What Are Essential Oils (And What Do They Do)?

Essential Oils Benefits

January 29, 2019
Essential Oils


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Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines about essential oils in connection to health. What are they, and why the big deal? 

What Are Essential Oils?

An essential oil is the liquid distilled from a plant that contains the phytochemicals that give the plant its characteristic aroma and flavor. They get their name because they represent the aromatic “essence“ of the plant they came from.  

Age-Old Practice

They may be trendy, but they’re not new. Chances are you or someone in your family has used an essential oil at one time or another. For example:

  • Maybe grandpa applied clove oil to ease a toothache, or grandma dabbed a drop of attar of roses behind her ears.
  • Perhaps your mom followed the advice of the old nursery rhyme John Brown’s Baby, and laid a warm, camphor-oil infused flannel cloth on your chest to relieve congestion.
  • You prefer essential flavoring oils over alcohol extracts for cooking (think peppermint oil in your favorite holiday cookies, or lemon oil for pies and puddings).
  • Your medicine cabinet contains a bottle of tea-tree oil for use as an all-purpose antiseptic.
  • You use a citrus-peel household cleaning solvent that contains an essential oil made from the rinds left over from the orange juice business.


    Humans have made and used essential oils for around 6,000 years, as perfumes and cosmetics; for use as embalming fluids, poisons, antiseptics, and insect controls; to flavor and preserve food; and for a broad variety of medicinal purposes. There’s ongoing scientific research into essential oils for all these purposes today.

    The modern interest in the therapeutic uses of essential oils coincides with the public’s growing enthusiasm for “complementary and alternative” healing strategies. But it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when you dip into the popular articles about essential oils, not to mention the advocacy claims, the celebrity endorsements, the testimonials, and the rows and rows of them on the shelves of natural-food stores. So many oils, so many uses!

    Popular Essential Oils Today

    Humans have made and used essential oils for around 6,000 years, as perfumes and cosmetics; for use as embalming fluids, poisons, antiseptics, and insect controls; to flavor and preserve food; and for a broad variety of medicinal purposes. There’s ongoing scientific research into essential oils for all these purposes today.

    You’ll often find essential oils made of our favorite herbs from rosemary to mint. Here are three favorites which are backed by supportive research.

    • Tea tree oil has proven anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Research also suggests tea tree oil fights athlete’s foot, nail fungus, and other problems. Never ingest tea tree oil nor apply it directly to the skin; it needs to be used with a carrier oil.
    • Lavender is often used under the pillow to aide sleep, but its soothing essence doesn’t just calm you down. Studies have shown lavender essential oil may also have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits.
    • Peppermint essential oil  helps relieve headaches and ease tension.  Again, avoid applying directly to the skin and dilute in a carrier oil. Ever enjoyed peppermint tea? Peppermint’s properties also ease the tensions of the stomach muscles and ease bloating.

    A few caveats

    • The FDA forbids essential-oil marketers from making health claims for these products. Otherwise, there’s no government regulation of essential oils, and no standards of quality or purity.
    • Although licensed massage therapists, nurses and midwives, and other licensed health care professionals may use essential oils in their practice, there are currently no regulations or official licenses that govern the practice.
    • Because pure essential oils tend to be very expensive (e.g., it takes about 220 lbs of lavender flowers to make about a pound of lavender essential oil), many products on store shelves bearing the “essential-oil” label have been cut with other ingredients, which may include vegetable oils and synthetic fragrances.
    • As compared with teas, infusions, and tinctures, pure essential oils are highly concentrated sources of plant chemicals. When used in massage therapy, they’re greatly diluted in a so-called carrier oil. For steam inhalations, experts recommend using only a few drops of essential oil in the water producing the steam.
    • When used as directed, essential oils are remarkably safe and produce few side effects. However, medical experts caution against their use on infants and young children, by pregnant women, and people with seizure disorders unless under the direction of a licensed medical professional.
    • Some essential oils may interfere with prescription medications, so it’s important to check with your doctor before you try one. 

    Medical research on the therapeutic value of various essential oils has confirmed the value of some for antiseptic uses, pain, anxiety relief, insomnia, and treating a variety of skin conditions. Check out the aromatherapy website linked below for more specific information.

    Learn more

    About This Blog

    "Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

    Reader Comments

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    Tinctures from essential oils

    Is is doable ? To use essential oils to create tinctures? If so, how? I'm not finding anything online.

    Tinctures and essential oils

    Essential oils and tinctures extract phytocompounds from plants in different ways creating very different products, and herbalists use them differently. I’d suggest making your tinctures from fresh or dried plant materials.

    Essential oils

    My wife has had psoriasis for
    Many years. Last year the psoriasis really got bad on her back and even on her scalp. We tried to use the Main Street pharmaceuticals like Otesla and all of the others and our copay would have been $1200/MONTH. not doable so wife tried essential oils frankense,germanium, rose and lavender. Look up essential oils on line for yourself. This has been nearly a miracle for easing her psoriasis as it is 99% cured. Not trying to sell anything but hopeful this might assist someone else with incurable psoriasis

    Thanks for sharing this,

    Thanks for sharing this, Alton. A lot of folks turn to herbs, essential oils, and other traditional forms of medical care when conventional (allopathic) treatments fail, lead to adverse outcomes, or are simply unaffordable.

    I hope you’ve also shared the names of each of the oils, their brand names, and your wife’s regimen of treatment with her doctor, to ensure she or he has the information on file in case of an adverse reaction sometime down the line, or 

    When I want to try an herbal remedy, I always track down the best information I can find and bring it to my doctor, along with the label from the container. In the past, I’ve had bad reactions to two herbs. I wouldn’t have known what caused the reactions if my doctor hadn’t sought information from a colleague knowledgeable about plant medicine.

    A lot of online information about essential oils may offer glowing testimonials, but not much by way of modern research, potential for harm, or even how to use an oil for best effect.

    Good luck!

    essential oils

    I have been reading about oils and have used a few in the past for various reasons but I am now wanting to begin using them for more health reasons. Where do you suggest I start and how do I know that i am buying quality oils. My son just bought an oil that cost over 100 dollars for one small bottle. Is this a reasonable price for oils? Is there something on the lable that lets you know you are getting quality products?

    Essensial oils

    I had Psoriasis for 18 years or so. I just want to say that Psoriasis has a lot to do with our emotions,feelings,inner stress levels. But using something to keep the outbrakes down is ofcause good until the issues has been released. When I use homone cream from the doc.It helps,but if I stop putting it on, it comes back after 4 days. So I have to keep working on my issues. ; - ) Blessings and merry Christmas and a peaceful new year to all.


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