Mother Earth News Blogs > Natural Health

Natural Health

Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

19 Essential Oils for Beginners

Is Aromatherapy Herbalism?

No and yes. No, because they are very different disciplines using botanical materials in different ways. Yes, because aromatherapy is used by many herbalists to complement an herbal treatment, or in many cases, to complete it. Both disciplines use plants for healing body, mind, and soul. Herbalists treat a person holistically considering all aspects of their dis-ease. In using both herbal remedies (infusions, decoctions, tinctures, etc.) and essential oils (water insoluble components of the plant), an herbalist creates a broader holistic approach to treating illness.

19 Essential Oils For Beginners


Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for healing. Essential oils are volatile substances extracted from plants typically by a distillation process. These properties are not released in any significant amount in typical herbal preparations. Essential oils are comprised of numerous chemical constituents, with each chemical having a particular signature and mode of action. The majority of the constituents in essential oils are produced by the plants either for their own protection, to attract pollinators, or to heal wounds. Their modes of action and therapeutic properties are also effective on humans, and we can use essential oils to affect our physical and emotional health in various ways.

There are over 100,000 aromas found in nature, but as humans we can recognize only about 300 of these. It is through receptors in our sinuses (the olfactory bulb) that lead to the limbic system of the brain that corresponds to our emotions and feelings. When we inhale aroma molecules, we have a direct path to our emotions and memories. That is why when you smell certain aromas, such as a cake baking in the oven or a soup pot on the stove it can bring you back to a different place and time. You have effectively experienced aromatherapy! This is a very simple example for a very complex healing art, but you get the point I’m sure.

Essential oils are most commonly administered aromatically via inhalation and topically via absorption through the skin. Rarely are essential oils taken internally, and never without the supervision of a professional health care provider with extensive knowledge in the practice of aromatherapy and its effects on the body. Safe use of essential oils is paramount! Learn more about safety guidelines for aromatic, internal, and topical use as well as dilution recommendations in the article Essential Oil Safety.

Many essential oils are antiviral and antibacterial and can be used in diffusers to help fight cold and flu infections as well as relieve congestion. Essential oils with nervine properties can be used to calm anxiety, release tension, soothe headaches, and alleviate sleeplessness. The stimulating effect of some essential oils can be used to energize the mind and body, improve mental focus and memory, and relieve mental fatigue.

Remember that our skin is our largest organ and is not to be ignored. However, essential oils are very potent and are usually mixed with carrier oils before using them on the skin. When essential oils are used in skin products, they can promote cell growth, improve circulation, and help rid the body of toxins. Essential oils can also be helpful for alleviating pain, swelling, and itching from bruises, bug bites, stings, and burns.

Aromatherapy in Herbalism

Herbalists use botanical material (flowers, leaves, bark, seeds, roots) to make remedies that can be taken internally. Many herbs are actually food and can be eaten or drunk on a daily basis. Aromatherapists use the essential oils of the plant, and for the most part they are used externally or topically, although internal use is sometimes recommended under their experienced supervision.

An herbalist may complement an herbal treatment with an essential oil to help stimulate feelings or emotions that may indeed support the healing process. They may also include essential oils as part of their prescription to help build immunity or to reduce stress and encourage relaxation. Essential oils can be used for these purposes in salves, lotions, ointments, and other skin preparations; in steam inhalations and simply diffused into the air; and in dental hygiene products and throat sprays. A thoughtfully made herbal preparation with essential oils has therapeutic value not just from the essential oil itself, but also the other ingredients with which the essential oil is combined. This, along with the careful, holistic consideration of the dis-ease profile, makes for a powerful holistic remedy.

19 Essential Oils For Beginners

Here are some essential oils that one may want to have in their home kit. For suggestions for a starter kit with four essential oils, see this Basic Essential Oils for Daily Living article.

Essential Oil


Therapeutic Properties


Light and citrusy

May help nervous tension

Chamomile (Roman)

Fruity, woody

May help relieve stress, tension and anxiety, improves digestion, reduces pain, heals skin


Lemon - citrus

Insect repellant, may help with fevers and digestion

Clary Sage

Sweet and spicy

Calming, may help with muscle fatigue, improve sleep, uplifting, tension tamer and aphrodisiac


Light and woodsy

Works to reduce cellulite, calming and uplifting



Helps relieve pain, improves mental clarity and reduces congestion


Warm, exotic, sweet and spicy

Calming, may help with aging skin


Floral, spicy

Promotes emotional balance, helps reduce cellulite, relieves stress and tension


Strong spicy scent

Stimulating, improves mental clarity, relieves pain and nausea



Improves mental clarity and memory


Sweet, heavy floral smell

Helps with depression, may help improve skin elasticity, reduces stretch marks, aphrodisiac


Fresh, Fruity, woody

Helps with mental exhaustion, obesity, water retention



Reduces cellulite deposits, helps reduce pain and inflammation, promotes relaxation and restful sleep



Uplifting, improves mental clarity


Heavy, floral

Calming and uplifting

Rose (otto)

Floral, damp, invigorating

Helps relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety


Menthol, earthy

Helps reduce cellulite, relieves mental fatigue, relaxes tight muscles


Earthy, spicy, floral, woody

Calming, aphrodisiac, reduces stress

Tea Tree


Antibiotic, anti-fungal, antiviral

Herbalists are life-long learners and a well-informed herbalist will want to embrace the use of aromatherapy in their art and practice, but not without educating themselves first. It is important to remember that essential oils are not the same as their whole plant counterpart, and may have very different properties, so developing a thorough understanding of them is essential to using them safely and effectively. Through education we can better inform ourselves to take care of ourselves and those that we love. Aromatherapy and herbalism are serious studies that require dedication and commitment.

19 Essential Oils For Beginner Herbalists

Learn more about Essential Oils!

If you are interested in learning more about essential oils, sign up for the free Online Essential Oils Revolution Summit this May. In this first, non-brand-specific essential oil summit, attendees from around the world will gather together to learn from experts in the field, from medical professionals and researchers to health care practitioners and herbalists!

Learn more about the Essential Oils Revolution Summit.

Plus, follow along in the Herbal Academy of New England’s Using Essential Oils blog series, which includes:

Marlene Adelmann is the Founder and Director of the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the Online Introductory Herbal Course and the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists. Photos provided and copyrighted by Herbal Academy of New England.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.