Using Essential Oils as Herbal Remedies: What I Learned from ACHS

essential oilsI’ve been interested in therapeutic uses of essential oils for a while now, so when I was offered the opportunity to attend a free webinar on the topic, I jumped at the chance. The event was presented by Dorene Peterson, a trained naturopath from New Zealand who is currently the president of the American College of Healthcare Sciences. I discovered this school recently while searching for places to learn about essential oils. ACHS is located in Oregon and offers accredited training in herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, aromatherapy, and other wellness topics. I signed up for their newsletter and got an email inviting me to attend a webinar, so I thought, “Why not?”

The webinar topic was “Harnessing the Herbal Powers of Essential Oils.” At first, I wasn’t exactly sure why the phrase “herbal powers” was being used to describe oils, since I’ve always thought of herbs more in terms of the stems and leaves of plants. But, of course, essential oils are also derived from plants, and they have therapeutic properties in the same way that other constituents of plants often do.

The therapeutic herbal properties of essential oils

As the webinar progressed, I was happy to see that there are many studies to back up the claims that one oil or another can be used to treat a particular problem or ailment. Of course, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence as well. I’ve personally experienced a number of therapeutic benefits from using essential oils; ylang ylang, lime, lemongrass, frankincense, and lavender are my favorites. Lavender is apparently the most popular oil by far, which, of course, is not surprising. If you’ve used essential oils for any purpose, I’d be willing to bet you’ve had some experience with lavender. I’ve personally used it as a sleep remedy, to de-stress, and even to help reduce swelling (it sure seemed to work for me, though perhaps that particular result was just a coincidence).

Peterson went on to discuss four of the most popular oils: lavender (of course), peppermint, frankincense, and eucalyptus. Here’s her rundown on the uses of each:

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

• reduces pain
• reduces anxiety
• improves sleep/reduces insomnia
• antimicrobial
• antibacterial
• antifungal

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

• anti-carcinogenic
• helps with nausea
• reduces mental fatigue (uplifting)
• antibacterial
• antifungal

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

• anti-inflammatory (great for arthritis, IBS, and any other chronic disease rooted in inflammation)
• helps enhance memory

Eucalyptus (globulus & E. smithii)

• antimicrobial
• antibacterial
• enhances absorption and penetration of topical remedies

Choosing essential oils for their herbal properties

Another issue discussed during the webinar was how to choose an effective product. As Peterson pointed out, there are a lot of essential oils on the market, but in order to be therapeutically effective, certain quality standards must be present. Some oils have interesting labels like “therapeutic grade” and “all natural,” but, according to Peterson, these labels are mostly marketing tools because the terms themselves are not regulated. That doesn’t mean the products that use these labels are ineffective; it just means that the labels themselves don’t distinguish one product from another in any meaningful way.

So, I asked, what should you look for when choosing an essential oil for therapeutic use? As it turns out, there’s no simple answer to that question. The only way to ensure the quality of an essential oil is to research the product and make a decision about its quality after gathering as much information as possible. Here are some tips recommended by ACHS:

1. Find out if the oil was tested for purity (and what the results were).

Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry are the methods used to test essential oils for purity. While they are somewhat expensive tests to administer, they provide essential (no pun intended) evidence that an oil is pure (or not). You can contact a manufacturer or distributor and ask about the use of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Some companies provide this information on their website or as part of their marketing materials.

2. Look for the product’s Latin name and know what it means.

You don’t have to be fluent in Latin to discern which oils are therapeutically useful, but it’s important to understand that many oils have more than one variety, and the one you choose may make a significant difference in the oil’s effectiveness. For example, many lavender products are made with lavandin (Lavenula intermedia), which, according to ACHS, is not as effective for therapeutic use as true lavender (Lavendula agustifolia). When you read or hear about a study touting an essential oil’s effectiveness in treating a certain condition, make sure you know which variety of the oil was used in the study.

3. Remember that (most of the time) you get what you pay for.

We all love to save money, and it’s certainly possible to purchase good quality essential oils without emptying your wallet, but don’t expect to buy safe and effective products at bargain basement prices. Remember that quality oils must be tested; the process costs money. In addition, pure oils cost more than oils with additives and extenders. But spending a bit more for products that work can be a wise investment. In the long run, it will be a lot less expensive than prescription drugs and visits to a doctor. The bottom line is that most inexpensive essential oils have little use beyond the pleasant fragrance they may provide, so if you’re interested in health benefits, you’ll probably need to invest a bit more. But before you choose the most expensive product on the market, do some research; compare prices and ask for recommendations from health care providers who have experience with these products, and perhaps be wary of any company that claims to have the only oils worth buying.

4. Find a supplier or practitioner you can trust.

Once you find a supplier that meets the criteria we’ve discussed, you can simply return to that source for all of your essential oil needs. Many companies have rewards programs or offer free products and other incentives to regular customers, so it’s actually a good idea to have a go-to company. Just be sure to choose that company based on the quality of its products, not the cleverness of its marketing campaign. If you’re not sure you can do this on your own, ask someone who is trained in aromatherapy or contact an aromatherapy school for recommendations.

Essential oils are a true gift of nature, and there are many ways to incorporate them into your healthy, happy life. They can be used to calm the mind, help you sleep, heal the body, sanitize your home, and even to improve the health of your pets! But don’t take my word for it. First, spend some time learning for yourself. Find out as much as possible about the science behind essential oils from experienced people who know the facts so you can be sure that you’re choosing products carefully and using them appropriately. I’ll be writing more about this as I learn more myself!

 

 

 

 

 

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Maria Kuzmiak, M.A. is a health and well-being writer with a background in nutrition, psychology and education and a passion for yoga. She has written hundreds of articles, blogs and newsletters for clients in health-related fields, particularly those specializing in yoga, natural medicine, nutrition, and spiritual health and healing. Maria has also worked as a nutritionist, teacher and technical editor. Learn more about her writing at www.wellbeingwriter.net.

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