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Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts obtained from various botanicals. They are extracted through distillation or cold pressing the leaves, flowers, bark, berries, or roots of certain plants, herbs, and, trees.
The botanicals and their specific parts used in the extraction process determine the aroma and the benefits of that essential oil.
Understanding Essential Oils: What They Are and How They Work
Most plants produce complex compounds naturally for different reasons. These compounds are known as essential oils.
In some plants, these compounds or oils primarily act as healing mechanisms, helping the plant to regenerate after any damage. When a plant part is bruised or damaged, it starts secreting its special compounds, initiating the healing process.
Other plants produce essential oils through their flowers and flower parts. The aroma of the oil attracts insects, which encourages pollination and re-creation.
Still others produce these volatile compounds as a defense mechanism. The aroma of these oils repels invading organisms such as bacteria, keeping the plant safe from harm.
The essential oil extracted from each plant is unique to that particular plant and is composed of chemical compounds or a combination of these compounds in a ratio specific to each oil. Each type of oil in turn has its own unique properties and healing capabilities.
Which Plant Parts Are Used To Extract Essential Oils?
Essential oils may be extracted from various plant parts, including flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, roots, and resin. The plant part used to extract the oil depends on the type of plant.
For instance, lavender essential oil is extracted by steam-distilling lavender flowers, while sandalwood essential oil is extracted from the bark of the sandalwood tree. Lemon essential oil is obtained by cold pressing the peel of lemons.
Certain plants can produce multiple chemical variants of essential oils that are extracted from different parts of the same plant. For example, cinnamon essential oil is obtained from the bark of the cinnamon tree while cassia oil is extracted from the leaves of the cinnamon tree. Both oils have slightly different aromas and healing properties.
Essential oils have a much higher concentration of components as compared to the plant part from which it is extracted. This is because it takes a lot of raw material to extract a drop of essential oil.
It can take as much as hundreds of pounds of plant materials to extract as little as an ounce of essential oil. Take peppermint essential oil for example. One drop of the oil contains the equivalent of about 25 cups of peppermint tea!
The large quantity of raw material used to obtain a small amount of extract also explains why they cost so much. Imagine this – it takes as much as 30 pounds of lavender herbs to extract about 15 ml of lavender essential oil.
Main Extraction Methods Used
The two most common extraction methods are steam distillation and cold pressing.
The exact method used depends on the type of plant and which part of is being used to extract the oil. Both factors play a role in deciding which extraction method would work best to get the highest yield without compromising on the quality of the oil.
Steam distillation is a gentle and effective method of extracting essential oils, which are highly concentrated and prized for their therapeutic properties.
It involves heating water to create steam, which is passed through the plant material.
The steam helps to release the volatile compounds from the plant material, which are then carried with the steam into a condenser. The condenser cools the steam, causing it to condense into water and essential oil.
The essential oil is then collected and separated from the water. The process is carried out in a specially designed still.
The quality of the essential oil can be affected by factors such as the temperature of the steam, the pressure, and the duration of the distillation process.
Cold pressing involves the use of mechanical pressure to extract essential oils from the rind of citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits.
In this technique, the peels of one type of citrus fruit pass through a press under great pressure. The pressure punctures the oil sacs in the peel of the fruit, allowing the volatile oils to escape. These oils are collected in a collecting tray, filtered and bottled.
The process is called “cold pressing” because no heat is applied during the extraction, which preserves the delicate aromatic compounds of the oils.
Cold pressing is a popular method for extracting essential oils from the citrus aroma family. It is a simple and efficient extraction technique that produces high-quality oils.
In both methods, the extract consists of a highly concentrated essential oil that has the distinctive characteristics of the plant from which it was extracted. This includes the fragrance as well as the healing properties of the plant.
Reputed brands do not use any preservatives or other additives in their products.
How Do Essential Oils Work? The Science Behind The Therapy
Essential oils have been used for centuries for their therapeutic properties, but how do they actually work?
Essential oils work by interacting with the olfactory system (our sense of smell) and the limbic system (the part of the brain that regulates emotions and memories).
When inhaled, the molecules of essential oils can have a direct impact on our mood, emotions, and physiological responses.
Read a detailed explanation of What Is Aromatherapy & How It Works.
What Are The Benefits Of Essential Oils?
Every essential oil contains its own distinct combination of ingredients that impart each oil with its own unique set of therapeutic properties. Different oils support different body systems.
Here’s a look at some of the more popular essential oils and their uses. Click the links to read more about each essential oil and its benefits.
Lavender – Calming and relaxing
Peppermint – Energizing and refreshing
Tea tree – Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory
Roman Chamomile – Enhances sleep quality
Eucalyptus – Respiratory support
Lemon – Cleansing and uplifting
Frankincense – Grounding, good for meditation
Rose – Aphrodisiac
Geranium – Supports skin health
Rosemary – Boosts focus and memory
How To Use Essential Oils For Aromatherapy
There are a number of different ways to use essential oils for aromatherapy benefits. Here’s a quick look at some of the more popular methods:
Use an aroma diffuser – A diffuser is a device that disperses volatile molecules into the air, allowing you to breathe in the scent and enjoy the therapeutic benefits. To use a diffuser, add a few drops of essential oil to the water in the diffuser and turn it on.
Inhale the aroma directly – If you don’t have a diffuser you can still get the benefits of aromatherapy by inhaling the scent directly from the bottle. Another option is to put a few drops on a cotton ball or handkerchief and inhale.
Add to massage oils – Creating a massage oil with essential oils and a carrier oil enhances the therapeutic benefits of a massage.
Apply topically to relieve pain – For topical applications, it’s important to blend a small amount of concentrated oil with a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation. These are the best essential oils for pain relief.
Carry a personal aromatherapy inhaler – A personal aromatherapy inhaler is a nifty little device that allows you to get the benefits of essential oils on the go.
Use essential oils in the bath
Use essential oils in the shower
What’s The Difference Between Essential Oils And Carrier Oils?
I see many people using the terms essential oils and carrier oils interchangeably but that’s wrong. These are two different types of oils with completely different properties and uses.
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts derived from various plant parts. They are called “essential” because they contain the essence of the plant’s fragrance and other natural compounds that have therapeutic properties.
Carrier oils are derived from the fatty parts of plants such as seeds, nuts, and kernels. They have their own therapeutic properties but are generally less potent than essential oils. Coconut, olive, almond, and jojoba are some examples of carrier oils.
Essential oils are used in very small amounts for their aroma and therapeutic benefits, and they are usually diluted with a carrier oil before topical use. Carrier oils are usually used in larger amounts to dilute the concentrated extracts and “carry” them onto the skin.
Choosing the Right Essential Oils for Your Needs: Factors to Consider
There are many different types of oils, each with its own unique properties and benefits. It’s important to choose the right oil for your specific needs.
For example, lavender is the best essential oil if you want to use aromatherapy for stress relief or better sleep. On the other hand, peppermint is the best essential oil if you’re using aromatherapy to keep you awake and energized.
Diffusing peppermint essential oil late evening will actually disrupt your sleep patterns.
In addition to the type of essential oil, it’s also important to consider the quality of the product.
How To Buy Essential Oils
This article on Ultimate Guide to Buying Essential Oils can walk you through the process of choosing the best oil for your needs.
In short, these are a few things to keep in mind when comparison shopping:
Look for high-quality essential oils that are pure, organic, and sustainably sourced. You can also look for oils that have been tested by a third-party laboratory and that are free of synthetic additives or contaminants.
Look for labels that explicitly state ‘100% essential oils’. Avoid products with labels that say ‘Made with natural ingredients’ or ‘Made with essential oils’. More likely than not, these contain only a small percentage of essential oil. They may smell good but won’t have any beneficial properties.
Buy aroma oils only from reputed brands. The top three most trusted essential oil brands and the three that I can vouch for are:
Precautions to Keep in Mind
Although essential oils can provide many benefits, they can also pose risks if not used properly. These are a few safety precautions to keep in mind when using these highly concentrated extracts:
Avoid use when you’re pregnant or nursing. Studies are still inconclusive regarding the effects of aromatherapy on pregnant or nursing women. My strong advice is it’s better to err on the side of safety and avoid altogether.
Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut oil before applying to your skin. Never apply undiluted essential oil topically. These oils are highly concentrated and could irritate the skin if applied directly without dilution.
Avoid using citrus oils topically if you’re going to be spending time outdoors. Citrus oils are photosensitive and could cause a reaction from sun exposure.
Avoid ingesting oils. While the FDA has a list of oils that can be taken internally, it’s best to exercise caution before doing this. These are highly concentrated extracts and can be toxic in large quantities. Before ingesting any essential oil, research its safety thoroughly and consult a healthcare professional.
How To Get Started With Aromatherapy
As with any type of therapy, the key is to understand how to use these volatile oils the right way. This will help you get the benefits of aromatherapy without the downsides.
The three most important things to learn are how to buy, how to use, and how to store essential oils.
Take some time to read through these resources, which cover everything you need to know to get started with aromatherapy:
What Are Essential Oils: FAQs
What are organic essential oils?
Organic essential oils are extracted from plants that are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They are the purest form of essential oil you can buy.
Are essential oils the same as fragrance oils or perfume oils?
No, they are not the same. In fact, they are distinctly different from each other. Perfume oils and fragrances are created in labs using a combination of natural and synthetic compounds whereas essential oil extracts are pure, all-natural compounds from various plant parts. Difference Between Essential Oils And Fragrance Oils
Is aromatherapy safe?
Aromatherapy is considered generally safe when practiced in accordance with the safety guidelines. Make sure to understand the safety precautions to avoid any accidental adverse reactions.
Why are these natural oils so expensive?
The reason behind the high cost is that it takes large quantities of plant plants to extract a small quantity of essential oil. However, you only need to use a small amount as the oil is highly concentrated. The higher price is worth it when you consider that a couple of drops can go a long way.
Are essential oils safe for children?
It is very important to use caution and follow proper instructions when using aromatherapy for children. Children have more sensitive skin and may be more susceptible to adverse reactions. I recommend using essential oils from Plant Therapy’s KidSafe line. These are specially formulated for children and are safe when used in accordance with the guidelines provided.
Are essential oils safe for pets?
I will admit this is a grey area with inclusive studies and conflicting case reports. It’s okay to diffuse the aroma if your pet is around but I would avoid using them directly on my pet.
Can I get the benefits of aromatherapy when I’m outdoors and on the go?
Yes, there are ways you can get the benefits of aromatherapy everywhere you go. Wearing an essential oil necklace or bracelet or carrying a portable aromatherapy inhaler in your purse makes it easy to use essential oils anytime, anywhere. Buy a car essential oil diffuser to get the benefits of aromatherapy when driving.
Do essential oils have a shelf life?
Yes, essential oils have a shelf life. If an essential oil is past its expiry date, you may be able to use it for household purposes but it’s best not to use it in your diffuser or topically. Here’s what you need to know about the shelf life of essential oils.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your physician before using essential oils. See Full Disclaimer here.