This is a collaboration with my personal acupuncturist and guest author Amber Sharma, Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Disclaimer: these therapies are not FDA approved. We are presenting opinion from an integrative health perspective and none of the content below should be construed as a substitute for medical advice or therapies which your physician may have recommended.
Did you know? Research shows lavender used on hospitalized patients can reduce the need for opioid medications? Some of your favorite scents may do more than smell good and calm the mind, they can actually help with physical problems! In this blog, we’ll explore both some well known and obscure essential oils, learning how they can be used for a range of both mental and physical conditions.
Safety of essential oils: First, one needs to consider the purpose of use. Using for aesthetic/pleasure purposes carries less risk than clinical (healing) purposes. Some oils have precautions and/or contraindications associated with their use for 3 possible reasons: the oil may itself be intrinsically toxic, it may irritate the skin and muscosa, or it could cause spontaneous/idiosyncratic reactions. In terms of general precautions for any oil, the ideal is to have it applied by a trained clinician. If you are applying to yourself, makes sure never to put the essential oil or blend directly on your skin, and to avoid contact with the eye or mucus membranes.
Modes of Delivery: Most people think of using essential oils as aromatherapy. This can be done through direct inhalation, steam inhalation, or a diffuser. For direct inhalation, you can put 1-3 drops of the oil on a tissue, cotton ball, or washcloth and inhale until the effect is obtained. For steam inhalation, you can place 2-4 drops of oil in a basin or bowl of hot water, then drape a towel over your head and inhale. You can buy diffusers cheaply on Amazon and usually place 3-8 drops into water. To get more of a systemic effect, you can drop 4-8 drops into a bath or carrier oil (something neutral like olive or canola). You can also make a perfume by placing one drop of oil into a bit of lotion. If using for massage, place 5-10 drops of oil per 10 ml of carrier oil. If using as a liniment, place 10-20 drops per 10 ml or vegetable carrier oil.
Quality: It is important to know the exact rating of the oil you purchase. The top grade is genuine essential oil, which is accurately defined in terms of both its botanic and geographic source. The next tier is authentic essential oil, which must be in the same dispensing bottle as when it was originally distilled. Finally, there is high quality essential oil which meets a certain threshold for the quality of the plant source and extraction process. Any of these three options are suitable for clinical use. Anything missing one of these designations is probably not a true essential oil.
What are some of the most commonly used essential oils?
Sandalwood: This is one of my favorites with its soft, sweet-woody scent. It is non-irritating and non-toxic orally (that doesn’t’ mean you should drink it in large amounts). Its essential functions are restoring and relaxing. In physiological terms, it is calming, centering, grounding, and sensualizing. Physiologically, it can serve as a venous blood decongestant and anti-inflammatory agent. Used topically, it is a mildly astringent emollient with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
Lavender: This herb probably has the most clinical research behind it in the western scientific literature. It, too is non-toxic and non-sensitizing. The scent is described as herbaceous and sweet-floral, with medium tenacity. The essential qualities are calming, harmonizing, and uplifting. This is most commonly used to relax the mind and uplift the spirit. However, it can also have physical effects including being a sedative, relaxant, and cooling agent. When used topically, it can promote tissue healing and can serve as an anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory agent.
Bergamot: You may know this as the unique flavoring for Earl Grey tea. While this is also generally safe, it can be strongly photosensitizing, so make sure to wear sun protection if you consume this regularly. The fragrance of this is described as middle tone with sweet lemony notes and its essential qualities are balancing, harmonizing, and calming. This can be used to balance mood and mental state. Taken orally, it can also be a mild sedative and (paradoxically, a gastric stimulant). Topically, it can be used for tissue healing, anti-sepsis, and to address rashes/itchiness.
Eucalyptus: This minty scented leaf if generally non toxic and is described as a strong top tone with a pungent, green note. Its essential quality is stimulating. For the mind, it can promote energy and alertness. For the body, it can help stimulate as a expectorant (to clear mucous). It can also be used topically to promote wound healing with its anti-fungal/antibiotic properties, and to help stimulate blood flow to the surface of the skin.
Neroli: This is a bit more rare, but is generally safe and contains a sweet, lemony fresh floral scent. It has generally calming/relating effects and can actually promote feelings of euphoria. It can also be useful to reduce blood pressure, muscle spasms, and as a nervous sedative. It can be applied topically as an anti-inflammatory skin re-generator.
Frankincense: The three wise men knew what was up with this one! This is non-toxic and has a middle tone fragrance with sweet, rooty, and pungent notes. Its essential quality is restoring and it can be used for calming, grounding, and centering the mind. Ingested, it can help with breathing and to stimulate the uterus! It can also be a good topical application for dry and mature skin types.
Ylang Ylang: While generally non-toxic, this flower can be mildly sensitizing. It has a mild fragrant tone with sweet and lemony notes and can use used to balance the mind. It is also a nervous and cardiovascular relaxant, and can lower blood pressure.
Ginger: This root is generally safe, though it can be sensitizing. It has a sweet, warm-spicy scent with notes of lemons and root. This can be very motivating, grounding, and centering for the mind. It is also used in cooking and can be a stimulant for the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and arterial health. Used topically, it can help bring blood to the surface and relieve muscular aches/pains/strains, but we aware that it can irritate at high concentrations.
What are your favorite essential oils? What did we miss? Leave a note in the comments!
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