Essential oils are the substances extracted from plants by a process of steam distillation. They can be extracted from the leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, and roots of plants, and they not only give plants their amazing scent, they play a protective role too.
The Role of Essential Oils in Plants
They help plants to adapt the changeable environment around them, and there are other important jobs that oils can do for a plant.
They Aid in Pollination
Insects are attracted to plants because of their scent, colour, and structure, with scent being the dominant factor. Bees, in particular, are attracted to plants for this reason, and this helps with the cross pollination of plants.
They Prevent Competing Plants from Thriving
There are compounds in essential oils, especially terpenoids, eucalyptol and camphor, which prevent competing plants from growing around them.
They Deter Predators and Pests
The chemical compounds in oils can also help to deter insects and animals from destroying or eating them.
They Protect Plants from Disease
The oils protect plants from fungus, bacteria, and other organisms that might threaten their survival.
How Do Essential Oils Have an Effect on Us?
But these natural wonders don’t just benefit plants, they also contain plenty of compounds with health-giving properties that work just as well on us. The oils are made up of tiny molecules that can easily absorb into our skin and work their magic wherever they are needed in the body, they can be inhaled, where they are able to enter the body through the lungs or affect the part of the brain that governs emotions. This is the reason that aromatherapy is so effective for lifting our mood or helping us to relax at the end of a stressful day. Essential oils should generally not be ingested, but they are present in items like mouthwashes and chewing gums, for their antibacterial and odour reducing effects.
The History of Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for therapeutic reasons, and in perfumes, cosmetics, and healing rituals. The first recorded use is attributed to the Egyptians, who created oils infused with herbs to make medicines, cosmetics, and fragrances. They are credited with creating the first basic distillation equipment. Essential oils were also used by the Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and Romans once they realised the uses and potential of essential oils.
In more modern times, interest in the use of essential oils was looked at in more detail after a French chemist used lavender oil to treat a burn he suffered in his lab. The oil healed his burn more quickly and prevented scarring. This led him to further investigate the therapeutic use of oils. It was this chemist that is credited with the development of aromatherapy as a field. A doctor used essential oils to treat soldiers during the war, and from here, essential oils became popular and were commonly used in massage therapies, cosmetics, perfumes, and personal care products.
Choosing Essential Oils
Think about what you want to use an oil for, your budget, how to use the oil, and any safety precautions you might need to take. Choose a pure oil, as some cheaper oils may have added synthetic fragrances or cheaper oils added to them to make them go further. There may be a higher risk of an adverse reaction to these oils.
How Can You Use Essential Oils?
Add Them to the Bath
Add a few drops of oil to your bath and mix well to disperse the oil. If the oil is not mixed well with the water it might just lie on top of the bath and cause skin irritation. Adding bath salts can also help the oil to disperse. Be sure to rinse your tub afterwards though as the oil can leave a film in the bath. Some oils can be a little more irritating to the skin, and can even cause a stinging effect, so use with caution. These include lemon, orange, grapefruit, aniseed, camphor, clove, eucalyptus, ginger, juniper, black pepper, peppermint, sage, spearmint, and thyme oil. Only use 2 drops of these oils in the bath.
This is a brilliant stress-reliever at the end of the day, or use it as pick me up for tired feet and legs. Add 4 drops of oil to a bowl or a foot spa and soak your feet for up to 20 minutes.
Always dilute an oil before a massage, as applying neat oil onto the skin can cause a reaction. The massaging action helps the oil to absorb where it’s needed. Massage is great for stress relief, headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle aches.
Hot or Cold Compresses
If you want relief from painful joints, insect bites, or sunburn, a compress is just what you need. Add up to 12 drops of oil in some warm or cold water, then soak a washcloth in it. Wring it out, then apply it to the affected area.
Use of Neat Oils
Some situations are appropriate for the use of neat oils. Cuts, cold sores, warts, and athlete’s foot can be treated with neat tea-tree oil or lavender oil. Dip a cotton bud in some oil, and apply it to the affected area. Be aware that tea tree oil can cause skin dryness, so use it with caution. Oils can actually increase irritation in some instances, so if this is the case, discontinue use immediately.
These diffuse essential oils through the air through dry heat, steam, or a mist. They are effective in cleansing the air, treating respiratory problems, and creating a relaxing ambiance. Don’t diffuse oils for too long, however, as they can cause headaches and allergic type reactions.
This is an effective treatment for congestion caused by colds, flu, or sinus infections. Add up to 5 drops of oil to a bowl or basin of hot water, then cover your head with a towel, close your eyes and inhale the vapour. Eucalyptus and tea tree oils are very effective if you are using this method.
Add up to 10 drops of oil to a spray bottle and fill it with water. Shake well. Use the spray to fragrance a room, freshen your linen or carpets, or as an insect repellent. Avoid using the spray on painted surfaces, as oils can mark paintwork.
Essential Oil Safety
Some oils are known to be dangerous if you have a specific health condition. In many cases, there is just not enough evidence to support safe use, so the general advice is to avoid them.
Basil, cinnamon, clary sage, cypress, fennel, jasmine, juniper, marjoram, myrrh, peppermint, rose, rosemary, and sage.
Mint, parsley, sage, and jasmine
High Blood Pressure
Cypress, eucalyptus, ginger, rose, rosemary, sage, and thyme
Low Blood Pressure:
Clary sage, garlic, lavender, lemon, marjoram, and ylang-ylang
Fennel, hyssop, rosemary, sage, and wormwood
Avoid using oils near the eyes, ears, genitals, and any areas of sensitive or broken skin. Start off using a small amount of oil, as they are potent, especially if you have only just started using them. Excessive and prolonged use of oils can increase the risk of adverse reactions.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure you speak to your doctor before you use oils.
Keep oils away from children and pets, as the scent can seem attractive to them, and they might ingest them, which can be very toxic, and even fatal.
Essential oils are flammable, so keep them away from naked flames or sources of ignition.
Some oils, especially the citrus oils, can increase sensitivity to the sun. If you have used oils on your skin, wait up to 48 hours before exposing it to the sun.
If you have an existing medical condition and you are on medication, always seek advice from your doctor, as oils contain active compounds that can interact with drugs and affect how they work in the body.
Remember that essential oils are not intended to replace medical treatment and that delaying seeking appropriate advice for illnesses can have serious consequences.
While it’s true that essential oils need to be used with care, they do a really good job of helping the body to get back into balance after illness or injury. One time when the body will need a little help to regain its balance is after surgery.
If you are an otherwise healthy person, the body should recover easier from surgery, but if you have a chronic condition or the surgery was complicated, it can take longer to recover. Recovery will be quicker too if you make a plan to look after yourself. Here are some tips to help you get back on your feet and fighting fit in no time.
Get Prepared for the Operation
Try and get yourself in a healthy state before the operation, so there is less of a risk of complications and recovery is simpler and quicker. Plan for after your surgery; make sure you have plenty of food in the house and your freezer is well stocked up.
Get Active as Soon as You Can
After your surgery, it pays to get active as soon as possible, as this boosts circulation and promotes healing. It also reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis and other complications.
Take It Easy
It’s unlikely that you’ll be running any marathons for a while after your surgery. Increase activity gradually. Your healthcare team will usually advise you on this. It can be frustrating to rest completely if you’re a fitness fanatic, but it’s for a good reason.
If you don’t feel like eating or preparing food, try to snack on nutritious foods like fruit, little and often. Fortified drinks, soups, and pureed foods can sometimes be easier to keep down if you don’t have an appetite or you have nausea from painkillers or anesthetic.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Try to drink around 1.5 liters of fluid per day, which can include fruit juices, herbal teas and water. Fill up a water bottle and sip regularly from it throughout the day.
You may be concerned about having to pay too many visits to the toilet if you aren’t fully mobile, but keeping hydrated is essential to recovery.
Keep Yourself Regular
If you aren’t active, not drinking enough and taking painkillers, this can be enough to leave you constipated. See your doctor if constipation persists, as you may be able to get something to help.
Relax and Sleep Well
Sleep, rest, and relaxation are essential for the body to recover properly. Listen to your body. If you feel tired, take a rest. Surround yourself with positive people and be kind to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either.
Essential oils are gentle on the system, and they have many properties that can help you to recover from surgery naturally. They can reduce postoperative pain, reduce the risk of infection, and give your mood a boost. Bear in mind though that essential oils should not be used instead of prescribed medications, and some oils can interact with medications you’re on, so you should always seek appropriate advice before using them. Here are some of the best oils that you can use after surgery to help your recovery.
This oil can ease any digestive discomfort you might have from painkillers or antibiotics, and it also helps to ease any other aches and pains you can get after an operation. It can also have an uplifting effect on your mood.
This calming oil can relieve migraines and headaches, insomnia, and any bowel discomfort. It can help to relax you and promotes restful sleep. Drink it in tea form too to relax you at night, as you might not sleep well if you have been resting through the day or you’re in pain.
This oil can fight joint pains, fatigue, and inflammation. It can boost concentration and focus, so if you want to keep your mind occupied while you recover, this is the ideal oil for you.
This oil can help to stimulate your appetite if you are struggling to eat after surgery, it can reduce abdominal discomfort and problems with your digestion. It can help to reduce feelings of fear you might have before or after surgery.
This can relieve nausea, indigestion, and poor circulation. It’s a stimulating oil that will give your energy a boost.
This can heal any skin irritation and promotes the healing of scars. It’s also really good at relieving nervous tension before an operation.
This can heal inflammation in the body, and muscle aches and pains. It can also reduce tension and boost energy.
This oil can treat insomnia following an operation and is a potent antiseptic, which can help to prevent postoperative infections. This is a very calming oil which can reduce pain, stress, and fear about your surgery. Diffuse it throughout a room or apply a few drops to your pillow to relax you and promote a restful sleep.
This oil can help to treat nerve and joint pain. It also boosts energy and alertness.
This oil can help to prevent fluid retention and promotes skin regeneration. It also reduces anxiety and lifts the mood.
Peppermint can reduce skin irritation and itching, and relieves the build-up of digestive gas. This is an excellent energy boosting oil.
This calming oil helps you to relax, and it also stimulates the organs, especially the liver, to function normally.
It can help to relieve any respiratory problems and prevents post-operative infections. It can relieve nerves and stress before or after an operation.
This is an antibacterial agent, so it can prevent infections setting in, and it can also treat any irritation to the skin or mucous membranes after surgery. This oil can stimulate you, boost your energy, and promote clarity of thought.
If surgery has had an effect on your skin health, whether because of an incision or getting bed sores during your recovery, this oil can help to hydrate, nourish and heal the skin. It can also relieve anxiety during and after an operation.
Top Tips for Using Oils in Your Recovery
Because oils are so concentrated, they should not be applied to the skin unless they have been diluted, as some oils can trigger a reaction or cause irritation. Always dilute an essential oil with a suitable carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil. Carry out a patch test on your upper arm prior to use to be extra safe. There are many more oils that can be used for healing, and finding your perfect oil is a case of trial and error. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration on our list!
Remember to speak to your doctor before using any complementary therapy, in case your chosen oil worsens any existing health condition or interacts with any medication you’re taking.