Essential Oils 101

Back in the early days of my learning I loved to visit the health food stores. Things were so different back then. I bought some essential oils and I still have them today. They were pure and inexpensive. Still, I had no idea how to use them. In recent years essential oils have become very popular. Two of my friends sell them from different home party companies. I love them both but I buy mostly DoTerra. I love essential oils and I have a lot of them from different companies and I use them for many different products. I watch over my oils like a mother hen and her chicks. They’re my babies. I don’t let just anyone handle them.

There are a lot of things to consider when buying essential oils. The larger companies like DoTerra and Young Living will tell you that they process their oils to be purer and more potent. So do the smaller companies. On the internet you’ll hear phrases like “Can be ingested”, or my favorite, “Only use Therapeutic Grade oils in this recipe”. They’re all therapeutic grade.

The fact is that, just like foraging for wild plants, we are on our own when deciding which essential oil company is the best. We have to make a decision based on limited knowledge and the fact that the FDA doesn’t care if they lie through their teeth to get us hooked on their products. No one is protecting you from lies and fillers and tainted oils. People want good essential oils and essential oil companies want to make money. By law they can say anything they want. Well, that’s the bad news.

The good news is that I believe there is a way to tell if your essential oils are potent and will work for you. Let’s go to our lovely basil plant for the answer. When I pinch off some fresh basil and I inhale the luscious scent, it lifts up whatever mood I am in. I love basil with all my heart. I dry it for winter cooking but I also keep the fresh plant in my kitchen. People often ask me how to tell if an herb has lost its potency. The potency is in the oils of the plant and just like other oils it can go rancid and get old. So a good test is to rub the dried plant between your fingers and inhale. You will be able to tell if it is rancid or if the scent is very faint. I try to replace all my dried plants every year anyway, especially if they are free for the pickin'. But they could go longer if stored in a cool dry place away from light.

One day recently I was smelling away on one of the essential oils I had recently bought in a large quantity for making soap. Of course I got some on my lip and it dripped into my mouth. It was lemongrass. It was very potent. It was not a pleasant sensation. I ran into the kitchen to wash it off thinking, “Watered down? I think not”. Some of the very expensive oils such as melissa (lemon balm) and frankincense will say right on the bottle that they are in a carrier oil of jojoba. This makes it affordable for you and me. Of course you will have to use twice as much as the pure ones. If you use a lot, obviously this is where you will want to buy the pure, undiluted oil.

Test for potency by smelling it. You can’t deny strong scent vs slight scent. All essential oil stands have sniffing testers and coffee beans in a bowl to cleanse your olfactory. This is a learned skill, so…learn it. Get to know your plants by their wonderful scents. Or their stinky scents. Like Yarrow. Smells like my husbands dirty socks after they’ve been in the hamper for a week. Bee balm is prolific here, it’s a mint, and smells like a glorious mixture of all the mints. Part of being an herbalist is to learn what your babies all smell like to help with identification and because using your sense of smell is just so enjoyable.

My five essential essentials:

  • Lemon

  • Peppermint

  • Lavender

  • Tea Tree

  • Eucalyptus

Others I love are Orange, Lemongrass, melissa, lime, and too many more to mention. I love them all.

How to use essential oils:

  • Cleaning supplies. We became chemical-less (We’ll never be free) about four years ago. Now I can’t bear the scents of the cleaning supplies we used to buy.

  • Bath and Body products. So wonderful to soothe my skin with what I know will nourish and heal and it sure does smell wonderful. Besides it’s totally fun to make your own

  • Carrier oils are oils that are used to dilute the essential oil so that it won’t burn your skin – or your lip! Essential oils are very strong andsome cannot be placed on the skin from the bottle, or, NEAT. Lavender, tea tree, chamomile are a few that can be used neat.

  • I make a lot of salves and I would never be without essential oils to add their healing properties to the mix. Lavender is amazing as a burn healer – faster and better than aloe. And it’s very healing for wounds and bruises. People love the scent of my salves because of the addition of lavender mixed with some eucalyptus EO.

How to apply essential oils:

Learn which essential oils can be applied neat – right out of the bottle. You can apply diluted and blended oils to your forehead, the back of your neck, or even your outer ear. I would never place essential oils – even diluted – into the inner ear. Place diluted oils such as eucalyptus over the lung area to help with congestion or over the sinuses to sooth and heal. A massage oil with essential oils is great for sore muscles or joints.

What about ingesting essential oils?

Well….I have an opinion about this. Do you want to hear it? It’s just my opinion and I know I could be wrong. I don’t take essential oils internally, personally. I’ve seen what little drops of lemon oil can do to a plastic cup. I don’t store my essential oil products in plastic because they can erode the plastic and then if I am drinking it I get to ingest that. These oils are strong.

In my next post I will be discussing with you how readily the skin receives whatever you put on it. I believe that the essential oils are best used this way. Through the skin, our largest organ, used properly and often, the benefits will see their way into your healing process.

Wonderful, beautiful essential oils that are the essence of plants I adore are the hub of my apothecary. I couldn’t be without them. But they are only a part of the whole picture. I use them to enhance the healing brought in from the woods and fields – fresh, alive, vital, ingest-able, healing. I use them in a course of therapy but not the therapy. This is where you trust your instincts and your good sense. Use a healthy balance of all that God has spread before us. He gave us options for a reason. And now my friends, it is essential that you purchase some essential oils.

Connie Herbel is an herbalist from Mid-Missouri. You can find her here.

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