Essential Oils 101 In and Out of the Craft

There is a lot that is misunderstood by the lay person about essential oils, and a lot that is not known even by well educated researchers. However, the power of essential oils on chemical, spiritual, and energetic levels cannot be denied when working with them.  Interestingly enough, one of the first tenets of aromatherapy is to, “Do No Harm.” The idea is helping and healing, not harming, it is this language that brings me to thoughts of the Craft. I see many recipes for incenses and blends in the Craft for various rituals or just basic use that make me nervous for the user; which is prompting this article as a very basic informational post on what essential oils are and how to use them safely.  If oils are your thing, I recommend getting your aromatherapy certification at your local school or on-line program.  It is well worth it and adds knowledge to both a personal medicine chest, overall wellness, as well as enhancing any business ideas you might have in natural products.

Essential oils, not to be confused with flower essences, are like the blood of a plant, while flower essences are the auric imprint of flowers or other plants on water.  Essential oils are highly concentrated oils that work on the body on a chemical, energetic, and emotional level verses flower essences that connect on an energetic, spiritual, and emotional level.  The key word here is CHEMICAL.  Essential oils create chemical change in the body among other things. So there is concern for interactions like contraindications with medications, allergic responses, and other things on the physical level.

If you are interested in flower essences, here’s a link to an article explaining them:

Essential oils are highly concentrated; a good example of potency of essential oils is peppermint oil.  One drop of peppermint oil is equivalent to 40 cups of peppermint tea; it has side effects such as raising the blood pressure, increasing circulation, works as a pain killer, as well as aiding digestion.  It is cooling and can reduce inflammation, helps with bad breath, can kill bacteria, and help someone overcome feelings of inferiority among a ton of other things.  It has a lot of great properties if used properly and is commonly found in a lot of products and sold readily at most health food stores.  At this point in time, essential oils are mostly unregulated in the US and anyone can purchase them, and use them without any certification or proof of training.

Essential oils are extracted in a number of ways and each has its own pro and con.  There is water and steam, which is often used with herbs and leaves. The most common is steam distillation; then there is Hydro-diffusion, expressions, and solvent extractions. Most of these methods have bi products like flower waters or hydrosols that are also sold and have many uses.

Most essential oils have some area of concern when using them, whether that is safety for a specific population such as babies, children, the elderly, pets, or the oils themselves have concern with use.  A good example of this are citrus oils as well as some other oils that are phototoxic, which means that when exposed to sunlight, they change and make the skin more susceptible to burning and can leave a permanent red or brown mark on the skin where the burn occurred.   Another example of potential dangers are a group of oils that may be in what we call, a “5 drops or less” category, because they are so potent that they can cause burning or permanent sensitization to the oil.  This is a common issue for people in professions that utilize oils often such as massage therapists.  Some examples of these oils are clove, cinnamon, and even cassia or oregano oils. So the rule is to use only 5 drops or less total in at least an ounce of carrier oil, but usually more than that.  Additional warnings, oils are highly concentrated, less is more.  You should also know that there is a hazard list of oils that you should never use.  Be smart, be safe and remember to dilute.  If you ever get oils in your eye or anywhere else that is burning, use more carrier oils, not water; remember oils and water do not mix.

Most reputable aromatherapist will take a medical and medication history before making a blend or recommending an oil for you.  Some examples why this is important are in oils like rose or grapefruit. Grapefruit which is not only phototoxic, but also incredible at detoxing the body and will dump medications like ones prescribed for your heart fairly quickly.  Rose oil is beautiful, but is a uterine oil and can assist the uterus to contract; in women who are pregnant that can cause miscarriage or even early contractions.  So knowing what you are working with is vital.  As a general rule, little to no oils should be used on babies and pregnant women, and for other populations including babies and pregnant women, who may be at risk, seek out a professional.

On a side note to that, Tea Tree oil is often used with pets, however, it is usually misused and can cause toxic situations or death, particularly with cats, so really research or seek help before using.  Don’t assume your vet knows about essential oils, either.  Seek out a certified aromatherapist.  Ok, have I said that enough times? In all seriousness, oils are not just little good smelling substances from plants; they can work in your body like a medicine and pass the blood-brain barrier which is an area that modern pharmacology has not been able to penetrate.

People often complain about the cost of oils, you are preaching to the choir here, but the market goes up and down.  It takes a lot of flowers to produce small amounts of oils; for instance, it takes a full dump truck of rose petals to make one ounce of rose essential oil.  They have to be organically grown or they are frankly concentrating the poison of the pesticides.  A lot of rose oils are distilled to extract the oils and even then the cost to buy is still too high, so it is often blended with jojoba oil as a carrier oil to cut the cost.  It is still quite effective and has the added bonus of the properties of the jojoba oil, such as preservation, skin enhancing, and moisturizing effects.

When purchasing oils buy only therapeutic quality; anything that says, “fragrance” is keyword in the business for chemicals.  Most perfumes, if not all, are chemicals and alcohols and are often referred to as fragrances.  You want pure organic, therapeutic quality oils that show on the labels that they have been tested.  No tests, no good.  Don’t bother spending your money on it, if you can’t be sure of the quality at all.  You also want to only buy enough oils to last only about a month or two.  Oils are very volatile and begin breaking down as soon as they are made, so you are in a rush against time and nature.  The fresher the oil, the more quickly you use it, the stronger and more effective in its individual properties.  It’s better to buy often in small amounts.  Store your oils in a cool dark place.  I have a box I keep in the refrigerator in my shop.

I mentioned above about testing and I just want to add a little bit more here what to look for; there are a number of tests to ensure quality.  The two most common types that you want to see on the label and make sure that the oil has undergone are as follows:

  1. Gas Chromatography (GC): it identifies the individual constituents of an oil. It will show if pesticides are present as well as all of the good stuff you want in there. It tells what’s in the oil.
  2. Mass Spectrometry (MS): detects the compounds by their mass. Lets you know how much of the good or bad stuff is in there. This is ensuring a good quality product at therapeutic level of substance.

If your oils are not undergoing these tests, find a new company, it’s not trustworthy.

Some really good and familiar companies are Young Living and Doterra, Mountain Rose, and I like Eden Botanicals on line especially because they also have their own farms and are growing and watching the process from start to finish. They can be a little expensive at times, but often send you small samples to try new oils and that is a bonus.  In my opinion, mid-range companies and readily available in grocery or health food stores are NOW brand and Aura Cacia. These are fine in a pinch.  Frankly, I rarely buy from any one else and I can’t think of others that are worth mentioning.

Ok, so you’ve got some oils that you are excited to use, now what?  Well you need to blend them with a carrier oil to dilute them so you don’t run into trouble.  There is only one oil that is gentle enough to use, “neat,” or directly on the skin, and that is lavender oil, everything else gets diluted.  A good general ratio is 15 drops of essential oils to one ounce of carrier oil.  You can blend essential oils and carrier oils to your liking, but keeping the overall ratio of 15:1 as a beginner is a good way to stay out of trouble.  I wrote a great reference article for carrier oils and their properties, so rather than writing more on that, here’s the link:

How do you come up with your own scents?  I was taught that a good way was to open the bottles of the oils you want to blend together and place them in a line in your hand and quickly run them across under your nose.  See how they smell together.  If it’s pleasing, then you probably have a good chance that they will go well together.  Get yourself some good reference books, Rosemary Gladstar and Valerie Ann Worwood are two tops in the business and have fabulous books and how to’s, anything by either of them are great.  A good book will tell you what other types of oils or scents blend well with a specific oil as well as all the contradictions and concerns. So look for that when you are evaluating reference books.  My favorite starter book and the text book I was taught from is Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers by Jade Shutes and Christina Weaver.  It is available at Amazon and I paid less than $60.00 for it.  It is excellent and I still use it today.

When purchasing containers for your creations, choose dark smaller containers; amber colored glass is the least expensive and very easy to get. Avoid plastics as many of the oils will begin to break down the plastic and can contaminate your blend. Bottles with rubber stoppers need to be stored upright, the oils will breakdown the rubber fairly quickly if left on their side.  Glass in this case is really your friend.  However, I do use plastic spray bottles for hydrosols, (water, alcohol and oil blends), but for most everything else I use glass.  If I make a lotion I try to use glass if possible, but for shower scrubs, for safety reasons, plastics.  No one wants glass breaking in the shower while you’re in it!

You can use essential oils to make natural hygiene products, impact your Chakras, spiritual enhancement, enhance mood, purify and protect sacred spaces, in lotions, hydrosols, as a regular or signature scent, in natural cleaning products, really the possibilities are endless.  Here are some links to other articles I’ve written featuring oil blends in various applications:

When making a blend consider the oil’s personal strength; ylang ylang is so over powering as is cassia that any more than a drop or two will overpower your entire blend.  Also certain carrier oils can overpower your blend like regular olive oil can be intensely olive smelling.  Other oils like sandalwood are softer and need oils that have a light touch to them.  As a blend sits, it gels and marinates creating a new, “blended” scent that is smooth like a fine wine. So experiment with your techniques and wait times.

I also want to mention that sometimes an oil smells horrible to you, very often when this happens; it means that you have an emotional or spiritual issue with this oil. You need to work with it and let it help you resolve your issue, which could be as far back as a past life issue; work with it until you and the oil can partner in harmony.  I had this experience with Geranium oil.  It smelled so herbaceous to me, I could hardly stand it, but after a few weeks of working with it slowly, it began to grow on me and we became friendly.  Now, I love it and can’t get enough of it. So paying attention to your reactions to oils and keeping a journal on your experiences as well as your blends is important.

One thing that you should consider when using oils for the long term is to think about a variety of a few blends or single oils.  Your body needs a break periodically from the oil and having multiple blends helps with the effectiveness of them overall in your system.

The intention of this article is a basic primer of what you need to know.  It by no means will make you an expert; I have left a ton out on purpose.  You really need to take a bunch of classes to fully understand the intricacies and complexities. There is a ton of chemistry involved and understanding how oils work in the body as well as mind and spirit, how they interact with one another, what to use and when, how to blend effectively, scent notes, and so much more.  Start out small and simple and study everything you can!  So enjoy yourself.  Here are few little blends to get you started for the seasons; these are from Young Living:

Spring Boost Blend:              Summer Blend:                     Fall Blend:                              Winter Blend:

3 drops tangerine              6 drops Pink Grapefruit       4 drops clove                           4 drops basil

3 drops Spearmint             6 drops Petitgrain                3 drops cinnamon bark          3 drops peppermint

3 drops Lemongrass          3 drops Rosemary                3 drops basil                            2 drops rosemary


Use these recipes in diffusers, add them to a hydrosol or even blend with a carrier oil like grape seed to wear.

2016 copyright by Katie Pifer




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