It’s undeniable that smell is a potent wizard. Aromatherapy is an often undervalued holistic and complementary therapy, but the field is blossoming. Now more than ever, healthcare professionals are incorporating essential oils into their offerings and others are turning to them to dive deeper with self-care practices. If you are looking to kick-start aromatherapy studies or incorporate aromatic plant medicine into your daily routine, look no further. Want to heal skin issues? Reduce anxiety? Expectorate mucus from the lungs? Read on for the fun and factual lowdown of 15 must-have essential oils that make the perfect at-home apothecary!
1. Roman Chamomile
An oil with a rich history, roman chamomile was a popular disinfectant and antiseptic through World War II. Its odor is strong and apple-like, which pays homage to its past names from ancient Greece and Spain, and is a powerful vulnerary, nervine, and anti-inflammatory that calms the central nervous system. While generally considered safe, patch test on those with sensitivity to ragweed, which is in the same botanical family. With an ability to soothe the mind, reach for roman chamomile when feeling hyperactive, misunderstood, or agitated.
How-to: If you have an unbearable earache, combine a drop or two with a drop of helichrysum and rub gently behind the ear before sleeping.
2. Clary Sage
Sometimes called ‘clear eye’ due to the seeds’ effect on healing eye infections, clary sage has a nutty, earthy scent that is deeply calming. In fact, it’s often 20% linalool, which is deeply sedating. Clary sage is one of the most powerful muscle relaxants, and is used to quell spasms. It has an affinity for the reproductive and endocrine systems—balancing hormones and supporting PMS and menstrual cycle irregularities.
How-to: If you have excruciating cramping, menstrual or not, add a few drops of clary sage to a carrier oil and rub on the pain point.
Native to Australia, aboriginals call it ‘malee.’ The odor is camphor-like and balsamic, and should be used with caution around children and elderly due to its high1,8 cineole oxide composition. It’s a go-to anti-bacterial and decongestant. It’s also a potent antiviral.
How-to: Cooling and clearing, eucalyptus works well with the upper respiratory system. Mix with rosemary and lemon for a divine breathing space blend.
Beloved since ancient times, Fennel was once used to promote longevity and protect against evil spirits. Its spicy, licorice-like odor lends itself to digestive healing. It’s the choice oil for indigestion, gas, constipation, and general colitis. Distilled from the seed, it caninspire creativity and energetically stimulate potential.
How-to: Combine with ginger essential oil diluted in a carrier oil and rub on your abdomen when having stomach woes.
The name, frankincense, is derived from French meaning ‘pure incense.’ Once considered more valuable than gold, this earthy, woody aroma has often beenused in religious rituals and offerings. An all-around healer, frankincense is a spiritual oil that cultivates meditative states and connection with higherpower. Additionally, it's a formidable immuno-stimulant, and can be useful for those prone to illness.
How-to: An awesome immune-enhancer, frankincense is also great for skin-care. Add a few drops with roman chamomile and lavender into aloe vera gel for effective sunburn relief.
Lavender is the Swiss Army knife of essential oils. I almost always have it on me because it’s so multi-purpose and I love the herbaceous scent. There are about 20 species of lavender and they all flourish in the Mediterranean. During the middle ages, Lavender was used to ward off the plague and has been traditionally used to relieve headaches and insomnia. Many aromatherapists assert that there is no health condition for which lavender would not provide some relief—it helps muscle aches, acne, psoriasis, depression, and poorly healing wounds. Perhaps most notably, it relieves agonizing inflammatory conditions.
How-to: Safe to use neat on the skin, drop some on your palms and inhale when nervous, exhausted, or seeking inner peace.
Cold pressed from the peel of the fruit believed to have originated in Asia, it is a notable antiseptic, astringent, and mood enhancer. Historically, lemon was a prominent purifying agent. Its sharp citrus scent snaps your senses into hyper-focus. A potentially photo-toxic oil, avoid direct sunlight and be cautious when using it in baths as it may irritate the skin without proper dispersion. A go-to oil for detox and stimulating circulation, lemon has also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting.
How-to: Make your own lemon, grapefruit, and tea tree detoxifying body scrub. Add 10 total drops of these three essential oils into a mix of sea salt and sugar, with a dollop of jojoba oil, and use generously on limbs.
Revered as ‘golden apples’ in Greek mythology, oranges were once a treat for the well-to-do. The refreshing, citrus aroma leaves one feeling instantly warm and cheerful. Like many citrus essential oils, it’s cold pressed from the fruit’s rind, but it is not photo-toxic and is considered a non-irritant. A go-to oil for treating depression, it elevates any spirit. Interestingly, inhalation has been shown to increase comfort and relaxation.
How-to: It may seem counter-intuitive, but orange blends well with lavender and is great to use in sleep blends as it calms and stabilizes mood.
Often distilled from dried leaves, patchouli is a viscous oil that has been used in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Greek medicine. Its strong, musty scent lends itself well as an aphrodisiac and insect repellant. It’s gentle, but sensual nature is helpful for those struggling with detachment or frigidity, and can help ground oneself to re-connect with nature.
How-to: If you have an oily complexion, patchouli is magic in a face serum. It’s astringent and beneficial for aging, sagging skin. Add a drop or two of patchouli, geranium, and frankincense to a face-friendly carrier oil, which is safe to use daily.
The name, peppermint, comes from the myth of the nymph, Menthe. A familiar smell to many, it cools and refreshes. Its prominence in commercial products has led some to think that it’s an incredibly safe oil; however, it should not be used with children or undiluted. If you’re prone to travel or motion sickness, keep it on hand as it can reduce nausea and relieve headaches.
How-to: Got dizzying nausea and a throbbing head? Add a few drops to a cotton ball and inhale.
Rose is an aromatherapist’s dream gift since the price can be steep! After all, it takes 10,000 pounds of petals to yield one pound of oil. A beloved treasure, rose should be used consciously, and has shown to be mighty effective in healing depression.
How-to: A few times a week, I indulge and add a drop or two into my face moisturizer or skin serum.
Yielded from a shrub native to the Mediterranean seashore, rosemary’s Latin name translates as ‘dew of the sea.’ Its vibrant, floral aroma has long been used for relieving exhaustion and improving memory. When using rosemary, you may come across different chemotypes, which simply means that the oil has a unique chemical composition dependent on the environment in which the plant was grown. It’s great for alleviating muscle aches and rheumatism, and it’s equally useful for memory retention and reducing anxiety.
How-to: If your mind is wandering, but you need to focus, drop some rosemary on your palms and inhale. It should clear your mind and stimulate thinking.
13. Tea Tree
Like eucalyptus, tea tree is native to Australia where it was traditionally used in indigenous medicine to heal skin infections. It’s balsamic, spicy scent soothes respiratory ailments and is gentle enough to use undiluted in small amounts on healthy, adult skin. It’s a must-have oil thanks to its immune enhancing properties as an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial.
How-to: If you have nail fungus or athletes foot, add a drop or two on the affected area and repeat regularly twice a day.
Vetiver is a safe, viscous oil distilled from the root. Its woody and strong root-like smell has customarily been used to bring about tranquility and ward off bugs. Today, vetiver is considered one of the most balancing and grounding essential oils. If you’re feeling flighty or scattered, one whiff of vetiver can center your mind and body. Searching for a natural way to reduce anxiety? Vetiver may help.
How-to: Incorporate vetiver into blends for mindful practices like meditation, yoga, and prayer.
15. Ylang Ylang
Distilled from the flowers of a tropical tree, it's sometimes nicknamed ‘poor man’s jasmine.’ The exotic, feminine scent is an aphrodisiac and confidence booster. Ylang Ylang has an affinity for the male and female reproductive systems, supporting PMS, impotence, and dysmenorrhea. It’s also one of the most harmonizing oils, reducing pulse rate while simultaneously increasing alertness.
How-to: Add a few drops of ylang ylang to a carrier oil and make your own euphoric mood perfume. Feel free to add some grapefruit or neroli to round out the blend.
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