You can barely read a blog these days without coming across information about essential oils. If anyone has somehow managed to miss the essential oil buzz, it seems to be generated by two companies that produce essential oils and sell via Multi Level Marketing schemes (i.e. pyramid schemes) in which people can earn money by selling essential oils through these companies. Hence all the hype on blogs about how to use (and buy) essential oils.
I have been paying attention mainly because my neighbour is very enthusiastic about oils (although she doesn't sell them), and for the past few years has told me how she uses them in her home and with her family. From what I have seen, they are very effective as a natural therapy and potentially safers and cheaper than conventional medicine, which has caught my interest. I have been slow to take the step to use them myself because we don't tend to get sick anyway! But then I started to wonder if we could use essential oils to help Bella with her ongoing mastitis problems, so I did some reading.
What are essential oils? An essential oil is the concentrated oil or aroma component of a plant. If you are a chemistry geek (like me), you may be interested to know that essential oils mainly consist of terpenes (mono-, di- and sesque-), ketones and aldehydes. The unique property of these chemicals is their relatively small size:
Not many substances can pass through the blood-brain barrier, but essential oils can. So, you can take the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and apply them to the brain, and if they can reach the brain, they will effect the rest of the body as well – as they effect various parts of the brain that regulate various functions in the body – from hormone production, adrenal support, memory storage, emotional balance, and on and on. So you experience physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental benefits.- High Country Doterra
Even if you're not interested in the chemistry, my interpretation is that it makes sense that the chemicals in essential oils influence our bodies and our moods. This influence may not always be beneficial. This brings me to two important points:
Essential oils are potent, they should be used carefully and judiciously, to ensure that the affects are beneficial. Just because they are natural, does not mean they necessarily safe to use in all situations and at unlimited dosages.
Essential oils are a natural product and so they are not standardised. An essential oil extracted from one batch of plant will be different to another batch from the same type of plant simply due to the growing conditions of the plant. More expensive oils are not necessarily better "quality" (higher in the active ingredients), but I think its worth buying organic essential oils where possible, to reduce exposure to other chemicals that could be present in conventionally grown plants.
How to use essential oils
Essential oils can be used therapeutically by inhalation (typically using a diffuse), diluted and rubbed on the skin or ingested (controversial!).
Essential oils for mastitis
When I was convinced that there was potential for essential oils to assist Bella, I then needed to know which oils to use. I searched for "cow mastitis essential oils" and I found a couple of useful links. First a scientific paper that showed that constituents in tea tree oil reduced inflammation in cows with mastitis, which sounded very promising. And then a blog post which listed essential oils that were known to assist with mastitis in dairy cows, including peppermint, tea tree and oregano.
I still wasn't sure what dilution to use to make an udder balm for Bella, but I found some information here, which recommended a 2% dilution.
In the end I decided to use lavender, oregano, tea tree and eucalyptus oil (because I did more reading about the properties of these oils, in books, so I can't link it all here!), diluted in coconut oil. We rubbed the oil on Bella's udder daily for about a week. It was kind of hard to tell if it was helping her, but she is looking VERY healthy now either way. We will use it again if she gets mastitis with her next calf.
sore old paws
Man and Beast I had made up nearly two cups of udder balm, and we had so much left, I put a little in a jar in case we needed it inside. I used some on our dog Cheryl's front paws because they looked stiff and sore (she is twelve years old). And then when Pete had a sandfly bite I put it on him and the bite stopped itching. So I have written "for man and beast" across the top of the jar. I have used it myself as insect repellent and when my arm was sore. Generally these oils have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, so in some ways it is a multi-purpose balm.
My verdict Essential oils have their place as a natural medicine, but they should not be abused. Multi-level marketing schemes encourage people to over-sell the benefits and understate the cautions. Do your research, preferably from sources that are not trying to sell you oils, and use essential oils sparingly as part of a healthy lifestyle. Invest in good quality oils, organic if possible.