We humans have been using aromatic plants for medicinal, religious, and cosmetic purposes as far back as 3500 B.C., when the Egyptians and Mesopotamians perfected the distillation method. The practice spread around the world and down through the ages—despite a brief hiatus during the Dark Ages, when using plants as medicine could get you labeled as a witch and killed in inventive ways.
Fortunately, the knowledge of how to make essential oils survived, and modern society is once again falling in love with the many ways essential oils can benefit our lives.
What are Essential Oils?
Fun fact: essential oils are not, technically, oils, as they lack the fatty acids of oils. What essential oils really are are highly concentrated plant extracts garnered through a distillation process, or through resin tapping or cold pressing.
Did you know it takes about 30 pounds of lavender flowers to make one pound of lavender essential oil? And to get one kilogram of rose essential oil, you’ll need four tons of roses! All this concentration means that when you use a drop or two of an essential oil, you are drawing on the beneficial effects of thousands of the flowers (or leaves, fruit, bark, wood, peel, or roots) at once.
Essential oils are used for a wide variety of purposes, from perfumes and cosmetics to aromatherapy and massage. Added to creams and lotions, essential oils impart specific physical properties to the skin while also releasing their beneficial aromas.
The various properties of essential oils also make them ideal for mixing up homemade cleaning products, calming an upset tummy, relieving stress, and much more.
Let’s look at four interesting essential oils that would make great additions to your collection.
The evergreen C. camphora trees of Madagascar grow to 30 meters and bear clusters of white flowers that mature to red berries.
The Cinnamomum camphora tree was originally brought to Madagascar from Taiwan in the 19th century, but it quickly thrived and adapted to the Malagasy climate and environment, developing a chemotype unique to the island’s growth climate. Ravintsara oil is derived through steam distillation only from the leaves of the Malagasy C. camphora, which is a distinction that is important to note.
While C. camphora is used in Japan to produce camphor, the Malagasy C. camphora tree has lost all ability to produce camphor in the Malagasy climate.
- camphora can be divided into three distinct chemotypes: Hon Sho, the camphor chemotype that produces camphor oil; Ho Sho, the linolool chemotype that produces ho wood oil; and Yu Sho, the cineole chemotype that produces ravintsara. Ravintsara oil should be labeled as its chemotype, ct. 1,8 cineole (eucolyptol). If you’re not getting that chemotype, you’re getting mislabeled oil.
Ravintsara vs. Ravensara
Ravintsara oil is often confused with (and even labeled as) ravensara oil, but the two are not the same. Ravensara oil is derived from the leaves of the Ravensara aromatica tree, which is a native Malagasy tree and also part of the Lauraceae family (which includes camphor, cinnamon, bay laurel, rosewood, ho wood, may chang, ravensara, and ravintsara). Ravensara oil, however, is very low in 1,8 cineole and high in methylchavicol (estragole) and is not used in aromatherapy because of its strong anisic odor.
Ravintsara Oil Uses
Ravintsara essential oil is considered the safest of the oils derived from C. camphora and seems to be universally tolerated, with few people showing a negative reaction. For this reason, it is used frequently and widely by the Malagasy people and by people around the world.
Ravintsara oil has been found to be antibacterial, anticatarrhal, antifungal, antiviral, and excellent at supporting the immune system and respiratory system.
Ravintsara has a very pleasant, fresh balsamic, slightly medical aroma mixed with a touch of spicy-sweetness.
- Direct inhalation, diffusion, or oil vaporization as a single oil or as part of a blend—especially for respiratory ailments or just to relax both physically and mentally
- Mixed with a carrier oil or lotion and applied to the skin to treat skin conditions, cuts, and abrasions
- As a substitute for eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil
All the antioxidant factors of fresh limes (Citris aurantifolia) are to be found in lime essential oil, which is derived from fresh or dried lime rinds. In addition, lime oil carries a host of other incredibly useful properties as an antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, hemostatic, febrifuge, astringent, aperitif, restorative, and tonic.
Lime Oil Uses
Lime oil is very commonly used for relaxing and centering the mind and body. The fresh aroma helps concentration and is uplifting for the spirit. Diffuse lime oil when you need to calm down and de-stress. Try using it before or during a big change in your life, when you feel overwhelmed, or when you need to feel grounded. It can also assist you in overcoming mental or emotional shock following a traumatic event.
While you should only consume essential oils that have an official FDA food and nutrition label on the bottle—and even then, consume those essential oils very carefully (one drop per four ounces water or other liquid)—lime oil boasts many internal benefits for the entire digestive tract and urinary tract. It can also boost the immune system to reduce or prevent the symptoms of colds, bronchitis, and other respiratory and viral infections.
Used topically, lime oil (mixed with a carrier oil or lotion) does a fantastic job at promoting the healing of skin injuries and wounds.
- Direct inhalation, diffusion, or oil vaporization to produce feelings of calmness, relaxation, grounding, and a spiritual uplift; also for respiratory system support to counteract bronchitis; also increases appetite after illness or for those who need to gain weight
- Internally for digestive tract support, including treatment of issues in the mouth, throat, and colon, and for ulcers or diarrhea.
- For treatment of toothache and gingivitis
- Mix with bath water for relaxation and skin cleansing
- As a household product, lime oil removes gum, grease, and wood stains
If you are not yet familiar with cypress oil, you may be surprised at the wide variety of ways you can use it.
Cypress essential oil is steam distilled from the needles, stems, and twigs of Cupressis sempivirens, an evergreen that flourishes in the Mediterranean, southern portions of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa.
Cypress Oil Uses
Cypress oil is valued for its properties as an astringent, antiseptic, antispasmodic, deodorant, diuretic, hemostatic, hepatic, styptic, sudorific, vasoconstricting, respiratory tonic, and sedative substance.
You will often find cypress oil, with its clean, fresh aroma, used in soaps and household cleaning products. Just inhaling the aroma calms stressed, angry people, allowing them to relieve tension.
Its antispasmodic properties are very helpful in preventing or eliminating muscle cramps or restless leg syndrome, and in reducing the pain and inflammation of carpal tunnel syndrome. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, the oil’s antispasmodic and diuretic properties relieve muscle cramping while drawing out excess fluid from the carpel tunnel, the most common cause of the pain associated with this condition.
Cypress oil is excellent on its own but lends itself well to oil blends—especially with citrus oils.
- The scent calms stress and anger while producing a quiet and subtle sedative effect
- Use in soaps and cosmetics to cleanse skin; in underarm deodorants; and in shampoos or hair tonics to increase blood flow to scalp and hair follicles
- Use in lotions and creams as an antispasmodic to eliminate cramps or for massage
- Use in a diffuser or oil vaporizer to relieve respiratory congestion and loosen phlegm
- Use in toothpastes or mouthwashes to heal mouth wounds and tighten teeth and gum tissues
Cedar may be the wood of choice for clothing chests and closets with its warm, spicy scent that repels moths, but cedarwood oil is good for far more than keeping flying critters at bay.
Cedarwood essential oil is steam distilled from the wood of Juniperis virginiana, which flourishes across the eastern U.S., southeast Canada, and Mexico in cold, high altitude environments. Because the wood is used to make the oil, it retains the wonderful, rich aroma so often associated with the planks used in building.
Cedarwood Oil Uses
Cedarwood oil is very beneficial and shares multiple properties with cypress oil. For many applications, cedarwood and cypress oils can be substituted for each other; but each oil also has its own unique properties.
Cedarwood oil can be used as an antiseborrheic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, emmenegogue, expectorant, insecticidal, fungicidal, sedative, and tonic.
Like cypress oil, cedarwood can be used to prevent cramps and relieve the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. As an ingredient in toothpaste or mouthwash, it cleanses the mouth while tightening teeth in the gums. Rub cedarwood oil mixed with a carrier oil or lotion onto skin wounds to make them antiseptic or to help heal skin issues such as seborrheic eczema.
The rich, dark, spicy aroma of cedarwood oil calms the nervous system. It is an excellent oil to use for someone who feels isolated or is drawing away from people, as the scent appears to encourage a feeling of self-confidence and a desire to connect with others.
- Diffuse the aroma for a sense of connection, self-confidence, and relaxation
- Use in massage oils or creams to relieve cramps or spasms
- Use in toothpaste or mouthwash to clean the mouth and tighten teeth in the gums
- Apply as an antiseptic to skin wounds
- Apply as a cream to relieve arthritis and inflammation
- Use as a tonic to stimulate the metabolism and give the kidneys and liver a boost
- Regularly apply as a cream to relieve the symptoms associated with PMS and to promote menstruation while regulating the cycle
- Diffuse or inhale as steam to loosen phlegm due to a cold or cough
- Sprinkle on bed linens and other textiles to repel moths and other insects, including mosquitoes
- Inhalation of the vapors can heal fungal infections, both internally and externally