Why Do Plants Have Essential Oils?
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A living plant has two categories of metabolites –primary and secondary. Primary metabolites consist of enzymes and proteins; whereas, secondary metabolites consist of flavanoids and essential oils. Although not necessary for survival, essential oils play a role in extending the average lifespan of the plant.
There are four primary reasons why a plant would contain essential oil, which I’ll explain in the next few paragraphs.
Allelochemics in Plants
Allelochemicals are the plant’s way of preventing competing plants from growing within its specific areas. Essential oils are allelochemicals in a plant. As a defense mechanism, it makes sure that no competing plants can take away its source of precious minerals and nutrients from the soil.
However, more recent studies have also shown that certain plants can be seen as ‘companion’ plants and in turn, actually help each other to grow or provide other benefits that may enable both plants to benefit from each other.
Allelochemicals are not made up of a single type of chemical compound, but rather a chemical cocktail of different chemical compounds. These can consist of phenolic compounds, terpenoids, flavonoids, alkaloids, carbohydrates, steroids and amino acids to name a few.
Different, natural factors can trigger these chemical defense mechanisms. And it isn’t only by the presence of other plant types. This may include everything from solar radiation, pests, general environmental stresses and herbicide among many others. In addition, this could worsen the allelopathic process of certain plant types.
This could have an effect on the quantity and quality of the essential oil produced by the plant and should be taken into consideration when cultivating plants for the express use of essential oils.
Without the help of pollinators, most plants would not be able to produce fruits and seeds. Essential oils within certain plants provide an attractive aroma to potential pollinators.
However, since the 1940’s, the use of synthetic growth stimulants, suppressants, germination, maturation and post-harvest chemicals has lead had a negative affect on the quality of the essential oils produced by plants grown for aromatic purposes en masse. So, as an alternative, many have turned to using organic farming methods to help preserve the quality of the essential oils that the plants produce and to help bolster their natural aromatic qualities.
Because of this, I would highly recommend sourcing essential oils from plants that have been cultivated according to organic farming practices as this is both better for the overall quality of the essential oil in terms of its medicinal and aromatic properties and for the greater environment as a whole.
How Plants Deter Dangerous Insects and Pests
Plants are vulnerable to various threats within their geological area. Those threats include bugs and insects that eat away or damage the plant. A plant can attract or deter an insect by its color; however, majority of plants effectively give off aroma to do so.
In our bodies, these same chemical compounds help with regards to treating various health ailments and infections. Often extracted from essential oils, they are found in pharmaceutical drugs or other forms of natural and homeopathic medicine. Some of the more common varieties of these chemicals are nitrogen compounds, terpenoids, phenolics, proteinase inhibitors and growth regulators.
That being said, the best way to make use of them is when they’re closest to their natural form i.e. essential oils. Certain natural products may be added to essential oils (such as Turmeric essential oil and Hairy Basil essential oil) to increase the fixative properties of these oils and maximize their effectiveness.
Plants & Their Natural Anti-Fungal and Anti-Microbial Properties
Simply put, essential oils are known to carry anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and other defensive constituents to protect itself from microbial and other similar threats. These are generally made up of the same chemical compounds that are contained in the natural deterrents that the plants carry to fend of insects and bacteria.
However, when used topically and internally in humans, they can produce wonderful medicinal effects that can really help fight off infections, harmful bacteria and dangerous germs that may worsen the effects of an infection or cause them to form in the first place.
They’re incredibly versatile natural products and can be used to treat everything from Athlete’s Foot to yeast infections and the dangerous candida bacteria that leads to leaky gut syndrome. The added benefit of these natural remedies is that they’re generally free of any harmful chemical side-effects and will help to boost your bodies natural immune system and defenses against the development of harmful infection in the first place.
So if you find yourself at the gym more often than not, or simply want to ensure that you don’t get any nasty skin irritations or infections, I’d recommend keeping a vial of Geraniol, Thyme, Cedar Wood, Peppermint or Clove essential oil with you at all times. They’ll easily be ready to apply before and after workout sessions, long jogs or simply when you start to feel the onset of an itch.
Top 5 Uses for Essential Oils
1. Dissuade Pets From Your Plants
You have a garden at your home and your cat looks at it like it is a ball of yarn. Scratching away, the cat has ruined all of your hard work. However, with some essential oil and water, you can easily dissuade pets from getting into your plants. Fun fact: Cat’s cannot stand the smell of rosemary! Dilute some rosemary oil with water to spray on the mulch and any pets would be reputed away from it.
2. Get Rid of Bites
This should be a no-brainer, if you read above. Essential oils are great for the skin due to the anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and other anti’s properties they contain. Some oils that are great to use for getting rid of bites and stings are peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and tea tree oil to name a few.
Aroma given off of essential oils can help enhance the mood. You can buy a diffuser online or in store that uses an essential oil of your choice. Aromatherapy is great for reducing anxiety and stress. Plus, it is great for moisturizing your skin and getting rid of any harmful bacteria!
4. Support Digestion
Yes, you can use some essential oils orally! Some essential oils can help break down enzymes in your digestive system. Two great examples are ginger and peppermint. Ginger essential oil can help aid digestion by reducing nausea, gas, and stomachaches. Peppermint oil helps reduce symptoms of IBS and also aids digestion in similar ways ginger essential oil does.
5. Helps Hair and Skin
Your hair and skin can benefit from the use of essential oils. It can help your hair shine, some can even help grow your hair. Rosemary oil is shown to be efficient in helping with pattern baldness. Skin is also efficient in giving you healthy, glowing skin. Essential oils can help reduce acne and scars.
Essential oils should not be thought of as therapeutic only for the human body. The plant itself maintains good health from this precious resource of the constituents available. Likewise, essential oils are an all-around natural therapy. It’s always astounding to me just how resourceful mother nature can be. So long as you know what to look for, you can basically find a cure for (almost) anything in nature.
Even better, you can often reap the greatest benefits from these natural products when they’re closest to their natural form – so be sure to stop by at your local health co-op more often and take a look a what’s available. You may be able to stay healthier and save money at the same time, something that’s almost unheard of in medical terms these days.
Whatever the problem is, nature will provide. Just keep your ears to the ground and stay up to date as best you can with new research and new techniques. They could be the difference between a clean bill of health and more money in your pocket at the end of the year – who wouldn’t want that.