Phytochemicals in Herbs: Essential Oils

Phytochemicals are those chemicals found in plants that give herbs their healing properties. These phytochemicals have no nutritional value; however, they can protect us from or prevent various diseases and ailments that may attack our systems. One such phytochemicals is essential oil that gives herbs their aroma.

Essential oils are extracted from herbs through a process that concentrates the oil thereby making them more potent. This process is rather involved and can require a large amount of fresh herbs for a small yield of essential oil. For example, it takes an entire pint of flower petals to make just one tablespoon of essential oil. This explains why essential oils can sometimes be rather pricey. These essential oils are then used in aromatherapy, perfumes, and other applications.

Essential oils also usually have antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties. An antispasmodic will help to relieve or even prevent muscle spasms and cramps. Antispasmodics are often used by people suffering from intestinal cramping or severe menstrual cramps. Antimicrobials prevent or destroy microorganisms; i.e., bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that cause numerous diseases and ailments.

Most people are familiar with essential oils through their use in aromatherapy. For example, essential oil of lavender is used for relaxation and to relieve tension. Peppermint is often used for a stimulating and energizing effect. In addition, these aromatic oils are frequently added to medicines to improve their taste.

There are a few basic essential oils that you will want to keep on-hand to be used in various herbal remedies. One is essential oil of geranium, which has astringent qualities and is great in massage oils and footbaths. Essential oil of lavender is, of course, a staple. Not only does it have a soothing aroma, it is also good for treating headaches, nervous disorders, insomnia, and can even serve as an insect repellent. Peppermint oil is another essential oil that needs to be included in your collection. Essential oil of peppermint can be used as an inhalant to relieve sinus and upper respiratory infections. Finally, choose essential oil of rosemary to relieve headaches, mental fatigue, and cold and flu symptoms.

No matter what essential oils you choose to use for whatever reasons, always exercise caution. Essential oils are much more potent than the fresh herbs from which they are derived. If incorporating in external applications, always test a small patch of skin before using. Consult a health care professional or certified herbalist before using medicinally or internally.