Essential oils are plants that have been distilled into a highly concentrated liquid. They therefore contain the compounds that keep plants alive and let them thrive. In humans they support body systems, health and well being. Explaining how and why essential oils work could involve a detailed chemistry and biology lesson and even a chunk of neurology but none of that is something I can clearly explain – lets agree it’s complicated. It does make really interesting reading if you Google it though.
Put very simply essential oils impact on our brains and bodies because they have very small molecules, so small they are able to penetrate cell membranes, which allows them to move through blood and tissues. When inhaled or applied, these tiny molecules directly impact the Limbic System of the brain, which controls the most basic functions of our bodies. The reason why you can breathe without having to think about it (no blonde jokes please) is because the Limbic System does it for you. Anyone who has smelled something awful and gagged has experienced the link between aroma and the Limbic System.
The Limbic System response to essential oils is to release neurochemicals that can relax, stimulate, sedate and so on, depending on the properties of the oil being diffused. As the Limbic System is directly connected to control of heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, memory, stress and hormone levels, this link makes essential oils a powerful tool. It’s easy to see, with this lens of modern science, why essential oils are Man’s first and oldest medicines.
It takes only seconds for inhaled oils molecules to reach the brain, minutes before they can be found in the blood stream and less than half an hour before they have affected every cell in the body. This is why purity matters. Synthetic fragrances will not elicit the same response as a 100% pure oil. The question of purity is a whole other blog post, just know for now that it matters and probably those supermarket ones are not Limbic System whisperers.
All that means that essential oils are able to provide profound psychological and psychological effects. They can be used in many different ways and will provide different benefits, depending on how they are used and applied. Each essential oil offers different properties and benefits derived from the flower, tree, fruit, herb, root or leaf they are made from. In general it has been found that oils derived from flowers benefit the skin, those from citrus benefit mood, those from trees are good for relief from pain and herbs are good when we are unwell. Keep this in mind when building oil blends to get the greatest benefit out of both those little oily powerhouses AND the magic of your Limbic System!