Essential Oils as Natural Antiseptics for Your Family

by Michelle Allen

The anti-bacterial action of essential oils may be their most studied effect, in-part because these are simple experiments to perform. Place a piece of filter paper saturated with an essential oil in the center of a petri dish and watch the growth, or lack of, bacteria around the paper. The larger the area where bacteria do not grow, the stronger the action of that particular essential oil inhibiting that particular strain of microbe. This test, known as an Aromatogram, was popularized by French scientist Paul Belaiche. Through extensive research, large tables of data now allow aromatherapists to quickly find the most efficacious oils once the infecting species of bacteria is known. But you don’t have to be a scientist to make use of this information – there are many simple, effective means for using essential remedies for yourself and your family and children as part of a holistic natural health program for your household.

Each single, pure essential oil consists of several, sometimes hundreds of distinct natural chemicals. Essential oils derive their antimicrobial effect from their unique chemical makeup. It turns out that nature has been doing a remarkable job of therapeutic blending. Many of these have antimicrobial activity, and show synergistic effects; blends of the chemicals – as found naturally in the oils – can be more potent than any individual chemical alone. Studies have often shown that combinations of essential oil components are more effective against bacteria than any single isolated constituent. Think of this the next time you might reach for Bactine or some iodine tincture – the formulations nature has made herself will likely work better, and will most assuredly smell nicer.

There’s evidence for an incredible spectrum of antimicrobial action from essential oils, yet it is important to select the right oils in the right amounts. Topical application of Oregano and Thyme may be the best solution for a case of stubborn nail fungus, yet these oils are far too intense for use on soft tissue of any kind except in the most dilute blends. Often a combination of a potent antiseptic with a known soothing oil can improve the overall effectiveness. Here we will briefly profile these highly-regarded oils, and look at some formulas and methods of application: Tea Tree, Lavender, Oregano, Geranium, and Lemon.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifola) is known throughout the world for its protective properties against infections, and may be the hands-down most popular antiseptic essential oil. The leaves have been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin infections, and with ten times the antiseptic power of phenol (a benchmark chemical used in studying antimicrobial action) Tea Tree is a must for every natural first aid kit. One of the safest and most effective ways of controlling minor infections is the immediate intervention action of Tea Tree. For minor ears, nose, throat, respiratory and general skin infections, Tea Tree essential oil will give quick healing support. Tea tree’s tolerability allows it to be used for longer periods of time without the slightest irritation. A drop on a Band-Aid can keep the reddening indication of infection from children’s cuts and scrapes, and when combined with Lavender, makes a soothing rendition of Grandma’s healing tincture.

Often called ‘medicine chest in a bottle’ Lavender is the most versatile aromatic oil in use today. An antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic, Lavender is helpful in the healing of small burns, cuts and insect bites. The cooling aroma disperses heat and inflammation and brings relief from pain, spasms, and general unrest. With its calming and balancing properties, Lavender is very supportive of deep sleep; as noted in ‘Clinical Aromatherapy’, studies indicate that the aroma of Lavender enabled better rest than common sleeping pills with no side effects. Interestingly, Lavender imparts this action in healing wounds as well. For healing unbroken skin such as burns, apply Lavender ‘neat’ to the wound several times a day; insect bites also get a ‘neat’ treatment. For cuts and scrapes, keep a 50/50 blend of Lavender and Tea Tree on hand for the best all-purpose antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving solution.

While the Tea Tree and Lavender blend gives us a formula for regular use, Oregano is the all-time heavy-hitter of essential oils for antimicrobial action. Oregano is serious medicine; it has been the subject of many successful scientific evaluations. Interest in the oil’s efficacy growing in amongst the world’s medical practitioners as infectious microbes become more and more resistant to synthetic antibiotics. Pure oil of Oregano is exceptionally strong – too strong for topical application except in the most stubborn cases, and then only with careful attention. Oregano holds the most promise as a systemic antimicrobial; Oregano oil can be found in enteric-coated (for targeting parasites and bacteria in the intestines) and regular capsules for support of the immune system during illness. Consult a qualified medical practitioner for dosage recommendations.

With a softer aroma and gentle effect on skin, Geranium is versatile choice for frequent use. Harmonizing and balancing, Geranium essential oil has the quality of equalizing hormonal and emotional extremes. These properties extends to the skin, where it creates balance between oily and dry states; Geranium helps to cleanse the skin while restoring balance, tone, and suppleness (experiment with your skin care formulas at concentrations between one and three percent of your base mixture). A non-drying, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, and general tonic, Geranium is traditionally indicated as a remedy for acne, dermatitis, eczema, and weeping wounds. The ‘asperum’ species is generally considered the most potent Geranium for its antimicrobial action, with a wonderful sweet and herbaceous aroma.

The ‘old stand-by’ of Lemon should not be overlooked when searching for ways to convert your home to a healthy ‘green’ lifestyle. Lemon oil, pressed from lemon peels, has historically been a component of many household cleaners – and because of its efficacy, low-cost and great aroma, it should continue to be. Lemon oil can be used alone at about 8 drops of oil per cup of warm water for an all-purpose mild antibacterial solution. You can add a little potency for kitchen and bathroom uses by adding oils like Eucalyptus, Pine, and Rosemary. Keep the total number of drops per oil the same, adding other oils in place of the Lemon. Eucalyptus may create the best antimicrobial synergy, and additional oils will build on this effect. You may increase or decrease the essential oil concentration as you see fit – if increasing, simply test your new recipe in small increments to insure tolerance for yourself and your family.

These are but a sampling of the antiseptic and antimicrobial essential oils available. They are easy to use, and offer a excellent means of bringing natural medicines and cleaners into your life. Many oils have specific action against certain microbes; if you or a friend or loved one needs more directed treatment, seek the advice of a licensed or degreed natural health professional, and consult a doctor to ensure the safety of any complimentary essential oil application. The acceptance of essential oils as valid medicines continues to grow. If you’re new to the field, dive in with some of the suggestions here – you’re sure to enjoy these great gifts of nature.

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