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Essential Oils 101

Essential oils are extracted from roots, leaves, flowers, or bark of plants, typically through a distillation process. They are a great addition to your prepper stockpile because they have a long shelf life and are used for a wide variety of mental, emotional, and physical health issues. Essential oils also have antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, and anti-fungal properties. In addition to treating health issues, they are used for beauty, cleaning, and even in cooking.

The distillation process used to extract essential oils concentrates the healing powers of the plant into the oil. The use of essential oils has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, but in truth, essential oils have been used for centuries for healing the mind and the body.

Aromatherapy using essential oils became very popular with holistic practitioners in the 1990’s and thus, essential oils were added to candles, lotions, and other products. But the use of essential oils to treat various medical issues is increasing, and now even some hospitals using aromatherapy to reduce and manage the pain of surgery and childbirth and even to treat cancer. Other areas where essential oils can be beneficial include:

  • To relax and/or boost moods
  • Relief of headaches
  • Reduce and eliminate pain from sore muscles
  • Treatment of skin conditions
  • Digestion
  • Hormone balance
  • Cleaning
  • Personal hygiene
  • First aid treatment for burns, scrapes, bruises

How to Use Essential Oils

Aromatically—you are probably most familiar with using essential oils aromatically by breathing them in. When you inhale essential oils, they are absorbed into the blood and then move throughout your body. One popular aromatic method is to use an essential oil diffuser in the home or even in a pendant around the neck to benefit from essential oils throughout the day.

Topical—essential oil molecules are very small and because of this they can be absorbed through the skin and into the body and bloodstream. This makes essential oils perfect for topical application. In most cases, you will need to use a carrier oil to dilute essential oils for use on the skin. Areas for topical application can include the wrists, bottoms of feet, behind the ears, forehead, or on an area that is bruised or sore. In some cases, layering of several different oils can increase effectiveness.

Ingestion-Some essential oils are safe for internal use and work better when ingested. It’s important to research any essential oil before taking it internally. Typically, essential oils are ingested with water or contained in capsules for ingestion. Oils such as oregano and clove must be diluted and can only be used for a short duration to be safe.

Personal Care/Beauty—there are many ways to use essential oils as part of your personal care and beauty routine. Essential oils can be added to things such as toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, lip balm, and even bug spray and cleaning products.

Examples of Carrier Solutions

A carrier solution is used to dilute the essential oil and in some case to enhance topical application. For some oils, dilution with a carrier oil is required to ensure that the essential oil doesn’t burn or irritate the skin. It’s important that the carrier oil you choose is cold pressed or cold expeller pressed.

  • Water
  • Coconut oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Sunflower oil
  • Sesame oil

Quality Factors to Consider

The quality of your essential oil will determine its potency and its effectiveness. Just like with any other product, it’s important to do your research before purchase. When looking for quality oils, consider the following factors:

Organic–All organic, natural oils are the ideal. Do not assume that all essential oils are organic. If you aren’t sure ask the sales rep or do your research on the company before purchasing. Ideally you want oils that are organically grown, wild-crafted, or organically certified.

Purity—Essential oils work because they contain phytochemicals and these can differ from one plant to another. The growing and harvesting process of essential oils can impact the phytochemical content. The purity of the essential oil will impact effectiveness.

Color—Believe it or not, the color of your essential oil is less important. Most pure oils are clear in color. It’s good practice not to combine your essential oil with the carrier oil until you are ready to use it. Oils blended with a carrier oil will become cloudy as the carrier oil goes rancid.

Aroma—It’s the aroma of your essential oils that enables the phytochemicals to connect to your mind and body.

Price—high quality, organic, pure essential oils are not cheap. But keep in mind that the oils are concentrated. For most applications, you will combine several drops of oil with a carrier oil to create a topical application or solution for use. So, that small bottle can last a long time.  Many companies also create essential oil blends which they then sell to consumers. When buying your essential oils, make sure you understand what additional ingredients, if any, have been added to your essential oil.

Oil Storage

Storing your essential oils is relatively simple as essential oils do not turn “rancid” or “go bad”. They may evaporate if not sealed tightly or lose their potency over time. To protect your oils, keep them out of direct sunlight and away from heat. Store in cool, dark location in a brown or amber glass bottle, not plastic. Carrier oils will go rancid so most of them are better stored in the refrigerator. Carrier oils can be stored in plastic bottles until mixed with the essential oil.

Safety Precautions

The use of essential oils must be undertaken cautiously and should only begin after careful training, research, and instruction. Safe dilutions range from .5 to 2.5% for most people. When using essential oils for treatment of health issues or mood enhancement, care must be taken to ensure proper use to avoid adverse effects. Certain essential oils high in phenols and aldehydes such as citronellal and eugenol can irritate sensitive skin and should be diluted prior to topical application. Discontinue use immediately if you experience skin irritation including redness, swelling, itching, or burning.

Avoid using oils high in methyl salicylate and peppermint such as birch or wintergreen with very young children who have increased sensitivity to potency. Those with high skin sensitivities, such as the elderly, should use essential oils at a reduced concentration.

Certain oils are considered photosensitizers and should be avoided within twenty-four hours of prolonged sun exposure or tanning as they can cause burning and even weeping burns. Common photosensitizing oils are:

  • Orange, Lemon, Lime
  • Grapefruit
  • Cumin
  • Angelica root
  • Cumin
  • Bergamot

The following oils can irritate mucous membranes and should not be used in a bath:

  • Lemongrass
  • Thyme
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon Bark
  • Bay

There is not enough evidence regarding the crossover of essential oils to the fetus, thus pregnant women, especially those in the first trimester, should avoid the use of essential oils. Rose, Rosemary, and Clary Sage should be avoided during pregnancy as these are commonly thought to cause miscarriage. Other oils to avoid during pregnancy and while breastfeeding include:

  • Wintergreen
  • Sage
  • Mugwort
  • Hyssop
  • Aniseed
  • Birch
  • Parsley seed or leaf
  • Camphor
  • Tarragon
  • Wormwood

Additional Precautions

  • Essential oils can be highly flammable and should be kept away from candles, cigarettes, open fires, or gas stoves.
  • Do not use undiluted oils on skin
  • Make sure you understand the safety information for each different oil and follow any instructions or precautions for that oil.
  • Do not use essentials oils in or near the eyes
  • Keep essential oils away from children and pets
  • When diffusing or otherwise using essential oils, ensure adequate ventilation in the room
  • Consult your physician or someone trained in the use of essential oils before using.
  • Avoid using essential oils when pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you are new to essential oils and would like to try them, research the companies out there, read reviews, sample oils, and determine for yourself which company is best for your needs. Some popular essential oil companies include Young Living, Doterra, and Rocky Mountain Oils. These three companies have a reputation for quality oils and are a good place to begin your foray into essential oils.

Regardless of which essential oil company you choose, make sure you know what you are buying before you buy. When comparing pricing, ensure you are comparing bottles of the same size and oils of the same concentration. Ask the sales rep about or check the company website to ensure you are aware of any fillers, perfumes, or other additives in the oil blends. If your sales rep can’t give you details on how the essential oils are grown and distilled, that’s a red flag. Once you’ve chosen your company, stock up on your favorite oils and enjoy the benefits so many people have already discovered.

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About Megan Stewart

Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of six grandsons, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.

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