Essential oils don’t just smell wonderful – they’re packed full of health benefits too. From soothing lavender to immune-boosting frankincense, here’s a quick roundup of our favorite essential oils.
What are Essential Oils?
Whenever you smell a flower or herb, you’re experiencing the marvelous aroma of an essential oil. These precious oils are made up of ‘volatile aromatic compounds’ – small, organic molecules that can quickly change from their solid or liquid state to gas when at room temperature.
As well as giving plants their fragrance, essential oils have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal and therapeutic properties. Every essential oil contains a unique concoction of these volatile aromatic compounds, meaning that each has its own special benefits and traits.
Lavender is by far the most well known essential oil out there, and for good reason. The perfumed plant has been used in medicine for at least 2,500 years. The Romans loved the stuff, washing in it as a way to cleanse both the body and spirit. It’s not surprising then that the name comes from the Latin root lavare, meaning ‘to wash’.
Modern research backs up lavender’s credentials as a light sedative, producing a calming and soothing effect when the scent is inhaled. For those who face the nightly struggle of switching off, inhaling the scent lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, encouraging a restful, natural sleep.
In one study 10 men and women suffering from insomnia were treated with lavender scent. By the end of the study all of the participants had benefited from improvement in the quality of their sleep. In the same way that lavender may be able to help our bodies relax, recent research has also shown that it can potentially reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
But there’s more to this perfumed plant than just its reputation as a relaxant. Lavender may also be able to help those suffering from alopecia. Research involving 86 participants with alopecia showed that those who massaged their scalps with lavender oil for seven months experienced considerable hair growth compared to those who hadn’t.
We’re all familiar with the strong and fresh taste of peppermint, whether it’s the minty freshness of our toothpaste or the delicious combination of mint and chocolate. However, peppermint is also a fantastic essential oil with a range of purported health benefits.
If you want a natural way to ensure that your breath stays fresh, try rinsing your mouth with a solution of water, peppermint oil and lemon oil. This method has been tried and tested for well over 1,000 years, with modern research suggesting that peppermint oil is more effective than most chemicals found in mouthwash when it comes to reducing cavities.
When consumed in capsule form, peppermint oil has also been shown to be an effective and natural treatment for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). In one study, 75 percent of patients who used peppermint oil reported a 50 percent reduction in symptoms. With so many antimicrobial properties there aren’t many ailments that peppermint can’t go some way to helping. Peppermint oil may also be able to relieve headaches and sinus pain, boost energy, help alertness, relieve tight muscles, and soothe digestive problems.
If you’re familiar with the story of the Three Wise Men, you’ll probably remember that Frankincense was one of the three gifts offered. This was because the aromatic resin, obtained from plants in the Boswellia family, has long been treasured as a precious incense, known for its healing properties.
Frankincense can potentially benefit all of your body’s systems. It is known for helping to boost the immune system, but it’s also thought that frankincense can aid digestion by cleansing the stomach and intestines of excess gastric acids, enzymes, and food. Frankincense may even be able to provide relief to women suffering from hormone imbalances, helping to ease menstrual symptoms such as cramps and headaches.
Preliminary studies by the University of Leicester showed promising results when frankincense was used to fight ovarian cancer cells. Although more research is needed, this is one essential oil that you should definitely keep an eye out for.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Essential Oils
Essential oils are rarely cheap so making sure you get what you pay for is important. When purchasing your oils, make sure you steer clear from products labelled ‘fragrance oil’ or ‘perfume oil’. More often than not, these contain synthetic materials and don’t have any of the health benefits of the real deal.
The highest quality oils should be labelled as ‘pure essential oil’ and made with 100 percent of your desired oil. When you’re using such a highly concentrated product, it’s always best to look out for organic essential oils. These will prevent you from inhaling pesticides, the effects of which might be magnified in these sorts of products.