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Why Do Plants Have Essential Oils?

Three small glass jars filled with different colored liquids.

Essential oils have been around for centuries and are used in many ways for different reasons today. For example, you can put them in a diffuser, take them orally, and even apply them topically to your skin. Even though we all know that essential oils originate from plants, we rarely put much thought into why plants have essential oils or how it’s extracted. A living plant has two components: one consists of enzymes and proteins and the other consists of flavonoids and essential oils. Although not necessary for survival, essential oils play a role in extending the average lifespan of the plant.

Truthfully, there are four different methods for extracting essential oil from plants. The chosen method depends on the type of plant or fruit that you extract the oil from. The oils themselves are the essential oils (surprise!) of the plant and therefore can be extremely harsh when used on their own. This is why in most cases, you’ll need a carrier oil- a neutral, plant-based oil to act as a base. The carrier oil also allows the essential oils to work better in how they absorb into your skin. There are four primary reasons why a plant would contain an essential oil, so let’s take a closer look.

Allelochemics In Plants

Small bottles of oil surrounded by flowers.

Plant’s essential oils.

Allelochemicals are the plant’s way of preventing competing plants from growing within its area. Essential oils are allelochemicals in the plant. As a defense mechanism, the plant makes sure that nothing else can steal its precious source of minerals and nutrients from the soil. However, that being said, 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 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 (which is a fancy way of saying that the way it gets its resources could be affected). 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.

Attracting Pollinators

Examples of pollinators are birds, bees, bats, butterflies, beetles, moths, and even the wind!. 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. It’s similar to a man or woman being attracted to a person’s perfume or cologne. However, since the 1940s, the use of synthetic growth stimulants, suppressants, germination, maturation, and post-harvest chemicals has negatively affected the quality of the essential oils. As an alternative, many have begun to use organic farming methods to help preserve the quality of the essential oils and to help bolster their natural aromatic qualities.

Because of this, it’s recommended to source essential oils from plants that have been cultivated according to organic farming practices. This is better for both the overall quality of the oil in terms of its medicinal and aromatic properties and for the greater environment as a whole. Seeing as essential oils are a natural resource, it only makes sense that you’d want them to remain as natural as possible! The pollinators have been in trouble recently because of the use of pesticides and habitat loss. We can do our part by supporting organic farms and creating pollinator-friendly gardens.

How Plants Deter Dangerous Insects And Pests

Close-up of yellow buttercup flowers.

Buttercup flowers.

Plants are vulnerable to various threats within their geological area. This can include bugs and insects that eat away or damage the plant- also known as predators. A plant can attract or deter an insect because of its color, taste, or thorns; however, the majority of plants effectively give off an aroma to do so. Predators of the plant won’t want to go near it if it doesn’t look appetizing or has a foul smell. The essential oils found in plants are there for protection. It stands to reason then, that just like they protect plants, they can protect us too.

In our bodies, these 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. Overall though, the essential oils on their own have extensive uses and benefits for our bodies.

Plants And Their Natural Anti-Fungal And Anti-Microbial Properties

Essential oils are known to carry anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and other defensive constituents to protect the plant from microbial and other similar threats. These are generally made up of the same chemical compounds that are contained in the natural deterrents in plants to fend off insects and bacteria. However, when used topically and internally in humans, they can produce countless medicinal effects that help fight off infections, harmful bacteria, and dangerous germs. Germs that may worsen infections 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, yeast infections, and Leaky Gut Syndrome-  caused by the dangerous candida bacteria. The added benefit of these natural remedies is that they’re generally free of any harmful chemical side-effects, will help boost your bodies natural immune system and defenses against the development of harmful infection from the start.

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, Cedarwood, Peppermint or Clove essential oil with you at all times. They’ll be ready to apply easily 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

Cat sniffing and about to eat plant.

Pets can damage your plants.

You have a garden at 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. That being said, be careful not to use any essential oils that can be harmful to your pets. Specifically, eucalyptus, tea tree, cinnamon, pennyroyal, citrus, sweet birch, pine, peppermint, wintergreen, and ylang-ylang essential oils are toxic to pets. They are toxic when they are applied to the skin as well as when they are used in diffusers.

2. Get Rid Of Bites

If you read up until now, you may have realized that essential oils can provide a ton of benefits for your skin. Essential oils are beneficial in that way because of their anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Mostly everyone has to deal with bug bites. Some of us get bitten more than others, but let’s be real, we’ve all had to deal with them at some point or another. Essential oils that contain anti-inflammatory properties are great to use for getting rid of bites and stings. Specifically, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and tea tree oil to name a few.

3. Aromatherapy

The aroma given off of essential oils can help enhance your mood. You can buy a diffuser online or in a store and use the essential oil of your choice. Aromatherapy is not only great for reducing anxiety and easing depression but can also aid with speeding up the healing process and strengthening the immune system. As if that wasn’t enough essential oils also have the power to boost energy levels and cognitive performance, as well as induce sleep and increase our circulation. And that’s only a few of the benefits of aromatherapy! It’s also great for moisturizing your skin and getting rid of any harmful bacteria! To reap the psychological and physical benefits why not try an aromatherapy massage, which is basically massage therapy using essential oils mixed with massage oil or lotion.

4. Support Digestion

Yes, you can take some essential oils orally! A bunch of essential oils can help break down enzymes in your digestive system. Two great examples are ginger and peppermint. Ginger essential oil can help aid in digestion by reducing nausea, gas, and stomach aches. Peppermint oil helps reduce symptoms of IBS and also aids digestion in similar ways to ginger essential oil. Many EO’s can also be rubbed onto your abdomen to relieve an upset stomach. Fennel, ginger, and cardamom are great for laxative support while lemon and peppermint are great for normalizing acidic balance. It’s best to use the essential oils as soon as you start noticing your digestive system giving you issues. You can even combine some essential oils for optimal performance

5. Helps Hair And Skin

Your hair and skin can benefit from the use of essential oils. They can help your hair shine, some can even help grow your hair. Lavender oil has properties that can relieve stress and generate the growth of cells, therefore it’s able to speed up hair growth. It also can improve scalp health since it has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Rosemary oil is shown to be effective in helping with pattern baldness. They’re also efficient in giving you healthy, glowing skin. One of the best essential oils for treating acne is tea tree oil. It contains antibacterial and antifungal properties which makes it perfect for removing excess bacteria from your skin- preventing acne breakouts.

Learn about Cypress Essential Oil here at Maple Holistics!

Conclusion

Essential oils shouldn’t be thought of as therapeutic only for the human body, but for plants as well. A plant itself maintains good health from its own precious resource of these constituents available. Likewise, essential oils are an all-around natural therapy. I mean, come on, they can even work as cleaning products! It’s always astounding to me just how resourceful Mother Nature can be. As long as you know what to look for, you can basically find a cure for (almost) anything through nature.

It’s not surprising that you can reap the greatest benefits from these natural products when they’re closest to their natural form. By using natural products your able to get to the root of the problem rather than covering up the symptoms with various chemical-based solutions. You should stop by your local health co-op more often to see what’s available there. The truth is that when one tiny bottle contains so many benefits you’re not only doing your body a favor but also your bank! You don’t need eight different products for eight different treatments – it’s like an almost-all-in-one.  Is anything better than being healthy whilst also saving money? It’s something that’s almost unheard of in medical terms these days. Whatever the problem is, there’s nearly always a natural remedy.

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