The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
Over 800 Natural, Nontoxic, and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health, Beauty, and Safe Home and Work Environments
By Valerie Ann Worwood
New World Library Copyright © 2016 Valerie Ann Worwood
All rights reserved.
Medicines Out of the Earth
The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them.
— Ecclesiasticus 38:4
Essential oils provide us with a fragrant pharmacy full of remedies and delights for all aspects of our lives. This is an extraordinary fact. Already we know the earth provides us with food and water, but to realize as well that nature offers us a huge variety of plant essences capable of solving so many problems, and in addition giving us so much joy — well, that is something to rejoice in.
People have always found around them a number of plants that can heal — medicines out of the earth. But we live in a specially blessed time because we can look around the global village and take from around the world a huge variety of aromatic essential oils distilled from healing plants. This is new. We have a vast selection to choose from, never before available to humankind.
Essential oils are extracted from certain varieties of trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, roots, fruits, and flowers. The oil is concentrated in different parts of the plant. Vetiver oil is made from the roots of the grass species Vetiveria zizanoides; bay oil is extracted from the leaves of Laurus nobilis. Geranium oil comes from the plant's leaves and stalks, cumin oil comes from the seeds, and ginger oil comes from the rhizomes, while rose oil comes from the fragrant petals of the rose flower. Myrrh, frankincense, and benzoin oils are extracted from the resin of their respective trees. Mandarin, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and bergamot oils are extracted from the peel of the fruits, and pine oil comes from the needles and twigs of pine trees, while sandalwood comes from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree.
If you were to look at lavender under a microscope, you'd see the smooth round glands that contain the essential oil, surrounded by a forest of spiky nonsecretory trichomes. Many varieties of plants have similar sessile secretory glands that appear as round, distinct units with a cuticle, or outer membrane, protecting a package of secretory cells. In other species of plants, the essential oil–producing glands look like microscopic stalks. In seeds, the essential oil is stored in vittae, little pockets on the outer surface. In orange and lemon, oil cavities are found in the outer portion of the peel. In clove, a multitude of endogenous oil glands lie just beneath the surface, while in frankincense, resin globules are released from oil ducts. In ginger, the essential oil is found in secretory cells of parenchyma tissue, while in cedarwood the secretory cells line resin ducts.
The oil is extracted from the plant by a variety of means, depending again on the particular species. The most common method is steam distillation; other methods include CO extraction, expression, enfleurage, maceration, and solvent extraction. There are hundreds of species of eucalyptus tree, but they're not all used for the production of essential oils. Likewise, there are innumerable varieties of geranium, most of which are wholly unsuitable for essential oil extraction. Having said that, aromatherapy is a science that's expanding. New plants are being distilled into essential oils, adding to our assets in the fragrant pharmacy.
Each oil has its own medicinal and other properties. Research has confirmed centuries of experience of using the plants from which essential oils are derived. We now know that the fragrant pharmacy contains essential oils that are antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antineuralgic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, antivenomous, antitoxic, antidepressant, sedative, nervine, analgesic, carminative, digestive, decongestive, expectorant, deodorant, restorative, circulatory, diuretic, vulnerary, and much more besides.
There is a wide range of methods of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes, including external application, inhalation, oral ingestion, and suppositories. Their small molecular size means essential oils can be absorbed extremely easily and quickly. Methods used externally include body oils, compresses, gels, lotions, and baths — including hand and foot baths. Inhalation methods include diffusers, room sprays, vaporizers, and a whole range of other environmental methods, as well as simply inhaling directly from the bottle or from a tissue. Although the food and drink and drug industries add essential oils to products that are ingested orally, they are seldom used this way for medicinal purposes in the home unless under the direction of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
The method of use that's chosen will determine both the rate and extent of absorption. Other factors to consider include a person's age, size, diet, and genetics. The rate of healing may differ too if a person has a metabolic disorder or a condition affecting the heart, liver, or kidneys.
Each essential oil has its own story to tell. In the case of jasmine, each flower is picked by hand on the very first day it opens, before the sun becomes hot, whereas the sandalwood tree could be thirty years old and thirty feet high before it's considered ready for distillation. Between these two extremes, a whole range of growing and picking conditions apply to the plants that will ultimately provide the precious essential oils. The price of each oil reflects these conditions; because it takes around 4 million hand-picked jasmine blossoms to produce 1.1 pounds of oil, you can understand why that is one of the most expensive oils on the market. Rose otto essential oil is also costly because it takes around 4,500 pounds of rose flower heads to make 1 pound of oil, while lavender oil is cheaper because it takes only 150 pounds of flower heads to produce the same amount. Obviously, yields vary from location to location, and this too can affect prices.
The trade in essential oils is worldwide, with consignments passing between the United States, France, China, Brazil, Bulgaria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Réunion, Australia, Argentina, Israel, the United Kingdom, Japan, Thailand, South Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Guatemala, Egypt, Somalia, and Spain, among many other places!
On average, an essential oil contains 100 chemical components. The main components fall within broader groups, such as alcohols, esters, ketones, phenols, terpenes, and aldehydes. But each oil also has a number of smaller trace compounds that even today cannot be identified. It's these mysterious compounds that distinguish essential oils from a simple collection of chemical constituents and gives them their complexity and unique properties. Think of it like this: the human body is 60% to 73% water, having a higher percentage at the obese end of the body mass spectrum — yet when we look in the mirror we don't see a big puddle of water. Likewise, an essential oil could be 30% to 60% linalyl acetate, but that's just the beginning of its story. Some essential oils have as many as 300 components, some as yet unidentified, and the idea that all the known phytochemicals could be put in a pot and made into that essential oil is as presumptuous as thinking a person can be reduced to a number of molecules, starting with the largest in terms of volume, water.
Essential oils are not complex just in terms of their chemistry. They have a whole range of interesting properties that together make them hugely vibrant. In terms of their electromagnetic frequency or vibrational signature, some have a higher megahertz reading than others. The electrical properties of essential oils are defined in terms of positive-negative and polarity. An aroma molecule might be negative and polar, negative and nonpolar, positive and polar, or positive and nonpolar. And even individual components have their own electrical characteristics. Some essential oils have optical activity and rotate light clockwise; some, counterclockwise — being dextrorotatory and levorotatory, respectively. Their components are crystalline in structure. Put all these things together alongside the body of a human being who also has these properties, and there can be a marriage of harmony and potential.
Essential oils are hugely versatile and also come in the most convenient form to exploit that versatility. A few drops of pure lavender oil applied to a minor burn effects the most remarkable cure as the skin returns to normal within days, whereas without it there could be a blistering patch and, eventually, a scar. You can return to the same small bottle when you have a headache — one drop rubbed on the temples often brings relief. And because lavender is a natural deterrent of mosquitoes and moths, among other insects, it can as easily be dabbed onto a ribbon and hung at the window to deter the former, or put on a cotton ball and placed in the wardrobe to deter the latter. The natural antibiotic and antiseptic qualities of lavender oil make it a highly effective wash for cuts and grazes and also a good addition to the wash water for cleaning tables, tiles, and floors. Its fresh aroma makes lavender a delight to use anywhere and any time, and it's great to include in an air freshener. One little bottle, used with different methods, can attend to issues both physiological and environmental, and just because lavender can be used as an air freshener that's not to say it wouldn't be of huge benefit to burn units in hospitals. Indeed, I can't think of anything that would be more appropriate to use as an air freshener in burn units! That's the thing about essential oils — they can do more than one thing at a time.
Plants are chemical factories inhabiting the interface between light and dark, sun and earth, drawing energy from each and synthesizing this into molecules of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They provide our food, and the food of the animals we eat. Plant cells are similar to ours in that they have membranes, DNA, and a range of organelles including Golgi bodies and mitochondria. We're family. We've evolved together. We can't think of plants as inferior to us, because while they can live without us, we can't live without them. That's the relationship between us. So turning to plants for help is like turning to our extended family.
We're all increasingly aware of the number of synthetic chemicals in our lives today, whether we like them or not. They leach from carpets, flooring, and furniture. They're in home cleaning products. They're used in the production of food, in our public water systems, and in the products we put on our faces, hair, and bodies. They're in the very air we breathe. It may seem that escape from this onslaught of synthetic chemicals is impossible. However, for some jobs around the home we can replace the usual shop-bought products with essential oils, and we can make our own entirely natural body, hair, and face products, perfumes, and air fresheners. We can use essential oils in the garden to encourage plant growth and protect our plants from insects. We can use these powerful natural essences on our bodies to alleviate all manner of physical problems, and we can use them for the well-being of our family and friends. You can see from the contents of this book that essential oils are useful and effective in a staggering variety of ways. And each time we use them, we avoid using synthetic chemicals in our lives because we're lucky enough to have been given natural alternatives.
We have been given a huge gift from Mother Nature, and essential oils are something we can feel confident about using if we treat them with the respect they deserve. It might be easy to suppose that because they're so sweet smelling, the value of essential oils is their charm. This would be a mistake. Scientists in labs all over the world are discovering that when they compare the effects of a complete essential oil to those of its main chemical constituents, the essential oils come out on top. They might smell sweet and lovely, but they're potent and work very hard too.
We're All Individuals
In this book, as in the first edition, I very often recommend for particular physical or mental conditions not only specific blends but alternative essential oils, for the very important reason that not everyone is the same. That sounds obvious, but when it comes to using essential oils, although a particular essential oil might suit most people, there are likely to be some for whom that particular essential oil is not so effective. This has nothing to do with the efficacy of that particular essential oil, and possibly has something to do with genetics. Scientists are now realizing that some pharmaceutical drugs simply do not work for everyone, and they're increasingly researching the relationship between those drugs and the genes of these nonresponsive people. For example, a whole range of statin medicines have been examined for causing myotoxicity (a toxic effect on muscle) in some people, who appear to be having these symptoms because they have a certain genetic makeup. In the future, we may all have to accept the need for our medical records to include our full genetic profile. When using essential oils, don't be disheartened if a particular oil isn't as effective for you as it seems to be for others; simply choose another that has similar properties.
Essential Oils — Not So New
Don't think there's anything unusual about essential oils — they've been around a long time. The original recipe for Coca-Cola, invented by John Pemberton in 1886, included the essential oils of orange, lemon, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and neroli. Chewing gum would never have made it off the ground without peppermint and spearmint essential oils. Today, essential oils are widely used in the food and drink industry to give natural flavor and aroma, and they are also used as preservatives. Essential oil components are even put in packaging film to protect food from deterioration. Manufacturers of cosmetics have long appreciated the cell-rejuvenating and beautifying properties of essential oils, and no respectable spa treatment would be without them. Indeed, the essential oil ingredients in products are often their chief selling point. In the past, the entire perfume industry was based on essential oils, although, unfortunately, today they've largely been replaced by synthetic ingredients — which is perhaps why so many people have negative physical reactions to modern fragrance products.
Essential oils are truly holistic in that they affect mind, body, and spirit. The mood-enhancing properties of certain essential oils ensured their inclusion in old-style perfumes. Put simply, they made people feel better. Also aromatics have always been used in spiritual practice — think about the frankincense and myrrh resin burned in huge quantities in certain churches, with great plumes of aromatic smoke engulfing the congregation. Native Americans put fragrant sage and cedar on hot rocks in the sweat lodge for ritual purification and spiritual connection. At the coronation of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the essential oils of neroli, rose, cinnamon, jasmine, and benzoin were included in the coronation oil with which she was anointed, the act that set the seal of God's approval.
Today there are around 300 essential oils easily available, but a well-chosen starting selection of around 10 essential oils will provide enough choice to meet the requirements of most home practitioners. Essential oils should be treated with respect, but also with confidence. Use your common sense, follow the instructions in this book, purchase with care and deliberation, and enjoy!
When the combination is more than the sum of the parts, there's a synergistic effect. Mixing together two or more essential oils creates a compound that's different from any of the component parts, and these blends can be very particular and powerful. A blend can increase potency without increasing the dosage. For example, the anti-inflammatory action of chamomile essential oil is greatly increased by adding lavender in the correct proportion. The interaction of particular essential oils with each other gives a vibrancy and dynamism to the whole that might not be achieved by using a single essential oil on its own.
The important point about synergistic blends is that the proportions should be correct, and sometimes it's necessary to prepare more, in volume, than initially needed so that the smallest component oils can be incorporated into the whole in the right proportions. Diluted in a body oil, you may have a component part that is only 0.001% of the whole, and yet that minuscule amount is integral to the whole.
Throughout this book you'll see there are instructions for making blends, and this is best done by mixing the essential oils in a separate bottle. You can use the exact number of drops shown, or multiply all the components in the formula by the same rate. In this way you get a larger volume of the synergistic blend for future use.
Several essential oils act as metabolic regulators. These adaptogens, as they're called, will instigate a reaction in the body that is appropriate to achieving a state of homeostasis, or balance. The reactions affect the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and blood pressure, among others. For example, lemon essential oil works on the autonomic nervous system, acting as a sedative when needed, or as a tonic. Peppermint is another oil that might be found on both "relaxant" and "stimulant" lists, and this apparent contradiction can cause confusion unless you understand that these are adaptogens. Interestingly, there are other natural products that fall into this group, including the herb mint and the root ginseng. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood. Copyright © 2016 Valerie Ann Worwood. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.