The Antimicrobial Essential Oils

By: Michelle Allen Cech

Many of us have early childhood memories, perhaps even fond ones, of antiseptics. Grandma getting the bottle of iodine tincture to dab a little on our wounds, with an almost reassuring "this will only hurt a little." Followed by the true reassurance of a few M&M's. Now we have the tools to make these memories even more fond for our children; imagine their recollection of a dab of Lavender and a bribe of a strawberry fruit roll - that might not even hurt at all. Here's a review of the antimicrobial nature of essential oils, and some simple home remedies to use aromatherapy as part of your natural health and wellness program at home.

There's evidence for an incredible spectrum of antimicrobial action from essential oils, yet it is important to select the right oils in the right amounts. Topical application of Oregano and Thyme may be the best solution for a case of stubborn nail fungus, yet these oils are far too intense for use on soft tissue of any kind except in the most dilute blends. Often a combination of a potent antiseptic with a known soothing oil can improve the overall effectiveness. Here we will briefly profile these highly-regarded oils, and look at some formulas and methods of application: Tea Tree, Lavender, Oregano, Geranium, and Lemon.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifola) is known throughout the world for its protective properties against infections, and may be the hands-down most popular antiseptic essential oil. The leaves have been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin infections, and with ten times the antiseptic power of phenol (a benchmark chemical used in studying antimicrobial action) Tea Tree is a must for every natural first aid kit. One of the safest and most effective ways of controlling minor infections is the immediate intervention action of Tea Tree. For minor ears, nose, throat, respiratory and general skin infections, Tea Tree essential oil will give quick healing support. Tea tree's tolerability allows it to be used for longer periods of time without the slightest irritation. A drop on a Band-Aid can keep the reddening indication of infection from children's cuts and scrapes, and when combined with Lavender, makes a soothing rendition of Grandma's healing tincture.

Often called 'medicine chest in a bottle' Lavender is the most versatile aromatic oil in use today. An antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic, Lavender is helpful in the healing of small burns, cuts and insect bites. The cooling aroma disperses heat and inflammation and brings relief from pain, spasms, and general unrest. With its calming and balancing properties, Lavender is very supportive of deep sleep; as noted in 'Clinical Aromatherapy', studies indicate that the aroma of Lavender enabled better rest than common sleeping pills with no side effects. Interestingly, Lavender imparts this action in healing wounds as well. For healing unbroken skin such as burns, apply Lavender 'neat' to the wound several times a day; insect bites also get a 'neat' treatment. For cuts and scrapes, keep a 50/50 blend of Lavender and Tea Tree on hand for the best all-purpose antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving solution.

When more serious antibacterial action is necessary, natural medicine professionals turn to Oregano essential oil. Oregano's use in day-to-day applications are relatively limited due to its extreme potency - it should not be used topically except under the advice of a qualified practitioner, and then only in low dilutions for a limited period of time. Oregano is being studied extensively, however, for its potential use as a natural, effective antibiotic - particularly as many dangerous bacteria become resistant to pharmaceutical preparations. Oregano capsules are available at many health-food stores, and may be of use for systemic infections such as of the candida fungus or other bacteria; if you feel you or a family member could benefit from such immune system support, consult a qualified medical professional for advice.

With a softer aroma and gentle effect on skin, Geranium is versatile choice for frequent use. Known as the ‘flower of constancy', Geranium helps to lift the spirits and bring joy and happiness to one's daily activity. Harmonizing and balancing, Geranium essential oil has the quality of equalizing hormonal and emotional extremes. These properties extends to the skin, where it creates balance between oily and dry states; Geranium helps to cleanse the skin while restoring balance, tone, and suppleness (try including in your skin care formulas at 0.5% to 3%). A non-drying, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, and general tonic, Geranium is traditionally indicated as a remedy for acne, dermatitis, eczema, and weeping wounds. Geranium essential oil is one of the few that has been used successfully against the MRSA bacteria in laboratory studies. The 'asperum' species (also known as Egyptian Geranium) is generally considered the most potent Geranium for its antimicrobial action, with a wonderful sweet and herbaceous aroma.

The 'old stand-by' of Lemon should not be overlooked when searching for ways to convert your home to a healthy 'green' lifestyle. Lemon oil, pressed from lemon peels, has historically been a component of many household cleaners - and because of its efficacy, low-cost and great aroma, it should continue to be. Lemon oil can be used alone at about 8 drops of oil per cup of warm water for an all-purpose mild antibacterial solution. You can add a little potency for kitchen and bathroom uses by adding oils like Eucalyptus, Pine, and Rosemary. Keep the total number of drops per oil the same, adding other oils in place of the Lemon. Eucalyptus may create the best antimicrobial synergy, and additional oils will build on this effect. You may increase or decrease the essential oil concentration as you see fit - if increasing, simply test your new recipe in small increments to insure tolerance for yourself and your family.

These are but a sampling of the antiseptic and antimicrobial essential oils available. They are easy to use, and offer a excellent means of bringing natural medicines and cleaners into your life. Many oils have specific action against certain microbes; if you or a friend or loved one needs more directed treatment, seek the advice of a licensed or degreed natural health professional, and consult a doctor to ensure the safety of any complimentary essential oil application. The acceptance of essential oils as valid medicines continues to grow. If you're new to the field, dive in with some of the suggestions here - you're sure to enjoy these great gifts of nature.

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