My very first day in Avignon, my host father took introduced me to wild French herbs– rosemary, thyme, lavender– by crushing them in his fingers. What he was doing was releasing the essential oils in the leaves and stems of the plants, and the scent that was released was intoxicating. That was my very first introduction to the power of scent.
What are essential oils anyway?
Surely you’ve heard about them, maybe you’ve even used them– essential oils are kind of a big deal these days. But are they more hype than substance? And what are you supposed to do with them, anyway?? If you’re asking yourself these questions, don’t worry– you’re not the only one! I’ve dabbled in essential oils since I discovered them in the ’90s, so I think I can shed some light on the subject…
Essential oils (EOs) are the super-concentrated essence of a part of a plant. Some oils, like peppermint, sage, or other herbs, mainly come from the leaves of the plant. Others, like rose, ylang ylang, and other florals, come from the flower. Still others, like cinnamon, cedar, and other woods, come from the bark and stems of the plant. Some oils take many, many pounds of plant material to make just an ounce of oil. That’s why some, like rose or jasmine, can be very expensive.
What the Difference Between EOs and Fragrance Oils?
EOs are derived directly from plants. The process is actually very old, and has been perfected– of course– by perfume makers in France. Grasse, France, is the epicenter of perfume and essential oils. I would love to visit some day. Here’s a great article by a journalist that I am, obviously, super jealous of.
Fragrance oils, on the other hand, are completely synthetic. That’s why you can get fragrances like “butterscotch” or “flannel” in a fragrance oil. There is no way to get an EO from either of those things. Or from “sunshine” or “fresh laundry”. You get the idea…
I Want to dive in!
Will this cost a fortune?
What do I do?
Get yourself some high quality, versatile oils. I always recommend starting with lavender. It smells amazing, is super versatile, and you can’t hurt yourself with it. In fact, modern aromatherapy started from an accident involving lavender that you can read more about here.
It’s true that lavender is great for healing burns and for stopping infection due to its antibiotic qualities. It’s also true that it’s known to be one of the safest oils, even being safe to use during pregnancy and on babies (always check with your doc first, obvs). It’s also true that it just smells ah-ma-zing. When I’m stressed, a good whiff of lavender can calm and center me immediately. Diffuse it in your home or office (if co-workers don’t mind), clean your house with it, heck you can even wear it as a perfume. Lavender=love.
Here are a few other oils I recommend, with a link to a site that I use for amazing prices on amazing oils. They do have a $100 minimum, but I just go in on an order with a friend or two, and then it’s totally affordable. I’m not affiliated with this site, I just love their oils.
- tea tree: antibiotic; I use in place of antibiotic ointment and in cleaning
- sweet orange: it’s yummy, aids concentration, and lifts mood
- peppermint: also yummy; ants and mosquitoes don’t like it; good for tummy upset
- ginger: also wonderful for upset tummys
- ylang ylang: my favorite floral; I mix with lavender to cut the sweetness
OK, Now What?
Now that you’ve got a nice little EO kit, you can start to enjoy their amazing benefits. I suggest:
- Make your own cleaning products with water, a little vinegar, and a blend of a few drops of lavender and tea tree. This will save you a ton of moola and make your house smell amazing. Win-win! (Longer post with recipes to come!)
- Invest in a diffuser. I’ve seen them for sale at TJ Maxx and Marshalls for around $20-$30. I really like mine from Pure Spa. Experiment with different blends of oils. You can’t lose– if you don’t like a blend, start over. None of the oils listed above will break your bank.
- Get one of these nifty car diffusers and put a few drops of lavender and sweet orange in it– your commute has just turned into a spa event! Or a less road rage-y event, at least.
- Add a couple drops of ginger or peppermint oil to hot water to aid an upset stomach (just 1-2 drops, no more! This is for adults only; for children, talk to your pediatrician.)
- Make your own fragrance: add a couple drops of lavender and ylang ylang to a cotton ball and put in your bra. Your body heat will diffuse the oils, and these EOs are safe for your skin. A patch test is never a bad idea, however!
- Have fun!
Essential oils are an amazing gift from mother nature, but they do need to be treated with respect. They are super concentrated, and some of them have been developed by plants to kill insects. EOs should always be handled like the powerful substances they are. NEVER get them near your eyes, and do not ingest them without verifying their safety, and do not use them when pregnant (some can cause your body to reject the fetus!!)
** I’m not a trained aromatherapist, I just love EOs and have lots of experience with them. Please, do not use any new EO without researching its effects, and if you are ever in doubt, talk to a certified aromatherapist.