Essential oils have numerous benefits, from Aromatherapy to massage and much more.
Essential oils are secondary metabolites, produced by plants as part of their health and defense system. Many plants contain some essential oil, only a few (comparatively speaking) have enough to make distillation worthwhile. Essential oils are stored in different places in different plants and can be found in flowers, fruit, roots, leaves, bark, or resin. Essential oils are fragrant; the smell when you crush lavender, or peel an orange is the essential oil exploding into the air as it is released. In the plant some of the functions are assumed to be:
- To prevent attack by insects and herbivores by making the leaves unpalatable
- To protect against and fight off bacteria and fungi
- To attract insects to pollinate the plant
- To help heal wounds, (e.g. tree resins that close up a wound and contain anti-bacterial components)
- To prevent other plants growing near them by making the soil inhospitable
- To protect from dehydration by creating a haze of essential oil around them
The olfactory phenomenon
Because of the volatile nature of the oils their molecules are evaporating into the air as soon as the lid comes off the bottle. When we smell them we absorb their chemical constituents into the brain via the olfactory system.
The sense of smell is connected to the limbic system of the brain where emotions, memory and certain regulatory functions of the body are found. When the oils are inhaled they trigger neuro-transmitters, which send messages out to the effected area to reduce pain, sedate, stimulate, calm or whatever is required.
When inhaled, essential oils cross the blood-brain barrier via the mucous membranes of the nose. Even when taken orally, unless in a capsule, essential oils are mostly absorbed into the blood via the mucous membranes of the oral/olfactory cavity. Because inhalation is such a natural and efficient way of taking in essential oils (or any medicine) very small amounts are needed to trigger strong responses. Essential oils are tiny and lipophilic (fat loving) so absorb into the skin easily, and can enter the blood system that way too.
The sense of smell also triggers emotional associations and it is widely accepted these days that our emotional state influences our physical state. Essential oils work simultaneously on the emotional and physical level – e.g. oils that calm angry inflammations of the skin also calm ‘temper tantrums’- and it is often apparent that as a physical condition clears there is a change in an animal’s disposition, or vice-versa.