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

I’ve been interested in therapeutic uses of essential oils for a while, so I was happy to have the opportunity to sign up for a free webinar on the topic. Dorene Peterson, a trained naturopath from New Zealand and current president of the American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), led the event.

I discovered ACHS  recently while searching for places to learn about essential oils. The school in Oregon and offers accredited training in herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, aromatherapy, and other wellness modalities.

The webinar was titled “Harnessing the Herbal Powers of Essential Oils.” At first, I wasn’t sure about the phrase “herbal powers” in relation to oils. I’ve always thought of herbs as stems and leaves of plants. But essential oils are also derived from plants, and they have therapeutic properties like other plant constituents.

The therapeutic herbal properties of essential oils

I was happy to learn there are many studies to back up claims about the therapeutic uses of essential oils. Of course, there’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence. I’ve personally experienced a number of therapeutic benefits from using essential oils; ylang ylang, lime, lemongrass, frankincense, and lavender are among my favorites.

Lavender, I was not surprised to learn, is the most popular essential oil by far. If you’ve used essential oils for any purpose, you’ve probably had some experience with lavender. I’ve used it as a sleep remedy, to de-stress, and even to help reduce swelling.

Peterson went on to discuss four of the most popular oils. In addition to lavender, we learned about peppermint, frankincense, and eucalyptus. Here’s a 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 and IBS, among other conditions)
• helps enhance memory

Eucalyptus (globulus & E. smithii)

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

Choosing essential oils for their herbal properties

Peterson pointed out there are a lot of essential oils on the market, but for an oil to be therapeutically effective, it must meet certain quality standards.

Some oils have interesting labels like “therapeutic grade” and “all natural,” but, according to Peterson, these labels are mostly marketing tools. The terms themselves are not regulated. That doesn’t mean the products that use these labels are ineffective; it just means 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, they provide essential (no pun intended) evidence that an oil is pure (or not).

You can contact a manufacturer or distributor and ask about 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 know 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 as true lavender (Lavendula agustifolia).

When you read or hear about a study about 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 quality oils must be tested; the process costs money. In addition, pure oils cost more than oils with additives and extenders. 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 money.

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 trust.

Once you find a supplier that meets the criteria for quality, you can return to that source for all your essential oil needs. Many companies have rewards programs or offer free products and other incentives to regular customers, which can be a benefit of having a go-to company.

Just be sure to choose a 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 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 you’re choosing products carefully and using them safely.

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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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