Essential oils beginner's guide

Have you ever used essential oils? Walked into Neal’s Yard to be confronted with row upon row of bright blue bottles with exotic plant names and wondered which to choose? Perhaps you opened the bottles, smelt them, clueless about which ones did what, finally opting for the one that smelt most appealing? If your oil made it home, I'm betting you experimented with it a couple of times and then left it sitting on a shelf until it dried up entirely. That pretty much sums up what I did, at any rate.

Healing properties of essential oils

It took a small girl I met on holiday last summer to wake me up to the power of essential oils. We were chatting away about nothing in particular when she told me about her Dad, and how he made special plant oils that she assured me were in fact medicine. She was so enthusiastic as she described the amazingness of these medicinal oils, that I couldn’t help wanting to know more. Being up for anything new to do with health, and intrigued by the passion of an 11 year old, I immediately asked to meet him and when I did, found that these amazing oils were actually 'just' what we all know of as essential oils.

I have been aware of essential oils for decades and use them frequently myself, usually in a dehumidifier to make my rooms smell delicious, or in scented candle form, scattered around the house. I have been offered them before a massage from time to time and added them regularly to my bath for a long, relaxing soak. I have used them as a perfume, rubbing them in to the skin behind my ears and on my wrists, and strategically placed in diffusers in my bathroom. But I have never really given them much deeper thought, always seeing them as 'just' a lovely scent in the background. It took the little girl’s father to make me understand the error of my ways.

Brad Toews is as passionate about the oils as his daughter, and although he acknowledges the pleasure you can get from using them as a scent, his main focus is on their healing properties. He calls essential oils ‘natural plant medicines’, and told me that used correctly, either singly or in combination, each has different healing capabilities for different health issues.  

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How are essential oils made? 

Essential oils are called essential oils because each individual oil carries the entire essence of the plant it is taken from. The oil is the distillation of every bit of it - the leaves, the stem, the roots, the flowers or the bark. It carries the entirety of the plants essence and healing power. An essential oil is a natural pharmaceutical in a bottle, available for just a few pounds in any health store. Who knew?

The potency of a single drop of oil can equal several teaspoons of the plant in its dried form. One drop of peppermint, for instance, is the equivalent of more than 25 cups of peppermint tea. Make no mistake, essential oils are powerful. Tests have proved them to be anti everything you could wish for - anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial just for a start.

But not all essential oils are the same and only those that are properly produced and 100% pure pack the healing punch. The essential oil market is unregulated with no government body overseeing the industry, so no quality standards and controls and no need to stick to strict guidelines on purity or organics. Pesticides are 'allowed' and many of the larger companies use them. Make sure you research your chosen company well before parting with your cash. Essential oils are not cheap and you want to make sure you are really getting what it says on the bottle.

The company Brad works for, Doterra, aims for nothing less than to make the purest essential oils in the world. They search out the best farmers for each oil, often from small plots all over the world. The requirements for their oil are specific:

  • Proper plant varieties grown in their indigenous regions around the world
  • No chemical pesticides or herbicides
  • Harvested with precise timing to ensure peak properties and extracted with proper temperature and pressure to preserve the oils molecules 

This really is an art form combined with science. How many mass produced oil companies do you think go into that detail and expense? 

How to use essential oils

And did you know that each oil has to be used in a specific way to maximise its efficacy? Some oils can be used around the home, others should be rubbed on various parts of your body (make sure you dilute them in a carrier oil like coconut oil or grape seed oil - that 'carries' them deep into your skin). Some are best to smell, and some you can ingest… but not all of them all of the different ways. The healing properties of essential oils are not a random science but very precise indeed.

Essential oils to cure and relax
Essential oils to cure and relax

I ordered a couple of the Doterra oils to try. It was hard to choose from their extensive range, but eventually I plumped for two single oils: oregano, which helps with digestion and candida (and should always be diluted if rubbed onto your skin), and lavender, because I wanted to try their version of one of the most popular oils for sleep issues and compare it to see if it worked more effectively than other brands. (And I can report that, both in a diffuser and near on a ball of cotton wool, inhaled before I slept - it did!). 

And then two of their oil blends. Here I chose the Anti-ageing combination which is meant to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and give you a smooth and radiant complexion. Yes please! I will report back. And their Outdoor blend, which offers the hope of fending off all bothersome insects - perfect for summer holidays, with flies, wasps and mosquitoes. I am going to Mull in August, famous for its beauty and its swarms of midges. So, we shall see…

My Top 9 favourite oils for different health issues

1. Black Pepper

Helps with digestion and constipation, and good for when you are trying to give up smoking.

2. Cinnamon Bark

Keeps your immune system healthy, and good for air quality boosting.

3. Clary Sage

Helps balance your hormones and eases discomforts of menstruation.

4. Eucalyptus

Clears breathing, sinuses and chesty coughs.

5. Sweet Fennel

Good for menstrual cycle problems and hormonal balance. Supports the lymphatic system.

6. Ginger

Improves libido and boosts the spirits. Anti-inflammatory.

7. Juniper Berry

Supports healthy kidneys and urinary function.

8. Myrrh

Boosts brain function, supports the liver and the cells and decreases inflammation.

9. Vetiver

Good for trauma recovery and nightmares. Calming and immune boosting.

 

Have a watch of the short video interview between Sara and Brad for more on how to use essential oils: