What Are Essential Oils For

what are essential oils for

What are essential oils for? Well there are well more than 100 essential oils, each with their own, and often overlapping, purposes and uses. Below are the Top 40.  Click on the index links to find them. And you can return here by clicking on the “Back to Index” link under each featured oil.

Essential oils are a big subject, but below we have listed what we feel are the most important. We have described their aromas and listed their benefits and uses, together with any points of interest. We also include a link to where you can get them on Amazon.

Medical benefits of essential oils

A big question often asked is whether or not essential oils have any actual medical benefit as supported by modern science. And the short answer is that they absolutely do.

Here is just one example. In an in vitro experiment, it was found that out of 21 essential oils tested,19 showed antibacterial activity. These especially included clove, cinnamon, lemon, geranium, lime, orange, and rosemary.

And you can check out this book on the science, technology, and application of essential oils.

Now, given the long use of essential oils throughout the history of mankind, this should not be a surprise. Check out this reference to the history of aromatherapy going back to 3,500 BC.

Essential oils safety note

Essential oils have a long history in the human experience. And, while not qualifying as medicines in conventional modern orthodoxy, they have long been cherished for their beneficial medicinal effect. But as with any substance taken for medical effect, they must be treated with respect and caution. 

Essential oil precautions

1: Consult a medical practitioner or aromatherapy specialist before including essential oils in your lifestyle or applying an essential oil for a specific purpose..

2: Never ingest essential oils.

3: Never use undiluted essential oils on the skin.

4: Exercise extreme caution in using essential oils with children, the elderly, or people with underlying medical conditions.

How to use essential oils – Diffusers

There are 3 ways to enjoy the benefits of essential oils.1)  Aromatically (via the air) through a diffuser; 2) Topically (applied to the skin), and 3) Internally (through ingestion)

Unless you really know what you are doing and your doctor approves, we strongly advise against ingestion. Many of these substances are poisonous and positively dangerous if taken internally, especially by children.

For similar reasons, you should not apply essential oils topically. Although, the effects are obviously going to be less drastic.

So, if you are new to essential oils, we highly recommend starting out by using a diffuser. We have featured the 3 diffusers we personally like at the end of our Top 40 list. (Insert a jump link)

Where to get essential oils

Essential oils used in aromatherapy are not regulated by the FDA. So it is important that you have confidence in where you get them.

We have provided a link to Amazon for you to source each of the essential oils listed here. And you should always use a reputable vendor. We believe the following to be highly reputable essential oil brands (in alphabetical order). But also remember that Amazon itself is very picky about who it allows to sell this kind of product on their platform.

Now let’s get to what are essential oils for and our Top 40. And a quick tip: Use the Control F function (Command F in a Mac) to search this page for any ailment that bothers you.

Top 40 Essential Oils 

We have listed our Top 40 essential oils in alphabetical order for easy reference, not in what we consider their order of importance. It’s basically an essential points use chart, that is, a  list of essential oils and their benefits. We have included comments on their respective aromas and other points of interest. 

allspice essential oilAroma: warm, sweet but sharp; spicy; reminiscent of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. Said to act as an aphrodisiac.

Benefit and use: arthritis; bronchitis; coughs; depression; indigestion; muscular & gastric cramps; muscle tone; nervous tension & exhaustion; nausea; neuralgia; rheumatism; stiffness.  

Points of interest: also known as Jamaican pepper, Allspice is native to the Caribbean and Central America. It has been introduced as an ingredient in many cuisines since the 16th century.

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atlas cedarwood essential oilAroma: rich and woody. Grounding and calming. Said to be an aphrodisiac. 

Benefit and use: great for use during meditation. For arthritis; acne; bronchitis; dandruff; coughing; cystitis; stress; dermatitis.

Points of interest: One of the earliest essential oils. Used by ancient Egyptians in the embalming process.

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balsam fir essential oilAroma: coniferous, crisp, fresh. Eases feelings of stress and anxiety.

Benefit and use: bronchitis; coughs; depression; minor cuts & wounds; nervous tension; sore throat; stress.

Points of interest: a fir that is native to North America. Used medicinally and therapeutically by native americans for thousands of years. Balsam fir contains vitamin C.

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basil essential oilAroma: herbaceous, reminiscent of liquorice, sweet. Energising.

Benefit and use: bronchitis; colds; coughs; exhaustion; flatulence; flu; gout; headaches; insect bites; insect repellent; mental stimulation; muscle aches; rheumatism; sinusitis.

Points of interest: native to the tropics. Used in cuisines worldwide.

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Aroma: soft, sweet, floral tones with spicy notes. Inspires confidence and creativity.

Benefit and use: colds; amenorrhea; flu; tonsillitis; loss of appetite. 

Points of interest: prominently featured in classical Greek and Roman culture. Was used to fashion the laurel wreath, a high honor in ancient Greece. Popular ingredient in many cuisines. Long used in folk medicine in poultices for rashes.

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bergamot essential oilAroma: complex, floral, some bitterness, citrus.

Benefit and use:  abscesses; acne; anxiety; boils; cold sores; cystitis; depression; halitosis; itching; loss of appetite; oily skin; psoriasis. Helps depression, sadness, grief.

Points of interest: produced from the peel of the bergamot orange. Used in the formulation of Earl Gray tea; and historically used in eau de cologne.

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camphor essential oilAroma: fresh, woody, intense, eucalyptus-like.

Benefit and use: acne; bruises; bronchitis; colds; contusions; cough; insect repellent; muscular aches & pains; parasitic skin infections; rashes; rheumatism.

Points of interest: distilled from the camphor laurel tree. Used in India from ancient times. Camphor was used early on in the development of the plastics industry.

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chamomile essential oilAroma: crisp, herbaceous, fruity.

Benefit and use: calms anxiety and stress. Anti inflammatory. Many applications include: abscesses; allergies; arthritis; boils; colic; cuts; cystitis; dermatitis; dysmenorrhea; darache; flatulence; hair; headache; inflamed skin; insect bites; insomnia; nausea; neuralgia; PMS; rheumatism; sores; sprains; strains; stress; wounds. Note can adversely interact with some prescription drugs.

Points of interest: German and Roman Chamomile are used pretty much interchangeably. Used for many hundreds of years in teas and herbal remedies.

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cinnamon essential oilAroma: peppery, earthy, spicy, woody.

Benefit and use: circulation; colds/flu; lice; rheumatism; sluggish digestion; scabies; stress

Points of interest: distilled from cinnamon bark or leaves; known from remote antiquity. Used in Egyptian embalming. Used in cooking.

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clary sage essential oilAroma: earthy, floral, fruity.

Soothing. Pleasurable.

Benefit and use: acne; amenorrhea; asthma; boils; colic; coughing; dandruff; dysmenorrhea; dry skin; exhaustion; flatulence; hair loss; high blood pressure; intestinal cramping; menstrual pain; muscular aches & pains; nerves; sore throat; stress.

Points of interest: native to the Mediterranean basin.

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clove essential oilAroma: warm and spicy. Mentally invigorating.

Benefit and use: cognitive support and brain health. Abdominal spasm; bacterial infection; bronchitis; flatulence; flu; fungal infection; gum disease; muscle pain; nausea; pain relief; parasitic infection; rheumatism; ringworm; scabies; stomach cramp; tired limbs; toothache; verrucas; viral skin infection; warts

Points of interest: also known as oil of clove. Very long history as relieving toothache. Culinary uses.

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coffee essential oilAroma: strong, rich, and (of course) the scent is coffee

Benefit and use: energizing in diffusion and perfumery.

Points of interest: seems to have originated in Ethiopia. It has become a vital cash crop in many developing countries.

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cypress essential oilAroma: woody, fresh, coniferous.

Benefit and use: emotional support; aids concentration. Astringent; for excessive perspiration; hemorrhoids; menorrhagia; oily skin; rheumatism; varicose veins

Points of interest: biblical references; oldest living cypress is in Iran and estimated at 4,000 years old. The cypress has been a symbol of mourning since classical antiquity. In Jewish tradition its wood was used to build Noah’s Ark.

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Eucalyptus citriodora essential oil

eucalyptus citriodora essential oilAroma: sweet lemon. Energizing and uplifting but not over-stimulating.

Benefit and use: asthma; bacterial skin infection; candida; fever; fungal skin infection; insect bites; insect repellent; muscular injury; respiratory tract conditions; sores; wounds

Points of interest: tall gum tree in Australia. First described in 1848. It is also known as the lemon eucalyptus.

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Eucalyptus Globulus Essential Oil

eucalyptus globulus essential oilAroma: woody, earthy, fresh, medicinal.

Benefit and use: arthritis; bronchitis; catarrh; cystitis; fever; infectious disease; muscular aches & pains; parasitic infection; respiratory infection; rheumatism; sinusitis; urinary infection.

Points of interest: tall Australian tree, commonly known as southern blue gum. Also used as an herbal tea.

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frankincense essential oilAroma: Frankincense evokes spirituality. The oil is sweeter, cleaner and less pungent than the resin when it is burned as incense.  

Benefit and use: anxiety; asthma; bronchitis; extreme coughing; scars; stress; stretch marks.

Points of interest: a tree resin, typically from Ethiopia, that has been used since ancient times. Mentioned in the book of Exodus, Frankincense was one of the gifts given to the baby Jesus by the three wise men.

Aroma: rosy and floral. Sometimes rather strong. Many people consider the aroma an acquired taste. Calming and helpful with anxiety..

Benefit and use: acne; bruises; circulatory disorders; depression; dermatitis; emotional crisis; endometriosis; eczema; fatigue; female reproductive disorders; head lice; hemorrhoids; infertility; menopausal symptoms; menstrual cramps; minor burns; neuralgia; nervous skin disorders; premenstrual syndrome; raynaud’s disease; ringworm; sebum balancing; stress-related conditions; ulcers; urinary and liver tonic; varicose veins; wounds

Points of interest: A perennial plant grown for its attractive flowers and foliage.

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geranium essential oilAroma: rosy and floral. Sometimes rather strong. Many people consider the aroma an acquired taste. Calming and helpful with anxiety..

Benefit and use: acne; bruises; circulatory disorders; depression; dermatitis; emotional crisis; endometriosis; eczema; fatigue; female reproductive disorders; head lice; hemorrhoids; infertility; menopausal symptoms; menstrual cramps; minor burns; neuralgia; nervous skin disorders; premenstrual syndrome; raynaud’s disease; ringworm; sebum balancing; stress-related conditions; ulcers; urinary and liver tonic; varicose veins; wounds

Points of interest: A perennial plant grown for its attractive flowers and foliage.

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grapefruit essential oilAroma: energising but not too strong or overpowering. CItrusy and tangy.

Benefit and use: acne; cellulitis; dull skin; nervous exhaustion; oily skin; toxin build-up; water retention.

Points of interest: the grapefruit originated in Barbados as an accidental citrus hybrid, being a cross between the pomelo and sweet orange.

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jasmine essential oilAroma: exquisite and unique deep and rich floral aroma. Uplifting in mood. Jasmine Absolute is considered an aphrodisiac.

Benefit and use: depression; dry skin; exhaustion; labor pains; sensitive skin

Points of interest: the genus name of the Jasmine vine, of which there are many varieties, is derived from the Persian Yasameen (“gift from God”) through Arabic and Latin. It is cultivated for the characteristic fragrance of its blooms.

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juniper essential oilAroma: woody, sweet, and crisp. Calming but with none of the sedative effect associated with clary sage or chamomile. 

Benefit and use: acne; cellulitis; colds; flu; gout; hemorrhoids; obesity; rheumatism

Points of interest: junipers are widespread coniferous trees of the cypress family. Juniper berries are a spice seed used in many cuisines. Primary flavoring in gin. A flexible wood used in hunting bows. Juniper ash was used as a source of calcium by the Navajo people.

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kunzea essential oilAroma: strong, crisp, fresh, woody. Thought to have great potential in the emotional sphere.

Benefit and use: respiratory support; arthritis; congestion; sinus headaches; inflammation; sore muscles; relaxation; insect repellent; muscular aches; joint pain; nervous tension; emotional pain; emotional blockages.

Points of interest: in the myrtle family. Native to Australia and Tasmania. The Kunzea shrub produces small, white, fragrant flowers. Used by Australian Aboriginals to relieve irritated skin, muscle tightness and pain.

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lavender essential oilAroma: distinctive floral, sweet and herbaceous.

Benefit and use: antibacterial. Relaxing, calms, promotes sleep. Allergies; acne; anxiety; athlete’s foot; asthma; bruises; burns; chicken pox; colic; cuts; dysmenorrhea; cystitis; depression; dermatitis; earache; insect bites; flatulence; headache; hypertension; insect repellent; vertigo; sprains; migraine; itching; labor pains; oily skin; rheumatism; scabies; scars; sores; strains; stress; stretch marks; whooping cough.

Points of interest: very often seen in a Top 10 list of essential oils. There are more than 400 species of lavender.

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lemon essential oilAroma: distinctive fresh lemon fragrance. More concentrated than lemon rinds. 

Benefit and use: great for clearing rooms of offensive odors like cigarette smoke. Athlete’s foot; colds; chilblains; dull skin; corns; flu; spots; varicose veins; oily skin; warts.

Points of interest: Important to distinguish the essential oil from the furniture polish. Extensive culinary use. The true origin of the lemon is not known. However, it was likely first grown in Assam, which is in northeast India.

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lemongrass essential oilAroma: very strong, fresh lemon aroma. Uplifting and invigorating. Emotionally boosting.

Benefit and use: insect repellent. Acne; gastrointestinal disorders; muscular aches & pains; indigestion; physical & mental exhaustion.

Points of interest: also called Citronella Grass. Used in household disinfectants and soaps.

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mandarin essential oilAroma: very sweet orange aroma. Said to have the sweetest aroma of all the citrus oils.

Benefit and use: acne; dull skin; insomnia; oily skin; scars; spots; stress; wrinkles. 

Points of interest: small citrus tree. Fruit resembles orange. May get its name because the color is reminiscent of the robes worn by the Mandarin class in China.

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myrrh essential oilAroma: earthy, woody and emotionally grounding and mellowing.

Benefit and use: athlete’s foot; amenorrhea; dysmenorrhea; bronchitis; halitosis; chapped skin; gums; hemorrhoids; itching; toothache; ringworm.

Points of interest: a gum or resin extracted from small, thorny trees of the genus Commiphora. For all of recorded history myrrh has been used in perfume, medicine and incense.Myrrh was one of the gifts the wise men gave to the baby Jesus.

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neroli essential oilAroma: intensely floral and citrusy.Sweet and exotic.

Benefit and use: depression; frigidity; insomnia; mature skin; scars; shock; stress; stretch marks

Points of interest: produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. Introduced in the 17th century by Anne Orsinin, Princess of Nerola, Italy. Commonly used in the fragrance industry. Reportedly included in the secret Coca Cola recipe.

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nutmeg essential oilAroma: strong, distinctive, and stimulating. Supports focus and motivation.

Benefit and use: gastrointestinal spasm; nausea; upset stomach; rheumatism; arthritis; muscular aches & pains; muscular injury; menstrual cramps; nervousness; tension.

Points of interest: The oil is produced through steam distillation of ground nutmeg. Widely used in culinary applications. Native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.

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orange essential oilAroma: orange, of course. Reducing stress, controlling anxiety, relaxing and uplifting.

Benefit and use: colds; constipation; dull skin; flatulence; flu; gums; mouth; slow digestion; stress.

Points of interest: produced from the rind produced from the rind of orange. Very affordable. Symbol of love and marriage in many cultures. Origin is in India.

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patchouli essential oilAroma: rich and earthy fragrance. Calming and grounding.

Benefit and use: acne; athlete’s foot; chapped skin; dermatitis; eczema; fatigue; frigidity; hair care; insect repellent; mature skin; oily skin; psoriasis; stress.

Points of interest: a bushy plant native to the tropical regions of Asia. Its heavy scent has been used in perfumes for centuries. The hippies of the 1960s were into Patchouli.

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peppermint essential oilAroma: familiar and pleasant. Can be quite intense. Fresh, minty and uplifting.

Benefit and use: exhaustion; asthma; digestion; colic; flu; headache; flatulence; sinusitis; nausea; scabies; vertigo.

Points of interest: originally indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. Now grown worldwide. Peppermint leaves are used to extract essential oils for the production of flavorings. Chewing gum and toothpastes are major consumers of peppermint. Peppermint oil contains a high concentration of pesticides. Rodent repellent. Many culinary uses.

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rose otto essential oilAroma: strong odor of rose. Helpful for stress.

Benefit and use: depression; eczema; frigidity; mature skin; menopause; stress.

Points of interest: also known as the attar of roses. An essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of rose. More costly than rose absolute because it takes more rose petals to produce.

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rosemary essential oilAroma: medium to strong. Fresh and herbaceous. Refreshing, stimulating, invigorating.

Benefit and use: aching muscles; dandruff; arthritis; dull skin; exhaustion; neuralgia; gout; hair care; muscle cramping; rheumatism; poor circulation.

Points of interest: a woody, aromatic, perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean region. First mention found on stone tablets dating back to 5000 BC. Widely used in medicine and cooking.

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sandalwood essential oilAroma: rich, deep, woody and floral

Benefit and use: bronchitis;  depression; chapped skin; dry skin;  sensitive skin; leucorrhea; oily skin; scars; stress; laryngitis; stretch marks.

Points of interest: made from various species of the sandalwood tree. Rated as one of the world’s most expensive woods. Used in the manufacture of high end fragrances, soaps and cosmetics. Used in Ayurvedic medicine. Sacred in some Asian religions.

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siberian fir needle essential oilAroma: crisp conifer. Calming. Emotionally balancing. Less stimulating than other conifer oils. 

Benefit and use: anger; anxiety; arthritis; colds/flu; confidence; digestion; muscle recovery; pain; respiratory issues

Points of interest: quite affordable. SIberian fir is from a region east of the Volga River.

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tea tree essential oilAroma: fresh, a bit medicinal, woody, herbaceous earthy

Benefits and use:athlete’s foot; Acne; candida; chicken pox; cold sores; colds; sinusitis;  migraine; corns; cuts; flu; insect bites; itching; oily skin; warts; ringworm; sores; whooping cough; spots; urethritis; .

Points of interest: the Tea Tree is related to Myrtle. Native to Australia. The name may have originated from Captain James Cook’s reference to having used one of these shrubs to make an infusion in lieu of regular tea.  Poisonous if taken internally.

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thyme essential oilAroma: strong, fresh, herbaceous, a bit medicinal.

Benefit and use:  sore throat; poor circulation; Arthritis; colds; cuts; dermatitis; flu; scabies; insect bites; laryngitis; lice; oily skin; muscle aches.

Points of interest: flowering plant in the mint family. Native to the Mediterranean region. Used in many cuisines. Medicinal use as an antiseptic.

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valerian essential oilAroma: warm, woody, balsamic. Can be pungent, in which case you can soften the aroma with lavender or patchouli.

Benefit and use: insomnia; nervous tension; migraine; nervous indigestion.

Points of interest: perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. Used as a medicinal herb from ancient times. Galen (c.160 AD) prescribed it for insomnia. 

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Aroma: woody, earthy, smoky, spicy, herbaceous. Calming and grounding. Good for meditation and prayer.

Benefit and use: nervous tension; muscular spasm; muscular pain; menstrual cramps; premenstrual syndrome; restlessness; acne; arthritis; cuts; depression; exhaustion; insomnia; muscular aches; oily skin; rheumatism; sores; stress.

Points of interest: a species of tropical grass native to India. Used as an insect repellent.

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ylang ylang essential oilAroma: rich, exotic, sweet, floral and even a bit rubbery. Helpful for stress, anxiety and depression. Considered to be an aphrodisiac. 

Benefits and use: anxiety; depression; frigidity; hypertension; palpitations; stress.

Points of interest: a tropical tree native to India, Indochina, Malaysia, to Queensland, Australia.

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Diffusers

Choosing a diffuser can actually be quite a difficult thing, but only for an essential oil/aromatherapy purist. Our focus here is on the newcomer to essential oils and aromatherapy. And we would like to get her of him going on this wonderful journey without over thinking the choice of diffuser.

Diffusers are not a major expense. So if you make a mistake, it’s not a big deal. Our best advice is not to get hung up on it. Just follow diffuser popularity on Amazon.

Here are our 3 top choices for diffusers.

innogear diffuserThe number one top seller on Amazon is the Innogear Essential Oil Diffuser. And, hey, you can’t argue with that many positive ratings.  

But to tell you the truth, we personally  just don’t like the way it looks. We prefer the ambiance of this highly rated wood grained diffuser by Pure Daily Care.woodgrain diffuser

asakuki wi-fi diffuserAnd if you want Wi-Fi/Alexa compatibility, here is this (currently) Amazon’s Choice Asakuki model.

Conclusion

What we have covered here is a pretty good introduction to what are essential oils for.  And it lists what we think is the Top 40. But it only scratches the surface on the information available out there on essential oils. We highly recommend aromaweb.com as a comprehensive source of information on all things related to essential oils and aromatherapy.

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