Essential oils are concentrated, aromatic plant extracts that have been used for thousands of years for emotional, cosmetic, medical and even spiritual purposes. The term “essential oil” actually comes from the idea of “quintessential oil.”
Aristotle believed that in addition to the four physical elements (fire, air, earth and water) there was a fifth element, quintessence. This was considered to be the “spirit” or life force of the plant.1
Today, essential oils are extracted from plants via two primary methods, distillation, which has been used since ancient times, and expression or cold pressing, which is used to extract citrus essential oils.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, physicians including Hippocrates, Galen, and Crito, promoted the therapeutic use of scents, . Even the plague was treated with fragrances!2
Pharmaceuticals edged out the use of essential oils in the 19th century, but now, however, they’re making a strong comeback.
What Are the Benefits of Using Essential Oils?
There are probably as many uses for essential oils as there are varieties, but research shows particular promise in relieving stress, pain and nausea, stabilizing your mood, and improving sleep, memory and energy levels.
As noted by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA):3
“It [Aromatherapy] seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process.”
Anxiety is one health condition for which essential oils may be particularly beneficial.
A systematic review of 16 randomized controlled trials examining the anxiolytic (anxiety-inhibiting) effects of aromatherapy among people with anxiety symptoms showed that most of the studies indicated positive effects to quell anxiety (and no adverse events were reported).4
Further, a blend of peppermint, ginger, spearmint and lavender essential oils has been found to help relieve post-operative nausea,6 while lavender aromatherapy has been shown to lessen pain following needle insertion.7 Essential oils have even been suggested as a replacement for antibiotics.8