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Essential Oils - History, Science, & Uses

Essential oils are organic compounds extracted from plants with tremendous healing properties and when used for healing purposes, it's often referred to as aromatherapy, a holistic way to improve the physical, mental and emotional health and well-being of the person.

Extracted directly from the bark, flower, seed, root, leaf, fruit of a plant or a tree, essential oils can provide powerful health benefits, using just one drop. Typically essential oils are produced by a process called distillation, which, through a steaming process, the oil and water-based parts of the plan are separated. By concentrating the oils of plants, you are separating the most powerful healing compounds of a plant into a single oil. It takes about.....65 pounds of rose petals to make one single 15ml bottle of rose essential oil. 

Risks of Essential Oils!

Never ingest any essential oils or apply undiluted to the skin without proper training or medical supervision. It is critical to understand how best to use them. Always consult a specialist and test the area, proceeding with caution as they may react differently to different individuals, especially children and pregnant women.

A Wee Bit of Science...

Essential Oils are composed of very tiny molecules that have the ability to permeate your cell membranes and some essential oil molecule compounds can cross the blood-brain barrier. 

Please note: Essentials oils different from fatty oils, such as those found in vegetables or nuts, which are comprised of larger molecules unable to penetrate the cellular wall, therefore they are not therapeutic in the same manner.

A Wee Bit of History...

For over 5000 years, many different cultures have used oils for a large variety of health conditions. 

Essential oils have been around for centuries, dating back as far as Biblical days when Jesus was anointed with frankincense and myrrh upon his birth. They’ve been utilized since ancient times in various cultures, including China, Egypt, India and Southern Europe.


Some essential oils have even been applied to the dead as part of the embalming process. We know this because residues have been found in tombs dating over 2,000 years old! Essential oils are also prevalent in aromatherapy, which was advanced by French surgeon Jean Valnet, who learned that essential oils could help treat soldiers during World War II — a time when medications were scarce.

In 1928, a French chemist by the name of Rene-Maurice Gattefosse used lavender oil on a burn on his hand. When he saw positive healing results, he began to investigate further by testing it on other types of skin infections. Lavender has been found to have powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, sedative, calming and anti-depressive properties, and has been and impressive oil for the cosmetic industry. 1

With Gattefosse's research, Aromatherapy was born. His main goal was to help injured soldiers during World War I. The use of these oils began to spread especially with practitioners of alternative medicine, such as massage therapists and beauticians throughout Europe. Aromatherapy did not become popular in the U.S. until the 1980s when essential oils began to be added to various lotions, candles or other fragrances. Trained holistic therapists incorporate the use of essential oils into their practices, such as: aromatherapists, physical therapists, massage therapists, reflexologists, nutritionists or even doctors of natural medicine who use aromatherapy in their practice and are trained in specific uses for essential oils.

Most Widely Used - And, most Popular!

The most widely used essential oils, with the most applications for use, are:

Lavender - Lavender essential oil is the most used essential oil in the world today, but the benefits of lavender were actually discovered over 2,500 years ago. Because of its powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, sedative, calming and antidepressive properties, lavender oil benefits abound and it’s been used both cosmetically and therapeutically for centuries.


Lavender Oil - benefits for your body include the following:

  • Reduce anxiety and emotional stress

  • Protect against diabetes symptoms

  • Improve brain function

  • Help to heal burns and wounds

  • Improve sleep

  • Restore skin complexion and reduce acne

  • Slow aging with powerful antioxidants

  • Relieve pain

  • Alleviate headaches


Frankincense - Frankincense, sometimes referred to as olibanum, is a common type of essential oil used in aromatherapy that can offer a variety of health benefits, including:


  • helping relieve chronic stress and anxiety

  • reducing pain and inflammation,

  • boosting immunity

  • new research showing it may be helpful in certain types of cancer. 



Lemon - scientifically called Citrus limon, is a flowering plant that belongs to the Rutaceae family. Lemon plants are grown in many countries all over the world, although they are native to Asia and are believed to have been brought to Europe around 200 A.D. In America. English sailors used lemons while on the sea to protect themselves from scurvy and conditions caused by bacterial infections. Lemon essential oil comes from cold-pressing the lemon peel and not the inner fruit. The peel is actually the most nutrient-dense portion of the lemon because of its fat soluble phytonutrients. Lemon essential oil is composed of many natural compounds, including terpenes, sesquiterpenes, aldehydes, alcohols, esters and sterols. Lemons and lemon oil are popular because of their refreshing scent and invigorating, purifying and cleaning properties.


Research shows that lemon oil contains powerful antioxidants and helps to:


  • reduce inflammation

  • fight bacteria and fungi

  • boost energy levels

  • ease digestion

Peppermint - A hybrid species of spearmint and water mint, peppermint oil is one of the most versatile essential oils out there. It can be used aromatically, topically and internally to address a number of health concerns, from muscles aches and seasonal allergy symptoms, to low energy and digestive complaints. It’s also commonly used to boost energy levels and improve both skin and hair health. Peppermint oil is recommended for its anti-nausea benefits and soothing effects on the gastric lining and colon. It’s also valued for its cooling effects and helps to relieve sore muscles when used topically. In addition to this, peppermint essential oil displays antimicrobial properties, which is why it can be used to fight infections and even freshen your breath. Pretty impressive, right?


Tea-Tree Oil - also known as Melaleuca, is well-known for its powerful antiseptic properties and ability to treat wounds, which is why it’s one of the top antibacterial essential oils. Tea tree is a volatile essential oil derived mainly from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It’s been widely used throughout Australia for at least the past 100 years and for over seven decades, it’s been documented in numerous medical studies for its ability to kill many strains of bacteria, viruses and fungi.


Tea tree oil uses are numerous — it can be used to make homemade cleaning products, diffused to kill toxic mold that’s growing in your home, and applied topically to heal skin issues and treat skin infections. I use this powerful essential oil in my tea tree oil for acne recipe and many other DIY recipes that have become part of my daily routine.

Tea tree oil becoming an increasingly popular active ingredient in a variety of household and cosmetic products, including disinfectant sprays, face washes, shampoos, massage oils, skin and nail creams and laundry detergents. Tea tree’s natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions make it one of the most beneficial essential oils that should included as part of your natural medicine cabinet. (1)

Ailments that can be helped with Essential Oils:

  • Cold and Flu Symptoms

  • Relax your body and sooth sore muscles

  • Skin Conditions

  • Pain

  • Hormone imbalances

  • Digestive issues

  • Cellulite and Wrinkle reduction

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

Carefully and gingerly cozying up with mainstream medicine...

While we continue to use essential oils today for alleviating health concerns, we also find they are quite useful for relaxation, beauty care and home-cleaning. 

Aromatherapy has a variety of health benefits and can be used in a variety of settings. It is a great, non-invasive way to deal with a variety of medical concerns and can often be used safely in combination with many other therapies.


Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, and other aroma compounds for improving psychological or physical well-being. It can be offered as a complementary therapy or as a form of alternative medicine. Complementary therapy can be offered alongside standard treatment, with alternative medicine offered instead of conventional, evidence-based treatments.

Mental Illness - In many traditional hospitals, like Vanderbilt University Hospital, practitioners are catching on to the benefits of essential oils and are using them in the treatment of anxiety, depression and infections in hospitalized patients.

Anxiety - The Top 7 Essential Oils for Anxiety

The beauty of essential oils is that they are natural, extracted from flowers, leaves, bark or roots of plants. While it’s best to make sure you use pure essential oils, meaning oils that have not been diluted with chemicals or additives, they can provide much needed relief and healing for a variety of ailments, including as a natural remedy for anxiety.

Anxiety is a tough battle to face day in and day out, which makes having a natural solution, such as an essential oil blend, important!

In a recent 2014 study by the American College of Healthcare Sciences, 58 hospice patients were given hand massages once a day for one week with an essential oil blend in 1.5 percent dilution with sweet almond oil. The essential oil blend consisted of these essential oils in equal ratios of bergamot, frankincense and lavender. All patients who received the aromatherapy hand massage reported less pain and depression, concluding that aromatherapy massage with this essential oil blend is more effective for pain and depression management than massage alone. (1)


Here are some of the best essentials oils for anxiety:


1. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Considered the most common essential oil, lavender oil benefits include having a calming, relaxing effect. It’s considered a nervous system restorative and helps with inner peace, sleep, restlessness, irritability, panic attacks, nervous stomach and general nervous tension.


“The Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, Second Edition” states that there have been a number of clinical trials involving the inhalation of lavender essential oil that indicate a reduction in stress and anxiety. One study using oral lavender essential oil via capsules found that heart rate variation significantly increased compared to the placebo while watching an anxiety-provoking film. This suggested that lavender had anxiolytic effects. 

Further research demonstrates lavender’s ability to lower anxiety in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery and in people visiting the dentist.

2. Rose (Rosa damascene)

One of the benefits of rose essential oil is it’s very settling to the emotional heart and perhaps the second most popular after lavender for relieving anxiety and depression, helping with panic attacks, grieving and shock. In study of women who were pregnant for the first time published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, one group of women received a 10-minute inhalation and footbath with oil rose, another group received a 10-minute warm-water footbath, and they were compared to a control group. The findings showed “aromatherapy and footbath reduces anxiety in active phase in nulliparous women.” (2)

3. Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)


Vetiver oil has a tranquil, grounding and reassuring energy, often used in trauma helping with self-awareness, calmness and stabilization. A nervous system tonic, it decreases jitteriness and hypersensitivity and is also useful in panic attacks and shock. A study published in Natural Product Research examining the anxiety-like behavior in rats concluded that vetiver oil may be useful in lowering anxiety effects, though more research is needed to confirm this finding.

4. Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)

This popular essential oil can treat anxiety and depression due to its calming and uplifting effects. Ylang ylang helps with cheerfulness, courage, optimism and soothes fearfulness. It may calm heart agitation and nervous palpitations and is a moderately strong sedative, which can help with insomnia.

In a 2006 study conducted by Geochang Provincial College in Korea, using ylang ylang oil, along with bergamot and lavender oils, once a day for four weeks reduced “psychological stress responses and serum cortisol levels, as well as the blood pressure of clients with essential hypertension." (3)

Be careful when using ylang ylang, as it can be sensitizing or irritating to the skin; avoid using in conditions of low blood pressure.



5. Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Bergamot is commonly found in Earl Grey tea and has a distinctive floral taste and aroma. Bergamot oil is calming and often used to treat depression by providing energy; however, it can also help with insomnia induce relaxation and reduce agitation.

It’s been proven to reduce corticosterone response to stress in rats, and another interesting study conducted in 2011 hypothesizes that applying blended essential oil that includes bergamot to participants helps in treating depression or anxiety. The blended essential oil consisted of lavender and bergamot oils. Compared with the placebo, blended essential oil caused significant natural ways to reduce blood pressure and pulse rate, and participants in the blended essential oil group rated themselves as “more calm” and “more relaxed” than the control group.

Bergamot is generally safe, but it is photosensitizing, meaning it can increase the risk of sunburn and rash. It is best to avoid use within 12 hours of sun exposure.

6. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

A peaceful, calming scent, chamomile benefits inner harmony and decreases irritability, overthinking, anxiety and worry. An explorative study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on the antidepressant activity in chamomile found that this essential oil “may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.” (4)

Another study published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that chamomile capsules have been shown to ease anxiety symptoms. (5)


Chamomile oil is generally safe, except for a some small risk of allergy, especially with anyone who has an allergy to ragweed.

7. Frankincense (Boswellia carteri or boswella sacra)

Frankincense is great for treating depression and anxiety because it provides a calming and tranquil energy as well as spiritual grounding. In aromatherapy, it helps deepen meditation and quiet the mind. Mixed with bergamot and lavender oils in a 1:1 ratio in an aroma hand massage, frankincense was found to have a positive effect on pain and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer in a Keimyung University study in Korea. (5) 

How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety

Essential oils can be used in three different ways:


1) aromatherapy

2) ingestion

3) topically

Aromatherapy for anxiety is very popular because our sense of smell triggers powerful emotional responses. We process so much information through our sense of smell — in particular, in an area of the brain adjacent to the limbic region. This is the area of emotional processing and memory recall.

When the scent of an essential oil is inhaled, molecules enter the nasal cavities and stimulate a firing of mental response in the limbic system of the brain. These stimulants regulate stress or calming responses, such as heart rate, breathing patterns, production of hormones and blood pressure.


Aromatherapy can be obtained by using oils in these ways:


1)  in a bath

2) as direct inhalations

3) hot water vapor

4) vaporizer or humidifier

5) fan

6) vent

7) perfume

8) cologne

9) aromatherapy diffusers.

Oral Application - The most effective way to consume them, according to “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy,” is to add a drop of oil in a glass of water or in a teaspoon with honey. (6) You can simply add a drop or two underneath the tongue. This is beneficial because the blood capillaries are so close to the surface of the tissue under the tongue, allowing them to pass more quickly into the bloodstream and travel to the different areas of the body where they’re needed. 

Other oral application options include capsules, adding a drop or two to your favorite beverage, making a tea, and cooking.

Topical Application - Topical application is a process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, teeth, nails or mucous membranes of the body. When the oils touch the skin, they penetrate rapidly.

Since they are so potent, it is important to dilute and blend with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond, jojoba, olive, avocado or coconut oil. You can apply the blend directly to an affected area, on the bottoms of the feet, rims of the ears, using compresses, in baths or through massage.

Recipe for Anxiety - Easy Lavender Neck Rub



  • 3 drops pure lavender oil

  • 1 teaspoon fractionated coconut oil or almond oil



  • Blend the lavender oil and coconut or almond oil in your palm

    and rub onto your neck for natural anxiety relief.
    You can also rub onto the bottoms of your feet.
    This is perfect for anytime or just before bed.


Labour and Delivery - A 2007 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that women who used aromatherapy during labour reported overall, lessened pain, and needed fewer pain medications. In fact, a 2016 study published in Pain Research and Treatment showed that “aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments.” According to only certain oils are safe to using during labour and using oils are only recommended if you have had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.


There are 5 Essential Oils that are commonly used during labour and delivery:

1. Frankincense - calming, useful toward the end of the first stage of labour.

To use, place a single drop in the centre of your palms, or rub some onto your lower back and abdomen area. Beside the pain relief it will give, this essential oil can also help heal a tear after childbirth.

2. Clary Sage - best option when it comes to minimizing tearing and relieving muscle tension resulting from emotional stress. Doulas are a big fan of this essential oil. When applied at the last stages of labour, the mother's last transition phase before delivery will become a more euphoric period of the labour and delivery. 

To use, dilute a few drops and apply on skin over reproductive organs. Or, place a drop on each palm and inhale between contractions. Note: Clary sage can induce labour, so don’t use this unless you’re ready to give birth and have consulted with your doctor. If you get the green light, place a couple of drops on your inner ankles.

3. Peppermint Oil - can help with exhaustion, nausea, heat, and aches during labour.

To use, put a few drops of Peppermint oil into a carrier oil such as grapeseed or coconut, and massage into back, hips, and temples — anywhere but your eyes! Or simply place a small drop on your tongue. For a burst of energy, inhale the aroma. Spearmint is an alternative. Peppermint might be helpful in negotiating a breech baby into a proper birthing position by rubbing it on top of the abdomen.

4. Myrrh -  is a great option for moms experiencing stalled labour.

To use, and to move the labour along, place a few drops of Myrrh on a cotton ball and take a few sniffs. This might help increase contractions. Post delivery, if you have an issue with the umbilical cord stump, applying a few drops of myrrh can help it fall off easier.

5. Lavender - the fear and anxiety of childbirth can be as crippling as the physical challenges. The scent of lavender oil calms the nerves as much as a glass of pinot which, some people mistakenly think will be helpful during this stressful time. 

Note: Lavender alone can’t induce labour, but it’s often blended with oils that can.

Hospital Asepsis - Essential oils can also have antibacterial or antifungal benefits used in medical settings.


Skin Conditions - Many oils, when massaged on the skin, can help treat skin conditions, such as burns, cuts and scrapes. Others may help boost the immune system, helping with insomnia and aiding digestion. Tea-Tree oil's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties has potential to work as a natural remedy for acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, including Eczema and Psoriasis. 


Contributors of Medical information for my pages, provided by:


1) University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, US

Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. In 2008, he started a functional medicine center in Nashville, which grew to become one of the most renowned clinics in the world.

2) Department of Nursing, Geochang Provincial College, Geochang-gun, Gyungnam, Korea.

3) Department of Midwifery, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Iran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, IR Iran - *Corresponding Authors: Nassimeh Setayesh Vali Pour, Department of Midwifery, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Iran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, IR Iran. 


4) University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

5) Amsterdam JD, Yimei L, Soeller I, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2009 ;29(4):378–382.

6) Department of Nursing, Keimyung University, Jung-gu, Daegu, Korea.

7) The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy, Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D., Inner Traditions/Bear, Nov. 8, 2011 - Health & Fitness - 240 pages

Essential Oils
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