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3 Essential Oils for Your Herbal Medicine Cabinet

by Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati on August 29, 2011

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Upon opening my medical cabinet, you are unlikely to find outdated antibiotics and over-the-counter aspirin. Instead, I look to nature to help my headaches and knock out stomach bugs.

While you may not have consciously used essential oils for their medical properties before, if you’ve stopped to smell a rose then you know how wonderful essential oils can be.

Essential oils are the concentrated volatile components of plants that give them their smell and they’re packed with wonderful emotional, physical and spiritual health benefits.

If you pop into your local natural health store you’re likely to find a section full of different essential oils, so which three essential oils should you start building your natural medical cabinet with?

1. Tea Tree

Botanical name: Melaleuca alternifolia

Why I keep it around:

Tea Tree is revered for its antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiseptic and powerful antifungal properties.  I use it for pretty much all skin issues and since it is one of the essential oils that you can apply neat to the skin (without diluting in a carrier oil like jojoba, sweet almond, grape seed etc.) it is easy to use.

I personally like the smell of Tea Tree, but some people find it a bit intense. If you are one of these people, try creating a Tea Tree/Lavender mix to mellow out the Tea Tree scent. I use this mix for spot treating acne and bug bites, and for enhancing the smell and antibacterial properties of homemade natural cleaning products.

Other uses: Tea Tree is used to treat athlete’s foot, burns, Candida, cold sores, corns, dandruff, eczema, insect bites/stings (or other itches), lice, nail fungus, psoriasis, respiratory infections, ringworm, chicken pox, sore throat, strep throat, thrush, warts, cuts, as an insect repellent and more.

Contraindication: Tea Tree can be toxic when used internally, and it is best to avoid when pregnant or lactating. This essential oil can be used neat on the skin, but some people are sensitive to it.  To test if you have a sensitivity, try diluting tea tree in a carrier oil (i.e. sweet almond, jojoba, sesame, grape seed) oil before applying a small amount to your skin (avoiding the face and other sensitive areas to begin with.)

2. Peppermint

Botanical name: Mentha piperita

Why I keep it around:

Peppermint is an uplifting and bright essential oil known for its antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and decongestant properties. I find it most useful though when I have a cold or headache.

When applied to the chest during a cold,  peppermint opens and soothes the lungs. For a headache I apply a small amount, diluted in a carrier oil, to my fingertips and massage into the temples. If peppermint oil is a bit strong for you, you can create a mix with lavender to mellow the cooling effects of the peppermint. I’ve used this mix a number of times and it does the trick along with adding the calming benefit of lavender.

Other uses: Peppermint oil is used to treat indigestion, respiratory problems, nausea, fever, stomach and bowel spasms/pain, asthma, intestinal gas and more. It is also a good expectorant. Peppermint oil also contains numerous minerals and nutrients including manganese, iron, magnesium, calcium, folate, potassium, copper, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. It can be ingested in small quantities when it is of food grade quality.

Contraindications: Peppermint cools by constricting the capillaries and needs to be used in low dilutions. One or two drops in a bath, for massage or other skin applications is plenty. Spot test your skin with a diluted version of the peppermint oil before treating larger areas. It is also not recommended for people suffering from heartburn or gallbladder inflammation.

3. Lavender

Botanical name: Lavendula officinalis

Why I keep it around:

Lavender is revered for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, diuretic, and sedative properties. I keep it in the fridge (yes, the fridge) for one main reason though: Burns. Lavender, when applied immediately to burns, helps to relieve the pain, stop the burn from progressing, sterilize the area and start the healing process. Keeping it in the fridge adds the benefit of cooling the burn on contact. I’ve used lavender a number of times on minor burns in the kitchen, as have friends, with great success.

Other uses: Lavender is soothing to the emotions and pleasing to the senses. It helps heal abscesses, acne, athletes foot and fungal infections, bruises, sun burns, lice, ringworm, cold sores, cuts, eczema, hives, inflammation, insect bites and stings, psoriasis/rashes, stretch-marks and other skin issues. It is beneficial in reducing aches and pains, cellulite, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, Lumbago, swelling, joint pain, rheumatism, and sprains. When breathed in, it can also help alleviate bronchitis, coughs, colds, congestion, flu, laryngitis, throat infections, whooping cough, and sinus infections among a myriad of other uses.

Contraindication: Lavender should not be used during the early stages of pregnancy. Use Lavender with caution if you have low blood pressure. Do a spot check to make sure you do not have a sensitivity to this essential oil before applying neat to the skin.

There are a number of ways to take advantage of the medicinal properties of these essential oils depending on your ailment:

1.     Massage: Mix two to ten drops of essential oil in one ounce of  carrier oil and gently massage the oil into your temples, chest, neck or whatever area you are treating (be cautious of getting any essential oil close to your eyes, nose or other sensitive tissue.)
2.     Vaporization: Add your essential oils to a nebulizer and breathe in the particles as they are released into the air.
3.     Warm diffuser: Add one to three drops of essential oil to a candle or electric warm diffuser and enjoy the essential oil as the smell quickly fills the room. This is a faster way to diffuse than a cold diffuser, but some essential oil purists feel it robs the essential oil of its full scent profile.
4.     Cold diffuser: There are a number of cold diffusers out there, but any stone or tile will do. Drop two to four drops of oil on the cold diffuser and let the smell slowly fill the room. This method slowly releases the essential oil into the air and is best used when you are looking for a subtle effect.
5.      Bathing: Mix three to six drops of essential oil in at least a one teaspoon of golden jojoba (or other carrier oil of your choice), and add into your hot bath. Note: You should only attempt this after you have tested your sensitivity to the essential oil and be sure to pour the oil away from any sensitive parts of the body.
6.     Inhalation: Add one to three drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water.  With a towel draped over your head to capture the stream, breathe in the essence for a number of minutes.
7.     Spray: Add ten drops of essential oil(s) to seven ounces of distilled water along with one ounce of vodka, 90% isopropyl alcohol or Witchhazel (to emulsify the oils). Spray on your body, clothes* and throughout the room to naturally deodorize, disinfect and clean the air.

*Do a spot check before spraying on linen and clothes just to make sure the spray does not stain. I’ve never had an issue with this because the mist is so fine, but each fabric is different.

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