Description: An essential oil is a liquid that is distilled or extracted (most frequently by steam or water) from living, plant material: seeds, rind, bark, leaves, stems, flowers, or roots of a plant.

What to look for: Look for therapeutic-grade essential oils that have been tested for information about the individual components of each oil. This will ensure not only the absence of unwanted chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, unwanted ethanol, and many other chemicals and structures, but also that the physical properties of each oil are within the expected range for each individual oil. Questions you can ask to discern the quality of the essential oil are: Does the company test on animals? Was any natural or synthetic chemical added to this product? Was the product genetically modified? Is this product organically certified or of a wild origin? Essential oils should come in dark amber or cobalt glass bottles with orifice reducers (a small, clear insert that acts as a dropper).

Uses: Essential oils have vast therapeutic uses. They can be used as natural air fresheners, for specific medicinal properties, in healing baths, in homemade cleaning supplies, and much more. Medicinally, essential oils are used for their anti-inflammatory, analgesic, decongestant, antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Different oils have different properties, and professional essential oil practitioners of aromatherapy are experts in determining appropriate medicinal uses of essential oils. They can be used to unblock the flow of energy and help create a healthy balance in the body.

Put a drop or two of your favorite scent on an unscented dryer sheet for fresh smelling laundry. Add a few drops of a relaxing oil to a hot bath. Create a steam treatment for decongesting, or a facial, with boiled water and a few drops of oil in a large metal or glass bowl; lean over and cover your head with a towel. Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil like almond or olive, for massage. To remove oil from hands, use cream or vegetable oil to dilute, apply soap, and wash with warm water.

Where to find: Health Food Store; online resources.

Avoid: Avoid buying oils that are not organically certified or wild-crafted, or are not of therapeutic grade. Do not buy oils that are in anything but dark glass to preserve the quality of the oils. Avoid bottles with rubber droppers, as the oils can break down the rubber into gum. Keep essential oils out of reach of children.
Do not, unless otherwise advised by an expert, apply pure, essential oil onto the skin. Do not use directly on or near the eyes. Avoid transferring oils to sensitive areas (nose, face, neck). Ingesting any oil should only be undertaken with the supervision of a professional health advisor.