Essential oils are an ancient medicine. They have not been used as long as herbal medicine (given the technology of distillation necessary to derive the oil) but their roots are still very old, with documented use by Islamic physicians in the 12th century and purported use (as resins) by ancient Egyptians prior to that.
Part of the allure of essential oils is their ability to condense a massive amount of a plant’s healing potential into a very small bottle. Used throughout the centuries, essential oils have seen a renaissance in the western world, complete with a growing body of research supporting their medicinal use.
Essentials oils are produced through the distillation of plant material, resulting in a condensed liquid known as a hydrosol. The volatile oils floating on top of this liquid are then siphoned off and stored in dark dropper bottles. In their purest form, essential oils have a multitude of phytochemicals that range in use from culinary to medicinal. There are hundreds of oils commercially being produced, some with an amazing array of uses and others more esoteric in their application.
Following are three of my favorite essential oils that are inexpensive and versatile. Anyone invested in holistic health would benefit from having these remedies in their medicine cabinet.
Not a day goes by at the clinic that I don’t use lavender with patients. Following acupuncture, I dab a small drop of lavender essential oil behind my patients’ ear lobes to help them relax and de-stress. Lavender is a potent nervine, calming the nervous system, relieving anxiety, and helping to induce sleep. Lavender is also one of the best remedies to put on an acute burn where it can quickly relieve the pain of the trauma while dramatically speeding up the healing process and prevent scarring.
Tea tree oil is a first aid kit in a bottle. A broad-spectrum antimicrobial, tea tree oil acts as a natural antiseptic when applied to cuts and scrapes, or as an antifungal for dabbing on toenail fungus. Try adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a bottle of witch hazel for a homemade aftershave. The astringent of the witch hazel closes the pores while the tea tree prevents any razor burn from getting infected. Tea tree oil is also an excellent addition to liquid hand soap as an alternative to harsh antibacterial versions.
Eucalyptus is the oil of choice for respiratory conditions. From acute conditions such as colds, flus, bronchitis, and pneumonia, to chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis – eucalyptus essential oil can open the lungs and sinuses, alleviate congestion, and encourage relaxed respiration. The scent will remind most people of Vicks VapoRub as eucalyptus is one of the main active ingredients. It is best applied on the chest so that the scent can waft upwards to the nose and be efficiently inhaled. Another helpful therapy is to place several drops of eucalyptus oil in a washcloth and put it over the shower drain while taking a hot shower. The heat will vaporize the essential oil as the steam quickly delivers its healing effect.
Although these three essential oils are very safe to apply topically, if you have sensitive skin, it is advisable to dab a small amount on the inside of your arm as a test patch to see if irritation occurs. If so, you can try diluting the oil with a carrier such as olive or coconut oil which will moderate the intensity.