More than a year ago, I started using essential oils. Our family was going increasingly “granola,” as my husband teasingly calls it – which, to us, meant eating organic food, swapping out our personal products and cleaning supplies for less-toxic versions, and generally paying more attention to what we were putting on and in our bodies – but I hadn’t yet made the move to try essential oils.

But, as a mom, I thought they were worth pursuing. I was tired of feeling scared and helpless when my child was sick in the middle of the night and I didn’t know what to do, or hearing about children’s medicines being recalled or simply not working. So I decided to try essential oils. Did you know that they are used medicinally in Europe (particularly France) and Australia, right alongside more conventional drug treatments? That was a selling point for me. But please note: I’m not a doctor or medical professional of any kind, just a mom who wanted to help keep her family healthy. I do not think essential oils are magic potions that will cure everything that ails you (Broken arm? Um, no). But I do think that, when used appropriately, they can help alleviate certain health problems.

If you poke around the Internet, it’s easy to find essential oil skeptics who bemoan the multi-level marketing of the bigger companies and worry that people will go overboard in using oils without considering consequences (for instance, some aren’t recommended for pregnant women or small children). However, there are also lots of medical and scientific resources that, while cautiously citing the need for additional studies, note that essential oils are increasingly being considered as potential sources for alternative health remedies. Here are a couple of resources from the University of Minnesota and University of Maryland Medical Center that, while offering general overviews about the use of essential oils (along with the standard “consult your doctor before using” and “studies still need to be done” language), also include helpful listings of recent medical studies that actually have been and continue to be done on essential oils.

Generally, oils are used three ways: topically (applied to the skin), aromatically (diffused in the air), or taken internally (in capsules, etc.). Topical and aromatic use are probably the most common uses; if you are unsure of the quality of your oil, use with care (oils vary widely according to each company’s standards – again, I recommend doing further research). Many essential oils will give directions on the bottle so you know how to apply them or how much to dilute them (with carrier oils or very high-quality olive oils, for instance), although there are also a number of helpful books (try a “guide to essential oils” search on Amazon) that offer more specific directions on usage and the oils themselves.

With all of that said, here are a few of my favorite oils and some of the ways I use them:

– Lavender – According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “A number of studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, stress, and postoperative pain. However, most of these studies have been small. Lavender is also being studied for antibacterial and antiviral properties. Lavender oil is often used in other forms of integrative medicine, such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation.” (source) I LOVE lavender, and have had success using it to help with headaches, small burns, and for relaxation purposes in the bath or on my pillow at night (it makes me feel like I’m at the spa).

– Peppermint – I use this for the headaches I occasionally get. It also has cooling properties – in the summer I put it on the back of my neck on hot days.

– Melrose – Melrose has antifungal properties, so I use it in a baby powder (a mixture of arrowroot powder, lavender, and melrose essential oils) I make to help my girls avoid yeast infections.

– Thieves – Thieves is a proprietary essential oil blend from Young Living that was university-tested for its cleansing abilities. It includes a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary that smells AMAZING. I use it year-round, but especially like to use it in conjunction with honey in the winter when dealing with coughs, colds, and sore throats.

– Thyme – I rub this or lemon oil on my daughters to help alleviate their common cold symptoms, especially before bed.

There are many more oils that I’ve used with varying degrees of success. But overall, I like feeling that I can help my family combat certain illnesses in a more natural way. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to do more research on your own. There is a wealth of information out there, but here are a couple of helpful books: Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy, by Kurt Schnaubelt; and Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, by Shirley and Len Price. I’m still in the learning process, myself, but welcome your comments and questions.