Getting to the essence of essential oilsFARGO – Tiny bottles hold droplets some say hold ancient healing powers. Essential oils, the concentrated liquid extracted from aromatic plants such as flowers, citruses and herbs, are used for skincare, household cleaning and mood enhancement, and to treat medical concerns like headaches, congestion, digestive issues and more.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM
FARGO – Tiny bottles hold droplets some say hold ancient healing powers.
Essential oils, the concentrated liquid extracted from aromatic plants such as flowers, citruses and herbs, are used for skincare, household cleaning and mood enhancement, and to treat medical concerns like headaches, congestion, digestive issues and more.
They are said to be antibacterial, antiviral and/or antifungal. Some are even said to inhibit the growth of tumors.
Essential oils fly off the store’s shelves at Swanson Health Products in downtown Fargo, says Crystal Nicklay, regional supervisor.
“Especially in the summer, because everyone makes their own homemade mosquito spray,” she says.
In her 10 years with the store, Swanson’s has tripled its stock of essential oils due to customer demand, Nicklay says. Prices range from $3 to $50 per bottle, depending on the quantity and quality of the oil.
Essential oils may be attractive to people who are sensitive to chemicals and those who crave natural products, she says.
They can be diffused into the air for inhalation or diluted with a “carrier” oil, such as grape seed, almond or olive, and applied to the skin. Some essential oils are therapeutic- or food-grade, meaning they can be ingested.
Spirit, a Fargo woman who is a distributor of Young Living essential oils, notes plants have been used worldwide for centuries.
“People from a long time ago, wherever they were living, they knew what plants were used for healing a snake bite or to help someone with a fever,” she says.
An essential oil is “the essence of the plant taken out,” she says.
Spirit has noticed more household cleaning products now contain orange oil. She says it’s because the manufacturers have recognized its benefits and the growing interest in essential oils.
She uses essential oils as a massage therapist through her business, Harmonious Living, which operates out of Two Turtles Wellness in Fargo.
Spirit cooks with basil and oregano oils, and has added orange oil to cookie dough.
She applies lavender to cuts, scrapes and burns. A little bit dabbed on a cotton ball placed in her daughter’s room helps her settle down for sleep.
Peppermint oil in hot water creates a substitute for tea, she says.
Spirit often shares her essential oils with skeptics. They see the benefits after trying them, she says.
For example, to help ease the pain of a toothache, she told her boyfriend to put Thieves oil, a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary, on a toothpick and chew on it. He became a real believer after a blend of lavender and oregano oils cleared up warts on his hand, she says.
“What our society thinks is OK is to get a pill,” she says. “That’s what’s trusted now instead of using a plant.”
Scientific support, dissent
Monoterpenes – compounds produced by plants – are the basis for essential oils, says Esther McGinnis, NDSU Extension horticulturist.
These compounds aid in self-defense of the plant, for example, repelling insects or attracting pollinators.
“Plants produce compounds for their purposes, to enhance their chances of survival,” McGinnis says. “Sometimes the chemicals plants produce are beneficial to us.”
Skeptics on the healing power of essential oils abound.
Quackwatch.org lambasted D. Gary Young, the founder of Young Living, in an article by Dr. Stephen Barrett. Published evidence on their effectiveness is “sparse to nonexistent,” according to an article on sciencebasedmedicine.org.
A recent article on the University of Minnesota website says more scientific studies are being conducted worldwide, but doing such research is challenging as essential oils are not standardized (they vary depending on geography, weather, harvesting and processing practices), blind studies are difficult with aromatic substances, and funding is limited.
The site listed reference information for 75 published studies.
“Research studies on essential oils show positive effects for a variety of health concerns including infections, pain, anxiety, depression, tumors, premenstrual syndrome, nausea and many others,” the University of Minnesota article says.
Brenda Haugstad, owner of YogiCare in Moorhead, uses essential oils in her practice. Clients may soak their feet in Epsom salts and peppermint oil before a reflexology treatment.
She also offers “Raindrop Therapy,” which involves applying therapeutic-grade essential oils to the shoulders, feet and back which she says stimulates the organs, muscles and bones at a cellular level.
Lavender diffused into a room can shift people’s mood, Haugstad says.
“After so much time, you see them kind of relax and breathe deeper,” she says. “It’s subtle that people may not even be aware of it.”
Every day after brushing her teeth, Haugstad puts cinnamon bark essential oil to her gums.
When she traveled to Thailand, she brought immunity-enhancing essential oils with her on the plane. “I never got sick,” she says
When Rebecca West, a graduate student at North Dakota State University, needs to concentrate on a project, she dabs an essential oil blend dubbed “Clarity” on her temples. When she has a headache, she rubs peppermint oil wherever it aches.
She puts a drop of blended citrus oil in a 40-ounce steel water bottle for its refreshing taste and to help satiate hunger. She adds peppermint oil to a spritzer bottle of water for a cooling spray.
West says she has a finely tuned sense of smell, always catching whiffs of scents others don’t notice. But essential oils are more than just a product that smells good.
“They actually have properties,” she says. “It’s this medicine that’s available to us.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556
Homemade Insect Repellent Recipe
10 to 25 drops essential oil. Try lavender, rose geranium (for ticks), coriander seeds, peppermint, cajeput and citronella
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon aloe vera gel (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a glass jar; stir to blend. Dab a few drops on your skin or clothing.
Or, combine 25 drops of essential oil (see list above) and ¼ cup water or organic apple cider vinegar in a glass jar and shake to blend.