Essential Oils — Not So New

Don’t think there’s anything unusual about essential oils — they’ve been around a long time. The original recipe for Coca-Cola, invented by John Pemberton in 1886, included the essential oils of orange, lemon, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and neroli. Chewing gum would never have made it off the ground without peppermint and spearmint essential oils. Today, essential oils are widely used in the food and drink industry to give natural flavor and aroma, and they are also used as preservatives. Essential oil components are even put in packaging film to protect food from deterioration. Manufacturers of cosmetics have long appreciated the cell-rejuvenating and beautifying properties of essential oils, and no respectable spa treatment would be without them. Indeed, the essential oil ingredients in products are often their chief selling point. In the past, the entire perfume industry was based on essential oils, although, unfortunately, today they’ve largely been replaced by synthetic ingredients — which is perhaps why so many people have negative physical reactions to modern fragrance products.
Essential oils are truly holistic in that they affect mind, body, and spirit. The mood-enhancing properties of certain essential oils ensured their inclusion in old-style perfumes. Put simply, they made people feel better. Also aromatics have always been used in spiritual practice — think about the frankincense and myrrh resin burned in huge quantities in certain churches, with great plumes of aromatic smoke engulfing the congregation. Native Americans put fragrant sage and cedar on hot rocks in the sweat lodge for ritual purification and spiritual connection. At the coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the essential oils of neroli, rose, cinnamon, jasmine, and benzoin were included in  the coronation oil with which she was anointed, the act that set the seal of God’s approval. Today there are around 300 essential oils easily available, but a well-chosen starting selection of around 10 essential oils will provide enough choice to meet the requirements of most home practitioners. Essential oils should be treated with respect, but also with confidence. Purchase with care and deliberation, and enjoy!


When the combination is more than the sum of the parts, there’s a synergistic effect. Mixing together two or more essential oils creates a compound that’s different from any of the component parts, and these blends can be very particular and powerful. A blend can increase potency without increasing the dosage. For example, the anti-inflammatory action of chamomile essential oil is greatly increased by adding lavender in the correct proportion. The interaction of particular essential oils with each other gives a vibrancy and dynamism to the
whole that might not be achieved by using a single essential oil on its own. The important point about synergistic blends is that the proportions should be correct, and sometimes it’s necessary to prepare more, in volume, than initially needed so that the smallest component oils can be incorporated into the whole in the right proportions. Diluted in a body oil, you may have a component part that is only 0.001% of the whole, and yet that minuscule amount is integral to the whole. There are instructions for making blends, and this is best done by mixing the essential oils in a separate bottle. You can use the exact number of drops shown, or multiply all the components in the formula by the same rate. In this way you get a larger volume of the synergistic blend for future use. 


Several essential oils act as metabolic regulators. These adaptogens, as they’re called, will instigate a reaction in the body that is appropriate to achieving a state of homeostasis, or balance. The reactions affect the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and blood pressure, among others. For example, lemon essential oil works on the autonomic nervous system, acting as a sedative when needed, or as a tonic. Peppermint is another oil that might be found on both “relaxant” and “stimulant” lists, and this apparent contradiction can cause confusion unless you understand that these are adaptogens. Interestingly, there are other natural products that fall into this group, including the herb mint and the root ginseng


The same species of plant can produce essential oils with different chemical components when grown under different conditions, such as variations in soil type, climate, and altitude. For example, the common herb Thymus vulgaris produces several essential oils for medicinal use. Generally, thyme can be a skin irritant and should be used with care, but thyme linalol, which is usually grown at high altitudes, can be used safely in the blends and is the only chemotype of thyme that can be used in the treatment of children. Because one species of oil-producing plant can break down into several chemotypes, each with different medical potentials, the list of useful plants is more extensive than first appearances might imply.

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