Essential Oils: Magic Potion or Scientific Solution? (part 2)

Essential Oils: Magic Potion or Scientific Solution? (part 2)

Scientist micropipetting


In part one of this blog, we talked about how essential oils are considered magic potions. In this part two, we’ll talk about them as a scientific solution. The use of aromatic plants from herbal medicine dates back thousands of years. And it is not limited to one area.

Every part of the world has a history of use of aromatic plants in its healthcare system. Distillation of essential oils from aromatic plants that make contemporary "aromatherapy" is recent. Countries that documented its usage include China, Egypt, Greece, India, USA (Native Americans). They documented them as steam, smoke, salves, poultices, and bath. [1]

In today’s modern world, there is an emphasis to validate these claims. Are the effectiveness of essential oils proven? Often these claims come from social media or online articles. But, we’ll  explore the different uses of essential oils as a scientific solution in medicine.

Let’s dive into how herbalism has evolved in the world of modern medicine. It started with Paracelsus, a Swiss physician and a pioneer of the medical renaissance. He believed isolating an active ingredient from a plant would enhance the medicine’s strength and increase its safeness.

With modern drug development, synthetic copies of perfumes and aromatics began to appear.

For example, aspirins are produced based on the salicylate found in willow bark (salix alba). [2] This was commonly used in ancient times as painkillers.

Despite research, essential oils and herbal medicine are not as profitable and lost out to the profits of synthetic drugs. The 1910 Flexner report on medical schools (funded by the Carnegie Foundation) changed medical training in the United States.

Medical schools in the US eliminated homeopathic and naturopathic studies. Including herbal medicine and the use of aromatics. Since that time, herbal medicine in both the US and Canada has existed in the fringes of conventional health care.

In some US states, it is illegal to practise herbal medicine without medical qualifications. But courses in herbalism are not offered at medical schools. [3]

Up until the 19th century, most western drugs were concoctions of herbs. In the early 1800s, major advances in extraction procedures led to the isolation of pure chemical constituents from herbs. Opium extracts produce morphine, for its pain relieving and sedative effects.

In the late 19th to 20th century, scientists began to turn to animals for hormones to use as medicines. Vaccines and antibiotics later used microbes as a valuable source.

Discovering drugs in the past century has capitalised on increasing knowledge in molecular biology and physiology of both healthy and disease-ridden bodies. Biological drugs can target specific disease mechanisms at a molecular level where they originate. [4]

From the humble origins of herbs, we have evolved the use of these plants into what we know today as modern medicine. This shows how effective the plants are in itself to treat our illnesses.

Proving the efficacy of these plants requires verified testing. They should also provide the ability to reproduce these results, to ensure it does not happen just once.

ncbi logo

With the existence of journals such as The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). It is part of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) journals. We are then able to read in depth the experiments conducted to verify certain claims.

But, applied scientists in medical journals scorn basic scientists who work in biology and chemistry. Many reports published in the journals for treatments applied to single cases. This gives unconfident conclusions because of the absence of controls. [5]

As such, most articles written have to vet against a control to justify its conclusion. For experiments involving essential oils for example, a control test is required to verify that the effects are not placebo. Research was done to find the effects of lavender essential oil to treat migraines. In a placebo-controlled clinical trial, they found that inhalation of lavender is an effective and safe treatment. [6]

Another example of essential oil testing is their efficacy in dilution percentages. An experiment was conducted on oregano to show its antioxidant properties has a significant effect whether in total essential oil, its fraction, and pure constituents. [7]

This goes to show the effectiveness of essential oils in the medical and applied science field.

Interest in essential oils have increased worldwide in the past 10 years. With the top 5 countries being the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. [8]


Google trend data for essential oils searches
Google trend of search popularity of essential oils

[Picture of search interest, “essential oils”, from Google Trends during 2009-2021]

However, in several European countries, herbal medicines are routinely prescribed by GPs. This offers doctors a choice of gentle acting treatments for chronic and more minor health problems.

In Germany and Poland, herbal medicines can be frontline treatments for digestive disorders and chronic problems such as arthritis. [3]

For example, we have Andreas Michalsen, MD, PhD where he is a professor of clinical complementary medicine at the Charité University Medical Center Berlin. He often advocates on the use of natural medicine as well. 

 baby african elephant

The knowledge of plants also came from copying what the animals do. For example, African elephants search for borages before giving birth. These have labour-inducing effects and by now extracts of these plants are being used in Kenya by pregnant women when they give birth. [9]

The versatility of medicinal plants seen in another therapeutic area in which St. John’s wort can be used. Applied to the skin, the extract of St. John’s wort, the “red oil” (named because of its red colour) has a topical anti-inflammatory effect. [10]

Chinese medicinal plant therapy is also effective in treating dementia, IBS, rheumatism or vascular diseases. [11]

In our previous blog, we mentioned some essential oil examples used in magic potions and rituals. They are believed to have magical properties, which cannot be proven. But, what can be proven are their health benefits. And here are some of them.  

One example that we had mentioned was frankincense. If you’re not a witch who needs a cleansing smoke tool, you can use them for their anti-inflammatory agent and painkiller properties. [12] They can help to boost your immune systems too [13] so that your body can fight off diseases better.

Lavender is another smoke tool which can brighten up a space. While witches used them to protect their homes from hexes, we can use them to protect ourselves from sleepless nights and anxiety. In fact, lavender oil in gelatin capsules showed consistent relief symptoms such as sleep disturbance, anxiety, and low quality of life. [14]

The above are some of the many examples where essential oils have proved to treat minor symptoms. In our two part blog posts, we aimed to show you that not only are essential oils a myth but a scientific fact that can be trusted in its efficacy to work.

In fact, we talked more about other essential oils and their proven research in the works for antimicrobial and analgesic properties in our previous blogs. And for more blogs to come.

Calla Me aims to introduce and acknowledge the scientific work that has been contributed towards the field of herbalism. We believed that any claims of essential oils should be shown with science. We formulate our products based on these findings so do check them out!

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The article written represents the writers' opinions based on their findings. It is not meant to be expert/medical advice. Users are solely responsible for fully understanding the safety and risks of essential oils. 

[1] - Buckle, J. (2014). Clinical aromatherapy-e-book: Essential oils in practice. Elsevier Health Sciences.

[2] - Vlachojannis, J., Magora, F., & Chrubasik, S. (2011). Willow species and aspirin: different mechanism of actions. Phytotherapy Research, 25(7), 1102-1104.

[3] - Chevallier, A. (2016). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments. Penguin.

[4] - Gerald, M. C. (2013). The Drug Book: From Arsenic to Xanax ; 250 Milestones in the History of Drugs. New York, NY: Sterling.

[5] - Smith, R. (2006). The trouble with medical journals. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(3), 115-119.

[6] - Sasannejad, P., Saeedi, M., Shoeibi, A., Gorji, A., Abbasi, M., & Foroughipour, M. (2012). Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. European neurology, 67(5), 288-291.

[7] - Kulisic, T., Radonic, A., Katalinic, V., & Milos, M. (2004). Use of different methods for testing antioxidative activity of oregano essential oil. Food chemistry, 85(4), 633-640.

[8] -

[9] - Shuker, K. (2001). The hidden powers of animals: uncovering the secrets of nature. Reader's Digest.

[10] - Wölfle, U., Seelinger, G., & Schempp, C. M. (2014). Topical application of St. Johnʼs wort (Hypericum perforatum). Planta medica, 80(02/03), 109-120.

[11] - Bensky, D., Clavey, S., Stöger, E., & Gamble, A. (2004). Chinese herbal medicine. Materia medica, 3, 437-440.

[12] - Al-Harrasi, A., Ali, L., Hussain, J., Rehman, N. U., Ahmed, M., & Al-Rawahi, A. (2014) Analgesic effects of crude extracts and fractions of Omani frankincense obtained from traditional medicinal plant Boswellia sacra on animal models. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 7, S485-S490.

[13] - Blain, E. J., Ali, A. Y., & Duance, V. C. (2010) Boswellia frereana (frankincense) suppresses cytokine-induced matrix metalloproteinase expression and production of pro-inflammatory molecules in articular cartilage. Phytotherapy Research, 24(6), 905-912.

[14] - Kasper, S. (2013). An orally administered lavandula oil preparation (Silexan) for anxiety disorder and related conditions: an evidence based review. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice, 17(sup1), 15-22.

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