"Dear Ask Alison,
Several of my friends use essential oils to help with a wide array of ailments. Do they really work?"
~Marcia V.- St. Peters
Essential oils are derived from plants using steam or other pressure methods. The resulting oil is the "essence," or unique smell/flavor of the plant in its most fundamental form. Each plant oil has a unique chemical composition and interacts with the body in different ways. The most common uses include aromatherapy (inhalation), massage, or topical application.
Yes, they sure can enhance a massage, but oils can do much more than smell good! Some studies have shown relief from symptoms experienced by cancer patients undergoing treatment, as well as patients experiencing high levels of stress (e.g., childbearing women). Others show certain oils can be used to energize and support immunity. Oils with antifungal and antiviral properties have been shown to help treat infections and viruses such as herpes complex.
Essential oils can be a significant investment, so visiting a local shop to "test-smell" is recommended. Every person has different body chemistry and sensual preferences, and if you don't like the smell of an oil, you aren't going to benefit from it. Next, I recommend consulting these resources where you can look up the healing qualities of your favorite oils:
Natural Medicines Database (follow link to search; library card and PIN required)
Medline Plus Herbs and Supplements (follow link to search)
Below are some books for creating your own essential oil recipes and treatments. I'd love to hear your experiences and favorites!