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Essential Oils and Aromatherapy 

By Laurel Redmon, L.Ac. and Aromatherapist


Aromatherapy can be defined as the use of pure essential oils to promote physical, psychological and spiritual health.  Oils can be administered in many ways, and as in Herbalism, different oils have a wide variety of use for many ailments.

 The nature of EO’s

The essential oil of a plant has been compared to its essence, or jing, and ‘essence’ is a common translation for this substance in many languages.  It should be understood that essential oils are non-oily in the common sense of the word, and must be distinguished from oils pressed from fatty agents such as nuts and seeds (like almond or olive oil).  Essential oils (E.O.’s) are not prone to rancidity as fatty oils are, and can be stored for long periods under proper conditions.  Often their compounds are volatile and readily evaporate.  Problems with their storage include oxidation and evaporation, which is addressed by storing them in dark or amber glass bottles away from heat and light.

 Highly concentrated precious material

A vast amount of plant material yields a tiny amount of oil, often requiring hundreds of pounds of plant material to yield less than an ounce of oil.  As such, essential oils should be thought of as extremely concentrated and powerful.  It is important to respect that we have access to an especially strong manifestation of plant/herb energy, and one that can have far-reaching effects.

As such, the main hazard lies in careless or overabundant use of these gifts.  Remember at all times to inform yourself of the varying safety precautions of the oils, and that generally, especially for beginners, less is more.

Isolating aromatic plant constituents

Essential oils are made up of various aromatic compounds in plants, which are usually isolated by means of steam distillation.  In the distillation process, plant material is heated over pure water.  The steam produced by heating ruptures glands in the plant’s anatomy that contains essential oils.  This is carried along with the steam from the water into a condensing coil, which rapidly cools the steam and oil.  The yield consists of water imbued with the acids and other compounds contained in the plant as well as microdroplets of essential oil, the majority of which floats in a thin layer of this water byproduct, also known as hydrosol.  A popular example of a hydrosol is rosewater.   

Real vs. Fake

Caution must be exercised when assessing all aromatherapy products, including hydrosols, which are often marketed in an adulterated form, or contain synthetic ingredients.  Always scrutinize labels, and do appropriate research to inform yourself of quality sources. Corporations and the media seem to co-opt just about anything pure and good to create sensation and generate income.  It is a service to the Earth and natural medicine for us to educate as many people as possible: for therapeutic benefit, pure and natural oils are essential.

 Modes of action

Essential oil acts upon the body in several ways.  Application on the skin, most always diluted in a carrier, transmits the oil to skin, muscles, bones, joints and organs.  Application by inhalation treats the respiratory system and the brain.  The limbic system of the brain is the base of olfaction as well as emotion. Therefore, essential oils can have a direct and profound effect on physiological, psychological and neurological functions in people.


Olfaction is of course the main sense involved in quality assessment.  Vision and tactile senses are important too: every plant’s oil has a normal range of color and viscosity, which varies according to region grown, weather conditions, year, etc.  Experience and common sense dictate what is considered acceptable within these limits. Smelling is the truest quality control method.  Does the oil smell pleasing and pure?  Sometimes synthetic substances can be perceived as a metallic, static, acrid or overly sweet.  Try to sensitize yourself to these elements.   Does the aroma evoke the plant on the label?  These are good questions to ask yourself while attempting to expand your olfactory senses and vocabulary.  Smell aromas in a diluted form as opposed to strait from the bottle.  Use a well-ventilated space, waft the scent, and take frequent breaks.  Bombardment by different smells and/or alcohol, a common solvent, can dull olfactory receptors.

 The promise and excitement of a burgeoning discipline!

Incorporating essential oils into your daily life with their many capacities is the best way to realize their healing power and the joy that they bring.  Experiment to discover the modes and plants that resonate best with you and your clients.  Bear in mind that this is a newer branch of herbalism:  while many ancient cultures have used aromatic herbs extensively, aromatherapy as a codified discipline arose as recently as the mid 30’s in France.  There is a great opportunity to further expand this field. 

In England, Aromatherapy is synonymous with massage, and many of the foremost schools and teachers are there.  In Europe as a whole, especially England, France and Germany, E.O.’s are a part of everyday life; sold in pharmacies and used in hospitals extensively.  For example, essential oil of lavender possesses equal disinfectant properties to alcohol, but also acts to reduce pain, promote healing and calmness, and reduce scarring.  Oils provide plant power in a concentrated, rarefied form.  The scope of their use is as wide as the scope of traditional plant medicine, that is, comprehensive.  The convenience, concentration and stability (when properly stored) of essential oils remains unparalleled: this is Herbalism for the 21st century!  


Key Essential Oils to know


~        Panacea of essential oils

~        Reduces all types of pain

~        Induces mental as well as physical relaxation and/or sleep

~        Best first aid for burns, applied neat

~        Applied undiluted for cuts and abrasions to disinfect and hasten healing

~        Tones and heals respiratory system

~        Indicated for many muscle, skin and hair disorders

Tea tree

~        Strong antimicrobial including antifungal

~        Tonic to respiratory and genitourinary tracts

~        Special affinity with skin ailments


~        Increases cellular oxygenation

~        Respiratory tonic

~        Brain and memory enhancer

~        Muscle relaxant

~        Tonic for the hair; enhances growth


Roman chamomile

~        Calms, relaxes, and eases pain

~        Specific for gastrointestinal tract

~        Cheering oil, and indicated for children


~        Important oil for stress and depression

~        Good blending oil in perfumes

~        Can cause photosensitivity if used before sun exposure

Florals (Rose, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Neroli, etc.)

~        Important for mental-emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression

~        Aphrodisiacs

~        Crucial for skin, especially facial care

~        See individual oils for many other indications

~        Expensive, but a little goes a long way and is worth it!

Mints (Peppermint, Spearmint, etc.)

~        Tonics for both respiratory and digestive tracts, eg. nasal congestion and nausea

~        Important for mental clarity, cheering and uplifting

~        Cools hot conditions

Conifers (Juniper, Spruce, Pine, Cedars, cypress, etc.)

~        Healing for many types of skin and hair conditions

~        Tones and repairs respiratory tract

~        Induces and restores mental clarity

~        Possesses antioxidant and longevity-prompting qualities

~        See individual indications for many more applications


~        Anesthetic

~        Carminative

~        Antiseptic and deodorizing

~        Imparts festive, comfortable mood


~        Important respiratory tonic and nasal decongestant

~        Repels many pests including vermin, molds and insects


~        Bronchodilator and Respiratory tonic

~        Heals bruises and wounds, as well as sports injuries

~        Facilitates meditation and mental peace and clarity


~        Regulates hormonal imbalances for a wide variety if conditions

~        Soothes stress and anxiety; harmonizes emotions

~        Restores youthfulness to skin

Citruses (Lemon, Lime, Orange, Grapefruit, etc.)

~        Beneficial to both digestive and respiratory tracts

~        Cheering and uplifting; especially applicable to children’s ailments

~        Abundantly inexpensive and useful for a wide range of blending

~        Beware of allergic reactions and photosensitivity

~        Look to individual oils for more specific indications


~        Soothes and tones respiratory, digestive and genitourinary tracts

~        Grounds while sensitizing one toward a higher purpose: useful for depression, anxiety and spiritual practice

~        Excellent blending oil

~        Endangered: use sparingly or substitute vetivert, another delicious base note.

We carry a wide range of really super-dooper therapeutic-grade essential oils, Stop in our retail shop to see all the dandy stuff we carry. Featuring Cheryl's Herbs products and Red Sage Health's own in-house crafted products.
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