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The Soul of a Plant 

Essential oils: A natural approach to living healthier

For many people, health is a top priority. If you're looking for natural and no-stress ways to care for your whole family's health, it's worthwhile to look into the use of essential oils.

An essential oil is the liquid distilled from a plant, resulting in a super concentrate. Angelina Swanson, founder and creative director of Angelina Organic Skincare, says they're sometimes referred to as the soul of a plant.

"Essential oils are generally steam-extracted from the plant, except for citrus oils which are cold pressed from the fruit rind," Swanson explains.

Used therapeutically, essential oils are used two ways: One, through inhalation in the form of aromatherapy, secondly, used topically in body products. According to Swanson, essential oils are readily absorbed into skin and mucous membranes (lungs and nasal passage). She says, "When you breathe them in, the scent bypasses your conscious brain and goes right into your primitive brain and triggers memory recall. If you have a pleasant association with a scent you are going to feel nice when you smell it." But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Essential oils are thought to have a strong effect on the nervous system as well, and may have the ability to solve common ailments.

Lavender and chamomile essential oils are thought to bring about a calming effect. Peppermint is known to be stimulating, helping with headaches and calming nausea without extra medication. For help with premenstrual syndrome, wellness experts often recommend geranium oil and clary sage oil to help soothe and bring balance.

On her website, angelinaskincare.com, Swanson offers suggestions for creating DIY essential oil blends, recommending several oil combinations used to acquire desired effects.

Some of her recommendations:

For relief from sore muscles, try two drops of fresh ginger combined with two drops of black pepper, four drops of peppermint and five drops of eucalyptus.

Sinus pain? Combine eight drops of eucalyptus with four drops of peppermint and two drops of cypress for relief. The uses for essential oils goes on and on. Swanson also recommends a combo created for chasing the blues away, and another meant to help you get back that lovin' feeling for your partner.

Since putting essential oils directly on the skin (without using a carrier oil or other product) is not recommended, the distribution of the oils can happen a couple of different ways. Add oils to a steam diffuser, put them in a spray bottle (add 60 drops or so to 4 ounces of water), use them topically (10 to 15 drops in a carrier oil such as Jojoba or coconut) or add them to a cleaning solution (add about 20 drops to ¼ cup of unscented cleaner).

While inhaling is the strongest and most potent way to get a response from the body, when used topically on the skin, oils can also have very different effects. Some oils can soothe skin problems such as eczema. Swanson says that there are also oils shown to have anti-tumor effects. "We are working with the cancer center at St. Charles...on a product that is really calming for skin that has been radiated," says Swanson.

While essential oils can also be ingested, Swanson doesn't recommend it. "There are two reasons I don't suggest ingesting essential oils. The first is there are a couple that can kill children. Wintergreen, for example—if a child takes a half an ounce of wintergreen essential oil they are going to die. You have to be really careful because they can be highly toxic," says Swanson.

With the endless number of essential oils stacked on shelves at local shops, it can be difficult to know where to start. Swanson suggests picking up the following books: "Essential Oils for Beginners: The Guide to Get Started with Essential Oils," from Althea Press and "The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy," by Valerie Ann Worwood.

The practice of using essential oils may take some research and even a little trial and error, but it's worth the time and effort for those interested in living a cleaner, healthier and more natural lifestyle.


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