Essential Oils – what they are
Essential oils are the fragrant, highly concentrated natural compounds that are found in plants. The oil is referred to as “essential” because it contains the essence of the plant’s fragrance from which it was derived. They are what give the plant its characteristic odor and contain the healing power of the plant. When used correctly, essential oils bring a wide range of health benefits since they have no side-effects.
A typical oil will contain more than 100 different chemical compounds, each of which exhibits a specific therapeutic property, and it is for this reason that many oils can be used for such a wide range of conditions. Virtually all essential oils possess antiseptic properties, but many also may have antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Essential oils are located in tiny secretory structures found in various parts of plants such as leaves (eucalyptus), berries (juniper), grasses (lemon grass), flowering tops (lavender), petals (rose), roots (angelica), zest of fruit (orange), resins (frankincense) and wood (cedar).
How are essential oils extracted?
Mostly, essential oils are obtained by steam distillation although other methods are also used. Citrus fruits are cold pressed by mechanical means, and the oil from delicate flowers is obtained by a more sophisticated method that produces what is known as an absolute –not an essential oil. This special process is used because delicate flowers can not withstand the high temperatures needed by steam distillation. Read more about absolute extraction here on Wiki. This process involves chemicals and is not desirable for aromatherapy, but is acceptable for use in fragrances.
After extraction, the resulting essential oil is a highly concentrated liquid that contains the aroma and therapeutic properties of the plant source from which it came. Nothing should be added or removed from this oil if it is to be used in aromatherapy. To achieve maximum therapeutic benefits, essential oils should be exactly as they came from the still – 100% pure and natural. A true essential oil.
Standardized essential oils
Some industries reprocess essential oils in order to make them meet a required odor or flavor ‘standard’. To achieve this, synthetic chemicals are added to the oil and often certain non-fragrance components are removed (rectification). This ‘standardization’ is common practice in the perfumery and flavor industries in order to maintain absolute consistency in fragrance or taste, and this is fine. However, this practice is totally unacceptable if the essential oil is for use in aromatherapy. See above on the absolute process to extract essential oils to further understand why.
Adulterated oils may often smell acceptable to the untrained nose, but because they are extended with synthetic chemicals or diluted with vegetable oil it makes them extremely poor value for the money. Not only that but if an oil has been standardized, adulterated or adjusted in any way it simply won’t be as effective. Adulterated essential oils are often the cause if skin sensitisation and irritation – completely the opposite of what we aim to achieve in aromatherapy.
Look for purity in essential oils
This is why you should always buy oils from established and trusted aromatherapy suppliers who specialize in supplying therapeutic essential oils for aromatherapy, and not the common commercial grade that has been adjusted to meet the requirements of the perfumery or flavoring industries. To meet the high quality for aromatherapy, an essential oil should be extracted from a single botanical species that has been botanically authenticated, and derived from a known country of origin.
To be 100% pure, nothing should be added or taken away from the oil after extraction. You, dear reader, should look for this information when researching where you want to purchase your essential oils from.
The science bit
The chemistry of an essential oil is extremely complex, and a typical example of an oil will contain an elaborate mixture of aromatic constituents such as alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ketones, lactones, phenols, terpenes and sesquiterpenes that combine to produce a unique set of therapeutic qualities.
This complex mixture of natural chemicals is what makes essential oils such effective healing agents; for example eucalyptus oil is refreshing and invigorating, eases muscular aches and pains, plus it is a very powerful antiseptic agent. This means that in aromatherapy there are several methods available to enjoy using your essential oils to promote physical and emotional health and well-being.
Health benefits of essential oils
Essential oils possess a wide range of healing properties that can be used effectively to keep you in the best of health as well as looking good. These health-giving benefits include improving the complexion of your skin by stimulating cellular renewal, easing aches and pains, balancing emotions and fighting bacteria, fungi and other forms of infection. Essential oils have an almost endless list of therapeutic uses, and science continues to discover more about them every year. For a comprehensive guide to the benefits of using essential oils, jump over to one of my favorite places, PositiveHealthWellness.com!
But to be sure of achieving textbook results, you must use oils of the very highest quality, sourced by experts, from the finest producing regions around the world. Although cheaper oils may appear to save you money, they will certainly not deliver the results that you are entitled to expect. Therefore, you will have wasted your hard-earned moolah. And above all, not all of these expected effects will be experienced by everyone. Read more about claims made about the benefits of using essential oils on my recent blog post on Essential Oils and Disclaimers post.