Herbs are a popular plant to grow in the garden, whether you just have a sunny window ledge or a large yard. However, aside from their use for culinary dishes and teas, some herbs are also used as an essential oil. Here’s a quick look at five popular herb essential oils. Remember that plants have different uses as a herb (the whole plant part used) and as an essential oil (extracted from part of the plant).
Basil Essential Oil
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a small, annual herb with dark-green, ovate leaves and pink-white flowers. It is very aromatic. The flowering herb is steam distilled to produce an essential oil. Basil essential oil has a fresh, spicy, balsamic aroma. In the spring and summer months, it is particularly useful both as an insect repellent and for insect bites. In the fall and winter months, basil essential oil can be used for colds, flu, fever, infections, and coughs. Year round, use basil essential oil for muscle pain, rheumatism, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Cautions: Do not use basil essential oil in pregnancy. It may also cause skin sensitivity in some people.
Fennel Essential Oil
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a slightly larger perennial herb (growing up to six feet in height). It has distinct feathery leaves and umbels of yellow flowers. Fennel is very similar in appearance to dill (Anethum graveolens). Cultivated sweet fennel is the favored species for essential oil extraction, in comparison to bitter fennel (which is more toxic as an essential oil).
Fennel essential oil is steam distilled from the crushed seeds and it has a sweet, anise-like aroma. Use fennel essential oil for mature skin, oily skin, constipation, amenorrhea, rheumatism, nausea, flatulence, the menopause, and bruises.
Cautions: Do not use in pregnancy or in epilepsy. Use in moderation.
Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a small perennial herb that can become bushy. It has dark-green, ovate leaves and pink-purple flowers. It is an ancient plant and a common species to be found in herb gardens.
Oregano produces a steam distilled essential oil from the flowering parts of the herb. It has a warm, spicy, herbaceous aroma. As an essential oil, it is often avoided in aromatherapy use because of its potential as a skin irritant. However, the essential oil is described as analgesic, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, expectorant, and a stimulant and could be used to help a number of problems that present these conditions.
Cautions: Do not use during pregnancy. It can cause dermal and skin toxicity and irritation. Use in low dilution. Not recommended for the beginner to aromatherapy.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a perennial herb that grows to about three feet in height. There are various species of peppermint but the plant is usually recognizable by its strong minty aroma.
Peppermint essential oil is steam distilled from the flowering herb and has a highly penetrating, camphoraceous, minty aroma. Use peppermint essential oil for acne, dermatitis, muscle pain, asthma, bronchitis, nausea, flatulence, colds, flu, fever, stress, mental tiredness, and fainting.
Cautions: Use in moderation. Possible skin sensitivity with some people. Do not use in pregnancy. Do not use with, or in the vicinity of, babies and children under the age of five years.
Thyme Essential Oil
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is often found in the herb garden as a companion to other plants. It is a small plant with purple or white flowers and aromatic leaves. Thyme is unique in that it can produce several chemotypes of thyme essential oil from essentially the same plant – depending upon growing location and environmental factors.
In addition, thyme leaves and flowering tops are steam distilled to first produce a “red” thyme oil, and then re-distilled to produce “white” thyme oil. Red thyme essential oil is warm, powerful, and spicy in aroma whereas white thyme oil is sweet, mild, and green in aroma. Use thyme essential oil for acne, dermatitis, eczema, insect bites, arthritis, muscle pain, gout, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, flatulence, colds, flu, infections, insomnia, and stress.
Cautions: Do not use with high blood pressure. Possible skin sensitivity with some people. Choose white thyme essential oil for more gentle use.
Learn More About Essential Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie
Learn more about essential oils, such as those described in this post, with one of the Sedona Aromatherapie home study aromatherapy courses; visit the courses home page to learn more!
Falsetto, Sharon, 2014, Authentic Aromatherapy, US: Skyhorse Publishing
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons
Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published aromatherapy author, approved NAHA aromatherapy educator, aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor of the NAHA Journal.