Mankind has understood the power of plants for millennia, although perhaps more so eons ago than in modern times. The use of plants for medicinal purposes in China is mentioned early in recorded history and remains a key component of TCM. The Native Americans have always known plants hold power far beyond providing food and sustenance. Traditionally, they’ve used plants as a principal source of healing and for spiritual practice and advancement.
Modern Western medicine has developed effective treatments for many physical and psychological ills, but with the increasing emphasis on synthetic medications has come the tendency to overlook the powerful benefits of plants. Fortunately, the new millennium is seeing a resurgence of interest in natural, plant-based approaches to health and wholeness, as evidenced by such things as the ‘food as medicine’ movement and the increased appearance of herbal and homeopathic remedies on the shelves. Perhaps most significant is the dramatically rising popularity of essential oils. And there’s good reason for it.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile aromatic substances found within a plant. Essential oils can lend a plant its particular aroma, and are found in different parts of the plant — root, leaf, flower, seed, fruit, resin, wood or bark — depending on the species.
Scientists believe essential oils may perform more than one function in living plants. In some cases they seem to be a part of the plant’s immune system; in other cases they may simply be end-products of metabolism. Interestingly, it seems nature provides some essential oils to benefit the plant, some to benefit us, and some both.
Essential oils contain hundreds of organic constituents, including vitamins and other natural elements that combine to work on many levels when applied or inhaled. Some plants even produce variations in chemical makeup that result in different types of the specific essential oil, referred to as chemotypes. While that may not something you need to know, it does show the wondrous complexity of plants and how wide and varied their benefits can be.
Plants also produce other components that are useful in the development of aromatherapy preparations. For example, some essential oils act as a fixative that draws together and holds the fragrances of other materials. Fixatives help create a more distinct and longer lasting product without the use of chemical or synthetic additives. And, jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax rather than a true oil. It is very similar to the sebum of the skin, which makes it ideal as a skin care oil and a carrier oil for true essential oils.
There also many variations in the essential oils and oil blend preparations available on the market. Reputable companies should provide information verifying the quality/purity and authenticity of the oil, such as quality testing procedures used, method of extraction (e.g., distillation or expression), botanical name, plant part and country of origin.
What are the benefits?
While the world awaits conclusive research assessing the effectiveness of essential oils in treating physical ailments, there is a great deal of evidence of the validity of the mind-body connection*, including evidence of the effectiveness of meditation and stress reduction on lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system and improving the ability to concentrate.
Among the many beneficial effects of essential oils and oil blends are: calming, soothing, relaxing, purifying, cleansing, balancing, energizing, and creating an atmosphere that enhances meditation. All provided naturally, without drugs or chemicals.
And, the power and benefits of plants need not be restricted to your bathtub or meditation room. You can plant natives such as Echinacea or chamomile in your garden and enjoy their uplifting look, feel and aroma each time you go outside. You can also make tea from these beautiful plants, and even extract your own essential oils if you’re adventurous enough!
Plant-based oils are also useful for many applications in the garden. Certain oils added to pots can repel unwanted pests or predators from the plant. A little lavender oil mixed in compost can help improve growing conditions for your garden plants. A variety of oils lend themselves well to the care and cleaning of gardening pots and utensils, and some work in the laundry to remove dirt, grass stains and odors from fabrics.
Just think…you can make or purchase essential oil preparations to help your plants thrive, and clean up your hands, clothes, shoes, gloves, pots and tools, all without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and no harm to nature from detergents going into the soil or down the drain.
Here is an easy recipe to help you clean up after yard or gardening work that also works well on floors and other indoor surfaces.
Tea Tree and Lemon Multi-Purpose Cleaner
2 teaspoons unscented natural liquid soap
2 teaspoons lemon essential oil
1 teaspoon tea tree essential oil
15 fluid ounces water
16 ounce spray bottle
1. In a bucket of warm water, combine soap and essential oils. Stir until well combined.
2. Into mixture, dip a sponge, mop or wash rag, wring out excess liquid and wipe over surface to be cleaned.