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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Using Essential Oils for Health

Aug 30, 2015 10:05PM
by Mary Kendell
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the use of essential oils. As more and more people demand safer alternatives to synthetic pharmaceuticals, scientists and medical practitioners alike are seeking to validate the numerous health benefits of essential oils.

Essential oils are the naturally occurring extracts derived from the seeds, stems, leaves, flowers or bark of plants or the rinds of citrus fruits. The therapeutic benefits of essential oils have been known for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all reference the use of essential oils for health and wellness. In the story of the three wise men, only three gifts were considered important enough to be offered.  Of those gifts, two were essential oils—frankincense and myrrh.

The use of essential oils was lost in history until 1937. A French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, rediscovered their benefits when he healed a badly burned hand with pure lavender oil. During World War II, therapeutic grade essential oils such as thyme, lemon, clove and chamomile were used to disinfect wounds and sterilize surgical instruments. With the discovery of penicillin in 1942, the therapeutic benefits of essential oils were once again forgotten. Only in the past two decades as more people demand safer alternatives to current pharmaceuticals have essential oils once again gained in popularity.

Derived from the whole plant rather than from its parts, a single essential oil can have hundreds of constituents making the sum of the plant parts greater than the whole. The therapeutic uses of a single oil range from antiviral to antibacterial to antifungal to anti-parasitic, to immune boosting and mood lifting depending on what the body needs and how the oil is used. Examples of the multipurpose use of an individual oil include lavender which can be used to soothe sunburn, bug bites and eczema as well as for its calming and sleep inducing effects. Peppermint can be used to lower a fever, relieve a headache or calm indigestion. Lemon oil can be used in water for detoxification, to relieve a sore throat or for cleaning as a disinfectant.

In addition to their aromatic properties, essential oils are lipid soluable (will mix with oils) and have a low molecular weight allowing them to pass through cell membranes in a way that most prescription medications cannot. These unique characteristics allow essential oils to be used in a variety of ways.

The aromatic properties of essential oils stimulate our sense of smell. Our sense of smell is closely tied to the memory, emotional and stress response centers of the brain. Research has validated the use of aromatherapy in the treatment of mild depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Inhalation of an essential oil can be accomplished with a diffuser or by simply placing the oil in your hand, cupping your hands over your nose and breathing deeply.

The small molecular structure and weight allows essential oils to readily penetrate the skin making them ideal for topical use. The palms of the hand, soles of the feet, forehead, scalp, behind the ears, inside the wrists and armpits are the most permeable as they are areas that have the least amount of subcutaneous fat. With few exceptions, essential oils, if pure, can also be ingested. This however, should only be done at the recommendation of a practitioner who is knowledgeable in their use.

Mary Kendell is a board certified Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner and ASSECT certified sexual health counselor. Specializing in sexual health in sexual health concerns, Kendell regularly utilizes aromatherapy as part of her integrative approach to health and wellness. To reach for more information, email [email protected] or call 202-833-5055.


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