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November 11, 2016 4 min read

Have you ever heard someone say, before you buy essential oils, go research them? I know I used to say it ALL the time. But what does it mean to research an essential oil?

Does it mean finding out about the therapeutic actions? What supplier to use? Whether it is pure or not? While these can be helpful things to know, there are more things that will truly help you get to know the essential oil and connect to the plant in a more meaningful way that is more beneficial.

So, what does that mean exactly? Below are several things I do when studying a plant/essential oil for the first time that will help you in your “research.”

What is the botanical name?

Did you know there are several different plants called Lavender? There is Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula stoechas,etc.

Just the three different essential oil botanical names I mentioned here are all very different but are all commonly called Lavander. They are different in their actions as well as in the way they look, where they grow, their chemical makeup, safety concerns, and smell.

Can you see why this is very important when first learning about an essential oil?

What does the plant the essential oil comes from look like?

When we are learning about an essential oil it is easy to make assumptions based on the smells, but not every oil conforms to general smell recognition.

For example, Geranium is distilled from the leaves and it very much has a floral smell. Before beginning my studies, I thought it was distilled from the flower. So, get to know what the plant looks like when you are studying a specific essential oil!

Understanding the purposes of specific parts of the plant can help us in understanding potential uses for the essential oils they are obtained from. For example, the leaves of the trees are helpful in the creation of the air we breathe. Eucalyptusis an essential oil commonly used for respiratory breathing concerns that is obtained from the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree.

What historical significance does it have in medicine?

Often if we look deep enough into a plant’s history we can learn about how it was used in perfume, herbal (medicinal), and food preparations. These can give us even more in depth information about the plant when we compare its historical uses to its uses as an essential oil.

An example that I enjoy is the Rhododendronessential oil. As a plant, it was used by the Nepalese in teas to aid in digestion, act as a liver tonic, and support a healthy appetite for those who are ill. It was gathered by the Himalayans as a sacred flower fragrance and used in ritual preparations as well.

Where does the plant originate from?

Many plants over history have originated in a specific place but over time have been imported and adapted to new and significantly different places. Getting to know where it is natively grown versus where is it capable of being grown can help you in learning more about the differences between species and their chemotypes.

Helichrysumis a great example of this. It is grown in Corsica as well as in the United States, but one is far more superior when looking at the species Helichrysum italicum. Which one would you choose?

What are the main chemical constituents of the essential oil?

Learning what the main chemical constituents are can assist you in understanding so much about an essential oil from what the potential therapeutic actions are.

For example, if you were to look at Lavender it is often largely composed of linalool and linalyl acetate. These two constituents can then be researched using pub med to show how they have been used in clinical studies. You can also search for them in the Aromahead Component Database to learn about their actions.

What safety concerns are there?

All too often we can find a blogger, enthusiast, or business sharing the benefits of using a specific essential oil, but even less shared is the safety information. Many of the safety concerns that aromatherapists discuss are related to specific chemical constituents that are found within the essential oil.

For example, many blends that are touted to reduce the perception of pain contain the essential oil Wintergreen. I have personally heard individuals refer to it as “liquid aspirin.” Wintergreen contains anywhere from 75%-98% methyl salicylate. This chemical constituent is known for interacting with anticoagulant medications like warfarin, has been linked to complications in pregnancies, and other serious concerns.

Other ideas to consider when learning about an essential oil…

Here are few more things to consider that are important to you, the user, before buying the essential oil.

  • Do you like the smell of it?
  • Do you have potential allergies to it?
  • After researching potential safety concerns, do any apply to you?

These are all important pieces of information to consider especially when thinking about how much you use, how often, and of course if you have any medical conditions. This is why many individuals are urged to work with a qualified aromatherapist when initially starting their journey into aromatherapy. If you are patient though and want to learn, this information will help you a long way in utilizing essential oils.