The Power of Essential Oils

Today’s guest post was contributed by essential oils aficionado and wellness advocate Cathy Butcher, who has decades of experience using essential oils and works to help others discover how the power of a plant can improve their wellbeing.

I believe that essential oils are especially important to support our mental health during the stressful times we are living in.

Use of essential oils in holistic health has grown rapidly over the last twenty years and they are no longer regarded as just a “pleasant fragrance” to perfume our living spaces; there is increased awareness of how they can benefit both our physical and mental health. 

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are potent aromatic compounds which come from different parts of the plant; they can be taken from flowers, herbs, leaves, seeds, stems and bark.

Usually, the oil is steam distilled or pressed from the plant and on average can be eighty times more powerful than the plant alone.

Different plants yield different amounts of oil. For instance, it will take 242,000 rose petals to make just 5ml of pure rose oil, whereas 3lbs of lavender flowers will produce 15ml of lavender essential oil! This obviously impacts on the price of high-grade oils such as undiluted rose oil essential oil.

Who discovered essential oils?

Essential oils have been used as natural medicines for centuries. There is evidence that the Egyptians used oils as early as 4500BC, to make perfumes and healing tinctures.

India, too, has a 3,000-year history of using oils such as ginger, cinnamon and sandalwood for healing. According to the Bible, frankincense and myrrh were offered as gifts by the “wise men”; at that time, they were regarded as more precious than gold.

And legend has it that in the Middle Ages, during the time of the bubonic plague in Europe – also called the Great Plague, a group of thieves was arrested for stealing from the dead and dying. They were questioned as to why they seemed to be immune from this deadly disease and are said to have explained that they were spice merchants who used a mixture of essential oils, including clove, cinnamon, lemon and rosemary applied to their hands, feet and temples to protect them from catching the deadly disease.

They shared their secret, hoping to be set free, and doctors began using oils to protect themselves…but unfortunately the men were hanged.

Today, many of us have used products which work through the addition of essential oils, like Vicks, a decongestant rubbed on the chest and back to relieve coughs and sinusitis. This contains the oils eucalyptus, cedarwood and nutmeg, suspended in petroleum jelly.

Likewise, peppermint oil is used in capsules to ease bloating. A drop of peppermint on cotton wool places in corners of the room will also deter spiders and mice.

It is widely known that lavender can aid sleep, and orange or other citrus oils are uplifting.

Of course, essential oils can also be used as flavourings, as well as being medicinal. Vanilla is possibly one of the best-known essential oil used as an ingredient; as well as being flavoursome, the oil also promotes feelings of contentment and happiness.

How do they work?

When we inhale through the nose, the airborne molecules from the oils interact with the olfactory organs – sacs inside the nose which are responsible for our sense of smell – and swiftly enter the limbic system of the brain, which is the part of the brain that plays a part in emotions and long-term memory.

Interestingly, the limbic system also plays a role in controlling several of our automatic bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Molecules inhaled through the nose also enter the respiratory system and can enter the blood from the lungs.

For this reason, essential oils are a potent way to calm the nervous system and soothe our minds.

What are the benefits of using essential oils?

Essential oils have been shown to have powerful antibacterial properties, and possibly even antiviral properties. There have been many studies about the medicinal and healing properties of essential oils.

Obviously, they should never replace advice from doctors, and should be used alongside other medicines.

How to use essential oils

When using essential oils, there are a couple of main ways:

Place the oil on the skin, diluted in a carrier oil, so it can be absorbed through the pores and enter the bloodstream. Inhale the oil, either through diffusing it or rubbing the oil in your palms and taking several deep breaths.

Are they safe to use?

– As with any natural medicine, there are contraindications which people should be aware of. Some oils are unsafe for animals and some are not recommended for use during pregnancy.

– In the case of animals, when diffusing, the animal should be allowed to leave the room if it wants.

For anyone who is pregnant, or suffering from heart problems or high blood pressure, the advice would be to consult an aromatherapist to check which essential oils are safe to use; or, of course, check with your GP if you’re unsure. 

Here are some of the main essential oils and their properties:

Chamomile
Reputedly works for cold, fevers and nausea. It is also calming and aids sleep. It is very safe for children.

Clove
Dental and pain-relieving. A natural antibiotic. 

Eucalyptus
A topical pain-reliever and decongestant, which helps improve coughs.

Frankincense
A mood-enhancer and stress-reducer. Antiseptic. It is good for ageing skin. 

Lavender
Known to be calming and sleep-inducing. It is also antiseptic and can be used to heal burns.

Lemon
A natural household cleaner and disinfectant. The fragrance is naturally uplifting (as are the other citric oils, such as orange and neroli).

Oregano
Skin-healing and possibly antibiotic. 

Peppermint
Good for cold and flu prevention, and a quick energy-booster. Helps improve headaches. It is often used as a natural digestive remedy. 

Rosemary
Improves skin and hair health, and relieves joint pain.  It aids concentration and memory.

Tea Tree
Used for centuries by the Aborigines to heal wounds. Antiseptic, possibly antiviral. A great solution for oily skin. 

How to choose an essential oil

There is, as yet, no regulation of essential oils; they can be labelled as “pure” but contain only eight per cent of the pure oil, with the remainder consisting of cheaper alternatives and “filler” ingredients.

Unfortunately, most oils on the high street are low-grade quality, masquerading as 100% pure!

To ensure the quality of the oils you purchase, always check that your supply is high quality. You can research the manufacturer, or even email them to ask questions about the purity of the oil, where it came from and whether it is certified as organic, etc.

When choosing an essential oil, be led by your nose!

About the contributor

Cathy Butcher has been using essential oils for the last 35 years and is currently researching their emotional effects and how they can improve our emotional health and wellbeing.

Find out more about essential oils and how they can enhance your wellbeing on an emotional level by contacting Cathy at butcher.cathy1@gmail.com.

Want to write about wellbeing? Contact info@wellnessbooks.co.uk to discuss self-publishing a book on wellness.