I've said it before and I'll say it again: when it comes to medicine, I'm a big believer in trying a natural remedy first (depending on the situation, of course). If I have a sore throat, I'd rather make myself a traditional Indian tea my mother used to make for me before I go to the pharmacy. If I have an aching muscle, I try to massage it and stretch it out before I reach for the ibuprofen. It's not that I don't like medical science - I'm a huge believer in it - it's just that I think if there's a safe, effective way to heal without resorting to something made in a laboratory, it's just better on your body.
I am far from being the pinnacle of health, but I try to take care of myself as best I can, so I always keep an eye out for new ways to improve my health and lifestyle. Working here at Wimp, where we all have that interest and tend to post a lot of pretty awesome, useful information, I get exposed to quite a lot of great new ways to improve my life. One thing that I started to notice about some of these "life hack" videos that I've been seeing lately is that they often mention essential oils. It's a term that I'm sure a lot of you have heard too, and I started to get curious.
Following what I'd like to think was my journalistic instinct, I decided to dig a little deeper and see what I could find. What I discovered was that essential oils were actually pretty neat stuff! Basically, they're oils distilled from a mass of plant material. Essential oils contain an incredibly vast and complex array of chemicals and compounds, and scientists are still discovering thousands of unique molecules.
Essential oils are quite literally the essence of a plant, distilled into an oil. They have all kinds of unique biochemical properties, often being powerful antiseptics. They also have the concentrated aroma of the plant they were derived from, which can make them quite fragrant (lemon oil, for instance).
Although the term "essential oil" might seem like somewhat of a new trend, these kinds of oils have had a long history, with many early cultures anointing themselves in oils to clean their bodies, create perfumes, and honor great leaders. The Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (a.k.a. "King Tut") was found buried with several jars containing precious oils. Essential oils such as cinnamon oil were also used to disinfect bodies during the mummification process.
There are also many, many references to the use of oils in the Bible and other religious texts. When the Three Kings arrived at the manger to greet the baby Jesus, they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Two out of three of these gifts are fragrant incenses that were also available as oils at the time.
Sadly, the knowledge of oils was lost for a while when many practitioners of natural, plant-based healing were branded as witches during the superstitious Colonial Era.
The power of essential oils was reconciled with science for the first time with the work of a French doctor named Rene Gattefosse. His book, Aromatherapie, was published in 1930 and expounded on the virtues of essential oils. Today, he's known as the "Father of Aromatherapy."
Gattefosse's interest in the field came about when he was working as a perfume chemist. As the story goes, a bad chemical explosion caused severe burns to his hands. Looking to soothe the burn, he stuck his hands into the nearest vat of liquid - which just happened to be lavender oil. The next day, his hands had healed perfectly. He went on to conduct more experiments treating soldiers with oils during World War I, and found the antiseptic properties of several types of essential oils to be quite useful against gangrene.
Although they've been quite popular in Europe for quite some time already, essential oils are only now starting to reach mainstream awareness in America. Better late than never, I say, because there are so many ways in which essential oils can make life a little easier.
Essential oils can be used as an all-purpose cleaner. Many of the most popular essential oils have antibacterial properties, while smelling awesome to boot. Just mix a few drops of oil with one part water and one part vinegar to clean just about any surface. Don't be like this lady - clean smart!
Fun fact: you could also opt to use a blend of essential oils known as Thieve's Oil. This oil is a powerful all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant comprised of a blend of clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary, and lemon oils. The story of its name is an interesting one. During the time of the bubonic plague in Europe, spice merchants found their business suffering, because, you know, everyone was dying and what-not. These merchants decided to turn to a life of larceny in order to make a living during hard times and used their knowledge of spices and oils to create a blend that kept them from getting sick while robbing plagued people's houses. Their oil worked so well, and they were so successful, that word eventually got out about this "thieve's oil" that kept sickness at bay.
You can also combine a few drops of essential oil with some water and just a little bit of alcohol (to help the oil spray with the water) to make a lovely air freshening spray. I'd recommend lemon, lime, or orange for a nice clean smell that's also scientifically proven to energize and focus your mind! Alternatively, you could go floral or even use vanilla or cinnamon for a cozier scent.
You can also make a DIY spray to take with you to the bathroom if you're a little embarrassed about the smell. Melissa Maker from CleanMySpace shows how below:
You may have already heard about using coconut oil to clean your teeth. In case you haven't, it's called oil pulling and it's actually really effective! If you wanna kick it up another notch from there, add a few drops of peppermint. It's antibacterial, and it smells minty fresh.
Acne troubles? Dab a very tiny amount of tea tree oil directly onto the affected areas. Repeat as needed once or twice a day and you'll see a difference pretty quickly.
You can also use essential oils to soothe a fussy baby (or yourself). Try scenting the room with lavender, or diffusing it through a diffuser/humidifier. You can also massage your baby with a few drops of lavender oil mixed with a neutral carrier oil (coconut, almond, olive, etc.). Lavender is a naturally soothing scent that causes people to relax.
Does your vacuum have a funny smell? Put a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a cotton ball and put it in your vacuum cleaner. Now the house is dust-free and smells good too!
As noted earlier on, essential oils have also had a lot of applications in treating burns and other wounds. Lavender oil is particularly good for healing burns and scars, but there are plenty of others that can also be effective.
Of course, aroma is also a huge part of how we taste things, so essential oils have a lot of uses in the culinary world as well (provided the oils you're using are meant for human consumption). Just a few drops of lavender oil in a pitcher of lemonade will make you the most refreshing summertime drink you've ever had.
A note on purity:
As with so many things these days, regulations on essential oils are still somewhat behind the times. Current federal guidelines stipulate that in order to be classified as "pure, therapeutic grade," a bottle of essential oil need only have around 7% actual essential oil. The rest can be carrier oils, alcohols, and other synthetic fragrances. Therefore, make sure you do a little research before buying, as some oils can be quite costly. Generally speaking though, you get what you pay for, so you'll probably have to shell out a little more for something that really truly is pure.