By Wendy Selvig, Certified Aromatherapist
Essential oils are no longer just for hippies! In the 60’s when grandma was living the life and rubbing herself down in Patchouli and Ylang Ylang, the medical community turned it’s nose to essential oils. The funny thing is that before the law changed and said that pharmaceutical companies couldn’t patent a natural substance, the drug stores and pharmaceutical companies were SELLING essential oils!
What are essential oils exactly? Essential oils are the volatile liquids from inside living plants. In contrast, they are not the fatty molecules that comes from seeds. You see, seeds have fatty oils that are full of calories/energy and their purpose is to help a baby plant grow. Seed oil has what that seed needs to produce a baby plant and get it growing above the ground and towards the sun. A seed oil leaves an “oily” residue on your clothing if you drop some on yourself, while an essential oil will evaporate leaving no residue (an exception is a citrus oil that has been cold-pressed from the rind – sometimes wax from the rind can leave behind a residue.)
Once the plant is established, there are fluids that travel inside the plant (kind of like blood circulates in humans). These fluids act like an immune system and are quite complex chemically. As a matter of fact, not one plant essential oil has been completely mapped out chemically (they are that complicated). These fluids fight off viruses, fungi and bacteria. If a plant is wounded, they rush to the site and help to mend or seal the area. In trees, when it is freezing outside the essential oil reaches to the very tips of the branches and act as an anti-freeze to keep the plants from freezing. They are protective and supportive and of course, completely nature-made. Their complexity allows the ability to fight off invaders and without the essential oil, a plant wouldn’t have a fighting chance in the earthly environment it lives in.
So plants and humans have been on the scene together for a very long time. Essential oil molecules from plants are volatile. They are so tiny that they are lighter than air, so the molecules often are floating around in the air we breathe. Our bodies have learned to recognize these plant molecules and are not seen as foreign invaders. As a matter of fact, our bodies recognize and respond to the molecules and the plant molecules work similarly in our bodies doing some of the same things for us as they do for the plants. It’s quite wonderful really. And, because our bodies recognize the molecules, there are little to zero side effects of having them on, in or around our bodies.
Now because of FDA regulations, we have to be careful of the language we choose to describe how the plants work in our bodies. I can’t just say that “essential oils kill cancer,” or that “essential oils fight viruses.” That would be making a medical claim and thus classifying the oil as a drug (which it is not.) It actually wouldn’t be correct to make these claims anyway because what essential oils do is support OUR body systems. They help our bodies to work better and to perform better at what THEY are supposed to do. Our bodies fight cancer and kill viruses, so these oils support our body and help our body to do it’s job. So, a better way to explain what these oils do is to say that certain oils (like Frankincense and Lemon) support the healthy replication of DNA or that they (like Thieves oil) support a healthy immune system.
There is plenty of research available if you really want to know what essential oils do in the human body. I am not trying to send you to any one website, you can Google search or look in medical journals. Pubmed.gov is one good source. University websites are other sources. You can search for certain essential oils and see all the trials and medical reports from chemists and doctors who are studying essential oils. People who sell essential oils do not fall under free speech laws and therefore are not allowed to make medical claims about them. Non-profit organizations and scientists who are not selling them ARE allowed to freely tell you what they do, so you have to do your own research to find people who can freely tell you their research data.
Essential oils are very concentrated and very effective in humans and animals and they have no side effects. In fact, many of the research articles you will find on the Internet are drug companies trying to take them apart to see how they work so that they can pattern drugs after them. They are a part of nature’s pharmacy and a great support to keeping our bodies healthy.
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