Italian Cooking Trifecta: 3 Essential Oils for Gut Health

The sharp, sweet wood scent of fennel… The herbaceous, rich Earth scent of oregano… The crisp, spicy candy scent of anise…

Lovers of Italian cuisine will recognize these flavors as the bedrock of many classic, traditional, and beloved dishes. 

They may also be your gut’s saviors – distilled down to their essential oils.

The vast and complicated world of essential oils is ancient and robust. Without getting too far into the weeds on what essential oils are and can do, let’s talk instead about how you can use them. 

There are three ways that essential oils can be applied to achieve a medicinal purpose:

  1. Inhalation: In age-old writings, we often read about the use of incense, or “good smells” being beneficial for ailing patients. Because the oil droplets become diffused and dispersed throughout the air before it moves through your respiratory mucous membranes, you’re pretty safe using them this way. 
  1. Topical:  Think about getting a massage with essential oils worked right into your skin – there’s a reason! While its properties are more concentrated than via inhalation, the oils still have to move through layers of skin in order to have an effect. 
  1. Ingestion: This is a common sticking point – some people believe that no oils are safe for ingestion. But when you’re cooking or fixing a drink, using a small amount (one drop or so) of essential oils is usually safe and effective! One of the more effective ways to make sure your essential oil has its intended effect is to ingest it in a capsule – that way, the pill breaks down in the gut and releases the oil there. 

And as our knowledge of the microbiome expands, so does our knowledge of how to feed it, what will make it tic, and how to soothe it.

Essential oils, unsurprisingly, can play a role!

Let’s look at a few essential oils that can bolster gut health. 

Oregano Essential Oils

Oregano is specifically lauded for its ability to support the repair of the intestinal lining. 

In oregano oil, you’ll find phenols, terpenes, and terpenoids, which are fantastic antioxidants and help prevent cell damage. 

It’s also been found to be extremely effective in eradicating Candida, a harmful yeast that causes thrush, yeast infections, and has been associated with Crohn’s disease and colitis. 

That carvacrol phenol has even been linked to weight loss!

Oregano can be applied topically on the belly, inhaled in incense or oil diffusers, or ingested in capsules!

Fennel Essential Oil

Ever had a gut spasm? You may have had one without realizing it – compulsive coughs, hiccups, and cramps can all be gut spasms. 

Luckily, fennel has a relaxing effect on spasmodic gut episodes. Fennel seed oil has been shown to reduce muscle spasms in the intestines and also to increase and disperse cell movement.

Because fennel is a volatile oil, meaning it evaporates more quickly, it is useful more readily. Studies have proven that fennel oil can help stimulate movement, relieve gas, and prevent diarrhea. 

Fennel seeds even used to be eaten during Lent to quell hunger pangs.

You can use fennel essential oil the same as oregano – rub a bit on your belly, put it in the oil diffuser, ingest it in a capsule, or even cook with it!

Anise Essential Oil

Since anise essential oils contain antioxidants, it naturally helps to prevent ulcers and lesions in the gut. 

It’s also fiber heavy, which means it encourages digestive regularity. Anise essential oil contains the compounds estragole, eugenol, anethole, pipene, d-terpineol, linalool and limonene. 

Among other things, those compounds can ease IBS pain, reduce ulcers and inflammation, and counteract the effects of alcohol on the gut.

Plus, it can decrease bloating and promote enzyme activity!

Rub on the belly, diffuse it or burn it as incense, or ingest in a capsule!

Essential oils are powerful ancient tools. They don’t simply smell nice – they are also distilled enough to chemically alter the microbiome because of the medicinal properties of the plants from which they came.

The next time you’re experiencing discomfort, give one of these Italian cooking staples a try!

Editor’s note: If you are going to use any essential oil topically or especially internally, be sure to use 100% pure, Grade A, therapeutic oil. Remember to use a carrier oil prior to topical application, particularly with sensitive skin. A few high quality brands to get you started on your essential oil quest are Ancient Wisdom Essential Oils, Plant Therapy, Young Living and DoTerra. Happy Scenting!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.