The world of essential oils can be overwhelming. Walk into a health food store and you’ll see dozens of options on the shelves. Ask around, and you’ll hear just as many different opinions about their effectiveness, from “cure-all” to “BS.”
So what’s the deal? We asked Educator & Western Herbalist, Blaire Edwards, to clear things up.
What are essential oils?
Let’s start with what essential oils are before they’re bottled. “Essential oils are plant compounds that plants create to help them survive in their environments,” explains Edwards. They keep busy helping plants ward off predators, attract pollinators, and regulate growth. No wonder people started using them for our own natural healing, too. But a lot happens between plant and store shelf—essential oils are found in almost every single aromatic plant, Edwards explains, but essential oils as the wellness industry knows them are the tiny, potent bottles.
How does format and dosage of essential oils matter?
“If you brew a cup of chamomile tea, that tea has essential oils in it, but that is not the same as putting chamomile essential oil into a cup of tea,” Edwards explains. “One is safe and can be done on a daily basis (the tea) and the other can be harmful.” Distilled essential oils should NOT be ingested--only inhaled or applied topically (if diluted!) in small amounts.
Benefits of essential oils vary depending on how you use them and which oil you choose. When you inhale essential oils, Edwards says, they are working via the olfactory nervous system, which is linked to both the limbic system (1) and the hypothalamus (2). “Depending on what oil is used, the impact can range from stimulation to sedation to mood uplifting.” To ingest essential oils safely, you can turn to herbs that are rich in essential oils (rather than the distilled and bottled variety).
Can essential oils support digestion and gut health?
Ingesting essential oil-rich herbs can be powerful for supporting digestion. Carminatives, which are herbs that relax the gastrointestinal system, are the types of herbs you should look for. Edwards’ favorites for digestion are Fennel and Lemon Balm. “Fennel provides antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and carminative action, making it a prime choice for those struggling with gas, stomach cramps or poor digestion,” she says. “Lemon Balm is another favorite essential oil-rich plant of mine. Not only does it help reduce spasm and flatulence, but it also boosts the mood, so I tend to use it for people whose stress or tension shows up in their digestive system.”
The great thing about essential oil-rich plants is that they can benefit your digestion whatever part of the process gives you trouble. “Essential oil-rich plants can support the entire digestive tract,” Edwards says. “One can utilize bitter aromatics before a meal to stimulate digestion, carminatives like fennel, peppermint or anise after a meal to reduce cramping or flatulence, and/or lemon balm when mental tension is causing stomach cramping.” Pro tip: save your peels if you buy organic citrus. Edwards recommends steeping them in tea for a tasty stomach soother.
Should I dilute my essential oils?
Always. “Literally always,” says Edwards. If you’re DIYing, ignore the Pinterest how-tos that break this rule. (If you’re taking a commercial-grade remedy, like one of Hilma’s, the work is already done for you so there is no need to dilute or alter.) “Please do not ingest pure essential oils, and please do not use them topically without diluting them. Not only are they dangerous to your health, specifically your liver, kidneys and skin - they are an extremely environmentally taxing way to work with plants as it takes over 40 roses to produce one drop of rose essential oil,” Edwards explains.
How can herbal formulations with essential oils be used?
“When it comes to ingestion of herbs rich in essential oils, I use formulas because the synergy that you get is unparalleled in my perspective,” Edwards says. Hilma’s Gas Relief is a great option. If you’re making your own formulas, do you research to make sure your combinations are safe. And if you’re on medication, check with your doc before using any essential oil.
1. The Limbic System is The limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that deal with emotions and memory.
2. The hypothalamus is a region at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland, that hypothalamus plays an important role in releasing hormones and regulating body temperature.
Note: This information is for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before treating any disorder.