If you have ever enjoyed the scent of a rose, you’ve experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. These naturally occurring, volatile aromatic compounds are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant. Essential oils give plants their distinctive smells, essential oils protect plants and play a role in plant pollination. In addition to their intrinsic benefits to plants and their beautiful fragrance, essential oils have long been used for food preparation, beauty treatment, and health-care practices.
But what exactly is a volatile aromatic compound? In short, these compounds are small organic molecules that tend to change quickly from their solid or liquid state to a gas at room temperature. They are called volatile because they change state quickly. When you first open a bottle of essential oil, you instantly notice that the aroma is potent and you can smell it typically even from some distance. The physical and chemical properties of the volatile aromatic compounds that compose essential oils allow them to quickly move through the air and directly interact with the olfactory sensors in the nose. Such unique properties make essential oils ideal for applications inclusion in aromatherapy – using these compounds from plants to help maintain a healthy mind and body – as well as other applications. The type of volatile aromatic compounds present in an essential oil determines both the oil’s aroma and the benefits it offers.
Over 3,000 varieties of volatile aromatic compounds have been identified to date. The nature of an essential oil varies from plant to plant, within botanical families, and from species to species. The delicate ratio of aromatic constituents found in any given essential oil are what make it unique and give it specific benefits.
Even with pure essential oils the composition of the oil can vary depending on the time of day, season, geographic location, method and duration of distillation, year grown, and the weather, making every step of the production process a critical determinant of the overall quality of the essential oil product.
Essential oils can be used for a wide range of emotional and physical wellness applications. They can be used as single essential oils or in complex essential oil blends depending on user experience and desired benefit.
To get you started, check out these picks and learn how to harness their healing powers.
🌱 Peppermint to feel more alert
Smelling peppermint essential oil made drivers perkier in one study. In another, basketball players who sniffed peppermint oil had better energy and performance.
🌱 Lemon to get a happiness hit
Japanese researchers found that folks with depression who sniffed citrus fragrance were able to lower their dose of antidepressants; the scent helped normalize hormone levels.
🌱 Lavender to sleep better
Research shows that lavender increases brain alpha waves associated with relaxation and deep sleep. The do-it-all scent may also alleviate PMS symptoms and reduce pain.
🌱 Ginger to alleviate nausea
Ginger teas and candies work, but smelling the essential oil also eases queasiness, per research done by anesthesiologists; cancer centers use it for patients who’ve had radiation.
🌱 Grapefruit to reduce appetite
One small study of rats published in the journal Neuroscience Letters found that inhaling grapefruit oil can inhibit a key gastric nerve, dulling the sensation of hunger.
🌱 Lavender, chamomile, and neroli to ease stress
A 2013 study of ICU patients published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that sniffing this combo significantly reduced anxiety.
🌱 Eucalyptus to stop sniffles
This scent reduced stuffy noses and head pressure in people with sinusitis, noted a German study. Put a few drops in a sink with warm water, drape a towel over your head and breathe it in.
🌱 Black pepper to quit smoking
In one study, cigarette smokers who inhaled it reported having fewer cravings than those who didn’t; the scent irritates the back of the throat, a sensation smokers miss.
🌱 Orange to quell anxiety
In one study, adults who inhaled this oil and then took a test handled the pressure sans increased anxiety. Other citrus oils, such as bergamot, can also help you keep your cool.
🌱 Rosemary for better focus at work
The scent can improve concentration, speed and accuracy during mental tasks. Other recent research found it may boost memory.
🌱 Tea tree oil to fight infections
Antifungal, antiseptic and antibacterial, this oil is so potent that it has killed MRSA and staph in lab settings. Mix it with a carrier oil to fight off athlete’s foot, acne and dandruff, or add a couple of drops to a squirt of your shampoo.
🌱 Peppermint to stop headaches
In one study, rubbing this oil (mixed with alcohol) into temples soothed headaches. In another, a massage with peppermint and eucalyptus oils (also combined with alcohol) reduced post-workout muscle cramps.
🌱 Lavender to soothe cuts and ease PMS
Reach for it to soothe scrapes and stings. A few drops of lavender oil combined with the same amount of rose oil, plus an ounce of sweet almond oil, may ward off painful menstrual cramps when massaged on the abdomen.
🌱 Cedarwood for hair loss and skin irritation
Blended with rosemary, thyme, lavender and a carrier oil and rubbed into the scalp, it can help with hair loss—in one study, 44 percent of women saw new growth. Or pair with fractionated coconut oil to soothe eczema.
From the sweet aroma of lavender to the stimulating fragrance of eucalyptus, essential oils ignite your senses. Packed within these pure, botanical essences, you’ll discover rich properties that cannot be found elsewhere.