Health Benefits of Essential Oils

Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
 Essential oils are derived from aromatic plants such as chamomile,lavender, thyme, sandalwood, peppermint, bitter orange, and Melaleuca(tea tree) and contain a complex mixture of terpenoids. Essential oilshave a long history of safe use in a variety of situations. Today, they are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, for flavoring drinks, and for medicinal purposes.

Lavender is one of many plant sources of essential oils.

Before the advent of autoclaves, essential oils were used to sterilize surgical instruments. Early in the twentieth century, the oils were used to treat chest infections, and for the care of wounds. The oils should not be confused with synthetic aromas which have dubious therapeutic effects and can cause negative reactions in the patient. Adulterated essential oils should also be avoided.

Essential oils have a variety of antimicrobial effects. Lemongrass can be effective against ringworm, while tea tree oil solution is effective against vaginal yeast infections. Oil from common thyme, is effectively used in mouthwashes and gargles for treating sore throats. Eucalyptus is useful as an expectorant in upper respiratory infections. Eucalyptus and other oils show potential for use against resistant pathogens.

Essential oils have been successfully used topically for bruises and skin problems. In addition, peppermint and ginger are effective essential oils to use for the treatment of nausea in patients having chemotherapy or for motion sickness.

The inhalation of essential oils has been successfully used to treat depression, insomnia, sinusitis, and chronic pain. The oil is inhaled from a handkerchief or from a few drops of oil added to a bowl of steaming water. Essential oils, such as lavender, rose, and neroli have the potential to significantly reduce stress. Pleasant odors help terminally ill patients to relax, sleep better, and better cope with pain.

Massaging patients in an intensive care unit with lavender oil was more effective in reducing stress and anxiety than the massage without lavender. Women in labor were shown to better relax, and experience less pain and anxiety when exposed to the aromas of lavender, jasmine, rose, and other pleasant aromas. Anxiety and pain symptoms in cancer patients and patients with rheumatoid arthritis were significantly lessened with the use of lavender oil.

Lavender oil has a significant sedative effect that makes it useful for treating insomnia, especially in elderly patients. Drops of lavender oil, placed in the pillowcase, helps patients get to sleep quicker, awaken fewer times during the night, and feel more rested in the morning.

Aromas have a significant impact upon the limbic system of the brain. This includes the amygdala which is involved in the processing and memory of emotional experiences. Familiar odors associated with happy memories can help to re-establish feelings of happiness. The aromatic oils from plants can significantly improve the quality of our lives in a variety of ways.


  1. Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine. A Research Based Approach. 3rd edition. By Lyn Freeman

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