Exploring Essential Oils

So, I have heard whispers and snippets of something called “essential oils” for a while now.  But I’ve been too chicken to attend an essential oil gathering: my husband is terrifiedthat I’ll go off to a party, drink some champagne, and end up spending hundreds of unnecessary dollars on fluffy stuff we don’t need. But then when I see an essential oils class offered through Jenks Community Education, I happily sign up – phew! I can just go learn. And wow — what a rich and fascinating body of knowledge!

Essential oils, I learn, are not just the latest fad. They have been around since, well, even before the Three Wise Men. Oils are mentioned in the Bible quite often for their healing properties.  The Ebers Papyrus — an Egyptian medical scroll — was discovered not that long ago and lists what oils could be used for various ailments; it dates to around 1500 BC. So essential oils have been used long before modern medicine was conceived.

What are Essential Oils?

What are these oils, exactly? They are highly concentrated aromatic liquids distilled from plants that are purported to have healing and salubrious properties. Like a human body’s blood, the essential oil of a plant is used to seal cuts, protect wounds, provide nutrients and oxygen for cell regeneration and guard against harmful germs. The oils are quite concentrated, so a little goes a long way! You can find them at health food stores and Whole Foods, or companies like Young Living and doTERRA sell them through independent distributors. Ashley Westfall, an independent consultant with Young Living, notes that Young Living’s oils have a “Seed to Seal” guarantee. There are no chemicals or solvents to dilute the oils. Oils purchased at health food stores might not have this guarantee, and my friend Nicole feels that oils bought through companies like Young Living and doTERRA are more healing. Young Living owns all of its own farms, from Utah (where Ashley recently visited to view the production process) to Idaho to a gorgeous lavender farm in Provence, France!

How do they work?

How, exactly, do these oils work? My friend Liberty (who is also an independent distributor, but doesn’t actively sell; she just gets a discount for her own use) says you can either inhale the oils, diffuse them with a diffuser, apply them topically, or ingest them. Unfortunately, they apparently taste rather nasty, so they need to be diluted, or you can take them in an empty capsule. Liberty had always striven to keep her home as natural and chemical-free as possible, which was what attracted her to the oils. When her son, Theo, developed a severe allergy to mosquito bites — the bite would swell up his whole arm — she applied Young Living’s blend called “Purification,” a blend of lemongrass, citronella, lavandin, rosemary, melaleuca and myrtle. She found that this blend was just as effective as steroids at reducing the size of her son’s bites. Lavender is also another popular bug bite remedy. The Purification blend is what my friend Cammie applies to kid wounds in lieu of neosporin.

The uses of the oils appear almost infinite. There is a huge essential oils “bible” to pore over:  the Essential Oils “Pocket” (if you have vast pockets) Reference is a very thick encyclopedia discussing all sorts of uses for various oils. I find that I could also try lavender for my son’s eczema. But perhaps even more useful than the reference book is just chatting with other moms to discover what they have found for their own families.

Liberty uses a drop of lavender on her kids’ pillows at night to help them sleep; they won’t go to sleep without this relaxing balm. She also rubs a dab of peppermint on her kids’ tummies at the first sign of a tummy ache. (Note: there are instructions for diluting oils for children of different ages).  A blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, and rosemary (dubbed “Thieves” by Young Living – apparently grave robbers applied this cocktail to their skin to protect them from the Black Plague that still remained on corpses) is a powerful blend used for its purification and antibacterial properties. My friend Jodi uses a dab when she feels a cold coming on to ward off its symptoms. Another friend wishes teachers would diffuse it in little kids’ classrooms during the winter to help ward off airborne bacteria! A runner friend finds that a mix of helichrysum, wintergreen, clove and peppermint aids greatly with muscle spasms. My friend Nicole uses a blend from Young Living called “Joy” that helps with night terrors and anxiety. She also uses a purification oil on her kids during cold/flu season as a preventative measure — something to think about as that cauldron of germs known as “school” approaches!

And the therapeutic uses continue. My friend Cammie uses the oils to help redirect and calm her son, who has ADHD. Kristina uses a blend of vetiver, clary sage, bergamot, pink grapefruit and frankincense, which she finds aids her children in paying attention.

Britton Prior, who is an independent distributor and native Tulsan, says, “I believe there is a place for Western medicine, absolutely, but I also believe we are a society that is overmedicated. Essential oils naturally support each of the body’s various systems and help maintain wellness.” Certainly anything that can help your children — and you — feel better, perhaps avoiding a trip to the doctor, sounds worth exploring to me.

Britton uses lavender for restful sleep, and loves “Thieves” and lemon oils to maintain a healthy immune system. Another favorite for Britton is “RC,” a Young Living blend that stands for “Respiratory Congestion” to support respiratory health.

My friend Melissa uses them mostly for the smells. She loves to diffuse a mix of flowers including tangerine, ylang ylang and geranium, so that her house smells heavenly — far more effective than candles. Jodi diffuses various blends to help her cover up cooking smells like fish.  As Ashley Westfall notes, the sense of smell is one of the fastest ways to convert the molecules of the oils into the body; it occurs to me that the sense of smell is probably underused as a vehicle for relaxation. Maybe I need to try diffusing the “Joy” blend in lieu of (or, well, in addition to!) a glass of wine! Ashley’s favorite oil is “Stress Away,” a blend of copaiba, lime, cedarwood, vanilla, ocotea and lavender. She carries this oil everywhere with her and applies at the first onset of stress.

Many of the moms I spoke to didn’t want to appear to be overly crunchy members of the anti-vaccine movement; they are just exploring different and more natural ways to stay healthy.  Many distributors were also loathe to overstate that these oils actually cure diseases; the FDA has recently stepped in to warn companies like Young Living or doTERRA that making claims that these oils actually cure diseases could subject them to regulation.

And it’s important to go slowly and use the oils safely because everyone’s body is different. You should skin test an oil before using to guard against any adverse reactions. If you experience skin irritation, rashes, nausea, or headaches, or sensitivity occurs, you might need to add additional carrier oils or reduce the amount and/or number of oils used.

But it’s an intriguing practice, one that would benefit by lots of study, trial and error. The bigger companies offer a starter kit of oils – Young Living’s is $150. If you don’t want to invest that much at once, you could try individual oils, or ask for samples. I’m waiting for mine right now!  Certainly natural remedies can go hand in hand with modern medical practices. And there’s nothing wrong with moms constantly searching for new and better ways to care for our children, our homes and ourselves — in fact, isn’t that what motherhood is all about?

Categories: Hip Mom