The Essence of Essential Oils

Bethany Skidmore on Jun 29, 2016 9:00:00 AM

Essential oils have become pretty popular these days. I’m sure you’ve seen them at the mall being plugged by an annoying salesman, or used by an overworked mother to calm herself and her children down. They’re everywhere, which begs the questions: why? What are they used for? And what are they?


The name “essential oils” is a contraction of quintessential oils. In the time of Aristotle, quintessence was the word for life force or spirit. Thus when essential oils are made by distillation and evaporation of the plant’s oils, it is removing the “spirit” from the plant. The essential oils are the essence of the plant. Inside the plant, they have several functions. They attract pollinators, protect the plant from fungal and bacterial infections, defend against animals and insects, and prevent other species of plants from growing around them. But essential oils have some slightly different properties when used by humans.


Essential oils can be applied topically, internally, or aromatically. They can help in cleaning, healing, beautifying the self and the home, and regulating emotions and stress. The most common oils are chamomile, eucalyptus, sage, fennel, ginger, lavender, lemon, and peppermint. Here are some common uses for each:

Chamomile is calming when added to tea or rubbed on the feet before bed. It can also be added to lotion to promote skin health or added to shampoo or conditioner to promote hair health.

Eucalyptus is good for colds when used in a diffuser or dropped into one’s bath. When added to coconut oil and rubbed on the chest, it can help respiratory problems. It can remove spots on carpet and on clothes. When put into a vacuum or clothes dryer, eucalyptus can cleanse the air and kill mold.

Sage is good for digestive problems. It also can help dandruff and oily hair when put into conditioner, as well as moisturizing when added to lotion.

Fennel is very sweet. A drop can be put under the tongue to help fight cravings. It can also be rubbed on the stomach or bottoms of the feet to fight menstrual or digestive issues.

Ginger is great as a massage oil. It can also relieve sore throats when inhaled through a diffuser or vaporizer.

Lavender is one of the most versatile oils. It is calming and can be used as a sleep aid—just put a couple of drops onto your palm, cup your hands over your nose, and inhale. It can also be used on bee stings, minor burns, cuts, and eczema. When rubbed behind the ears, lavender can help fight nausea. It can help chapped or sunburned lips, dandruff, and cold sores. It’s also very tasty in teas or desserts.

Lemon is a natural disinfectant and can be added to water in a spray bottle to sanitize things. It polishes wood and silver. Lemon can also be rubbed on the neck for immune support, as it supports lymphatic drainage.

Peppermint can help muscle or joint pain. Inhaling peppermint can reduce hunger cravings and allergy symptoms. Some people have also reported that it helps concentration; some mothers spritz it on their children’s clothes before school. Peppermint can also be mixed with coconut oil and rubbed on the neck to fight fever.

I have neglected to mention perhaps the best thing about essential oils: they smell fantastic! Put into a diffuser, any one of these oils will make your home smell great. All in all, essential oils are versatile, accessible, and valuable. Anyone can use them. The only question is, what will you use them for?

At Idaho State

If you want to learn more about essential oils, you can take our class this fall. Visit to learn more and join us at ISU Continuing Education. 

* The preceding statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products and methods recommended are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The information provided here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help.


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