First of all, what are essential oils? Often confused with perfume oils (which they are not), essential oils are liquids that have been distilled, often employing the use of steam and any of the following:
Despite their name, essential oils are not in fact oily, but rather clear and less slick than their name implies. Not quite watery, but not oily either. When blended correctly, essential oils are highly concentrated and should be diluted before applying directly to your skin.
Essential Oils: A Long History Throughout Many Civilizations
Hardly a new concept, people more than likely have used essential oils for thousands of years. This is a difficult claim to substantiate because although there are accounts of the Chinese (possibly as far back as 4000 BC), Persians (3200-625 BC) and Ancient Egyptians (circa 3150 BC) using what sound an awful lot like essential oils for myriad medical, psychological and emotional well-being, the names used are not identical.
For example, it is common knowledge that the Egyptians incorporated the use of myrrh, nutmeg, cedar wood, clove and cinnamon in their embalming fluid. The purpose of this was two-fold: send off their dead with something soothing, but more importantly, the Egyptians knew how to preserve a body. As has often been reported when archeologists have exhumed bodies from tombs, they report a strong scent of flowers and oil.
The Chinese have a long history of using everything from snake venom, herbs, flowers, camphor, menthol, mint, ginger and myriad others for relief of colds, flu, stomach upset, headaches, arthritis and aid in healing cuts and sprains. If you have ever used Tiger Balm (a mixture of menthol, camphor, mint oil, cajuput oil, clove bud oil and cassia oil) for arthritis, your aching back, to cure a hangover or migraine, you know firsthand of its healing powers! Although it is not considered an essential oil, its ingredients are included in the list of essential oils. This concoction only dates back 1500 years.
Traveling the silk and spice routes the Greeks spread their knowledge of essential oils to the Middle East and Africa and eventually into Europe.
It would be during the mid 14th century during the spread of the Black Plague that Europeans would employ the use of herbs and oils to help abate the ravages of this epidemic. In fact, there is a common belief that herbalists and alchemists are among the many who survived when many succumbed to the plague.
Separating Fact from Fiction
Although you may hear many claiming that essential oils can cure everything from diabetes to cancer to HIV, I personally am disinclined to believe this. This is not because I believe so strongly in pharmaceuticals to the exclusion of ‘alternative medicine’, and its generally accepted practice of pushing pills in lieu of looking to more natural alternatives to cure or treat anything. Quite the contrary, it is the absence of any proof of discoveries made by these ancient civilizations that essential oils could cure major illness that leads me to believe they are excellent for treating and not curing. Given that they, after all, were unencumbered by the FDA, big Pharma and health insurance CEOs whose pockets aren’t bulging if we don’t buy their small and large biologics, is what leads me to believe that if essential oils could cure cancer, for example, such a discovery would have been made hundreds of years ago and surely one of the biotechs would have exploited this by now.
A practical person, I am left to believe that essential oils can, however, safely and effectively treat symptoms associated with the following:
- Digestion problems
- Nausea (both general and associated with chemotherapy)
- Treating colic in babies
- Dental pain
Again, while essential oils are not recommended to cure major illness, I know from my own experiences that they help alleviate the symptoms of many of those listed above. Still alive and having seen much relief from using them (for a variety of conditions), I can in all good conscience tell you that I believe they are safe and efficacious when used as directed, which varies depending upon the oil and the condition you are treating.
Some Dos and Don’ts About Essential Oils
The list of Don’ts first:
- Don’t mistake perfume oils for essential oils. Perfume oils are just that, meant to make you smell good. Using essential oils in place of perfume oils can in fact be dangerous. You never want to rub essential oils on your sweat glands hoping to smell good. They are too concentrated and need to be diluted.
- Avoid buying essential oils that have a rubber dropper. Highly concentrated, the essential oils will alter the chemical composition of the rubber and ruin your oils.
- Avoid buying essential oils from some kiosk in a mall or at a festival/street fair. Treat them as you would any analgesic, which means, buy them from a reputable mail order company or a vendor you know and trust. I’d steer clear of those who don’t have the BBB symbol. Yes, we are survivalists who think differently than most people, but we also have to continue, to some or great extent, living in the world around us. So, this means buying from people we know are not going to take advantage of us, which in this case could harm us.
The List of Dos:
- Store all your oils in dark glass—this could be amber or cobalt blue—and do this in a dark place. If you have a basement, that is great. If not, out of sunlight, not in the refrigerator and somewhere that gets good airflow.
- Be mindful of how your essential oils were farmed. We are all fans of organic for all of its health benefits. Imagine how much better your oils will be vs. those grown using numerous pesticides.
- Do some research about each essential oil and its properties. For example, when you know that lavender is good for soothing anxiety, you won’t expect it to treat allergies or asthma.
- Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right about the vendor you are considering, move on. There are many reputable places to buy essential oils to be messing with the wrong one.
List of Essential Oils
There are over 100 essential oils. Although Wikipedia is not the most reliable all the time, I looked at this list and it looks very comprehensive. It also gives you a brief description of what each one does to get you started.