The summer season is right around the corner. Longer days, road trips, walks on the beach, or barbecues with family and friends are some of the highlights of the season. This is also the time to incorporate essential oil basics into your summer first-aid protocol. Whether it be a sunburn, a minor scrape, or repelling insects, different essential oils can be used to help ease the not-so-fun side of summer.

Essential oils are extracts obtained from raw plant matter and contain volatile chemical properties that interact with the body in a positive way. Essential oils are introduced to the body primarily through inhalation or topical application and rarely through ingestion. There are over 500 unique essential oils, each having their own natural chemical makeup. It is the chemical composition that is important in each essential oil, as this is what interacts within the body.

Many cultures have documented writings detailing the efficacy of plants in medicinal and spiritual practices. Egyptians, ancient Greeks, and Romans all used plants as tinctures and macerates for internal and external medicine, as well as cleansing the physical and spiritual bodies. Though the method to extract plant essential oils was the not the same back then as it is today, their concept of extracting the heart essence of the plant for their practices was successfully achieved with exceptional results.

A tincture or macerate in ancient times was made by first harvesting and drying the plant. Next, oil, grain or grape alcohol was poured over the dried plant matter. An alcohol base made a tincture, while an oil base was primarily used to make a macerate. Regardless of either method, once the mixture cured for a few weeks, the plant essence was then infused into the alcohol or oil base. Tinctures were used primarily for internal medicinal applications. Macerates were also used for internal application, but were primarily applied topically for cleansing and healing. Today, these same ancient methods are used to make homeopathic remedies such as herbal tinctures and herbal salves made from macerated oils.

The use of plant essences for healing purposes was through accidental discovery in the 1920’s. Lavender oil was found to help the body speed-up the healing process of a burn. Lavender is not only good for any type of burn, it helps to facilitate healing of minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises. The aromatic properties of lavender help relax the mind, which in turn reduces undesirable stress through our brain’s limbic system (the area that processes emotions and behaviors). The naturally occurring chemicals in lavender are well-rounded, supplying emotional and physical support to the body. Lavender essential oil can be paired with another plant powerhouse, aloe gel, to create a more effective blend used to soothe tired or sunburned skin. Lavender is only one of a very small number of essential oils that can be used safely, yet effectively on infants. The smell will help baby to relax and can be used for conditions such as diaper rash.

Peppermint is a hybrid of two plants; spearmint and water mint. The cool crisp flavor of peppermint is familiar to just about everyone, and is widely used as a natural flavoring in many products from oral care products to candies. Peppermint has several medicinal properties, but is well-known for reducing headache pain and feelings of nausea. The herb is a vasodilator, which safely expands vessel or artery walls, offering a rich oxygen supply to the area. Because of this vasodilation, headaches begin to diminish without any side effects. Those prone to motion sickness should consider carrying a bottle of peppermint essential oil. When deeply inhaled, the natural chemical properties, in tandem with the herb’s vasodilation properties, help to alleviate symptoms associated with motion sickness.

One of the most frustrating things about the summer are insects; particularly mosquitos, fleas, ticks and gnats. Plants contain aromatic chemical compounds which serve several distinct purposes; one of them being a pest deterrent. When it comes to naturally repelling insects, one or two essential oils are just not enough. Citronella, cedar wood, geranium, lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, and peppermint are just a few essential oils that can be mixed together and used as a natural insect repellent. Add a combination of essential-oil drops to distilled water in a misting bottle and use outdoors throughout the day to deter pests. Growing some of the plants previously mentioned outdoors will help to deter unwanted insects, and possibly bring honey bees, butterflies, and other necessary insects into the area.

Michael Lausterer is master essential oil therapist and owner of Basic Earth Essentials located in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. He is also a professional chef and clinical nutritionist.