Essential oils have gained ground in recent years as their use has become more mainstream and the products are more accessible. Big name retailers are capitalizing on this too, and you can hardly walk into a store without seeing lavender scented candles, body washes and room sprays. Sure, they smell pretty and emit wonderful aromas to fill your home...but they have a myriad of other uses that can be beneficial for you and your family which shouldn't go unacknowledged.
Before we get into specifics, let's have a little history lesson.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in various cultures the world over for their medicinal and health benefits. The exact origin of these compounds is historically debatable, but it is believed that the ancient Egyptions were among the first to pioneer the use of botanical extracts, resins and oils at least 5,000 years ago. Perhaps the most well known use of these was in their mummification rituals. In preparing the dead for burial, they would use cinnamon, frankincense and an early form of juniper essential oils. The ancient Hebrews used myrrh as a natural bug repellent, and the Romans, famous for their bath houses, would use rich oils to moisturize and perfume the skin.
Fast forward to present day. How is this liquid gold made?
There is a distillation process through which compounds and essences are extracted using the flowers, leaves, bark, and roots of various plants. These powerful compounds are then separated from the water and concentrated into oils. The resulting oils have many varied uses. Some are calming while others are stimulating. They can be used for household cleaning and to ward off germs because of their antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. They can alleviate pain, detoxify, balance hormones, boost immunity, ease digestion and do literally a gazillion other things.
So, what does a beginner need to know? Where should you start?
I got together with NoDa's favorite witchy mama, Liz Vaagen Clark, to answer these questions and more.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure. I’m Liz, I’m a wife and mom of three in Charlotte, NC. I paint windows and substitute teach and have also had my own essential oil education company for about two years. I’m older than I’d like to admit and haven’t figured out anything major yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
What made you such an advocate for EO use and how long have you been in the business?
There are multiple reasons I’ve gotten into essential oils. I’ve been using them for almost five years and have been actively pushing (I like using ‘drug’ terms when talking about oils because I think it’s funny) for about two. First and foremost it’s important to note that I am the World’s Cheapest Person. It may seem like a contradiction as some oils can be pretty expensive but spending roughly $8 on a bodily issue with oils instead of a $500 ER visit makes way more sense to me. When it comes down to it, for me and my family, avoiding being sick and shortening the length of any sickness is much cheaper in the long run with oils. I want to make sure it’s understood that I love modern medicine, it’s done miracles that I can’t even comprehend in my tiny mind and I’m thankful it exists. And on that note I would prefer it stay as far from me as possible, it’s a good year to not have to go to the hospital or not see a doctor. I’m going to control as much as I can and I’m sure all the moms out there understand how I feel. I have tools that I can use for myself and my family to avoid, as much as possible, prescription drugs and having to see a doctor.
Do you use EOs on a daily basis? If so, explain why, and what sort of things you use them for.
HA! By now it’s more like, ‘Do you use oils every single hour or every single day?’ because...yes. I try to post on my Facebook now and again on my regular use of oils because, when it’s really a part of your lifestyle, not a part of your life goes by without incorporating them. When my youngest stopped using diapers I made it a game to see how long I could go without going to Target; no more cleaning supplies, no more laundry detergent, no more hand soap/shower gel/sunscreen/mouthwash, etc. I Googled ‘make your own essential oil based ____’ almost every day and realized I could replace almost every chemical-laden thing in my house WITHOUT HAVING TO LEAVE. I deserve an award for how much I HAVEN’T spent at Target in the last two years. I add it to my shampoo to help with my hormones and hair ‘luster’, I add it to my face cream so I can continue to deny my age, I use it daily for emotional support, I use it on my kids and their little germ-carrying bodies, I give it to my husband to deal with the stress of being with me, I put it all over my body all day long to deal with the stress of being with my husband, etc.
What are the most vital pieces of information consumers need to know before purchasing or using EOs?
I begin and end every class with this little nugget, If there is one thing, ONE THING, you take from me it’s this; the FDA has ONE RULE on essential oils across the board, and that is - whatever oil you’re buying, and whatever it says on the bottle, ONLY 10% of what it says on the title needs to actually be in the bottle. So, to explain that a little better, if I’m buying a $5 bottle of lavender oil from a cheap department store, only 10% of that bottle is actually pure lavender oil; the rest can be ANYTHING, and they don’t legally have to tell you what’s in the bottle because it’s considered a ‘trade secret’. More often than not ‘cheap’ oils contain filler oils (corn most likely) and fragrance, CHEMICAL FRAGRANCE. And that bottle can still legally say ‘100% pure grade essential oil’. This is huge and people aren’t getting it. Reducing chemicals is the point. The chemistry of the plant, getting into your body is the point. When you buy ‘cheap’ oils you aren’t getting the actual benefits of essential oils, you’re getting something that smells good. So when I get people that tell me that they tried essential oils and they didn’t work or they gave them a headache I KNOW it’s because they didn’t use actual essential oils. The purity matters, it’s everything. Get oils that you can prove have been scientifically tested to be pure, and that costs more. You get what you pay for, one way or another.
What’s the difference between a product you might find at a big retailer like Walmart and a higher end distributor?
Ha, see above, I went on a tirade there. Buy an oil that you can prove is pure. It’s as easy as that. I also want to point out that beside the quality (which you need to be able to prove, ie. use a company that can show you THIRD PARTY testing of their oils) it’s important to me that you have the knowledge you need/want when it comes to using oils. I’m the kind of person that LOVES community, when I started officially educating people on essential oils I made it my goal to bring everyone with me. If you find a high-quality/pure oil company and make the jump to purchase your oils, make sure you’ve got someone helping you along the way, don’t let those oils gather dust and become a buyers remorse item, that hurts my heart.
Do you have any beauty tips and tricks using EOs?
I use Frankincense in my face lotion. I’m so low maintenance it’s almost embarrassing but I think I’ve got good skin for an almost 40 year old with three kids. I think stress is a HUGE factor for aging our bodies so I make a point to focus on that a lot with my essential oil usage.
What EOs can be used for household cleaning?
Lemon EO is the answer to all of the things. Lemon and vinegar in a spray bottle, lemon on a q-tip to remove stickers from windows, lemon, castile soap and salt to scrub anything off of anything. AND it’s stimulating for your mind while you breathe it in. It has anti-infection, astringent, detoxifying, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antifungal properties. There is NO cleaner on the market that can do that many things and still be actually healthy for you to breathe in while you’re cleaning. It’s mind-blowing if you think about it.
Are EOs safe to consume?
Certain EO’s that are provably, scientifically pure are safe to consume internally. I like to think of them as my last-chance-before-the-doctor-hail-mary-heavy-hitters. I’m not a big user of them internally on a daily basis but without a doubt have avoided MANYMANYMANY trips to the doctor and avoided antibiotics because of my internal use with EO’s; UTI’s, teeth issues, sinus infections, ear bs - you name it, I’ve taken the right combo and knocked those things out on my own.
CBD and hemp products have become more popular as we discover more about the health benefits of cannabis. With legality being an issue in most states, do you have any EO recommendations that have similar uses?
I could talk for quite a while on the endocannabinoid system and all the great things that plant derived cannabinoids (THC, CBD and the less known BCP) can do for you. I’m a big fan of all of them. The company that I work for offers Copaiba oil, which is the third of the cannabinoids, BCP. It offers all the benefits of the other two without affecting your CB1 receptor which is kind of the cause of the hullabaloo of the legality of drugs, which is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT conversation that I have very strong opinions about.
What are some of your favorite blends?
After using oils for so long and being on this self-discovery journey I’ve become WAY more body-aware. I notice that I crave oils like I do foods or treats, I find myself drawn to certain oils one week and could care less about them the next. It’s really an interesting development and I’m starting to really look into it when it happens. For example, rosemary has been my JAM these last couple of weeks, I wasn’t sure why I just went with it. I used it daily, hourly more like and I couldn’t get enough of it. I finally looked it up and learned that rosemary is the ‘oil of transition’ without giving you too much of me too soon it’s LAUGHABLE how much I needed ‘transition help’ right now in my life. So, currently my favorite blend is rosemary and grapefruit. But I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say, ‘There’s an oil for that!’.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself, essential oils, or your experiences with them?
I get a lot of people with a lot of questions and they almost always start with, ‘Sorry, I have another question.’ and I can’t stress this statement enough; it’s my job and my joy to help people with their essential oil journey. I LOVE answering questions and finding solutions that actually help. I want people to find answers and I will not give up, the thought of people jumping into oils and then being left stranded without help is a pain to me, painful in my heart that they weren’t supported into this lifestyle. So...let me help.