy basil, peppermint, eucalyptus and Mexican mint — with a 20 percent alcohol dilution of DEET. The essential oil blend outperformed the pesticide, even at one-fourth the concentration.
To Use: To help relieve abdominal cramping and pain, dilute two to three drops of peppermint essential oil in a teaspoon of pure, organic vegetable oil and rub into the abdomen.
Dr. Judith Boice is an award-winning author, international teacher, naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist. She lives with her twin teen boys and sees patients in Fairbanks, Alaska. For more, visit drjudithboice.com.
Essential Oil Basics
Before using essential oils medicinally at home, read these foundational guidelines that apply to all essential oils:
• Use Essential Oils for External Applications Only. Ingest essential oils only under the guidance of a trained medical professional. Pregnant women, and people with lung conditions or severe allergies are also frequently advised to avoid essential oils. Research shows inhaling essential oils or applying them to the skin causes a rapid rise of the active constituents in the bloodstream within seconds of application.
• Less is More. Using too much essential oil can actually reduce its effectiveness. For the best effect, briefly inhale essential oils with steam or spritz or diffuse just enough to lightly scent a room.
• Avoid Heating Essential Oils. Adding to a steam bath or steam inhalation is fine, but sustained heat damages the essential oils and creates caustic compounds that can irritate your body.
• Choose Authentic Essential Oils. Labels should read 100 percent pure essential oil, and list the plant genus and species on the bottle. We always recommend researching to determine trustworthy companies before purchasing any health-related product.
• Choose Organic Essential Oils to Avoid Pesticide Residues. Essential oils come directly from plants. As with all plants we intend to ingest, we recommend selecting products made from organically grown plants.