Upping Your Essential Oils Game (or starting it)
By Sena Shellenberger
A Cacao ceremony with Kula Collective first introduced me to one of the oldest health systems in the world: plant medicine. Since then I’ve learned that plant medicine comes in almost as many forms as there are plants; one of which is the amazing practice of aromatherapy using essential oils.
A quick note about me, I’m a total noob at this. I’m enrolled in an Herbal Medicine course and have done a decent amount of reading on the topic and concocting with oils, but I am hardly an expert at using essential oils or plant medicine. Here I’ll share the basics of getting started with essential oils and how to use them. Next step: you dive in!
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil can be thought of as the essence* of a plant distilled down to its most concentrated form. Or, simply put, it’s the part of the plant that smells. To get the aromatic part of the plant fresh plants are exposed to steam so that the aromatic substances separate from the plant matter and you can collect and bottle the result.
It takes a lot of plants to get two ounces of essential oil, which is the standard size bottle you will buy. For example, 1 liter of rose essential oil requires 1,400,000 hand picked rose blossoms. That means each ounce of rose essential oil contains 40,000 rose blossoms*.
It’s good to know this for two reasons. One, essential oils are powerful. Can you imagine a room filled with 40,000 roses? The smell would be overpowering. When you use essential oils, a little — i.e. one drop — goes a looong way. Using too much of the 100% concentrated oil can result in adverse reactions like headaches or rashes, which I found out the hard way by pouring the equivalent of 20,000 Eucalyptus trees into my bathwater and breaking out in a painful rash all over my body. Don’t be me.
The second reason is that these puppies are not cheap (they shouldn’t be, given the amount of labor and plants it takes to produce 1 bottle), and knowing how to properly dilute and use them will save you money.
*Not to be confused with flower essences, which have almost none of the aromatic substances or physical constituents of the plant matter.
Do essential oils actually work?
Plants emit their wonderful aromas to protect themselves and to attract pollinators. The chemical makeup of their aromas protects them from “pathogens such as fungus, pests, even other invasive plants or animals. [Plants] produce essential oils as part of their stress response to changes in climate or to protect themselves from harsh environmental conditions.” Lucky for us, these plant aromas protect us too, as many are anti-microbial, anti-bacterial anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing for humans. In addition to their physical benefits, many holistic healers also use essential oils for emotional, energetic and spiritual healing. Using plants for healing is not a new age phenomenon; they have been used for over 4,000 years in many applications, notably helping to preserve mummies in Ancient Egypt and sanitizing makeshift hospitals during world wars.
So, do they work? I’m not nearly qualified to give a definitive answer, but I can share a personal anecdote of mine that helped show me the healing qualities of essential oils on an energetic level. A few months ago I was doing a lot of heart opening activities (think major back bends) and as a result I was really open in my heart space and it was scary at times how vulnerable I felt. It felt like I was walking around naked, almost, like totally open for everyone to see. One day I felt drawn to a cedar wood essential oil that I had in the back of my cabinet. I had never used it before and remember feeling averse to the smell of it when I initially bought it. Intuitively I rubbed some of the oil on my heart area and I instantaneously felt a sense of completeness, calmness and protection. It was like there was some sort of energetic leak in that area and the cedar wood was the perfect plug for the leak.
I’ve also used frankincense oil to heal the remnants of a serious spider bite, and my stepmom healed a rash she had for four years using frankincense. From my direct experience I do believe in the healing powers of essential oils.
How to start working with essential oils:
Select your supplier
Just like the food that we eat, our essential oils should be sourced from sustainable, organic sources. This article goes into detail about how to select a supplier (hint: small companies are usually better than large corporations) and should be required reading for anyone purchasing essential oils.
Select your oils
Now for the fun part. It is very easy to go crazy and purchase a ton of essential oils right off the bat. I recommend starting with 1-3 and spending ~1 week working with each oil. While the oils work on a physical level, they also work on an energetic level and just like with plants, we can develop personal relationships with our essential oils (e.g. my cedar wood oil story).
So how do you choose? Go with your gut. If you are brand new to plant medicine, follow your instinct and choose the oils that grab your attention. If you have a specific ailment or trauma you are looking to heal you can also peruse Floracopeia to learn about the specific properties of each oil.
Three ways to use your essential oils:
- 2.5% dilution = 15 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier
- 3% dilution = 20 drops/1 oz (good holistic dilution for massage oils, general skincare, perfumes)
- 5% dilution = 30 drops /1 oz
- 10% dilution = 60 drops/ 1oz (only for acute physical pain and trauma work)
My preferred method, I dab 1-2 drops of diluted bergamot, rosewood and cedar oil onto the inside of my wrists, behind my earlobes, and on my heart space every morning before leaving the house. Make sure to test new oils on a small patch of skin first. This is a lovely way to prepare energetically and physically for the day, and you’ll smell amazing.
Bergamot is great for increasing your self-esteem and self-love, rosewood is grounding and sweet, cedar oil is very protective and grounding.
Put a couple of drops into a diffuser and let the aroma subtly pervade your studio, bedroom or office. This can be a great way to subtly protect your space from air borne pathogens, and will always help brighten the mood.
Lavender is antibacterial and calming, geranium is good for anxiety, depression and menstruation, eucalyptus is uplifting and antibacterial.
Add your diluted carrier oil mixture to your bath water, or add 5 -10 drops of essential oil directly to 1 cup of bath salt to infuse your bathtime with beauty and relaxation. Essential oils in the bath can help with skin care, ease muscle aches, calm a busy mind, and help bring more joy to your experience.
Rosemary is very soothing for sore muscles, chamomile is calming and lavender is always a great nourishing bath companion.
What are your favorite essential oils? Let us know in the comments!
Sena is a yoga teacher, plant medicine enthusiast, and loves singing Kirtan. She recently left her corporate job to follow her Spirit to Kula Collective’s 300 hour teacher training in Peru. When she’s not concocting herbal medicines, reading or singing, she supports Kula with their social media marketing and explores California's state parks, natural wonders and yoga centers. You can read more about Sena at www.foodforyoursoul.co.
The Quality of Essential Oils, The School for Aromatic Studies.
Floracopeia Essential Oils e-Book
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy