My guide to essential oils

My guide to essential oils


Essential oils are all the rage.  The United States is now the largest importer and consumer of essential oils in the world ($2,721 million in 2013).  It seems that lately every time I get together with a friend she starts talking about essential oils that she just bought.  I got invited to Essential Oils Party three times since the beginning of the year.  I said “no” every time.  It’s not like I know everything about the subject, but I’m not looking to learn anything new at the moment.   I have been using essential oils for over a decade, and what I learned seems to be enough for now.  Here I’m going to share my experience.


Lemon, Dill and Cinnamon are my three favorite smells and oils

Stage 1 – Believer
In the first yoga class I ever attended a teacher started off by lighting a tea candle in her little device that heated essential oils and they spread around a room like a blanket of calm and serenity.  She was covered with tattoos (at least in all the places I could see).  She lived for years with monks in Tibet.  She had an air of solemn tenderness and practiced a spiritual approach to yoga (none of that weight loss talk during the class).   I was hooked.  I kept coming back.  I got to the point where the moment my olfactory sensory neurons registers the presence of her blend of essential oils in the air my brain entered the state of calm and peace. Unfortunately, the confines of a city life didn’t agree with her free spirit and soon she was off on another globe trotting adventure, essential oils and all.  After a few attempts at finding a motivating teacher, I started practicing yoga at home.  I bought an oil warmer of my own.   After years of use it looks like something Aladdin might have pulled out of a cave.

You see?  I told you it looks antique.  You just lift the lid and light your candle.  The oil goes on top.  Once the lid gets warm, it warms up the essential oil.

Burning essential oils was fun!  Over the year I tried more than my share of about 90 known essential oils in combinations and alone.  From Bergamot that is hailed for improving mood and digestion to Russian Birch that supposed to purify the blood.  From Bitter Almond and Caraway that are supposed to remove toxins to Cinnamon that not only considered a brain tonic but also supposed to be an effective birth control (no, I didn’t try it as a birth control but that would have explained three children one after another).  Did those oils do anything?  Hard to tell.  I am not sure my blood needed any purification to begin with.  And it was hard to measure my levels of toxicity before and after the oils.  Scientists say that it’s hard to do a quality research with essential oils.  In a typical research study one group of participants gets an experimental substance and another one, called “control group” gets placebo.  However, when it comes to essential oils it’s really tricky to hide them.  Participants know, when they smell lavender or basil.  (Yes, a few masked studies were attempted). Not only people associate smells with past experiences, their beliefs about what oils are doing to them influences the sensations they report.


Stage 2 – Sceptic
And of course, there is an issue of separating apples from bananas.  People who use essential oils are often happen to be people who are likely to take care of their bodies in other ways too.  I consider myself a very healthy person.  Did the oils do that?  I eat healthy, exercise regularly, spend time outside every day, practice yoga and meditate.  So, it’s hard to say, if essential oils played any role in my well-being.  Remember I mentioned earlier the state of calm I experienced once I smelled essential oils at the start of yoga practice?  Well, with years I learned that I could enter that state of calm without any essential oils.  Once I had children I had to say goodbye to my oil warmer for the fear of one of them splattering burning oil over their happy little faces. And you know what?  The moment I step on yoga mat I still enter a state of deep calm no matter how chaotic things are around me (i.e. three kids squealing and bouncing off the walls).  Relaxation Response triggered by a presence of yoga mat.  No oils required.  

I can tell you for a fact that no amount of Lavender was ever able to put me to sleep when I suffered from insomnia.  I even cooked Lavender muffins (I still have almost a pound of Cooking Lavender ordered from France).  Sewing that Lavender in my kids’ pillows didn’t help them entering the land of Nod any quicker either.  But it smells good… Just looking at it makes me almost smell it in the air.

Culinary Lavender

Stage 3 – Realist
So why do I still use essential oils?  It’s not the promise of a miraculous cure of all ills.  I simply like a good smell and essential oils smell good.  One of my most favorite aromas – fresh lemons.  I like it so much I typically eat four pounds of lemons a week.  Not only I eat them with honey, I like to drink hot water with a piece of lemon in it (I’m doing it right now).  But then sometimes I don’t feel like eating or drinking lemons and then I can smell my Lemon Oil and be happy.  Sometimes I use essential oils because of habit.  When as a child I had a cold my mom boiled some eucalyptus leaves and made me breathe deeply over the steam with a blanket over my head.  I don’t have any eucalyptus leaves in my house now but I do have Eucalyptus essential oil and breathing it in brings to me recollection of days long gone, when having a cold meant laying under a blanket with a pile of favorite books and not running after three ill children.  Eucalyptus might be not doing anything, but it makes me feel warm, safe and … better.

Research does support the fact that essential oils have profound psychological and even physiological effects.  According to Higley and Higley, authors of Reference Guide to Essential Oils, the odor molecules travel through the nose and affect the brain through a variety of receptor sites, one of which is a limbic system.  And limbic system is connected to those parts of the brain that control stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, hormonal balance. breathing, and memory.  Childhood memories and convictions seem to be the hardest to break.  And you know what?  It’s hard not to be hooked on essential oils, if you have (I earnestly wished to mention this thing from the beginning of a post)  Ultrasonic Air Diffuser.  You see that blue thing in my kitchen?  It actually changes colors.

Humidifier and oil diffuser all in one.  And the best feature? Auto shut off!  If you are perpetually sleep deprived and can’t remember anything, it’s a very important feature.  So, if you bought a bunch of essential oils and don’t know what to do with them, get this thing.  It can be used in a kitchen.  Or in a bathroom.

And it blends right in.  I tried it in kids’ rooms, but changing colors get them too excited.  So do I think essential oils worth all that fuss?  Not really.  But if nothing else, your house will smell nice and you will have a new hobby.

I like to buy this kit as a present.  The best price you can find

What I know for sure

  • Essential oil is technically not an oil since it doesn’t have fatty acids.  Essential oil refers to a concentrated components of the plant from which it was derived.  It’s “essential” in a way that it contains the essence of plant’s fragrance. 
  • Essential oils can enter the body in three ways: skin, ingested, inhaled.
  • Essential oils can be toxic, so if you are a beginner start with a good Reference book, like The Complete Book of Essential Oils by Valerie Warwood or find a good website like Sustainable Baby Steps (they have a nice Essential Oils Safety page). 
  • Lavender from one brand is not the same as Lavender from another.  The seasons, the geography, the weather conditions at the time of harvest as well as how they are processed, packaged and stored will influence the chemistry of essential oils.  So, if you find essential oils you like, stick with it.
  • There is no such thing as Blueberry essential oil, so if someone is trying to sell you one, don’t buy it.  There is Blueberry fragrance though, so you want to smell like Blueberry, you know what to buy. 
I hope you will find this helpful, 


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