Treating Infections: Essential Oils

Doreen Lafferty, OTR/L, NCBTMB, Massage Therapist
Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine

About Essential Oils
An essential oil is a highly concentrated extract from a plant containing oxygen, nutrients, and chemicals. It may be compared to blood or hormones in a human being. Also, it is considered the life source or spirit of the plant. Essential oils serve many functions in maintaining the life and health of a plant. They protect the plant by preventing attack from herbivores, insects, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Essential oils also aid in pollination, help to heal wounds in the plant, prevent dehydration, and help the plant survive difficult growth conditions. It is easy to see that essential oils could provide the same help to human beings as they do for the plant. Aromatherapy is the controlled use of true essential oils to promote balance and harmony in the body, mind, heart, and soul. Inhalation, massage, baths, and compresses are methods that holistic aromatherapists recommend for using essential oils.

When using essential oils therapeutically, it is important make sure the quality is high so they produce the desired healing effect. One way to determine quality is to ask the essential oil company if they have the gas chromatograms (a test for percent of various chemicals that make up the essential oil.) of the essential oils that they distribute. The chemical composition of the essential oil determines their therapeutic effect on the body. Also, ask if they are steam distilled or, for citrus oils expressed from the rind of the fruit. Those are the two methods for obtaining true essential oils. Because essential oils are diffused by light and heat, they should be packaged in an amber or cobalt blue glass bottle. Also, a dropper top is necessary to control the amount of oil being dispensed. Each oil of a blend should be listed on the label as some oils are contraindicated for particular medical diagnoses and during various times in pregnancy.

Oils & Infections
One worldwide health concern is antibiotic resistant bacteria. Scientific studies have shown that essential oils are effective in treating bacterial, viral and fungal infections (i.e. staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, helicobacter pylori, and Candida albicans). Many of the essential that have been studied (i.e. cinnamon, thyme, oregano, lemongrass) are harsh and may irritate the skin and mucus membranes. An aromatherapist should be consulted for instruction on using these oils. Lavender and tea tree are gentle and may be used directly on the skin to heal burns, cuts, and wounds while preventing infection. They are excellent first aid oils. One or two drops of lemon added to lavender and tea tree increases the antifungal qualities of the blend. When dropped directly on a plantar wart it may kill the fungus and heal the wart. Four drops of each of these oils added to a bucket of warm water is excellent for cleaning and disinfecting any surface while at the same time being environmentally friendly. When added to a spray bottle with eight ounces of warm water, the same amount of this blend is a great to freshen and disinfect the air. There are many essential oils and methods of using them. They are sure to improve the quality of health and balance in life.