Essential oils have been around for millennia, used by many different cultures in a variety of ways – as medicines, in ritual worship, and as cosmetics and perfumes. These are complex substances: each oil is made up of many components which combine to provide its unique physiological and psychological characteristic profile.
What are essential oils?
Any part of plant may contain its essential oil –flower, fruit, stems, wood, bark, seeds, resin, berries and roots. However, not all plants contain significant amounts of essential oils, and where this happens their purpose of function for those plants is not yet fully understood. It is thought that the oils‘ fragrance may attract or repel insects and other animals. Essential oils also have anti-viral and anti-fungal properties for the plant‘s immune system.
Methods of Application:
- Room sprays
- Burners and vaporizers
- Gargles and mouthwashes
is one of the most popular ways of using essential oils and is the method favoured by professional aromatherapists. With an aromatherapy massage you get the benefit of the massage itself as well as the benefits of the essential oils.
To create a massage oil you will need to dilute the essential oil into base or carrier oil. A therapeutic massage oil usually contains 1-3% of essential oil to base oil. Base oils, or carrier oils, are used as a medium in which to dilute the essential oils before applying to the skin: almond, apricot kernel oil, avocado, calendula, carrot, coconut, jojoba oil and others.
It is important for the recipient to feel warm and comfortable during a massage, and you should ensure that your hands are warm before touching the skin. Covering the skin with a towel or cloth after the massage helps to keep the recipient warm and also encourages absorption of the essential oils. For example the composition of stress-reliever massage oil:
- Basil essential oil 2 drops
- Clary sage 4 drops
- Lavender 4 drops
- Neroli 4 drops
- Add to 30 ml almond oil
Adding essential oils to the bath is a wonderfully pleasurable and very popular way of using them. The warmth of the water encourage relaxation and also enable the essential oils to penetrate the skin. Only the essential oils that are absolutely non-irritant, such as Roman chamomile and lavender, should be added (4-6 drops) direct to the bath.
A hot compress is an effective way of treating many local complaints, such as skin infections, including abscesses and boils, and muscular or joint problems, including arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, strains, backache and so on.
To make a hot compress, pour hot water into a bowl and then add the essential oil. A hot compress made with ginger essential oil combined with cypress, juniper, pine and lavender is wonderfully warming and relieving for rheumatism or arthritis.
Place a cotton cloth in the water, ensuring that the cloth comes into contact with the essential oils on the surface, squeeze out the excess water from the cloth and then immediately put it on the painful or infected area. Keep the area warm by wrapping it in plastic and then wrap a towel around the plastic wrap. This process may be repeated after 20 minutes: keep the compress in place for about 1 hour.
Room sprays can be used to disinfect and deodorize a room, repel insects and fumigate a sickroom. To make a room spray, half-fill a plant spray with water, add 40-60 drops of essential oils of your choice, shake well then spray liberally around the room.
Essential oils with good antiseptic properties, such as cedarwood, eucalyptus, lavender and tea tree, are ideal to use in sprays to fumigate rooms, while lemon, lemongrass and citronella can be used in a spray to repel insects. Most essential oil can be used to fragrance a room, but the citrus oil are particularly refreshing.
Burner and vaporizers
These can be used to deodorize or fumigate a room, or simply to create a special atmosphere. If you sit near to the burner or vaporizer it can also be a useful way of inhaling the vapors and benefiting from therapeutic properties of the oil. Essential oil burners that use either a candle or electric power to heat the oils are on sale; put a little warm water on to the ‘hot plate’ and then add a few drops of essential oil. Vaporizers are especially good for a child’s room as they have a fan inside that disperses the vapour rather than using a source of heat.
A steam inhalation is an excellent way of treating coughs, colds and sore throats and of deep-cleansing the skin. Put very hot water into a bowl and add 3-4 drops of essential oil. Then lean over the bowl, place a large towel over your head and the bowl to create a tent to contain the steam, and inhale the vapours.
Steam inhalations should be used with caution by people with epilepsy or asthma as they can be rather overpowering.
A quick and easy method of inhalation is to add 2-3 drops of essential oil to a tissue, and hold this under to the nose every few moments to inhale the vapours.
Essential oils make a wonderful addition to saunas. Simply add 20-40 drops of an essential oil or oils to the pitcher of water that is used to splash the coals during a sauna.
Cypress, eucalyptus and pine essential oils are particularly appropriate for use in the sauna.
Gargles and mouthwashes
Gargles are a good way to treat sore throats and hoarseness, whether these have arisen from straining the voice or from a cold or infection. Apart from totally non-irritant and non-toxic oils such as lavender and Roman chamomile, the oils must be diluted in a carrier oil before gargling. Add 2-3 drops of essential oil to 5ml/ 1 tsp strong alcohol (vodka is ideal) and add this to a cupful of water. A mouthwash is made by adding the same amounts of alcohol and oil to warm water.
Essential oils have been used as flavorings for foods and drinks for many years. The main thing to remember is that they are very concentrated and so only 1-2 drops should be used per dish or the result will be too overpowering – and possibly toxic. The essential oil should be added to the liquid part of a recipe and mixed thoroughly to ensure that it is dispersed throughout the dish.
There are several essential oils that will not irritate the skin and may be worn undiluted as perfumes, including neroli, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood and rose. Simply apply a drop of the oil to the pulse points as you would any perfume. These oils may also be blended to create an individual fragrance, such as the classic combination of jasmine, rose and sandalwood, which is known as angel oil.
Colognes may also be created by adding a combination of essential oils to vodka as a fragrance base. Add up to 18 drops of combine essential oils to 30 ml / 2tbsp vodka and store in a glass perfume bottle.