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An Introduction to Essential Oils: What are they?

on September 4, 2013 by Jami Balmet 5 comments

Essential oils are a powerful tool that you can use in your homemaking. But they can also be confusing and daunting to learn how to use. See more in my Essential Oils 101 series on natural cleaning & home remedies!

An introduction to essential oils - what are they and how are they made?
Photo by UrbaneWomenMag

I’m a skeptic at heart.

I don’t really take someone’s word for something very easily. I have to research on my own. So when I kept hearing about essential oils, I decided I needed to investigate on my own!

While I’m still new to this journey, I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned!

What are Essential Oils?

“Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant.” ~ Modern Wellness: What Are Essential Oils

Basically, essential oils are the pure and concentrated oil from that object. Orange oil is  the powerful and concentrated oil from the tree and peel.

” When we peel an orange, walk through a rose garden, or rub a sprig of lavender between our fingers, we are all aware of the special scent of that plant. But what is is that we can smell? Generally speaking, it is essential oils that give spices and herbs their specific scent and flavor, flowers their fruit and perfume.” ~ The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, pg 13.

Ways You Can Use Essential Oils

Knowing how to use essential oils was one of the most confusing things to me about them when I first heard of them. People threw around words like using them “neat”, diluting them in a “carrier oil”, and I wasn’t sure how you actually used the oils – in everyday life!

Here are the 3 main ways that essential oils are used.

Topical

When you apply an oil topically, this is referring to “the process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, teeth, nails or mucus membrane.” ~ Modern Essentials {affiliate link}, pg 23

Typically this means you are rubbing the oil on to some part of your body {i.e. the bottoms of your feet, your back, arm, ect}. When you apply the oils directly to your skin {without diluting it first}, this is often called applying it “neat”.

However, some essential oils are so powerful that they should not be put on your skin “neat”. So instead you dilute a couple drops into a teaspoon or tablespoon of a “carrier oil” and then you rub it onto your skin.

Common carrier oils include fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, olive oil, ect. You can watch this cool video on applying essential oils topically.

Aromatic

This is the way that I’m currently having fun playing with learning how to use essential oils. Modern Essentials shares, “Aromatic application involves inhaling either a fine mist of the oil or a vapor of volatile aromatic components that have evaporated from the oil” pg 35.

A great way to use oils aromatically is to use a vaporizer, diffusor, or humidifier to easily spread the essential oils throughout the house. As I will share later in this series, some essentials oils can have calming effects when diffused and others can actually help clean and purify your home! Here is a neat video showing a little more about using essential oils aromatically.

Internal

This way of course is when you ingest essential oils. Not all essential oils are okay to ingest and some you have to be very careful about taking them internally so I always make sure to triple check with essential oil authorities before ingesting any essential oils…in fact, I use essential oils internally hardly at all. But there are some uses for it. This video explains more about internal use.

Are they “Natural”?

As I said, I’m a skeptic at heart. I’m trying to cut chemicals and highly processed products out of my house. So I was nervous that these essential oils were only recent inventions that could only be made with modern machinery and technology. So maybe God didn’t intend for us to use these resources in this way… But as I investigated, I was pleasantly surprised. 

While there is a lot of research out there on the topic, Modern Essentials does a great job of succinctly describing essential oil history.

“Essential oils were mankind’s first medicine. From Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese manuscripts, we know that priests and physicians have been using oils derived from aromatic plants for thousands of years. In Egypt, essential oils were used in the embalming process, and well preserved oils were found in alabaster jars in King Tut’s tomb…Additionally, there are 188 references to essential oils (such as frankincense, myrrh, rosemary, ect.) in the Bible.” Modern Essentials, pg 7.

While the ancient method of extracting essential oils from flowers and plants may not have been as easy, fast, or productive as with our modern tools, its clear that essential oils have been used throughout history. I wonder if when Adam and Eve got a headache they reached for some peppermint to help soothe the pain since they didn’t have Tylenol.

In our modern society I think we often believe that living in ancient times would have been unbearable without modern medicine. When you need stitches or heart surgery, I am so thankful that we have access to modern medicine and thank the Lord for medical advances. But I also don’t think He left ancient civilizations completely without effective medicine of their own. Essential oils seems to be one of those resources.

You can find out more about how essential oils are made and modernly tested here.

Learning More

So now that you are more familiar with what the Essential Oils are, and how to generally use them, I can’t wait to jump into more practical uses for essential oils! Join me tomorrow for my favorite essential oils and how I use them!

If you want to dive right in to learning more about essential oils, Modern Wellness can be a great resource!

Pin this post so you can come back later to re-read or share with a friend!

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