You may have noticed a growing trend around personal use of essential oils, particularly with companies like DoTerra, which train people to learn about, mix, and sell essential oils. Beauty and cosmetics industries have embraced them too, with face, hair, and body oils standing in for creams, balms, and perfumes. Maybe you’ve had them used during a massage as aromatherapy or even scented your bath with lavender for relaxation. But essential oils go well beyond their uses in beauty products, they are gaining traction in the medical world as well, with studies measuring everything from their ability to fight bacterial infections to their potential for treating conditions as varied as dermatitis and depression. A 2015 article in The Atlantic delved into their use in farms, as an alternative to antibiotics for animals. The results are highly promising.
So, what are essential oils exactly? They’re plant extracts, in heavy concentration. And their proven medical properties are nothing new. As The Atlantic points out, aspirin derives from willow bark, malaria treatment is still based on fever-tree bark, morphine comes from the poppy plant, and a specific cancer drug is taken from the Pacific yew tree.
Studies on essential oils continue to stack up, though many have been done in lab settings, and require more research. A notable Italian study, according to The Atlantic, found that a mixture of thyme and clove essential oils treated bacterial vaginosis as effectively as the usual course of antibiotics, and, in the U.S. a study found that vapors of tea-tree oil healed staph-infected wounds faster than traditional treatment. Related to this was a 2013 report that a lemongrass-based oil was just as effective at reducing MRSA as a standard anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. These findings are substantial, since MRSA infections—and other superbugs—have become a growing health crisis in hospitals, especially as we become more resistant to them through our overuse of antibacterial products.
In the book, Just the Essentials, author Adina Grigore, a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and founder of the all-natural skincare line S.W. Basics, helps us understand the fundamentals of essential oils, and offers up DIY recipes for various ailments. “Essential oils,” she explains, “are truly the sum of their parts, with unique elements in each that work together to provide particular health benefits.” Also, when buying them, it’s important to know what you’re actually getting. Though technically, an essential oil is a plant extract, it’s seventy to eighty times stronger than an “extract.” “For instance,” writes Grigore, “you would need to drink more than twenty-eight cups of peppermint tea to match the potency of one drop of peppermint oil.” However, keep in mind that pure essential oils are not to be ingested.
In her book, designed as a primer for those looking to introduce essential oils into their health regimen, she offers up her top 10 oils for beginners, with DIY recipes for each. Here are three to get you started:
Good For: Antibacterial, Astringent, Antiseptic Agent, Anti-Inflammatory
How to Use: As a countertop spray
1 cup water
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
20 drops lemon oil
Good For: Soothing muscle aches and pains, including migraines
How to Use: Mixed with olive oil as a migraine soother, applied to temples, between eyebrows, under nostrils, behind ears
2 drops cinnamon leaf oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
Tea Tree Oil
Good For: Antiviral, Anti-Inflammatory
How to Use: As a mouthwash to kill oral bacteria and treat gingivitis
1 cup water
1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide
1-6 drops tea tree oil
Pour ingredients into a bottle and shake well before using. Follow by brushing teeth and store for up to 1 year.
For more great essential oil recipes, check out Just the Essentials: How Essential Oils Can Heal Your Skin, Improve Your Health, and Detox Your Life.
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