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Guest Blog Post - Essential Oils by Empress Herbs

Lisette Fee

I'm super excited to give ya'll my first guest post by Rochelle Eisenberger - owner and maker behind the Empress Herbs.  I met Rochelle in January during a visit to my fav Durham shop, Everyday Magic.  Rochelle has her own apothecary and oil station set up in the store and it's AMAZING!  We got to talking about oils for sleep aid - as y'know I'm pregnant and struggle with a good nights rest.  Rochelle was super helpful in explaining oils to me and breaking down how they work.  Thus, I felt that many of you would LOVE to know more about essential oils and how they can help you everyday. 

AND not just that but Rochelle and I are collaborating to provide you with a very special Spring Equinox gift package available to you this week, on March 13th!

In preparation we wanted to give you a rundown on essential oils.  Until then enjoy Rochelle's Essential Oils 101 guide provided below.

Essential Oils Everyday

Essential oils are all over the interweb these days, each oil purported to have a healing superpowers that seems amazing. In truth, they are! They are also super concentrated plant essences and need to be used carefully. Essential oils can help clean, purify, and disinfect your home as well as lift your mood or help you go to sleep. First, we’ll cover what essential oils are and how they’re produced. Then we’ll look at some guidelines for purchasing, and finally I’ll share some of my favorite oils and their uses around the home.

Essential oils are the powerful, pure essence of a plant. It takes between 50 lbs to several tons of plant material to get a single quart of essential oil. An example of this is Rose - it takes 600 lbs of rose petals to produce 1 oz pure essential oil. That explains why 5 ml (a teaspoon) is about $200. It sounds crazy expensive, but considering the large amount of plant material it takes to make it, maybe $200 is a bargain.  Other plants, such as Eucalyptus, Pine, and Rosemary have a higher yield of oil per plant so the price is much cheaper.

The naturally occurring volatile oils that give the plants their powerful scent are the power of aromatherapy. Some of these oils are found mostly in the leaves and flowers, but they can also be found in the peel of the fruit, bark, roots, bulb, and even the resin (e.g., frankincense, pine). The volatile oils have many healing properties due to their complex chemical components which contain alcohols, terpenes, phenols, aldehydes, and ketones that give the plants their anti-bacterial, antiseptic, and disinfectant properties.

The best quality essential oils are extracted by steam distillation. In this method, the herbs are placed on a screen over boiling water in a large covered vessel. The steam rises and then descends down a coiled tube where the vapor condenses. The separated oil and water are caught in a container where the lighter oil floats on top of the water and is decanted. 

Some plants, jasmine being the most notable, have less volatile oil and are extracted by solvents. The petroleum based by-products work at room temperature and pull the oils from the plant. It also pulls out the wax and colorants resulting in a colored and thicker oil. This waxy substance is then mixed with alcohol to extract the aromatics. It is sold as an absolute. Any time you see “absolute” on a label, you know that that plant has been solvent extracted. Common oils that are sold using this method are: tuberose, carnation, gardenia, jonquil, violet leaf, narcissus, and mimosa.

Guidelines for Purchasing
So how do you choose a brand? There are several things to take into consideration when purchasing oils. On the average, one drop of essential oil represents the extraction of one ounce or more of plant material. That’s a lot of plant material harvested annually for human use. I buy the oils I know I am going to use on a regular basis, with a couple I want to get to know better. 

When looking for an essential oil brand, company research is critical.  Do they guarantee their oils are “100% pure essential oil”?  If they don’t, it’s probably not. Are they a large company or a small one? I choose small companies that have long term relationships with small growers and compensate them well. I also like companies owned by aromatherapy practitioners that are well respected in their field and preferably have some knowledge of botany and herbology.

The next item may be surprising given all the talk about “grades,” but there are no certifications for essential oils.  Sometimes on labels you’ll see oils classified as “therapeutic grade” or “aromatherapy grade” but this is misleading. No government agency or organization grades or certifies essential oils. The term “therapeutic grade” was used by a company as a marketing ploy and shortly afterward almost all essential oil companies were using those words. So, while the grade on the label sounds good, it has no inherent value or claim to quality.

All of the following information should be available for the oil, if not directly on the label it should be listed in the product description: the common plant name, Latin name (exact genus and species), country of origin, part of the plant processed, type of extraction (distillation or expression), and how it was grown (organic, wild-crafted, traditional).

How to Use Essential Oils
Internally: Because essential oils are so concentrated the only way I recommend using essential oils internally is as a mouthwash.

 A drop of Tea Tree oil in 1/4 cup of water as a mouthwash for gingivitis and plaque. Swish and spit out.

Externally: There are many ways to use essential oils externally.  One of the easiest is putting a drop of oil in the palm of the hand, rubbing your hands together, and inhaling from your cupped palms. This is only safe with non-dermatoxic oils. Lavender, Clary Sage, Geranium, Chamomile are all good candidates for this method.

Diffusers are the most popular way to enjoy essential oils. You may use a single oil or pick two or three essential oils to combine. There are a variety of diffusers from simple to elaborate. When anyone in my family starts to feel ill, in addition to my herbal allies, I like to start diffusing an oil with an affinity to kill germs in the air. Some of my favorites are Pine, Eucalyptus, and Fir.  Diffusing for 15 minutes, twice a day is a great place to start.

For self-care luxury, I like to mix essential oils into bath oils or salts. It’s important to emulsify essential oils before adding them to the bath.  If the oil isn’t mixed into milk or salt before adding to the bath, the oil molecules will merely float on top of the water. Some oils (particularly the citrus) are very irritating to the skin and could cause an allergic reaction.To emulsify add a maximum of 5 drops to 1/2 cup of milk or salt, mix well and add to bath.

Diluting Essential Oils for Use on the Skin
To use essential oils on the skin they must be diluted in a carrier oil. There are many options for carrier oils: sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, apricot kernel oil, and coconut oil to name a few. Sweet almond oil is a great carrier oil when creating massage blends. I like jojoba oil for moisturizing blends because it is absorbed quickly into the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy feeling. Experiment with small amounts of carrier oils to see how you like the final results before making a larger batch.

When making essential blends, there are generally three levels of dilution. A 1% dilution is used for children and elders. A 2% dilution is for general and adult use. 3% dilutions are used for acute health conditions.

Relaxing Oils:
Use one or a combination in bath, diffuser, or as a direct palm inhalation.
Lavender - may be put directly on burns, bites, and stings
Chamomile - combines well with Lavender in a diffuser
Geranium - calms anxiety

Cold and Flu Protection Oils:
These oils have decongestant properties, open breathing passages, protect against allergies, sinusitis, and mental dullness.  Diffuse one or a combination to use. All three of the oils listed have anti-inflammatory properties, are expectorants, and help regulate the mucus membranes.  All may be used in a diffuser, or used as a facial steam. 

Eucalyptus,  Pine,  & Tea Tree - sinusitis (for an effective facial steam and decongestant, add two drops of eucalyptus to pot of steaming water, carefully cover head with towel and inhale for 10-15 minutes)

Alleviating Headache:
Any of the following oils may be added to a carrier oil and 6-8 drops of Eucalyptus or Peppermint, or 10-12 drops if using Lavender.  Rub oil on temples, back of neck, or forehead.

Eucalyptus - anti-inflammatory properties, eases headaches, especially those associated with     sinusitis.
Lavender - good for morning and evening head pain
Peppermint - the menthol is eases tension and is cooling, good for head pain during the day

Household Cleaners:
All the oils listed below are powerful anti-microbials but are also phototoxic i.e., they enhance absorption of UV light.  They should never be applied directly to the skin unless they are diluted.

Tea Tree - kills mold. 20 drops of Tea Tree to a half cup of warm water.  Shake well, spray area thoroughly, wait for 1/2 hour, scrub.  For mold free maintenance spray tea tree mix in bathtub/shower after use to inhibit mold growth. 

The following cleaning powerhouse oils make a great spray for cleaning counters, stovetops, and sinks.  Cinnamon,  Clove bud, Lemon, Grapefruit, Lavender.

*I hope you enjoyed this guest post by Rochelle Eisenberger of Empress Herbs and that if want to test out some herbs you shop locally with Empress of Herbs.
Empress Herbs is located in Hillsborough, NC and handcrafted with love by Rochelle Eisenberger.  She is an herbalist, green witch, Reiki Master, and mystery student.