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How to choose an essential oil

A guide to the main types of essential oil as used in aromatherapy

Author: Madeleine Pokroy November 5 2006

essential oil bottles

An "essential oil" is an aromatic oil extracted from a plant, the concentrated essence of that plant, and these oils (also known as volatile oils) are used in aromatherapy, as well as perfumes and food flavorings. In aromatherapy they are used in a number of different ways to have a healing effect on the body. As well as having a physical benefit, using an essential oil in massage is thought to improve a person’s physical, psychological and emotional well being in different ways, depending on the specific essential oil (or combination of oils) being used.

Essential oils are very concentrated and so often only one of two drops are needed to have a beneficial effect. However this potency also means they should be used with care, and you should always be aware of any specific contraindications when using them.

The most common types of essential oil are: lavendar, chamomile, tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint and ginger. Below you'll find a brief description of the benefits each brings and ways in which you can use them at home.

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This is the most commonly used and versatile essential oil, fantastic for reducing stress and inducing relaxation, and an excellent cure for insomnia. You could try putting a couple of drops in a vapourizer or oil burner or even on your pillow to help you sleep. You could also mix a couple of drops with some massage oil and massage it in to your neck and shoulders. Or even better, get someone else to do it!

It is also helpful in relieving headaches and toothache. A drop can be applied to the temples or to the jaw area.

It is known for its healing and soothing properties. It is particularly effective as a treatment for burns and scalds and cuts and wounds. Neat lavender can be poured on to a sterile gauze and applied to a burn or wound. It is one of the most popular oils to use during childbirth as it can help induce relaxation and reduce anxiety and pain. Vapourising the oil or placing drops in a oil burner in your birthing room is probably the best way to get the most out of the oil.

It makes a great insect repellant and a good antidote to insect bites to help relieve itching. It can be applied directly to bites and mixed with a cream or oil and applied to the skin as a repellant.

Chamomile (Roman)

This essential oil is known for its sedative and anti-inflammatory properties. It is an excellent nerve tonic and so is a very effective stress-reliever. Once again it is good at relieving headaches and toothache and is recommended to help against teething pains in babies. Use it in a vapouriser or oil burner.

It has a calming effect on the digestive system. Use a couple of drops in a massage oil and very gently apply to the abdomen.

Cold chamomile teabags make excellent soothing eye compresses.

Tea tree

This has strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. It is an excellent cure for many infections including thrush, athletes foot and cystitis. A couple of drops can be mixed with a sink full of water to provide a douche wash. It can be applied directly to athletes foot.

It can help provide relief from respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and sinusitis. Try putting a couple of drops in a bowl of steaming water and inhale.

It is a great treatment for a variety of skin conditions such as cold sores and herpes. It can be applied directly to either of these using a cotton bud. Because of its antimicrobial properties it is also great for any wound healing. As with lavender oil it can be poured on to a sterile gauze and applied to a wound.


This essential oil is probably best known for its use as a decongestant, especially during a cold. Place a couple of drops in a bowl of steaming water and inhale. Or place in a vapouriser or oil burner. You could also place a couple of drops on a tissue and/or pillow at night and inhale the vapours

It is also an excellent insect repellant and helps to relieve insect bites.

Its warming properties help to relieve muscular aches and pains. Use in a massage oil base and massage in to the achey areas.


This is a very effective essential oil for treating disorders of the digestive system. It helps to relive nausea, indigestion, diarrhoea and flatulence. Mix a couple of drops with a massage oil and apply gently to the abdomen.

It is excellent in helping to relieve travel sickness. Place a couple of drops on a tissue and inhale every few minutes.

It has a cooling effect on the skin and can be applied to the temples or back of the neck to relieve headaches. Be very careful to avoid going too near the eyes.

It can help increase concentration and clear the head when feeling mentally fatigued. Try adding some to a vapouriser or oil burner when working or studying.

It is a great mucular pain reliever and can be added to massage oil and massaged in to the affected areas.

It can also be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of a cold or flu. Use in a bowl of steaming water as with eucalyptus.


This is a warming essential oil and is very stimulating for the system. It is therefore excellent for treating muscular aches and pains and rhematism and poor circulation such as cold hands and feet. Again massage in to the affected areas after mixing with a massage oil.

It is known for its ability to relieve travel and morning sickness. Place a couple of drops on a tissue and inhale every few minutes. It is also very healing for sore throats, coughs and sinusitis. Use in a vapouriser or oil burner.


As you can see, each essential oil has various benefits and uses, and some of the different essential oils share similar properties. They are a very potent and effective method of treating many conditions and are a natural way to improve your overall well-being. Care must be taken though to ensure any contraindications have been considered before use.

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