Vail Daily health feature: Essential oils offer a healing remedy from an earlier era
July 21, 2014
If you go …
What: “Medicine Cabinet Makeover”, a do-it-yourself class on essential oils.
When: Thursdays at 5:30 p.m., running until the end of August.
Where: Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, room 215.
More information: Contact instructor Kris Keske at email@example.com or 303-229-5395. Schedule subject to change.
Common essential oils and its uses
Information provided by Sarah Josey, clinical herbalist and owner of Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary and Clinic in Fort Collins:
Lavender: Lavender is a multi-tasking master, as it can aid with everything from better sleep to sunburns. Lavender has a relaxing or “cooling” effect, which aromatically could reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and topically can help heal bug bites.
Citrus: Citrus oils like lemon and wild orange are invigorating and uplifting, and can also be used in cleaning products.
Oregano: Oregano is anti-microbial and often used to reduce colds, flus and other sicknesses.
Tea tree: Tea tree oil is anti-microbial as well, and good for healing scrapes and bruises
Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus can aid in clearing sinuses and congestion. Josey said you can even put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on the bottom of your shower head, and the steam will help clear a head cold.
Using essential oils may be new to some, but the practice actually goes back to ancient times. Well before the dawn of modern medicine, humans were taking the essence of plants and herbs and using them to treat everything from headaches to indigestion. While a trip to the drugstore is now more routine than a stop at the bathhouse to get well, some have decided to return to our earliest healing methods. Essential oils, concentrated liquids derived from plants and herbs, offer an alternative way to treat a variety of ailments.
Unearthing a remedy's mystery
Sarah Josey is a clinical herbalist, nutritionist and the owner of Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary and Clinic in Fort Collins, which sells its own essential oils. Josey said essential oils have healing properties the same way plants and herbs do, but why they work is still a bit unknown.
"One of the things about plant medicine, essential oils and herbs is people don't understand them completely," Josey said. "A lot of the time they can't figure out why it's working. (We) do know that your sense of smell in general is intrinsically tied to your nervous system. More than likely it's triggering something in the nervous system."
Currently there are few conclusive studies showing a direct link between using an essential oil, like lavender, to reduce a specific symptom. However, many claim that essential oils can work just as well as other medicines. Kris Keske, massage therapist and owner of Mountain Wellness Authority in Eagle, started using essential oils in place of over-the-counter drugs and other pharmaceuticals two years ago, when she had her first child. As a massage therapist for nine years, Keske had always used essential oils, but she didn't start using them medicinally until after the birth of her son.
"For the last two and a half years, I've been able to (treat) any common ailment — fever, flu, diarrhea, anything kids get," Keske said. "(I've been) pretty much (using) essential oils on a daily basis as prevention, to stay a lot more healthy and not be as sick as I had in the past."
'Take wellness into your own hands'
Keske now uses essential oils regularly and doesn't even have so much as an aspirin in the house. She does keep children's Tylenol on hand, but "I've yet to open the box," Keske said.
Keske also teaches classes on essential oils and is offering a Medicine Cabinet Makeover class this summer at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.
"(Using essential oils) is a way to take care of your own health from the first line of defense and take your wellness into your own hands," Keske said. "I'm not anti-Western medicine or anything like that, but as a mom I want to reduce the toxins in my home in whatever way I can."
Keske said due to high deductibles and rising healthcare costs, many parents are looking for ways to cut back on doctor's visits and focus on prevention, not just treatment. Keske's class is an A to Z on essential oils, teaching people how they work, the distillation process, how to identify pure oils and read labels, which can be confusing and aren't heavily regulated at the moment.
"I also speak to the potency of (essential oils)," Keske said. "These are very powerful chemicals. They are natural chemicals, but they still have a lot of potency to them."
For example, one drop of chamomile oil is equal to 30 bags of chamomile tea, so using more than a small amount won't make you feel better faster, and could potentially be hazardous to your health.
Investing in health
There are two ways to use essential oils — by applying them topically to your skin or inhaling the aroma. Josey said no matter how gentle an essential oil is, putting it directly onto your skin can cause irritation, so you need to dilute it with a carrier oil (such as almond, olive or grape seed oil). Keske suggests using one drop of pure essential oil for every one teaspoon of carrier oil or two drops of essential oil for every tablespoon of carrier oil. If you're using essential oils aromatically, Keske suggests purchasing an ionic diffuser that vibrates, which breaks up the oil in order to release the smell. You can also use a cotton ball or place a few drops in a bath. Scenting your pillows with lavender is another idea, as lavender is a natural sedative that can help people sleep better.
Josey said one of the most common misconceptions about essential oils is that they can be used internally.
"It's not something I ever recommend people do," Josey said. "There are specially trained aromatherapists who can monitor that type of thing for a (very) specific function, (but) for people to start using essential oils everyday internally, it's a really dangerous thing."
One-hundred percent pure essential oils can be quite expensive. Keske said essential oils are an investment initially, but the high prices do end up paying off.
"Let's say you (buy) peppermint oil," Keske said. "Peppermint oil is something you can use as a fever reducer, use for nausea and use for headaches. Essential oils have a lot of different purposes — they can eliminate a lot of different synthetic (products) you have in your medicine cabinet. Look at what a bottle of Motrin, an antiseptic and Pepto-Bismol cost and add them all up. That's more expensive than a 15 ml bottle of peppermint oil, so it depends on how you look at it."
Essential oils might not be popular enough to the point where everyone is carrying a bottle of peppermint oil in their purse just in case they get a headache. But as more people look beyond the drugstore and seek out health remedies that have worked for centuries, essential oils could become as common as aspirin.
Whether or not the bathhouse trend will come back in style again, well, only time will tell on that one.