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Essential Oils: A Primer

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Everyone loves essential oils. We love the way they feel and the way they smell. We’re enamored with the power they have to transform, to help set a mood, and perhaps even to heal. That’s why they’re essential to us. But are they essential to the plants that produce them? Not necessarily.

Plants manufacture oils for a number of reasons, and it’s not just because we love their aromatherapy benefits. They make these oils mostly to ward off bugs, animals and other environmental threats. But to us, these volatile substances are simply wondrous.

The history of essential oils

Not surprisingly, the first existence of essential oils was recorded in ancient India, Persia, and Egypt. Ancient Greece and Rome traded oils and ointments that were made by combining flowers, roots, and leaves with a fatty oil. The Middle East developed a technique to distill ethyl alcohol from fermented sugar, which provided a new substance to mix flowers, roots, and leaves. These oils were created largely by humans.

By the Middle Ages, distilled oils from plants were all the rage in medieval pharmacies. You could walk into any of one of them and find up to 1500 different oils from cedarwood, rose, rosemary, incense, turpentine, sage, cinnamon, myrhh and more. It was the famed Swiss alchemist Paracelsus who showed doctors how to create aromatic oils to help heal what ails you.

Essential oils. Powerful biological effects.

The compounds present in essential oils are powerful. Here are just a few:

  • Lavender: Universal oil, can use pure or diluted. Useful in conditioning patients to a safe space. May help allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness, to name a few.
  • Cardamom: Diuretic, anti-bacterial, normalizes appetite, colic, coughs, heartburn and nausea.
  • Fennel: assists the adrenal cortex, helps break up toxins and fluid in tissue. Balances pituitary, thyroid and pineal glands.
  • Helichrysum: Anti-bacterial, reduces bleeding in accidents, skin regenerator, helps repair nerves. Also useful in cardiac disease.
  • Frankincense: Has helped some cases of cancer. Works on the immune system. Has reduced tumors and external ulcers. Increases blood supply to the brain (although it can worsen hypertension so use caution).
  • Spearmint: Helps to reduce weight. Good for colic, diarrhea, nausea. Helps balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder. When diluted and used short term, this oil is helpful for many gastrointestinal issues in cats.

Essential oils and pets

Lavender oil also has powerful effects on the brain, creating a calming sensation, and small amounts can be used when traveling to calm pets or make them feel sleepy. But –

Always keep in mind that essential oils can be toxic to pets, especially when you overuse them inside the house. If you diffuse oils, pets can overdose from polyphenolic – toxic – compounds. Your dog or cat can breathe them in and their livers can’t process potential toxins.

So indulge your love of oils, but remember that your pets might not love them quite as much!

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