What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils aren't some rare and exotic tinctures from distant lands (Ok some of them are!). We have all encountered essential oils in our daily life; peel an orange and the spritz that is released from the the peel (and usually gets in your eye!) is it's essential oil. Step out into your garden and crush a sprig of Rosemary, Thyme or Mint in your hand and the sharp scent that coats your fingers is the essential oil. Essential oils are present in every plant (though some are more abundant in oils than others), not only do they give each plant its own distinctive scent and unique flavour but they also play a valuable part in its survival - attracting pollinating insects, protecting the plant from disease, repelling predators (think about companion planting) and helping healthy growth. Some even think that the essential oil is the very life force of the plant.

The oils are concentrated in different parts of the plant and depending on the level of oil glands or cells within the plant this impacts the amount of essential oil that is extracted from the plant. Take for instance Lavender which is abundant in essential oil; 100 kilos of Lavender yields around 3 litres of essential oil, while a pricey 100 kilos of delectable Rose Petals yields just 1/2 litre of essential oil. But as essential oils are a highly concentrated essence (around 70-100% more concentrated than fresh or dried plant material) only teeny amounts are needed.

How Do I Smell (gosh that sounds bad)?

The Fragrant Journey

Warning, Kate's attempt at being scientific approaching!
The most effective way to experience the power of essential oils it without doubt through inhalation. The process of inhalation takes place in a split second but its effect is incredibly profound.When you inhale an odour, the scent molecules travel up your nose and combine with water vapour (already in there, yuck!) this process warms the scent and enables it to cling on to tiny hairs/nerve endings. The nose contains millions of nerve endings that respond to particular aroma molecules. An impulse is then sent to the olfactory bulb (at the base of brain) and then sent directly to the hypothalmus and limbic system of the brain. Nerve messages from our sense of smell travel faster to the brain than those from any other of the senses. The limbic area of the brain is linked with our emotions which very neatly explains why scent is so connected to feelings and memories. Brain chemicals are then released and travel to the nervous system to be distributed to the rest of the body. While the odour molecules are on their journey to your brain, some will also travel through the lungs and down, down, down (via gaseous exchange, please don't make me go into that!!!) through to the circulatory system which will then distribute it around the rest of the body. Phew, I'm so glad to get the explanation out of the way!

Or To Put It Another Way
So basically the scent travels up through your schnozz, hits your brain and if its the right scent makes you feel oh so good!!!

Bathing In Those Glorious, Glorious Oils!

The delectable scent of essential oils will really transform bathing into a gorgeous multi-sensory experience. Locked away and far from distraction, your bathroom can be transformed into an oasis of healing. As you relax in the warm, soothing water it is so much easier for you to truly benefit from the power of aromatherapy.

Creating Your Bath Blend
As the essential oils disperse in the water they will penetrate your skin so the treatment will be twofold - your body and spirit! It is vital that you use essential oils that will not irritate your skin. To find out the best oils to use just take a look at my A-Z of essential oils on the right of the screen. Along with a description of the oil. it will also inform you of the essential oils that are safe to use on your skin.

Using Your Bath Blend
Essential oils are incredibly delicate and volatile liquids, to preserve their power and ensure that you benefit fully from the treatment, your essential oil blend must be added to the bath just before you are about to step in. To enable the essential oils to fully disperse you must first dilute them in either milk or alcohol. Some recommend that you dilute the essential oils in a vegetable oil first, but I wouldn't really recommend that. The oil blend will just sit floating on the top of the water not dispersing at all. The blend will then coat your skin as you get in the bath and once again as you get out. This can make your skin quite oily and in some people may even trigger an acne breakout. It will also make your bathtub really slippy, another thing best avoided! Simply adding the essential oils to either full fat or semi skimmed milk enables the essential oils to cling to the fat in the milk thereby making it easier for them to disperse gently in the water. If you are vegan you can also add your blend to alcohol as this also makes a good carrier for the essential oils.

Bath Blend
10 drops of your essential oil blend
1 tablespoon of milk (preferably full fat or semi skimmed) or alcohol (such as vodka)
Add your essential oil blend to the milk or alcohol. Stir together to ensure that the oils have fully dispersed. Once your bathtub is full and at the perfect temperature for you, add the mixture. Swish and swirl the blend into the water. Step in the tub and relax for a good 20 minutes or so. After the bath, gently pat your skin dry.

Sweet, Sweet Scents!

Inhalation is a really powerful and effective way to use essential oils. It's simplicity and portability make it ideal for use in even the busiest day. It's ideally suited to those who suffer from anxiety/panic attacks. It's also fab to utilise this method to clear your head, help you focus and even to combat travel sickness.

Creating Your Blend
Just look through the A-Z of Essential Oils and find the essential oil or oils that address your needs. You can create a blend if you like (but don't use any more than three separate essential oils) but just using one essential oil will still be very effective. If creating a blend you will need a dark glass bottle to store it in. These can easily be purchased at your local health food store. A 5ml bottle will be absolutely ideal as it is small and light enough to carry around with you. Pick a bottle that comes with a dropper included in the insert (its so much easier than carrying around a glass dropper with you!).

A lot of therapists recommend steam inhalation but I have never really approved. It can be very dangerous for those who suffer from Asthma or shortness of breath. I think that the most effective and safest way is to simply add 2 drops of your chosen oil or blend to a tissue or cotton pad. Relax and bring the scented tissue/pad to your nose and inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat two more times and relax.

YLANG YLANG - cananga odorata

Part of Plant Used For Essential Oil - Flowers.
Method of Extraction - Steam distillation of flowers.
Scent - Middle/Base Note
Sweetly intense floral with real lasting depth.
Usage - Bathing, diffuser, inhalation, massage, room spray.
Main Action On Mind/Body
  • Regulates Blood Pressure
  • Balances Sebum Production
  • Antidepressant
  • Sedative
Mind - A truly gorgeous, floral oil. It has the ability to calm and soothe heart palpitations making it particularly valuable for panic attacks. Studies say that its rich scent has the ability to stimulate the release of endorphins, making it a wonderful "feelgood" oil. It is a fantastic anti-depressant, as its gentle power will certainly lift you out of any doldrums. But do take care and use in small amounts as its intense, heady scent can induce a bit of a headache!
Body - Its relaxing scent and sedative action makes it a fabulous addition to a night-time bath. If you suffer from an oily/irritated scalp try a dash of Ylang Ylang to soothe. It's ability to calm and balance sebum production also makes it a great addition to any blend created for an oilier skin type.
Blends well with - Bergamot, Lavender, Rose, Vetivert.

VETIVERT - vetiveria zizanoides

Part of Plant Used For Essential Oil - Roots.
Method of Extraction - Steam distillation.
Scent - Sweet, smokey and slightly earthy smell.
Usage - Bathing, diffuser, inhalation, massage, room spray.
Warning - Do use sparingly as its smoky scent can very easily overwhelm.
Main Action On Mind/Body
  • Calming
  • Relaxing
  • Stimulates Circulation
  • Soothes Muscular Aches & Pains
Mind - With its warming and softly sedating action this is the perfect oil if you suffer from insomnia. If you are feeling overwhelmed or battling feelings of uncertainty, this truly comforting oil will balance, calm and envelop you with a lovely feeling of tranquility. With its reassuring action it is wonderful in times of stress and anxiety.
Body - A perfect addition to a blend created to soothe muscular aches & pains. Its warming, circulation boosting action makes it ideal to add to a blend for either a hand or foot massage.
Blends Well With - Lavender, Rose, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang.

SANDALWOOD - santalum album

Part of Plant Used For The Essential Oil - Heartwood bark of the tree.
Method of Extraction - Steam distillation.
Scent -
Softly sweet, with deep resiny scent.
Usage - Bathing, diffuser, inhalation, massage, room spray.
Main Action On Mind/Body
  • Skin Soother
  • Relaxing
  • Antiseptic
  • Tackles Insomnia
Mind - This is a wonderfully relaxing and restorative oil. It has a lovely calming effect on the mind and so makes a very useful aid to your meditation practice. That same calming effect is also useful in combating any stress related anxiety. A fantastic oil to use in a massage blend as its lovely warm scent will most certainly soothe your spirit.
Body - Perfect for skin that is dry, itchy and very sensitive. It contains a natural emollient action which will soothe skin. Its also perfect for chapped, cracked and damaged skin as it has a powerful antiseptic action and really does kickstart the healing process.
Blends well with - Bergamot, Jasmine, Rose, Vetivert, Ylang Ylang.