What Exactly are Essential Oils and What do they have to do with Emotional Health?


As you may already be aware, our team at Life Enhancement Psychotherapy recently added a line of essential oil blends, Life Enhancement Essentials AKA LE Essentials, to our repertoire of services and products. But why? What do essential oils have to do with emotional health? Both are great questions, we would be happy to answer!


So what are they?

You’ve heard about them, you’ve seen them, maybe you’ve even tried them, but what are they actually? An essential oil, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it was extracted. Evidence of the use of plants containing essential oils dates back as early as 10,000 BC where they were selected for their healing properties and were used in religious ceremonies.






 The famed ancient physician and alchemist, Paracelsus (1493-1534) favored the use of the distilled plant oils to obtain the quintessence of the plant or stated more clearly, to separate the “essential” plant oils from non-essential plant components.  Indeed, Paracelsus was on to something.  Today we most commonly use distillation to gently extract potent essential oils from a variety of plants.  You may have heard of this process if you drink distilled water or are a fan of grain alcohols which are also produced through distillation.   



 A modern essential oil distillation apparatus.  A flask containing water and aromatic plant materials is heated, producing steam that carries the essentials.  When condensed, the steam turns into scented water called a hydrosol upon which the essential oil floats.  The pure essential oil is then removed and readied for use.   




Citrus essential oils such as orange and lemon are extracted through pressing of their rinds.  This process is called expression and it is similar to the methods used to extract olive oil.  Both methods of extraction produce 100% pure plant oils that retain the characteristic scent of the plant from which it is derived and other natural properties that have a range of uses from body products, household cleaners, addressing physical ailments and, you guessed it, supporting emotional well-being. 


How are essential oils used to support emotional health?

Certain, essential oils have been used for thousands of years to support emotional health.  Our ancient ancestors had many theories regarding just how essential oils work.  Indeed today some people agree with ancient ideas such as essential oils have the ability to heal life energy (chakras).  From a scientific perspective, we know that inhaling the scent of essential oils sends cues at an astounding rate of more than 300 miles per hour right to your stress response system (limbic system).  Here the scents of essentials oils stimulate the stress response system in a manner that can influence your emotional state. 


Modern medicine is finally catching up with ancient wisdom.  Major medical centers, such as Boston Medical Center teaches parents how to use lavender and other essential oils to assist children with managing pain.  The Mayo Center, a leader in holistic health practices, recommends a range of essential oils to support emotional and physical health.  Indeed, lavender has been well researched and oil has been shown to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression and to improve sleep.  Orange and other citrus oils are traditionally used to uplift mood while vetiver (a member of the valerian family) is known for enhancing sleep.  In short an array of essential oils have been used traditionally to support emotional health. 


What Research Supports the Use of Essential Oils?

Promising and even exciting research is ongoing regarding the efficacy of essential oils in treating a wide array of physical and psychological ailments.  See the references at the end of this post for a sampling of research findings.  So, modern science is making progress but frankly, more well designed research is needed.  In a future post we will share what we have learned economics and essential oil research.  For now, rest assured that the key ingredients in each of our proprietary, LE Essentials synergies, have demonstrated though research and holistic traditions their potential for supporting emotional health. 


Are Essential Oils Safe?

Unlike many pharmaceuticals, when used properly, essential oils have few to no side effects.   Most essentials oils must be diluted in a carrier oil prior to applying to your skin.  As a rule of thumb, keep roll-on bottle synergies away from sensitive areas of your body such as your eyes and mucous membranes.  There is a lot of confusion regarding ingesting essential oils.  The Tisserand Institute is dedicated to the safe use of essentials, here’s their recommendation:  “Do not ingest essential oils unless advised to do so by a practitioner who is qualified/licensed to prescribe essential oils in this way.”  Similarly, they recommend:  If you have a skin condition, are pregnant, have epilepsy or asthma, are on a course of treatment with prescribed medication, or are in any doubt about any condition you may have, you are advised to seek the advice of a doctor or suitable practitioner before using pure essential oils. The bottom line is that if you keep in mind proper use and you are not medically fragile, it is very likely that you can use essential oils safely with very little risk. 






Are you Curious?

Don’t wait, give LE Essentials a try!  Not quite ready?  Learn about LE Essentials in our post, How are LE Essentials Related to Emotional Health? If you try LE Essentials feel free to drop us a line or post your feedback on by taking our product survey.  Don’t hesitate, start your essential journey today! 




Mia Gardner, LCSW, and LeShelle Woodard, PhD, on behalf of our team at LE Essentials




Buck, L.B. (2004). Unraveling the sense of smell. Retrieved from  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_ prizes/medicine/laureates/2004/ buck-lecture.html

Essential oils. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionary online.  Retrieved from:  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/essential_oil


Chakra essential oils:  Use the power (and pleasure) of aromatherapy to support your chakras. (n.d.). Retrieved from:  https://www.the-energy-healing-site.com/chakra-essential-oils.html


Hüsnü Can Bas‚er, K., & Buchbauer, G. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of essential oils: Science technology and applications, 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 


Integrative services for pediatric pain: Q&A with Caitlin Neri, MD, & Laura Goldstein, PsyD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bmc.org/about-us/bmc-news/expert-interviews/integrative-services-pediatric-pain.


Kasper, S. (2013). An orally administered lavandula oil preparation (Silexan) for anxiety disorder and related conditions: an evidence based review, International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 17,15-22. doi: 10.3109/13651501.2013.813555


Kasper, S., Gastpar, M., Müller, W., VolzHans-Jürgen Möller, H., Schläfke, S., & Dienel, A. (2014). Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder – a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 17 (6), 859- 869. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1461145714000017.


Hirokawa, H., Nishimoto, T., & Taniguchi, T. (2012). Effects of lavender aroma on sleep quality in healthy Japanese students. Perceptual Motor Skills. 114(1), 111-22. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582680


How to use essential oils safely.  (n.d.). The Tisserand Institute.  Retrieved from http://tisserandinstitute.org/safety/safety-guidelines/


Koulivand, P., Ghadiri, M., & Gor, A.  (2013). Lavender and the nervous system.  Evidence based complementary and alternative medicine.  Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/


Peterson, S. (n.d.). Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units.  Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/why-aromatherapy-is-showing-up-in-hospital-surgical-units/art-20342126


Sayorwan W., Siripornpanich V., Piriyapunyaporn T., Hongratanaworakit T., Kotchabhakdi N., & Ruangrungsi N. (2012). The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 95(4), 598-606.


Shutes, J. How are essential oils extracted? New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. Retrieved from https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/how-are-essential-oils-extracted


Art credits:

Distillation apparatus.  Nicholas Sadgrove and Graham Jones [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons





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