Aromatherapist and owner of Kodiak-based Emerald Isle Essentials breaks down the dos and don’ts of essential oils, which have gained popularity in recent years for their healing properties.
“Essential oils are the concentrated version of the plant. It’s the extraction of the plant,” said Maggie Dellemann-Zadina, the founder of Emerald Isle Essentials.
Based out of her rustic home, where she installed copper hand-made stills to distill her oils, she harvests the majority of the plants for her products in Kodiak.
Through the distillation process, two products are made: essential oil and hydrosol. Essential oils are the concentrated essence of the plant, while hydrosol is a diluted version of the essential oil.
“The process breaks down the plant material, extracting the plant’s healing properties,” Dellemann-Zadina said.
Essential oils can be used in diffusers, baths or facial steams. They can also be massaged onto the skin or inhaled through the use of a hot compress.
“Essential oils are really well used both therapeutically and energetically when in combination with other things” like yoga and meditation, Dellemann-Zadina said.
The primary plant she harvests in the winter for her products is Sitka spruce, which is good for immune support, respiratory support, inflammation, muscle aches and pain. Other times in the year, she also harvests peppermint, known to improve focus; yarrow, calendula and rose, which are good for the skin; and arnica, which is used to treat pain.
Another local plant is devil’s club, which has anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and skin-healing properties. The plant is used to relieve arthritis and rheumatism, and can help alleviate skin irritations. It may also help with cold and flu symptoms, Dellemann-Zadina said.
But before diving into the world of essential oils, it is important for people to conduct their own research and education on their production and safety, especially knowing where different companies source their oils.
“There are a lot of companies and types of essential oils that are unsustainable,” Dellemann-Zadina said. “There are also a lot of essential oil brands that are vouched to be pure when they are actually synthetic and made in a lab.”
Because synthetic essential oils are not plant-based, the healing benefits of the oil are altered and unpredictable, she said.
Dellemann-Zadina urges people to read labels carefully. Ingredients like “fragrance,” for example, may indicate
hat an essential oil has been made in a lab, she said.
She also warns people about using essential oils internally without the proper research and education.
“Using essential oils internally is a very delicate matter, and it’s not just any essential oil that you should be using internally,” she said, adding that while many families are searching for natural remedies for their children, parents should avoid using essential oils with children under three years old.
For children, Dellemann-Zadina suggested that parents use hydrosols. Because they are water-based, they have a variety of uses.
“Since it’s water-based, you can use it internally and externally for its benefits. It’s also a great option for kids and pets because it’s gentle,” she said. “I put it in my drinking water, in my hot tea.”
She also often uses Sitka spruce hydrosol in her diffuser and as a banya steam. Hydrosols can also be used as a foot soak.
“By steaming it and breathing it in, you can just feel your lungs opening up,” she said.
Research into essential oils offers promising results, along with mixed evidence of their health benefits, according to a Dec. 10 Washington Post article, which included comments from Harpreet Gujral, director of integrative medicine at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“The research is quite promising,” Gujral said. She also cited continuing clinical studies striving to measure the degree to which oils can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and nausea, as well as how they affect mood. “The results are mixed, but the research is there,” she said. “We just need more.”
According to an article by Tribune News Service, experts advise people with asthma and other serious conditions to use caution and consult a physician before using essential oils.
“In fact, breathing in the particles released by the oils may actually trigger airway inflammation and asthma symptoms,” said Melanie Carver with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “It is best to talk with your healthcare provider before trying anything new.”
Dellemann-Zadina started her essential oil business in 2016, after going to school to become an aromatherapist. When she learned that the Sitka spruce, a tree that grows all over Kodiak, was considered a rare essential oil, she knew she had to start her own essential oil business.
Dellemann-Zadina’s passion for Kodiak’s flora, and owning the process from plant to product, are what inspires her to grow her essential oil business.
“To go from plant to product, the entire process is the most magical part for me because I know exactly where this came from, I know exactly what’s in it, I know exactly how it was made,” she said of her products.
She makes a range of products, from salves that relieve cold and flu symptoms to balms that relieve muscle ache and help reduce pain. She sells her products online and in stores throughout town, on the mainland and in the Lower 48.