Ever since I first heard about using aromatherapy for jet lag, I’ve been fascinated with learning everything I can about what are essential oils and how to use them.
It has been a truly interesting journey. Every so often I come across yet another article that has even more information about the many ways to use aromatherapy and essential oils for health and home.
As talk of the benefits of essential oils becomes more widespread, more and more people are trying to understand what are essential oils and how they work. I’ve put together this introduction to essential oils for beginners so you too can start to enjoy the many benefits too.
I’ve put together this introduction to essential oils for beginners so you too can start to enjoy the many essential oil benefits.
So What Exactly are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated natural oils that are extracted from leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, berries, wood and roots.
These oils have a much higher concentration of components as compared to the dried herbs themselves. This is because it takes large quantities of herbs to extract as little as an ounce of essential oil.
Extracting some oils takes as much as hundreds of pounds of plant materials. The large amounts of raw material used to extract the oil also explain why essential oils cost so much.
Imagine this – it takes as much as 30 pounds of lavender herbs to extract about 15 ml of lavender essential oil.
Most plants naturally produce essential oils for various reasons. The 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 essential oils, which start the healing process.
Another reason that plants produce essential oils is to attract insects for pollination and re-creation.
Some plants produce these oils to use as a defense mechanism. Their oils repel invading organisms such as bacteria and animals, protecting them from harm.
The essential oil extracted from each plant is unique to that particular plant. Each oil contains a combination of chemical compounds in a ratio that is specific to that particular oil. This gives each oil its own unique properties and healing capabilities.
Where Do Essential Oils Come From?
Essential oils can be obtained from almost all plant components, from the flowers and leaves to the bark, fruit, roots, and resin.
Some oils are extracted using a distillation or pressing process while others are extracted using a solvent or some other process.
For instance, lavender oil is harnessed from the flowers of the plant, cinnamon oil from the bark of the cinnamon tree and lemon oil from the peel of the lemon fruit.
Certain plants can produce multiple chemical variants of the same essential oil, which are acquired from different parts of the plant. Some of these parts produce a large amount of oil, while others produce just a smidgen.
The quality of the oil and its potency depends upon a number of factors, from the subspecies of the plant to soil conditions, the time of year and even the time of day that the oil is harvested.
A Look at the Different Extraction Methods
Essential oils can be extracted from plants through several different methods, including pressing, distillation, solvent, and maceration. The exact method used depends on which part of the plant is being used to extract the oil. The type of plant also plays a role in deciding which method of extraction would work best to get the highest yield without affecting the quality and properties of the oil.
The exact method used depends on which part of the plant the oil is being extracted from. A lot of research has also gone into determining which method of extraction would work best to get the highest yield from a particular plant without affecting the quality and properties of the oil.
Regardless of the method used, the extract typically consists of a highly concentrated essential oil that has the distinctive characteristics of the plant from which it was extracted. This is in terms of the fragrance as well as the healing properties of the plant.
Here’s a brief look at each method.
• Pressing Method- Commonly used with citrus fruit, the pressing method extracts the oil through a technique that involves pushing the fruit peels through a press. Oily fruits and plants are best suited for this technique. Orange oil, for example, is extracted from orange skins through the pressing method.
• Distillation Method – Using a specially designed still, select plant materials are dunked in boiling hot water to create steam. This is then cooled by a network of coils. The resultant condensation consists of a combination of water and oil. Water and oil do not mix, making it easy to extract the oils which are separated from the water. Read more about how steam distillation works.
• Maceration Method – In the maceration method, a “carrier” or fixed oil is mixed with the plant material and set out in the sun. Over a period of time, the carrier oil is infused with the plant’s essence. Heat sources other than the sun are often used to speed up the process. Throughout the process, more plant material is added to produce a more potent oil.
• Solvent Method – Through a multi-step process, certain plant and flower oils can be extracted using alcohol and other solvents, which wring the essential oil from the plant materials.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
The structure of essential oils allows you to mix them with other oils and creams or use in a variety of ways to affect your emotional and physical well-being.
The reason essential oils work this way is that the oils are lipophilic, which means they dissolve easily in lipids or fats. This property allows them to cross the cell membrane affecting you in very healing ways.
When you consider that not even antibiotics can pass the cell membrane, it gives you a better picture of how potent essential oils can be and how they can help boost your health.
What Are The Benefits Of Essential Oils?
Each essential oil contains its own distinct combination of ingredients that impart each oil with its own unique set of healing and medicinal properties.
Different oils support different body systems.
Some oils are great for cleansing and oxygenating, some work to calm the mind and relax, and others work to lift the spirit and energize.
Some oils can be used by themselves while others are used in blends to increase their efficacy and to improve distribution.
Here a snapshot of some of the physical and psychological benefits of some of the more commonly used essential oils:
• Grapefruit – Provides relief from fatigue
• Lavender, Chamomile, Neroli – Has a calming effect, which is great for anyone struggling with insomnia
• Rosemary – Enhances memory
• Frankincense – Excellent for meditation
• Ylang Ylang, Rose, Basil, Chamomile – Act as anti-depressants
• Rosemary, Geranium, Tea Tree – Help control acne outbreaks
• Rose, Neroli, Lavender – Soothe dry, chapped skin
• Tea Tree – Soothes insect bites, treats fungal infections and athletes’ feet
• Eucalyptus, Thyme, Peppermint – Alleviate respiratory ailments such as sinusitis, sore throats, coughs, bronchitis
• Myrrh – Masks bad breath
• Clove – Calms toothaches
• Peppermint, Rosemary – Soothes headaches
• Anise, Marjoram, Black Pepper – Alleviate joint pains, migraines and arthritis symptoms
Read this detailed article to know more about the many health benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils.
Essential Oils are Not the Same as Fragrances
Because of their unique and often exotic aromas, essential oils can easily be mistaken for fragrances or perfume oil. However, these are two distinctly different from each other.
Perfume oils and fragrances are created artificially from a combination of natural and synthetic compounds whereas essential oils are pure, all-natural extracts from plants and plant parts.
The aromas of essential oils are true to the plant from which they are extracted. Fragrances, on the other hand, are created to mimic specific smells from nature. Learn more about the difference between essential oils and fragrance oils.
The major difference that sets the two apart is that perfumes are used solely for cosmetic purposes, which is to smell more appealing. They do not offer the therapeutic benefits that essential oils do. However but they are cheaper to produce, they are the preferred alternative in the cosmetics, perfume, candle-making and soap making industries.
Safety Precautions to Keep in Mind When Using Essential Oils
Certain adverse reactions may occur when using pure essential oils. Some essential oils should not be used when pregnant.
Allergic reactions, too, may occur, especially when applied topically. Always administer an allergy test before committing fully to topical application.
When used with other medications, essential oils may react negatively. If you are on any prescription medications or have a chronic illness such as high blood pressure, epilepsy or liver disease, it is absolutely critical to take time to research the effects of essential oils against your own personal medical history. This will prevent any potential problems.
In addition to understanding what are essential oils, it is equally important to know how to use them safely so that you do not suffer any adverse reaction. Go here to read more how to use essential oils safely.
Why Use Essential Oils Over Other Alternatives?
From soothing teething infants to clearing acne in teenagers and helping with arthritis pain, the health benefits of essential oils are wide-ranging. More importantly, you can get the therapeutic benefits of essential oils without worrying about any adverse side effects.
These aer just some of the many reasons why essential oils are a much better alternative to prescription medicine:
Excellent Substitution for Prescription Drugs – One practical benefit for using essential oils is, of course, their substitutive nature. Although it is our opinion that 100% pure essential oils that carry no harmful side effects are better to support the body and its functions, we recommend that you consult your physician before replacing your prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Cheap but Effective Alternative to Prescription Medicine – Though money may be the last thing on your mind when it comes to your health, it is worth noting that the expense of essential oils pales in comparison to prescription drugs. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, the application used in most procedures requires only a drop or two of oil, which means that a tiny bottle will last a long time. For example, a 15 ml bottle contains approximately 250 drops, which will last you a long time.
They last a long time – Essential oils do have a shelf life. But when stored properly these oils will remain unspoiled for years. On the other hand, most medicines and medicinal products must be replaced every couple of years.
Offer Great Versatility – They are versatile when it comes to the range of patients they are capable of supporting and the conditions they can be used for. The health of everyone, from the very old to your infant baby, can be fortified with the aid of essential oils in the appropriate dosage. These oils even come in handy when supporting livestock or pets.
Excellent for General Purpose Use – Apart from providing health benefits, essential oils can be repurposed for household and hygienic applications. For instance, if you’re looking for something that might serve your dental hygiene needs, cinnamon or clove are your go-to essential oils. If you want to maintain your skin’s health, frankincense and lavender will do the trick. Lavender supports the healing process from burns or even sunburn. Essential oils are commonly used in deodorants, shampoos, toilet and laundry soaps and in detergents.
Where Can I Buy Essential Oils?
You can find different brands of essential oils at varying prices at several online and offline stores. Don’t be tempted to buy cheap essential oils from unknown brands. You may end up with some cheap substitute that will do more harm than good.
When buying essential oils, always buy only from reputed brands.
Essential oils vary greatly in quality and price. This disparity is because of the rarity of the plant being used, the plant’s growing/climate conditions, the country of origin of the botanical and the quality standards, processes and procedures of the distiller or manufacturer of the essential oils.
Oils are mostly sold in sizes of 5 ml – 20 ml glass bottles. The dark or amber shading of the glass helps absorb outside light and keep the essential oil at its best natural state.
I highly recommend using essential oils manufactured by Plant Therapy. Their 7 x 7 Starter Kit is excellent for anyone who is just getting started with aromatherapy.
For more advanced users looking to expand their use of essential oils, Plant Therapy offers a decently-priced set of 16 oils.
Not sure how to use these oils? Here you will find plenty of information on how to use the different oils and what are their benefits.
If you want to experiment a bit and harness the benefits of several oils at once, you’ll find lots of recipes for essential oil blends and other DIY products you can make using different combinations of oils.
The right set for you will depend on what you intend to use essential oils for and where you are on your aromatherapy journey.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your physician before using essential oils. See Full Disclaimer here.