Jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis) not an oil at all but rather an ester or liquid wax. Jojoba is native to the American southwest desert areas of Arizona, California, Colorado and northwestern Mexico. With leather-like leaves that are evergreen, jojoba is extremely drought tolerant.13 Chemically similar to sperm whale oil, jojoba oil gained significant importance for commercial production during the 1970s when the United States banned the importation of sperm whale oil. The precious and often expensive ‘oil’ is obtained from cold-pressing of the peanut sized seeds.14 Jojoba is much sought after as a massage oil and skin care ingredient due to its ‘dry’ feel and rich emollient properties.
Lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia) a shrub native to the Mediterranean sea area of southern Europe, its leaves are thin and needle-like with a silvery green color. Sitting atop the long stem is the purple flower head from which the essential oil is produced through steam distillation.
The word lavender comes from the Latin verb lavare,’to wash’. In fact, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Persians introduced lavender to bathing products for its calming and soothing influence. Historically, lavender has been used to relieve anxiety, restlessness and insomnia.15 In the middle ages, lavender buds and leaves were used to scent linens and stored clothing as well as deter insects.
Despite centuries of use as a natural disinfectant and antibacterial agent, it is only recently that the potential for using lavender in traditional medicine is being evaluated. Lavender has been shown to inhibit the effects of caffeine and may be an effective intervention for migraine headaches through short intervals (2 to 3 minutes) of inhalation of the essential oil.16,17
Oatmeal (Avena sativa) native to the Mediterranean region, it is cultivated in North America, Asia and Europe for its cereal grain.18 An oat bath can provide relief to dry, irritated skin. Oatmeal is popular for use as a facial mask, scrub or use in soap to slough off dead skin cells and promote smoother skin.19
Olive oil (Olea europaea) Over the last two decades, the benefits of olive oil consumption have been firmly established. Olive oil is considered healthful due to its monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid. Rich in potent anti-oxidant properties, olive oil is the main and often only fat, that is a regular part of the Mediterranean-area diet. Olive oil, along with large amounts of fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts is considered to have significant protective effects against several cancers and coronary heart disease. 40
As long as olive oil has been part of the human diet, we have also used it for cutaneous benefits. Ancient Greeks bathed with olive oil, Romans used it in wound care. 41 The Greeks also used olive oil for deep-friction massage, which began at a low intensity, to progressively stonger. Rubbing with oil was considered important for athletes; it was believed to raise the temperature of the body and improve flexibility of the muscles.
In fact, Pliny thought olive oil protected the body against cold. Hippocrates and his contemporaries were aware of the analgesic properties of deep-friction massage. 42 This hypothesis is verified by research findings which show that massage increases local blood flow and relaxes muscles. The ancient Greeks also used olive oil to prevent injuries to their athletes; skin became flexible, slippery and helped to lessen prolonged handling by an opponent. Today many therapists agree that deep-friction massage is very effective but far too fatiguing to administer.43
But the olive’s usefulness is not limited to the oil produced from its fruits, or drupes. Phenolic compounds isolated from olives have been shown to inhibit growth of Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus.44 Squalene and oleuropein, which occur in high levels in virgin olive oil have high levels of anti-oxidant activity. 45 Oleic acid contributes 55-75% of the total fatty acids in nearly all varieties of olive cultivars.46 Oleic acid makes olive oil less susceptible to oxidation and rancidity. It is also due to the oleic acid in olive oil which produces a highly effective moisturizer when used cosmetics and lotions.40
Oregano oil (Origanum vulgare) Native to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, this herbaceous perennial is used extensively in cooking for its unmistakable pungent taste.
Oregano also has its roots in folk medicine. The ancient Greeks and Romans applied the leaves to treat skin sores, relieve aching muscles and as an antiseptic.52
In modern Greece, an oregano infusion is still used as a remedy against colds and upset stomach. In the Apennine region of Italy, a decoction of oregano, thyme, borage, rosemary, orange peel and juniper berries is used to treat stomach cramping, diarrhea and indigestion.53
Essential oils of oregano possess two important phenols which are anti-microbial and anti-bacterial: carvacrol and thymol. This has attracted attention from the medical community as it battles rising anti-biotic resistance. Preliminary studies indicate properties in oregano and its essential oils may also help to supress inflammation.54
Rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis) Rosemary is a bushy shrub which grows wild in parts of Italy, southern France and Algeria. It was used as a symbol of loyalty, friendship and remembrance. Rosmarinus is a latin word meaning ‘dew of the sea’.20 Traditionally used as anti-infective and insecticide, rosemary leaves were strewn on newly swept floors as a disinfectant. As the leaves were tread upon by the home’s occupants, the essential oils were released.
People may not have realized that the nature of the oil was actually responsible for the bactericidal action of rosemary. Several studies indicate that the components of rosemary oil possess anti-bacterial activity against several strains of gram-positive bacteria and gram-negative fungi. 21 The oils from a variety which grows wild in a region of Algeria, Rosemarinus tournefortii, showed additional anti-microbial activity against gram-negative E.coli and P.aeruginosa.22 The main components responsible for rosemary’s antibacterial action are camphor, 1,8-cineole and borneol.23