What are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils are considered the Essence of certain plants.  They have traditionally been used in medicinal and cosmetic applications for centuries. When used on the body – either inhaled or applied to the skin, they send specific signals to the organ systems we work on in Chinese medicine.

How to Learn About Essential Oils?

The history of essential oils as medicine often derives from a lineage system (students learning from their teachers and their teachers’ teachers and so on). My expertise is derived from a lineage system of Chinese medicine as well as a past career in the fragrance industry.

There is also strong science based aromatherapy system in place in both England and France where oils are studied for activity just as pharmaceuticals are studied in the US. For anyone interested in getting to know essential oils more intimately, I recommend the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy founded by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt (newpacificinstituteofaromatherapy.com). Dr Schnaubelt is an incredible force in the field of Medical Aromatherapy. His knowledge of evidence based medicine and passion for the preservation and cultivation of essential oils is unmatched.

Therapeutic Grade

Two of my favorite suppliers are Original Swiss Aromatics (www.originalswissaromatics.com) and Snow Lotus (www.snowlotus.org) for their high-quality therapeutic grade oils. They are ethical suppliers that support wild-crafted, and organic farming that benefit the economies of local communities. Being produced in an ethical manner is important for the planet as well as your health. Imagine your medicine is polluted with pesticides or other toxins. This sort of contamination not only dilutes the efficacy of the plant medicine, but also can do harm to the body on a cellular level.

As with any high, value plant product (for example: coffee and chocolate), the importance of maintaining diversity in the plant community becomes essential to your health, the economy, and the legacy of plant varietals.  Imagine life with only one type of chocolate. Tragic indeed!

Why Biodiversity?

Western medicine and certain essential oil manufacturers choose to standardize their products for consistent results, consumer friendly products, and standardized pricing.  However, with standardization, the beauty of working with essential oils or plant medicine is often times lost. Essential oils should truly be a reflection of nature with its intrinsic chemical efficacy intact. This is what leads to specific and targeted results when using essential oils.  Just like a fine wine, essential oils reflect the world around them from the rainwater, to the soil, the farmers who cultivate them, the distillers who gently coerce the oil from plant, and the distributors who are so passionate about sharing these oils with the world. When shopping for oils,  look for suppliers  whose prices fluctuate based on the market of that particular plant.

Self-Care at Home

I will often prescribe specific blends to be used in specific ways to build immunity, treat lymphatic issues, ward off colds & flu, and support someone as they go through anxiety & depression.  Certain oils are also great for colicky and gassy baby or postpartum mama. Not to mention that the application of targeted oils over muscular tension can bring a distressed body back into ease after overwork or injury.  

Safety & Notes of Caution

When used correctly essential oils are incredibly safe. Unfortunately, I have seen many folks self-prescribing and ingesting essential oils with adverse or less than optimal effects, mainly affecting the liver.  It is incredibly important to understand that essential oils are medicine and should be treated as such.

  • Use only under the supervision of an aromatherapist or other qualified practitioner.
  • Clean skin of other lotions or cosmetics products to ensure maximum efficacy.

  • Do not put clothes on before the oil is fully absorbed as the oils can stain clothing.

  • Use a small amount; essential oils can be very powerful.  If there is any adverse reaction such as skin sensitization, please discontinue use and consult your healthcare provider.  For example, Citrus oils should not be applied to skin that will be in the sunlight as it can cause discoloration and irritation. Your practitioner should be able to walk you through any potential adverse reactions.

  • Do NOT take internally unless you are working with a certified or licensed professional who is very familiar with the effects, contraindications, and any drug interactions.

  • Keep away from pets and small children.

Where’s the Fun?

Stay tuned. Next month, we will be walking you through some fun, easy, and accessible cosmetic applications of DIY essential oils at home. Think body oil for self-massage, homegrown body scrubs, and makeup remover to leave your skin silky soft.

Catherine Craig L.Ac.