And I soon learned that a little goes a long way.
Essential oils are still a commodity we need to use mindfully. As herbalist Susun Weed points out, these are hugely concentrated plant essences and it takes a lot of plant material and energy to create them, compared to, say, making a plant tincture or herbal infusion. Take, for instance, rose oil – it takes between 2000 and 4000kg of rose petals to make 1kg of pure essential oil. So when using essential oils, less is almost always more. Mix them in to a base oil such as sweet almond or jojoba, unless specified. Children need even less essential oil than adults – go for 5-10 drops per 30ml of base oil. Babies only need a drop or two in 30ml.
When purchasing your essential oils, it’s worth spending a bit more to get the best. Most of them will last quite a while in a dark cupboard (though citrus oils can go off after six months or so). Avoid the ones sold as ‘room perfume’ or, indeed, any that have the word perfume anywhere on them. You’re looking for the pure essential oil, all the better if it’s organic. All of the oils in this first aid kit are on the cheaper end of the essential oil scale, though you will pay a lot for Roman Chamomile. For this reason, I usually buy it as a 5% dilution in jojoba oil – I believe you still get the same healing properties even if it’s further diluted. Tea tree, lavender, tangerine, peppermint and eucalyptus are all affordable, geranium can be a bit pricier.
Now I’m a parent, these are the seven essential oils I simply cannot do without. I have them in the bathroom cupboard and reach for them in little (and sometimes bigger) emergencies.
1. LAVENDER – If you buy one essential oil, make it lavender. It’s antiseptic and antibiotic, and a dab of the neat oil on insect stings and bites, grazes, cuts, and spots not only cleanses but speeds up healing by stimulating cell production. It’s calming and lowers blood pressure. It can aid sleep (put a drop or two on a tissue tucked under the pillow case). One of its most incredible uses is in the case of burns; put neat lavender oil onto a burn and you won’t get blisters. In the early 20th century, French chemist and perfumier Rene Gattefosse severely burnt his hand in an experiment and hastily plunged his hand into a vat of lavender oil because it was beside him – his physicians couldn’t believe how quickly the burn healed, without infection, blistering or scarring. Also excellent for headaches and migraines.
2. TEA TREE – Australian Aborigines have long known about the potential of this wonder oil, and we are waking up to its magic. It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral – one of the most potent gifts from nature. Research on tea tree oil has seen it creeping into the mainstream market in antibacterial products. I use it as a cleaning agent around the home (we have four pets so the cleansing powers of tea tree really come in handy) and also put it on cuts or grazes or any area that might be prone to infection (e.g. I got soil in a cut when gardening the other day and cleaned it out with a tea tree solution). A few drops can be added to water in a foot soak for athletes’ foot, in a bath for thrush and other fungal conditions, and for acne and skin disorders.
3. ROMAN CHAMOMILE – This is perhaps one of the best oils for little people. It’s soothing and comforting both on a physical and emotional level. One or two drops added to a bath can help unwind anxious children, or try adding the same to a base oil for brusies, aches and pains. A gentle stomach massage with chamomile eases constipation and tummy ache.
4. GERANIUM – I love the smell of geranium oil, and it makes a wonderful perfume – just a drop dabbed behind the ears. I recently discovered just how amazing this oil is in an emergency situation, however, when I cut my finger deeply when slicing bread. My finger was pouring blood and I reached for the geranium oil, knowing it was a blood coagulant. Within seconds of applying a drop to my bleeding finger, the blood stopped. Literally amazing! Geranium also has an affinity with female reproductive organs and a few drops in a base oil can be massaged into the abdomen during the period, or used to alleviate the symptoms of PMS. Also use to massage the breasts in cases of low milk flow when breastfeeding.
5. TANGERINE – This gentle oil is great for sensitive children. It’s uplifting but calming at the same time. Add a drop or two to a base oil and massage into the stomach for upset tummies. I think of this oil as a little ray of sunshine, particularly useful during the dark winter months to recharge and banish winter blues. Tangerine is one of the few oils that can be used safely with babies in very low dilutions: it’s ideal for cases of colic or restlessness.
6. PEPPERMINT – One drop of peppermint oil can literally revive you. It’s cleansing, zingy scent is perfect to inhale from a tissue when you feel like you’re flagging. Or try the same if you suffer from morning sickness. Nausea and vomiting can be treated gently with peppermint; burn in an oil burner to alleviate symptoms and the smell alone can make a difference in a hot sick room. For headaches and migraines, add one drop of peppermint oil (one drop is honestly all you need) to 10ml base oil and get someone to give you a gentle head massage.
7. EUCALYPTUS – Most people are familiar with the smell and use of eucalyptus oil. I remember being in the Blue Mountains in Sydney and feeling like my lungs had suddenly expanded amongst the eucalyptus trees! The oil is potent: as a decongestant it is most commonly used for cases of cold and ‘flu, but it also has antiseptic properties, is an anti-inflammatory and an insect repellent. Put a few drops in an oil burner to clear stuffy heads or add to a massage blend for aching muscles.
As you build your own family’s first aid kit, keep a little notebook so you can make notes on what works for each individual. Some children are actually made more alert by lavender oil, for instance, and you might like to use chamomile instead. I find that keeping notes like this also creates a deep gratitude for these health-enhancing oils, and helps to remind me just what a difference they make to my family. Enjoy!