What is Aromatherapy and Essential Oils?
Aromatherapy helps you feel good and improves your health through essential oils and aromas, some call aromatherapy therapy with essential oils.
Essential oils are concentrated liquids that have been extracted from parts of plants such as leaves, berries, seeds, bark, resin, wood, fruits and flowers. They have different healing properties and distinctive smells. What is special about essential oils is that they are volatile. This means that they easily evaporate at room temperature. Their particles are also small enough to penetrate our cell membranes. This gives them strong therapeutic effects.
- Steam Distillation: Most Essential Oils Are Made This Way
- Mechanical Expression/Cold Pressing: For Citrus Oils
- Orange: Stress Down
- Bergamot: Mood Boost
- Grapefruit: Focused Energy
- Lemon: Freshen Up
- Clary Sage: Concentrate
- Chamomile: Relax and Sleep
- Eucalyptus: Fight Colds
- Lemongrass: Relieve Stress
- Peppermint: Feel Energetic
- Rosemary: Perform at Work
- Tea Tree: Cleanse Your Home and Skin
- Cedarwood: Reduce Stress
- Cinnamon: Find Focus
- Frankincense: A sense of calm
- Sandalwood: Mood lift
- Spruce: Reduce inflammation
- Geranium: Calm Down
- Jasmine: Better mood
- Lavender: Sleep Well
- Ylang Ylang: Perfect for massage
How They Are Made
Essential oils can be extracted by steam distillation or cold pressing.
Steam Distillation: Most Essential Oils Are Made This Way
Typisk laboratorium for utvinning og testing av eteriske oljer
Steam distillation has long been used to extract essential oils and is a process that preserves the beneficial properties of the plant extracts. Steam distillation is the most common process used to extract essential oils from plant material. By using distillation, it is possible to extract volatile parts of the plant at temperatures lower than the boiling point, and therefore maintain the basic structure of the essential oil. Besides this benefit, it is also easier to separate the essential oils from the water at the end of the process.
Here is the process:
1. Steam is passed through the plant material inside a sealed glass container.
2. The steam evaporates the lighter chemicals found in the plant material.
3. Via a pipe, the steam is collected in a condenser, which cools the steam to a liquid form again.
4. This process generates two products – essential oil and water.
5. Since water and oil do not mix, the essential oil can be easily separated out.
Mechanical Expression/Cold Pressing: For Citrus Oils
Another oil extraction method is cold pressing. It is used to extract essential oils from citrus fruits, for example, lemon, mandarin, lime and sweet orange. This is because citrus oils are damaged if heat is used in their extraction process. You can look at cold pressing as squeezing citrus fruits through a super-fine filter.
First, the peels are removed from the rest of the fruit and finely chopped. They are then stirred and pressed, resulting in a watery, oily paste-like mixture which separates after a few hours when left to stand. The oil is then separated from the watery part at the bottom.
Remember that cold-pressed oils tend to have a short shelf life, so don’t buy large quantities.
The History of Essential Oils
The ancient Egyptians are thought to be the first to use essential oils and aromatherapy about 3500 years ago. They used them as part of their religion, in their cosmetics and for medicinal purposes. Their embalming methods also made extensive use of aromatic resins and oils. They obtained many of their oils by distillation and a method called enfleurage. This involved placing leaves and petals between layers of animal fat which then became mixed with the plant oils.
The Chinese and Indians also used aromatic herbs and other plants. In India, this became part of Ayurvedic medicine.
The ancient Greeks took on much of the Egyptians’ medical knowledge. Hippocrates himself used aromatherapy massage as part of his treatments.
The Romans, in turn, learned from the Greeks. They recognised the import link between health and hygiene and used aromatherapy as part of this philosophy.
When the Roman Empire fell and the Dark Ages began, monks in their monasteries and village herbalists kept the knowledge of herbalism and aromatherapy alive. However, such practices were discouraged by the church and many such herbalists were burned as witches. The church condemned bathing as sinful, so herbs and other aromatic plants were used to help with body odours and parasites.
The time of the Renaissance that followed saw an increase in knowledge and physicians began using more holistic treatments, including herbal remedies.
Modern aromatherapy began around 1937 and was popularised by the French chemist and perfumer, Gattefosse. He became convinced of essential oils’ value when he burned his hand and successfully treated it with lavender oil. In the 1950s, during the Second World War, essential oils were used as a treatment for injured soldiers.
Today, aromatherapy is considered as both an art and a science. In recent years, it has received increasing attention from researchers and others in scientific circles. When inhaled, the oils affect the nerves located in the nose in different ways. These nerves are closely connected to the brain's centre for memory and emotions (source.) This is why you can use aromatherapy to evoke or enhance emotions and memories. This can be both comforting and health-promoting.
Modern aromatherapists can use essential oils on the skin in aromatherapy massage when they are usually mixed with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil. They also use aroma diffusers to freshen the air in their rooms. The oils can also be inhaled or ingested directly, but be careful and make sure to ask your doctor first.
20 Essential Oils You Should Know
There are many ways of using essential oils. They're used in everything from food to paint. There are a large number of different oils. Many of these oils are being used in aromatherapy. We've picked out the 20 best essential oils for aromatherapy and listed up some use cases, plus some links for further reading.
Familiar fresh scenting oils that are refreshing and made from cold pressing.
Orange: Stress Down
Use it when:
You want to calm your nerves and reduce anxiety.
One study found that women who used orange essential oil during labour and childbirth (one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in a woman's life!) were less anxious and coped better with pain.
It may help with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to this study.
Bergamot: Mood Boost
Use it when:
You want to get rid of stress and to quicken your mind. Bergamot boosts the mood and reduces feelings of depression.
In a small study, women who inhaled bergamot had lower levels of stress hormones. The smell also helped patients at a mental health treatment centre feel more positive, according to a 2017 study.
It is antiseptic and can help balance blood glucose levels.
Read more on the research of Bergamot Essential Oil
Grapefruit: Focused Energy
Use it when:
You want to find focused energy such as when working on a big project to a strict deadline.
A study on rats found that grapefruit essential oil helped lower blood pressure in rats.
It smells fresh and can help balance the mood.
Lemon: Freshen Up
To improve your mood and help freshen your living space.
When life gives you lemons… sniff them! Research shows that oil from lemon peel gives a better mood. In a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2008, researchers found that inhaling lemon essential oil was more effective in improving mood than lavender oil.
The oil smells fresh and clean, in addition, it can relieve anxiety and stress.
Most of the oils we've picked are herbal. Strong oils with many properties, steam destilled from herbs.
Clary Sage: Concentrate
Use it when:
You need to lower your blood pressure. It also helps with focus and concentration.
In a July 2013 study, women who were exposed to clary sage essential oil experienced reduced blood pressure and breathing rate. They were also able to relax during a stressful medical examination.
It can help alleviate menopause symptoms and menstrual cramps.
Eucalyptus: Fight Colds
Use it when:
You have a cold – it reacts with mucous membranes and reduces mucus production.
Use it when you want to rid your home of stale odours. Fight constipation with eucalyptus oil.
Be aware: Eucalyptus oil is strong, so you only need one or two drops at a time.
The oil helps you to think more clearly and relieves headaches for some people.
Lemongrass: Relieve Stress
When you want to lift worries of your shoulders and relieve stress.
People in a study who were exposed to the essential oil of lemongrass immediately found that their level of anxiety and tension fell. They also recovered more quickly from stressful situations compared to those who were not exposed to the scent.
It helps keep insects, especially mosquitoes, away.
Peppermint: Feel Energetic
To wake up feeling energetic and when you’re feeling fatigued.
Research shows that inhaling peppermint makes you more alert and gives you a better memory. Try diffusing it in your office when you arrive at work to set yourself up for a productive day.
The oil can reduce cravings for sweets.
Rosemary: Perform at Work
To help with concentration and to perform better at work.
It is said to enhance memory so is ideal for students when they’re studying for exams. By using essential oil of rosemary, one can improve speed and accuracy when performing demanding mental tasks, showed a study from 2012. Other research found that the scent made people feel refreshed and mentally stimulated.
The oil can help increase energy and reduce fatigue.
Tea Tree: Cleanse Your Home and Skin
Use it when:
You want to cleanse your skin and your home. It is also a natural antifungal which can be applied to the skin to control fungal infections.
Tea tree oil can be used as a disinfectant and can soothe skin inflammation. For this reason, it can also help you fight acne.
Tea tree oil can help you get rid of insects.
Oils extracted from different parts of trees by damp destillation.
Cedarwood: Reduce Stress
Use it when:
You need to reduce your stress levels.
According to an animal study reported in Physiology and Behavior, cedarwood oil can have a calming effect, making it beneficial for anxiety and reducing stress. It, therefore, also promotes better sleep.
It has a proven effect on hair growth. Insects shun it so it is useful for putting in linen and clothing cupboards.
Cinnamon: Find Focus
Use it when:
You need to find focus.
Cinnamon essential oil can activate the area of the brain that controls alertness. For example, the research found that drivers were more focused and less frustrated after inhaling the cinnamon oil aroma.
It increases concentration and reduces frustration. Sprinkle a few drops in your car to make your morning commute less stressful.
Frankincense: A sense of calm
Use it when:
You want to get rid of stress and find a sense of calm.
Historically, frankincense is one of the most widely used essential oils. The oil has been used to heal people for thousands of years. Studies have shown that frankincense has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies have shown that frankincense can affect a number of diseases such as cancer and gout (the studies are in an early stage - you can read more here.)
Sandalwood: Mood lift
To lift the mood and enhance positive thoughts.
Research has found that sandalwood can help improve depressive symptoms when used in a massage oil.
The oil can help improve mental focus.
Spruce: Reduce inflammation
Use it when:
You want to reduce stress, ease a cold, or reduce inflammation.
Needles from spruce trees are used for cough and cold symptoms and are preferably taken as a tea or a steam inhalation. Spruce oil has traditionally helped people with everything from colds to stomach problems. The forest scent in a diffuser also helps you to escape everyday life and get back to nature.
Blue spruce oil is said to improve testosterone levels in men.
Oils extracted from flowers by damp destillation.
Geranium: Calm Down
Use it when:
You want to calm down and get rid of stress. Geranium promotes a sense of balance.
Geranium has many positive benefits. A 2013 study found that geranium essential oil helped swollen ears and bones in mice due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, geranium oil has strong antifungal properties, which was shown in a collection of studies in 2017.
Many people think that geranium smells like roses, and they are taken back to dear memories associated with the smell of roses.
Jasmine: Better mood
Use it when:
You want to get in a better mood.
People who were exposed to jasmine in a study reported that they felt more positive and cheerful afterwards.
The oil can give you an increased sex drive and improve sexual pleasure.
Lavender: Sleep Well
For better, deeper sleep.
Lavender oil is the original and best essential oil for relaxation. Research shows that lavender can help people sleep better and wake up more rested. According to the US National Sleep Foundation, lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety, which keeps you awake at night.
Lavender is associated with lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.
Ylang Ylang: Perfect for massage
To relax. Ylang ylang is often used as an ingredient in massage oils.
One study found that people had a lower heart rate and blood pressure after using ylang ylang essential oil.
It can counteract inflammation.