Essential oils provide a wonderful natural-medicine alternative to common ailments we see at home. Their actions are broad and diverse, ranging from topical antiseptics and anti-inflammatories to analgesics, digestive system tonics, and anti-depressants. While essential oils should not be a substitute for professional medical care, they can be successfully employed for many minor complaints, and as adjuncts to other therapies.
Here we will have a brief look at ten essential oils considered by some to comprise the ‘basic home care kit’. While by no means exhaustive, this list will go a long way to providing effective (and often pleasant!) treatments for you and your family for things like cuts and scrapes, sunburn, digestive troubles, stress related conditions and more. In the second article, we will cover specific applications and uses of each oil.
Oil #1: Lavender Lavender has often been called the ‘medicine chest in a bottle’ for its broad range of applications. Every home should keep Lavender on hand, even if no other oil is used, as it is so very effective on burns. It’s anti-inflammatory action is responsible for the beginnings of modern aromatherapy, as Dr. Jean Valnet discovered Lavender’s healing properties after being burned in a laboratory accident. Lavender is considered to speed wound healing and reduce scarring. The oil is also pleasantly calming, and can be used to reduce stress in a variety of situations – a commonly used technique is to apply Lavender oil ‘neat’ (undiluted) to the soles of the feet of patients recovering from almost any ailment.
Oil #2: Tea Tree When first examined for it’s antiseptic properties, Tea Tree essential oil was found to be 100 times more powerful than carbolic acid – the medical standard at the time. Tea tree has an extremely broad range of antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties that have been confirmed by modern scientific research. Often used topically on small wounds, Tea Tree is also commonly found in oral hygiene preparations, and can also be effectively employed for Candida, athlete’s foot and acne, among other things.
Oil #3: Peppermint An excellent digestive tonic, Peppermint essential oil can sooth many stomach complaints. For the traveler, it’s effectiveness on calming motion sickness can be of great help. Further, at least eight controlled studies have shown Peppermint oil to be effective in reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a painful condition of the intestines. Beyond it’s support of the digestive system, Peppermint is delightfully stimulating to the mind, brightening and sharpening mental focus. Finally, Peppermint is considered by some to be a more effective insect repellent than citronella when used on the body (rather than in the surrounding air).
Oil #4: Chamomile Ah, the great tension reliever, Chamomile oil. This extremely gentle essential oil is useful for a wide variety of nervous conditions, and is often indicated for cases of stress in children (including teething and general ‘crankiness’). Rubbing into the solar plexus is a commonly used application if that is where one tends to ‘hold tension’. Chamomile essential oil is available in to varieties, German or Blue Chamomile and Roman Chamomile. The Roman variety is most often used for stress relief, whereas the German variety has the added bonus of being an extremely effective anti-inflammatory.
Oil #5: Eucalyptus Another essential oil with a broad range of properties, Eucalyptus is most often used for respiratory conditions, being useful in clearing congestion with coughs and colds. However, it’s effects are certainly not limited to the airways – because of it’s broad range of effects, it has been called the aromatherapists ‘designer oil’. Eucalyptus oil can cool the body in Summer (or due to fever – use in a compress), and support the immune system in Winter. Diffusing Eucalyptus oil can kill most staphylococcus bacteria, again being supportive of bronchial infections. It is considered equally effective in cases of cystitis, candida, and sunburn, to name a few, as well as being an insect repellent.
Oil #6: Geranium Geranium (sometimes known as ‘Geranium Rose’) works wonderfully on both physiological and psychological levels. It’s floral aroma is brightening and uplifting, while also working as a sedative. Malte Hozzel has made this statement regarding this oil: "Geranium’s vital, sensual presence is not subtle, but direct & unavoidable, making it one of the oils of choice for aphrodisiac qualities. (Geranium Essential Oil) inspires natural beauty & enjoyment, uplifts instantly & "tonifies" the mind & intellect in a powerful, nearly demanding attitude. Mobilizing hidden creative & emotional reserves, helping us to rise to our own earthly & spiritual identify. A fiery beauty for the spells of all worlds." Particularly noted for it’s effect on female physiologic conditions, Geranium oil can be effective for menopausal problems, uterine and breast complaints.
Oil #7: Rosemary Rosemary essential oil is an effective physical and mental stimulant, whether used in a diffuser or in a morning bath. It’s slightly spicy, rather than floral aroma, has a warming effect particularly useful for arthritic joints and other muscular complaints. It also has a long history of treatment for colds and flu – Rosemary was a component of ‘Four Thieves Vinegar’, which robbers rubbed upon their bodies to prevent infection when up to no good during the plague years of the middle ages. Also, Rosemary is the essential oil most often associated with improving hair growth in cases of Alopecia.
Oil #8: Thyme Thyme oil is a powerful antiviral, antibiotic, antiseptic and diuretic, though it should be employed with great care. There are many types of Thyme oil available, but only the ‘linalol’ chemotype is appropriate for use with children; all varieties should be diluted prior to topical application. Given the precautions, Thyme can be a first line of defense in cases of flu, being used in a room diffuser. It also supports elimination of toxic wastes from the body (particularly noted for excessive uric acid), and it’s warming quality can eliminate mucous and phlegm. It’s application for the digestive system is that of a powerful anti-parasitic, and for the muscular system, it can be helpful for rheumatic aches and pains. Thyme oil may also be supportive in cases of hair loss.
Oil #9: Lemon A recent study on test-taking college students showed the diffusion of Lemon oil into a room improved test scores more than any other oil. In addition to it’s mind-brightening qualities, it can also disinfect room air and act as a natural deodorant. Lemon has been noted to support liver function, and is also commonly used to assist in weight loss and cellulite reduction. In blends, lemon adds a pleasant top note, and can create a synergistic effect with other oils. Finally, Lemon oil is commonly used as both a fragrance and flavoring agent.
Oil #10: Clove The power of Clove essential oil is noted upon the first sensing of the aroma – it is quite strong, sharp and earthy. Clove oil has been found to be the strongest anti-oxidant of any essential oil, and is a component of ‘longevity’ formulas. It is also an extremely potent antibacterial, effective against a broader range of microbes than any other oil except perhaps Oregano – Clove oil has even been employed to sterilize surgical instruments. Clove also has analgesic properties, and can be used to temporarily reduce the pain of toothache. Clove oil (or ground cloves) is also a component of Dr. Huda Clark’s anti-parasite protocol, helping eliminate parasites from one’s digestive system. This is a very powerful oil which should be diluted to 1% or less for topical application.
So, there we have a possible ‘top ten’ essential oils for the home medicine chest, a selection with an extremely broad range of uses for common ailments seen in a family setting. It is important to note that all essential oils are powerful, and they should be treated with caution and respect. Always refer to a trusted source before making specific applications of any oil, as many can be irritating or possibly toxic if used incorrectly.
To help employ these oils in your home, however, we will examine more specific uses of each essential oil in part II of this article. This will assist you in using these wonderful medicines of nature in your daily routine.
Misty Rae Cech is a Naturopath and Yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado. She is the owner of Ananda Apothecary, an online dispensery of pure organic essential oils and flower essences. Misty employs essential oils and flower essences in her practice, finding them a wonderful natural way to support her clients.