An Introduction to Essential Oils
By Susan Hilton RN, MSN
Essential Oils have been used for centuries. In the history of mankind it seems that the Egyptians were the first people to make extensive use of aromatherapy and aromatic herbs, and included their use in religion, cosmetics and health and wellness purposes.
Aromatic essences and resins were used extensively in the embalming process. It was thought that most essential oils were produced in Egypt by the method known as enfleurage extraction. But the Egyptians did have access to the distillation method through the Mesopotamians, as distillation pots have been found at Tepe Gawra dating back to about 3,500 BC.
The medicinal wisdom of the Egyptians was taken over and absorbed by the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates (c.460 – 377 BC), the most well-known physician of that time, was also a firm believer in treating the patient holistically and included aromatherapy massage as a treatment.
The term aromatherapy as we know it today was first coined in 1937 by the French chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse. He was not a believer in the natural health movement, but was interested in the properties that essential oils exhibited.
In 1910, Gattefosse burned his hand badly in his laboratory and, using the first available compound handy, treated his badly burned hand with pure undiluted lavender oil. This not only immediately eased the pain, but helped heal the hand without any sign of infection or scar. He also found that minute amounts of essential oils are absorbed by the body and interact with the body chemistry.
During the Second World War, as a result of Gattefosse’s experiments, Dr. Jean Valet used essential oils with great success to treat injured soldiers. In the 1950s, Marguerite Maury started diluting essential oils in vegetable carrier oil and massaging it onto the skin using a Tibetan technique, of applying oils along the spinal column in the area of spinal nerve endings. She was also the first person to start the use of “individually prescribed” combinations of essential oils to suit the needs of the person being massaged. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the use of essential oils and aromatherapy has become a major part of alternative and holistic health systems, and now has a huge following across the world.
So, what are essential oils? Essential oils are the volatile liquids of the plant. They are the essence of the plant. They are obtained from properly distilling any part of the plant, including the seeds, roots, bark, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers or branches.
Essential oils are convenient, quick and easy to use. They support the body and help it to come back into balance without harmful side effects or the use of chemical based products. The molecule size of essential oils is so small that they can immediately penetrate the skin and cell membranes. They contain oxygen molecules that can transport nutrients to cells that are nutrient and/or oxygen deprived. Our cells need oxygen!
Essential oils are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants strengthen the body’s systems to help prevent the damaging effects of aging, poor diet, and the environment, and they help to eliminate free radicals.
Essential oils soothe muscles and joints. They support the immune system. They soothe digestion. They revitalize aging skin and soothe irritated skin. Essential oils benefit green household products. Essential oils are non-toxic and promote wellness.
Essential oils can be used by three methods: topical application or direct application on the skin; inhalation of the oils; internal consumption by taking them orally. Internal consumption may include swallowing a capsule of oil, placing the oils in a drink or putting them directly in your mouth. Please check to make sure your oils can be taken in this manner!
Most edible (ingestible) oils are designated by the following labels:
GRAS – Generally Regarded as Safe. Examples are Lemon, Orange and Peppermint essential oils.
FA – FDA Approved Food Additive. Examples are Clove and Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oils.
FL – Flavoring Agent. Examples are Eucalyptus (certain species) and Valerian essential oils.
At The Nature Cottage we have a knowledgeable staff ready to help you with your health or wellness issues. We offer several therapies using essential oils as well as consultations to review your history to determine how essential oils can benefit your health. We’re located at 208 E. Center St in Lexington.