Essential oils and surgery (Part 1)


Surgery - some people find the thought terrifying, while others do not give it the concern it well deserves. As with so many things, the most appropriate response usually lies somewhere in between panic and apathy. The extent of the surgery and the potential outcome definitely play a role in how worried one might be, but there are some commonalities for most, if not all, surgical settings.


We usually have some control over the pre-operative and post-operative phases, and what we do in the pre-operative phase can affect the outcomes of both the surgical and post-operative phases. There are usually emotional as well as physical and physiological  changes that take place during this time period, and some of these changes can be very stressful, whether from emotional worries or physical pain and perhaps restriction of movement.


Fortunately, there are many plant extracts (i.e. whole herbs, tinctures, fixed oils, gels, infused oils, hydrosols, and essential oils) as well as other natural materials (i.e. clays, salts) that can assist us as we walk down this difficult path. This blog series will seek to describe how one can use some of the many essential oils and hydrosols both pre- and post-operatively in order to support the body's own abilities to fight infection and heal itself.

Preparing for surgery

Preparation for surgery starts several weeks prior to the actual surgical date. If you know you are going to have surgery, it is in your best interest to invest in building your terrain. Terrain is a similar concept to your "constitution." Eating well, getting the right amount of sleep, and exercising are all things you can do to build your body's health so that it is best prepared for the invasion and damage that surgery will invariably cause. The stronger your terrain, the less likely you are to develop a post-operative infection and the more likely you are to recover quickly afterwards.


If you know about your surgery for a month or so ahead of time, you might use some essential oils that are immune system tonics. Some tonic oil constituents that are also relatively safe to use before surgery would be those high in monoterpenes and monoterpenols. Some examples of oils you might wish to incorporate into your essential oil routines would be bergamot (Citrus bergamia), tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).


Essential oils that are high in sesquiterpenes, monoterpenols, and  sesquiterpenols are considered immune modulating (Shutes and Skipper, 2015). Some oils that could be used to prepare the immune system for the increased exposure to pathogens during surgery are clary sage (Salvia sclarea), yarrow (Achillea millefoleum), carrot seed (Daucas carota), Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), and vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) (Shutes and Skipper, 2015). Since essential oils that are high in these constituents are also often very skin-friendly, these oils could be used in body lotions, deodorants, and massage oils in the weeks leading up to the big day. They can also be used in aromasticks and diffusers, although vetiver is not a good oil to use in most diffusers as it is so viscous that it can damage the diffuser.


The American Society of Anesthesiologists (2015) recommends that every patient about to undergo surgery bring the bottles of all the supplements she/he is taking to discuss them with the anesthesiologist at the pre-surgical meeting.  The anesthesiologist may ask the you to discontinue use of the supplements up to two weeks before surgery. It is interesting to see this as the published policy, since, in reality, patients do not meet with the anesthesiologist until only several minutes before surgery, and may not even have a pre-surgical meeting with the surgeon until a few days before surgery.


It is extremely important to keep in mind that during a surgery an anesthesiologist will use some powerful chemical to keep you sedated.  This doctor has had in-depth extensive training, but she can only do her job properly if she has all of the pertinent information regarding your health status, which includes any supplements you are taking.  Usually, that means orally, and that would include any herbs or tinctures or other supplements you are taking, but since essential oils can also have interactions with allopathic drugs it is in your own best interest to let your doctor, and especially your anesthesiologist, know of any essential oils you are using on a regular basis. It would also be wise to discontinue use of any essential oils you may take internally at least two weeks before surgery, and be sure that any essential oils you are using topically or through inhalation are being used in less-than-therapeutic doses. If you can discontinue using them for these few weeks leading up to your surgery, it might lower your risk to do so.

Sample recipes

Tonic diffuser blend

Essential oils (EO): make a stock solution, then add the appropriate number of drops to your diffuser.  Diffuse for 15-30 minutes at a time, with several hours passing between diffusing sessions.

2 parts bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

1 part laurel leaf (Laurus nobilis)

1 part lemon (Citrus limon)

2 parts sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)


Immune Support Hand Lotion

Blend the following ingredients together in a clean 1 ounce PET bottle.

1 ounce unscented lotion

1 drop carrot seed (Daucus carota) EO

1 drop Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) EO

2 drops sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) EO

2 drops clary sage (Salvia sclarea)

Apply as needed for dry skin.

Coming up next:

** I apologize that I was unable to post the following sequels to this post on surgery. I hope to get more posted within the next couple of months. (dated 2 October 2019).


Part 2: Pre-operative emotions and contraindications for pre-operative essential oil use

Part 3: Recovering from anesthesia, including post-operative nausea and vomiting (PONV)

Part 4: Post-operative discomfort and immune support

Part 5: Dealing with post-operative sleep difficulties and bowel sluggishness

Part 6: Wound and tissue recovery


The American Society of Anesthesiologists. (2015). Herbal and dietary supplements and anesthesia.  Retrieved from


Shutes, J. & C. Skipper. (2015). Biochemical families information chart. French Aromatherapy Certification Course.

Write a comment

Comments: 2
  • #1

    Christina Caskey (Sunday, 05 February 2017 12:34)

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!

  • #2

    Maris (Wednesday, 02 October 2019 11:45)

    I am curious if you have addressed the other post surgical topics you mentioned. I don't see them on your blog page. Thanks.