Having already outlined pattern recognition in the brain, a prior post focused on the implications of Olfaction (the sense of smell), especially the absorption/ ingestion of endocrine disruptors. It would be negligent to skip discussion of beneficial substances that can enter the bloodstream by these same means. Perhaps the most well-known are essential oils, the resurgence of which (like acupuncture, as I’ve already explained) has stirred up controversy, especially as companies scramble to manufacture their own supply to meet the increasing demand. Unfortunately, renewed appreciation for ancient practices floods the market with inferior– even counterfeit– versions. These are accompanied by varying attempts to corner the market through unnecessarily complicating what is otherwise quite simple. Consequently, many consumers become disillusioned, thinking the entire concept is a sham. Rather than attempt to compare various characteristics or endorse specific brands, I’ll simply explain what real essential oil is. Even cursory knowledge can help the vetting process.
Recognizable flavors and odors are produced in at least one part of a plant: its seeds, stem, flower, leaves, bark, wood, roots, and/or resin. Some of the most familiar botanical bi-products are pancake syrup derived from maple tree sap, oil/ resin from pine tree branches added to cleaning products to mask their chemical odor and apple tree wood chips used for smoking meat. As for true essential oils rather than mere sap, steam distillation evaporates water from stems, leaves and peels to separate the oil. Cold-pressing crushes seeds and nuts to release their’s. This essence– i.e. high concentration of “volatile” compounds— is extremely potent; the extraction process condenses about 100 lbs/ 45 kg of botanical material into roughly 400 mL/ 13.5 oz. It’s no wonder essential oils are so valuable. In fact, to most ancient cultures they were more valuable than gold and jewels! Recall stories from the Bible of men who brought frankincense and myrrh as gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:7-12) and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet to the vexation of many who were present, at least one of whom was known embezzler (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8).
Why have people around the world throughout history been so enamored with essential oils? Their usefulness goes far beyond perfume and flavoring. There are a few that drive away disease-carrying mosquitoes. Some can be used for embalming and many can be applied topically for relief of symptoms, such as respiratory distress, digestive discomfort, skin rashes, hypertension and inflammation. Even those that are more effective at inhibiting harmful microorganisms in plants are an alternative to the plethora of artificially manufactured chemicals that are applied to produce; pesticides aren’t entirely safe despite being technically edible.
Note the 2 main categories of essential oil: therapeutic and food grade/ safe. Given what I’ve already covered about olfaction, we know the Endocrine System is acutely affected by airborne particulate. Though it’s often assumed to be foolishness, aromatherapy is aptly named. Since an oil’s scent carries particles up into the nose, they travel quickly and directly to the brain. Repeated exposure trains the brain to associate the smell itself with the stimulation of various systems as it triggers– for example– the memory of a relaxing situation (e.g. Grandmother’s hug, baking cookies, sipping tea in the flower garden, getting a massage). For instance, research finds that vanilla, rose oil and jasmine increase alertness and calmness. Potentially, activity of certain functions could be instigated just by recognition of a smell.
However, essential oils aren’t just aromatic. As for topical (certainly edible) oils, in addition to the benefits outlined above, they have detoxifying, antibacterial and antiviral properties, which have made them effective healthcare– both prevention and treatment– for centuries; many ancient medical texts have documented their efficacy. Certainly, Humankind didn’t survive multiple widespread plagues– pre-pharmaceuticals– through sheer force of will. The realization that an overabundance of prescription antibiotics has developed super bugs resistant to pharmaceuticals has renewed interest in ancient medicinal remedies. Now, increasing professionals from nurses to microbiologists the world over can attest to healing properties of essential oils.
The Therapeutic Benefits of Essential Oils (PDF download)
Antimicrobial Activity of Essential Oils (PDF download)