October's Health Genie: Essential Oils

Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.

Dear Health Genie,

I heard another customer asking about essential oils. I enjoy different scents but I am not sure I understand exactly what essential oils are. Are these perfumes, extracts or something else? Can you suggest a few practical uses for essential oils I could explore?

Nosey Josey

Dear Josey,

Essential oils are highly concentrated mixtures of aromatic volatile compounds from plants, created by steam distillation, expression or extraction. In this case, volatility describes dispersion in air, a quality that helps us detect and smell these compounds, even from some distance. Pure essential oils are 100% natural and contain no carrier oil. Essential oils, even if unadulterated are not safe for ingestion, because they include compounds that can be harmful in such concentrations. For this reason, essential oils are generally used  topically or for aromatherapy.

Depending on the plant, the flowers, leaves or bark are used to create essential oils. The processing requires a huge volume of fresh plant and a distillation facility. Since many of the plants used are warm climate plants, there are few, if any, essential oil makers in Vermont.

Fall and winter are great seasons to try using essential oils for health and enjoyment.  For example, essential oils can be helpful with house cleaning because most have some antimicrobial effect. (The legendary Thieves Oil used in the Middle Ages to stave off epidemic disease was made of many essential oils.) Because many essential oils overlap in chemical composition you do not need an exact formula to achieve the desired effect. Clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, lavender, cedar, sage, juniper, orange and lime are several essential oils particularly reputed for house cleaning and sanitation. You can dilute 5 to 10 drops of any of these oils in a bucket of water with a 1/4 cup of white vinegar for a floor cleaner, for example. Additionally, peppermint essential oil is  popularly used in homes for mouse deterrence.

Due to the volatile quality, when used on the body or inhaled, essential oils tend to have dispersing or decongestant effects. Most oils should be diluted before applying to the skin, and use of essential oils on sensitive skin should be avoided. Also, it is advised you not use the same essential oil on the same area for months at a time, as you could develop sensitivity.  Although we avoid ingesting the oils, inhaling the vaporized essential oils can be soothing to the sinuses, lungs and the mind - some favorites are eucalyptus, thyme, juniper and wintergreen. 

Please note that many oils are flammable and act as strong solvents. They are best stored in amber glass bottles with a tight lids and a child proof cap. The amber glass protects the oils from sun light (UV) and these containers are best kept in a dark, cool place with temperature fluctuations kept to a minimum. Keep the oils safely locked away from children at all times.

What follows are a few of the Health Genie’s home recipes for essential oils. All of the ingredients, including containers, can be found at the Co-op. All of these recipes have respiratory comfort and aromatherapy in mind for the fall and winter months. You may prefer a more or less concentrated mixture than suggested here, so adapt the recipes to your sensitivity, preference and needs. Remember to wear gloves and use a natural sponge. Children may prefer applications that use half as much oil or less or incorporate milder scents like spearmint and lavender.

Juniper Salt Scrub

½ cup salt (any salt: table salt, rock salt, sea salt, pink Himalayan salt)
¼ cup carrier oil (any low odor oil: grapeseed, apricot kernel, jojoba)
10 drops juniper essential oil (or substitute sage, cedar or another essential oil of your choice)
1 tablespoon juniper berries ground, for color and presentation (optional)
Mix and store in an air tight container. Rub on chest and back in shower or bath.

Vaporous Chest Rub

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½-1 teaspoon beeswax
20 drops eucalyptus essential oil
5 drops wintergreen essential oil
5 drops thyme essential oil (omit for skin types prone to redness)
Glass or stainless steel container with a wide mouth and a lid, for storage

Melt the beeswax using lowest heat possible in a glass, enamel or stainless steel pan. Remove from heat, add the olive oil and stir. If the mixture becomes hard, return to heat until it is melted and then remove from heat.

Quickly add the essential oils and pour into the storage container. Cover with  a paper towel or cloth and cap when the mixture has cooled.

This rub can be used in the shower or bath to invigorate the senses, sinuses and chest. It is especially comforting applied to the chest, neck and temples of a cold or flu sufferer.

Sinus Oil

1 oz of a gentle carrier oil (jojoba, apricot kernel or grapeseed oil)
5-10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
5-10 drops sage, lavender or cedarwood essential oil
Airtight container, preferably amber glass

Combine all ingredients and put in airtight container.

Dab or massage a small amount onto forehead, bridge of nose, temples, throat, behind ears, back of neck and anywhere else you instinctively choose.

Enjoy the essentials,
The Health Genie

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