After Beverly Martin of Tiffin was downsized from her teaching job, a friend invited her to a class on essential oils a few months ago. Martin was so excited about what she heard, she started researching the oils and purchased a kit to get started.
"It was a chance to learn something new, and I was so surprised about what I was learning. I thought, 'How have I never known about this?' I always have had a leaning toward natural medicine and trying to take care of my family in the most natural way possible, and I didn't know about it." Martin said.
Now, she is passing along her knowledge to other people concerned about their health and hesitant to take too many commercial medications. Saturday, Martin teamed with another educator, Lauren Austin Smith, to give an introduction to essential oils for 20 people at St. Francis Spirituality Center.
"We've been learning together," Martin said as she introduced Smith, a certified raw food teacher, chef and nutritionist.
Although essential oils do not treat, cure or prevent disease, Martin said they can boost the body's natural mechanisms to resist illness and to heal itself.
At the start of the workshop, participants were offered glasses of water containing lemon oil or a blend of oils to boost energy and lift one's mood. Martin began by reminding the group about colds and flu season, a time when many people seek relief with preparations from drug store shelves or pharmacies. The labels list many hard-to-pronounce, synthetic ingredients, which may not effectively relieve the symptoms.
Essential oils are concentrated substances derived from various parts of plants. Martin said the oils are at least twice as potent as herbs, and only a small amount of oil is needed per dose.
The oils may come from the leaves (peppermint), flowers (lavender), fruit peels (citrus), bark (frankincense) or roots (melaleuca) of plants.
Oils come in different grades, so consumers should check labels, Martin said. Synthetic-grade oils, such as those to give fragrance to cosmetics and air fresheners, are not derived from the plants but chemically created in a laboratory.
Martin said the synthetics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and listed as "GAS" (generally regarded as safe). Food-grade oils can be ingested, but they may be sold in solution with other compounds or fillers, too. Therapeutic-grade oils are 100 percent plant material with no additives.
Martin said therapeutic essential oils have an indefinite shelf life, unlike over-the-counter medications, and they do not become habit-forming, as do many prescription drugs.
She said she purchases therapeutic oils from doTERRA, a company whose products are subjected to five tests by a third-party company to certify their purity. The plants that produce the oils grow indigenously all over the world. Martin said the soil, climate and altitude in those places is optimal for the growth of the plants. Other varieties may grow elsewhere, but they generally are of lower therapeutic value than those cultivated in their places of origin. Experienced farmers from those regions raise the plants for doTERRA
"They let them do the farming. That, in turn, gives the local people income," Martin said.
Returning to the subject of colds and flu, Martin talked about viruses, which multiply inside body cells, and bacteria, which grow in the blood and other body fluids. Antibiotics cannot penetrate the cell walls to attack the viruses; however, essential oils consist of smaller molecules that can pass through the membranes into the cells to kill viruses, Martin said.
"It just gives us more options for taking care of our health," she added.
Oils can be ingested, inhaled or rubbed on the skin for absorption. Martin said to avoid placing the oils directly into eyes, ears or nose. She puts oil into diffusers to disperse them in her home to ease congestion, kill germs or calm anxiety. Martin discovered an area hospital employs that technique to enhance patients' moods.
"More and more hospitals ... are utilizing essential oils," she said.
Sometimes, multiple oils can be combined with water or juice in a shot glass and consumed that way. Capsules are available to fill with drops of oil and swallow. Another method is to add oils to a "carrier," such as coconut oil or olive oil to make them spreadable over a larger area.
Smith said she uses pure coconut oil as a skin softener and blends lavender with it to soothe chapped lips.
"Your skin is your biggest organ, so what you put on your skin, you put in your body. So if you wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin," Smith said.
Martin told of an elderly relative who has struggled with multiple warts for years. Some had been removed and then regrew, but applications of oregano oil are gradually reducing the growths, she said.
Frankincense, native to Oman, has been called the "king of all the oils." Smith told the gathering about her husband, a 10-year brain cancer survivor. The radiation he received early on caused nerve damage that still flares and saps his strength. During a recent spell, an MRI showed the cancer had not returned, but the doctor prescribed steroids.
Instead of filling the prescription, Smith said she added frankincense to his food and applied it to his body. Within three days, he had improved dramatically, she said.
Frankincense has been known to relieve anxiety and depression, improve skin conditions, reduce inflammation and block pain. Martin said during her research, she read midwives used oils to soothe the pain and anxiety of new mothers and rubbed them on the newborns to ease the trauma of birth.
Scientific studies have showed essential oils work more efficiently if prayers are offered in conjunction with their application, she said.
Martin said she considers lavender the "queen" of the oils. Studies have revealed its calming and healing qualities, she said. Lemon oil also is known for breaking down petroleum-based chemicals in the body and boosting energy, while wild orange oil has been called "sunshine in a bottle," she said.
Smith said the citrus oils tend to make the body alkaline (as opposed to acidic), which prevents the growth of unwanted organisms.
"You need an alkalizer to stay healthy," Smith said.
Martin said essential oils are easily digested, and they can be adapted for each individual. Users can decide which blends or which application sites are the most effective for what ails them.
Some oils, such as oregano and peppermint, can be irritating for some people, but they are natural substances that will break down and move out of the body. There is minimal risk from overdosing or build-up in the tissues, she said.
Anyone who is interested in using essential oils can find many resources in print and online to learn what each oil can do. Martin said she is willing to share information and empower others to manage their health.
"That's not to say we don't need modern medicine, because surely, all the technology and research over the years, and all that has gone into where we are now - we can't do without that. But there are also other things we can do to help our bodies in conjunction with modern medicine," Martin said.