A family member recently made us aware of the role of essential oils in health and wellness and we also found a lot of information while looking for academic research papers.  Before finding these articles I did not think a lot about essential oils and didn’t have any knowledge or opinion about it.  That changed quite drastically! Now, I am building my knowledge in an effort to learn as much as possible and here is what I have learned so far.
Just for clarity, essential oils should not be confused with essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 which play a role in heart disease and inflammation.  These fatty acids form a specific part of a fixed oil derived from either plant or animal sources.  The distinction is that when heated, essential fatty acids remains a fluid while essential oils (our focus for today) evaporate and release a fragrance or aroma.  The specific aroma is unique to each plant and serves as a protection against parasites and natural enemies to that specific plant.
Cave paintings as far back as 1000's of years suggested that humans used plants for medicinal purposes:

  • The Egyptians were the most famous for their knowledge and application of essential oils as scents and medicine.  It was also significant in their religion as Pharaohs had their own different blends for different activities. 
  • Ayurvedic medicine from India has incorporated essential oils into their healing agents for the past 3000 years
  • These oils are also used in Chinese medicine. 
  • The most well-known story around essential oils is the gifts from the wise men to the Christ child.  It was gold, frankincense and myrrh.  The last two are commonly applied to a newborn to strengthen the immune system.  Some speculate that the gold was the essential oil from turmeric which is a very deep yellow color and also known to strengthen the immune system. 

These oils can be applied in three ways. 

  1. As an inhalant it comes into contact with the olfactory membrane which sends nerve impulses to the limbic system of the brain.
  2.  Also the molecules of essential oils are small enough to pass through the epidermis of the skin from where it reaches the bloodstream. 
  3. It is also possible to take these oils orally.  However, most sources warn against this practice if it is not done under the supervision of a knowledgeable healer. 

 
Initially this information was passed down verbally from generation to generation.  Physicians from Greece and other Roman cities visited Egypt to learn more about this way of healing.  More sophisticated methods of communication were then used to teach the methods of extraction of these oils as well as their medicinal worth.  The fall of the Roman civilization caused this practice to end until a Persian scientist rediscovered it in the 1800’s.  Today research is conducted at several universities in the western world to evaluate these claims and compare it with western medicine.  Consequently, today we could learn from peer reviewed articles in leading journals how to use these oils to optimize our health. 
A very quick scan in the scientific literature indicated that Myrrh serves as protection against parasites; Boswellia shows potential as a treatment for bladder and breast cancer while two studies showed that frankincense was toxic to brain meninges tumors without harming healthy tissues.    A mixture of essential oils massaged into the hands of patients in a hospice reduced pain and depression amongst these patients and it also relieved stress in healthy men while increase blood flow to the heart.  While none of these treatments had any side effects, researchers seem to be cautiously optimistic about the results. 
Many of you already use essential oils in various ways.  My advice for those of you who is not familiar with it is to get a vaporizer and use it for pleasant fragrances in the home instead of the artificial fragrances that one can buy. Or put a few drops in your bathtub, use it as a fragrance on your body or rub it in with a carrier oil on your palms and feet.