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Essential Oils Handbook: Recipes for Natural Living

Essential Oils Handbook: Recipes for Natural Living

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Essential Oils Handbook: Recipes for Natural Living

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May 1, 2018


For millennia, people have used essential oils for health and wellness—and this authoritative illustrated guide shows you how to use them, too!
Essential oils have wide-ranging healing powers, and this comprehensive handbook explains how we can take full advantage of these natural wonders. It covers all the different grades of oil, which ones are safest, and how and when to use them. In addition, there are expert recipes for combining oils and specific advice on ways they can alleviate allergies, coughs, and colds; aid with weight loss and digestion; help with skin disorders, wrinkles, and acne; relieve insomnia and headaches; balance hormones; and even act as a bug repellent.
May 1, 2018

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Essential Oils Handbook - Amy Leigh Mercree

Chapter 1

Historical Use of Essential Oils

Essential oils are best known for their use in aromatherapy, where the inhaled oil’s molecules stimulate the brain and impart physical and psychological properties. When applied topically, they are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. They also pair well with many other treatments, such as massage, reflexology, reiki, herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, and yoga. Concentrated organic elements with strong medicinal qualities, they are among the most powerful healing agents the natural environment has to offer. They have multiple uses: scenting soaps, candles, incense, and other products. Cinnamon, Peppermint, and Vanilla essential oils are used for flavoring food. They are also useful in the household, where you can concoct your own nontoxic cleansers and insect repellents to keep your spaces fresh and your body free of insect bites in a pure, natural way.

Pure essential oils are highly concentrated and deliciously aromatic compounds that have been pressed or distilled from plants. Essential oils are drawn from different parts of plants: the blossom, the fruit, the leaf, the stem, the bark, the wood, the roots, and the resin. They are called essential because they carry the essence of the plant, coming from deep within plant cells. Technically, they aren’t oils at all; they don’t contain fatty acids or any oily component. But they are complex compounds, as each essential oil comprises between 50 and 500 different naturally occurring chemicals.

We all love the wonderfully wide variety of natural aromas available from essential oils. Essential oils may have both positive and negative effects. For instance, one must be mindful about Cinnamon essential oil, which is an antiseptic and astringent, but also highly irritating to the skin.

Essential oils were highly valued in ancient times. In fact, the earliest evidence we have of their use as remedies is found as far back as 5000 BCE.

Anthropologists speculate that shamans first used aromatics by burning gums and resins for incense and doing smudging with aromatic plants, fragrant woods, barks, or herbs growing locally; these were the precursors of essential oils. The major aromatic trading centers would not appear for thousands of years. The best records of essential oils are found in the Middle East and in China.

In the 10th century, the Persians are generally credited with being the first to use distillation machines for extracting essential oils from plants in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq. But there is some evidence that other ancient cultures—like the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, and the Indians—also distilled essential oil–like extracts from plants long before that. It’s possible that the oldest known uses of essential oils are in Ayurvedic medicine in India, but no one is sure exactly how old Ayurvedic medicine is.

The ancient Egyptians used essential oils for medicinal benefits, for spiritual enhancement, and as cosmetics. Cleopatra’s legendary beauty was enhanced by many customary Egyptian beauty treatments, including essential oils, fatty oils, clays, and salts from the Dead Sea, the last famously brought to her by her lover Marc Antony.

Egyptians were famous for their mastery and use of aromatics and essential oils; these played an important role in their daily lives. They loved beauty and took great care of themselves. At festivals, the women wore on their heads perfumed cones, which would melt under the hot Egyptian sun and release a lovely aroma. They would also oil their bodies after bathing to prevent the drying of their skin and for its rejuvenating properties.

Around 48 BCE, when Julius Caesar and Cleopatra returned to Rome after conquering Egypt, bottles of aromatic fragrances were tossed into the crowd as a show of Roman dominion over Egypt.

Egyptian spirituality was the province of temple priests and priestesses, who basically worked as doctors. With their renowned herbal preparations, tinctures, unguents, salves, and ointments, they took care of the people’s health. They also applied special fragrances and perfumes, both as part of their spiritual practices and for medicinal purposes. Many of their wide array of aromatic balms, resins, and powders are still valued and used today.

Ancient Egyptian temple murals depict the extraction of essential oils and also record recipes and formulas used by Egyptian royalty. When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, among all the wonderful things that were in there, there were over 50 ancient carved alabaster jars for essential oils. And the story goes that in previous raids of the tomb these essential oils were stolen but the gold was not touched! This shows how very valued essential oils were.

In 2650–2575 BCE Egypt, essential oils were also used in the mummification process. Studies reported by National Geographic have found the linen wrappings covering mummies to have been treated with resins from fir and pine trees, beeswax, myrrh, palm wine, cassia, camphor oil, and other substances that had drying or antibacterial properties. The studies used a combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to examine tiny samples, and they found that most of the oils used were derived from plants.

Organic chemist Richard Evershed told National Geographic that The embalmers really had to have a tremendous amount of knowledge about the properties of these materials and their ability to prevent rehydration and inhibit microbial growth to truly protect the bodies over a long period of time. He studied 13 mummies dating from roughly 1985 BCE to 395 CE. They used frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry, and spikenard to preserve the bodies of their royalty in preparation for the afterlife. These valuable herbs and spices were laboriously transported across inhospitable deserts by Arab merchants to distribute to Assyria, Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia. The most prized were frankincense and myrrh. Because demand outstripped supply during those early trading years, these herbs and spices had huge value.

The Egyptians’ rich botanical knowledge was assimilated by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans, who all borrowed from Egypt’s huge knowledge of aromatic medicine.

In Greece, after Alexander the Great’s invasion of Egypt in the third century BCE, the use of aromatics, herbs, and perfumes became much more common. This prompted great interest in all things fragrant. Hippocrates (circa 460–377 BCE), considered the father of modern medicine, studied and documented the medicinal effects of over 300 plants. In his treatments, he would typically employ baths, massage with infusions, or the ingestion of herbs such as fennel, parsley, hypericum, or valerian. He was one of the first to regard the entire body as one organism. He understood that externally applied essential oils are absorbed into our system and affect our internal organs. This belief, known as holism, is one of the fundamental principles of therapeutic aromatherapy. Hippocrates also believed that surgery should be used only as a last resort. He thought aromatics were so useful that he had Athens fumigated with them to combat the plague. He even treated fallen soldiers on the battlefields with aromatics.

A contemporary of Hippocrates, Theophrastus of Athens (circa 371–287 BCE) was also a philosopher and student of Aristotle. He investigated everything about plants and even how scents affected the emotions. Generally referred to today as the founder of botany, he wrote several volumes on the subject, including The History of Plants, which became one of the most important botanical science references for centuries to come.

It is to be expected the perfumes should have medicinal properties in view of the virtues of their spices. The effect of plasters and of what some may call poultices prove these virtues, since they disperse tumors and abscesses and produce a distinct effect on the body and its interior parts.


A few centuries later, the Greek physician Dioscorides (circa 40–90 CE) wrote the Material Medical, a monumental reference book on herbs and pharmacy. He compiled the material while traveling throughout the Roman empire with Emperor Nero’s army, collecting samples of the local medicinal herbs everywhere he went. Material Medical cites many of the herbs and essential oils we use today, like cardamom, cinnamon, myrrh, basil, fennel, frankincense, juniper, pine, rose, rosemary, and thyme. Bay laurel was used to produce a trancelike state; rose, myrtle, and coriander were respected for their aphrodisiac properties; myrrh and marjoram were used as sedatives. Myrrh was also helpful in relieving gum infections; juniper berry as a diuretic; and cypress in relieving diarrhea. Scented ointments and oils were recognized as having great physical and psychological benefits.

Essential oils figure prominently in Ayurvedic medicine, which has been practiced for approximately 5,000 years. These oils are mainly applied with massage. Records dating from 2000 BCE describe patients being prescribed Cinnamon, Ginger, Myrrh, Coriander, Spikenard, and Sandalwood oils by their doctors. Jasmine was prescribed as a general tonic for the entire body, and rose as an antidepressant and to fortify the liver. Chamomile was used as a remedy for headaches, dizziness, and colds. Basil was valued as a sacred plant that would open the heart and mind, bestowing love and devotion. In the Vedas, the most sacred book of India, over 700 herbs and aromatic plants are listed, together with their therapeutic and spiritual uses. For the most part, many of the properties ascribed to the herbs and aromatic oils by the ancients have been confirmed by science today.

Deeply influenced by the Greeks, Roman culture used aromatic materials and essential oils lavishly, probably more than any other culture. The Romans incorporated them in baths and massages several times a day, scenting their bodies, their hair, and even their beds. The most exotic of these oils were used to make highly valued fragrances.

In China, herb and plant medicine is an integral part of traditional medicine. Specific use of essential oils can be traced back to Shennong Bencaojing, the oldest surviving medical text, dated around 2700 BCE. It was recorded by the emperor Shennong, considered to be the father of Chinese herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine; he is also said to have discovered tea and acupuncture. Shennong recorded the information he gathered on 365 herbal plants, including their properties and uses. He apparently tested these plants on himself. This suggests that the Chinese may even have preceded the Egyptians in their use and knowledge of plant-based medicines.

Huángdì, the Yellow Emperor, is another important influence. He is said to have written the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine in 2697 BCE. This book on internal medicine covers essential oils, which are still used by practitioners today.

The knowledge of distillation and isolation of essential oils spread thoughout Europe and was recorded in the period from the 11th to the 13th centuries. These distilled oils became a specialty of the medieval European pharmacies. By about 1500 CE, Europeans were being treated with oils of Cedarwood, Calamus, Costus, Rose, Rosemary, Spike, Incense, Turpentine, Sage, Cinnamon, Benzoin, and Myrrh.

The Swiss physician Paracelsus played an important role in stimulating physicians and pharmacists to seek essential oils from aromatic leaves, woods, and roots.

"The art of

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