Your guide to Essential Oils –
What are ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant. If you have ever enjoyed the gift of a rose, a walk by a field of lavender, or the smell of freshly cut mint, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. Essential oils can lift the mood, calm the senses, and elicit powerful emotional responses. Yet the use of essential oils goes well beyond their fragrant appeal. Essential oils have been used throughout history in many cultures for their health-promoting properties. Modern trends toward more holistic approaches to self care and growing scientific validation of alternative health practices are driving a rediscovery of the profound health benefits of essential oils. Many have powerful cleansing properties. Their unique chemical structure allows them to deliver targeted benefits through topical application. Certain oils may be used as dietary aids to promote vitality and well-being.
The science behind essential oils
When you hear the word “volatile,” you may think it holds a negative connotation; however, in the case of essential oils, volatility refers to a substance’s ability to change its state quickly. The chemical makeup of volatile aromatic compounds in essential oils allow them to disperse quickly through the air. This is why you can instantly smell the potent aroma of an essential oil from the moment you open the bottle—even from a distance. As volatile aromatic compounds move quickly through the air, you will experience the scent when the compounds interact directly with sensors in the brain. (You’ll learn more about how essential oils interact with the brain in chapters two and three).With over 3,000 types of volatile aromatic compounds discovered so far, it is important to note that these compounds greatly determine the benefit, aroma, and nature of each essential oil. Because of unique chemical makeup, each essential oil will vary from species to species, and even from plant to plant.
How are essential oils made?
Now you know that essential oils are derived from plants, but you may be wondering, “How does it work?” It is important to note that not all essential oils are created equal. The purity of an oil can change depending on geographic location, distillation methods, weather, and other factors. Additionally, no matter how well a plant is selected, cared for, and harvested, the quality of an essential oil can either be preserved or destroyed during the distillation process. Because of the attention to detail and precision necessary in distillation, it becomes less of a process and more of an art form. Distillers must be precise and pay careful attention to harvesting methods, temperatures, time of distillation, the amount of pressure used, etc.
How does a plant become an essential oil?
The exact process for producing an essential oil will vary depending on what type of plant the oil comes from. However, the basic idea is that plants go through a specific distillation process using special machinery in order to separate the essential oil from its plant parts. As mentioned earlier, the essential oil hides within different parts from the plant, often in microscopic amounts. During the distillation process, the machinery will separate the essential oil from its original plant part. For example, when citrus oils are produced, machinery is used to separate the essential oil from the rind of the fruit.