Botanical Oils: Their Health Benefits and How to Use Them
One way that people are rebelling against an increasingly mass-produced world is by turning to natural, organic products. Botanical oils are the opposite of most ingredients found in medications or personal care products. Most people don't know what propylparaben is, but it appears in a lot of products. Meanwhile, it's easy to understand what rosehip oil is and where it comes from. Additionally, it turns out that untold generations of people used these oils not only because they were available, but because they were effective products.
The Basics: What are Botanical Oils?
For centuries botanical ingredients were prized for their medicinal properties. Botanical oils can be used in a variety of ways. Many people are accustomed to buying skincare and bath products with oils as major ingredients, but they are also used as treatments for common ailments as active ingredients in tinctures and healing creams. Some botanicals are effective as a proactive treatment and when taken preemptively help prevent illness.
There's also a good reason why they are such common ingredients in skincare. Plant extracts help fight signs of aging. One reason is that they are a good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect the skin from UV rays and help the skin recover from previous UV damage. Some botanicals promote collagen production. Many also are full of anti-inflammatory agents. Most protect the moisture barrier and also maintain a healthy pH balance on the skin.
Supporting the Physical Body
Arnica is a great example of a biological oil that supports the physical body. It's known for its ability to make aching joints and sore muscles feel better. Another oil celebrated for its properties that treat physical ailments is eucalyptus, which helps relieve cold symptoms like congestion. Cohosh has been used by women to treat menopause symptoms for millennia. Ginger has also been widely used throughout history to treat upset stomachs. Botanicals support the health of the body but aren't considered medicine. Instead, they are labeled as supplements.
Is it Safe to Ingest Botanical Oils?
The answer is complicated. First, it's important to understand all the ways botanical oils can be ingested in capsules, tinctures, or by adding them to food or drink. Once in the body, the oils immediately impact the body's mucous membranes and major organs like the mouth, tongue, and eventually the stomach. The oils attach themselves to the mucous membranes which line many of these organs. The delicacy of mucous membranes is why undiluted oils pose a danger.
Often, bad reactions to oils are caused when people use them inappropriately. For example, at a high level. Oregano oil is harmless unless it's taken at high doses and then it can cause a variety of issues. Other times it's caused by people trying to dilute oils in water. Oil and water don't mix so putting the drops in water doesn't actually dilute the oil.
The FDA maintains a list of Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) substances. Botanicals on the list include basil, cardamom, cinnamon, lavender, lemon, peppermint, and vanilla. However, they are only safe at appropriate doses. For example, oils are usually measured as parts per million where only about eight drops are needed for an entire sixty-gallon vessel.
One safer way to ingest oils is in capsules. The capsule protects the mucous membranes. Since the capsule breaks down in the stomach, it's still vital that the botanical be appropriately dosed to avoid causing problems.
Exploring the Uses of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is used as a way to treat emotional and physical issues. Modern aromatherapy dates back to 1937 when a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse published his book Gattefosse's Aromatherapy which explained his studies using oils as a treatment for some ailments. Since then the field has evolved. Now it's a holistic method that considers the spirit, the mind, and the body as one when it comes to health and treatment. It's why aromatherapy is effective. The sense of smell is strongly tied to brain function, and brain function regulates stress levels and mood. Lavender is the best-known botanical used in aromatherapy. It's known for its ability to help people relax. Another popular oil is valerian, which helps with sleep disturbances. Rosemary is prized for its ability to improve memory function and improve brain function. Peppermint is beloved by migraine sufferers for its ability to relieve pain.
How to Keep and Store Oils
Botanical oils are vulnerable to oxidation. The best way to prevent this is to store the oils in tightly lidded glass bottles in a dark, cool space. Many oils should never be stored in plastic. If at all possible, it's best to keep the oils in a refrigerator because the ideal temp for most botanicals is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Other types of oils, including carrier and massage oils, also do best when kept in colder temperatures like that of a refrigerator.