Respiratory Trees

After years of curiosity and minor dabbling in essential oil usage, in December I stepped up my game and started buying a range of essential oils and diffusers from doTerra and started reading books and web resources to try to better understand the power of essential oils and how to safely use them as part of holistic self-health care. There were a few things I had already discovered over the years: lavender oil is great for calming, sleep, removing the itch from insect bites, using as an insect repellent; oregano essential oil is a powerful antimicrobial; lemon and peppermint are uplifting to the spirit.

But, I never really knew what exactly essential oils are, why they are important to plants, why and how they work in humans, and how to understand the massive quantity of oils that are available and how best to use them. There is a lot of information on the internet that comes from people with a very wide range of expertise. I have a couple of books on aromatherapy and essential oils which are helpful for looking up conditions and finding out which oils are recommended, which is great at a basic level. Sometimes they tell you particular blends of oils to make at particular ratios, but there is no real information about why the particular ratio so that you could feel confident in altering the blend by cutting out an oil or substituting a different one if you needed to swap out, or to understand how to make your own blends from scratch. I’m the type of person that really wants to understand the principles of how and why things work so that I can look at oils that I may not be familiar with, and use principles to understand at least at a basic level how an oil can be used safely and know a bit about how I can combine them with other oils for a safe and therapeutic effect.

Kaya introduced me to Floracopeia‘s online course offerings about aromatherapy. The owner is a licensed acupuncturist/TCM and ayurvedic practitioner and has studied essential oils as a part of his holistic clinical practice over the past 3 decades. The courses he offers are infused with this deep holistic knowledge and they are fascinating. I bought the Pharmacy of Flowers course for home aromatherapy use (on steep sale if you dig deep in the website to the bottom of the detailed page about the course) and have been enthralled.

For example, he groups oils in a way that makes sense with biological unity in mind, and within these categories, you can rely on the oils primarily performing a specific healing purpose. I say primarily, because if you ask which oils have an effect on, say, the lungs, you could really list pretty much all essential oils. But there are certain oils that the research shows have a primary benefit to the lungs and respiratory system. He calls these the Respiratory Oils, and they include oils from the leaves or needles of conifers (e.g. cypress, pine, fir) and eucalyptus trees.

As he discusses in the course, if you look up the anatomy of the respiratory system, you would find a description like this:

Together, the trachea and the two primary bronchi are referred to as the bronchial tree. At the end of the bronchial tree lie the alveolar ducts, the alveolar sacs, and finally the alveoli.

The tubes that make up the bronchial tree perform the same function as the trachea. They distribute air to the lungs. The alveoli are responsible for the primary function of the lungs: exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen.

The respiratory system is referred to in relation to being a tree! Plants and humans have an inverse breathing relationship: plants breathe in CO2 and out O2, humans breathe in O2 and out CO2. We rely on plants for our respiration – and the structure of our lungs even looks very similar to an upside down tree. Trachea = trunk, bronchi = big branches, bronchioles = small branches, alveoli = leaves and needles. As the above description reveals, the alveoli are responsible for the primary function of the lungs – exchanging CO2 and O2. The respiratory oils from conifers and eucalyptus trees are extracted from the leaves and needles of the trees. The leaves and needles are representative of the alveoli, and the respiratory oils have their main impact on the alveoli of the lungs!

Now, I’m not a licensed or certified clinician and I’m not diagnosing essential oils for your particular condition, but I can say that in my own home self-healing, I’ve started to diffuse 5-6 drops of respiratory oils on a regular basis in order to help boost my immune system and respiratory system when I’m well so that I can, hopefully, over time reduce the amount of respiratory illnesses I catch, and at the same time, use the oils to help me recover more quickly from any respiratory illnesses I do catch. The oils, when diffused, will attack airborne pathogens – so if others are sick around you or you want to purify the air you breathe to help reduce the risk of spreading illnesses, diffusing oils will help.

Did I mention that essential oils are part of a plant’s immune system? A primary purpose of these oils for the plant is immunological: to protect plants against insects, predators, herbivores, microbes, fungi, viruses. They are part of the life force, prana, vitality, intelligence of the plants and we can benefit from them because our existence is intertwined so deeply with plants. It’s pretty awesome, when you think about it.

And now, because of this part of the course, I know that if I find an oil that is from the leaves or needles of a conifer or eucalyptus tree (e.g. add on spruce or juniper or one of the many varieties of eucalyptus), I will think back to the respiratory tree and have a basic understanding of the primary role of these oils. Whereas before I may have seen in a book to use eucalyptus for bronchitis, I might now do a blend of eucalyptus and cypress (or replace it entirely with cypress because that’s what I have at home right now) to get a new smell profile, but have two oils that are from the same group and have a similar impact. Knowledge of the principles behind the oils is key!

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