Essential oil is the essence of aromatic plants. They are in liquid form and are volatile. Essential oils have been in use for thousands of years. Historical use of essential oils varied from culture to culture. Some examples of essential oils include lavender oil, myrrh and tea tree oil. Oils are not extracted from all aromatic plants. Commercial extraction of oil is not performed from guavas, pears, passion fruit, etc. Extracted oils find their use in perfumery, therapeutic use or food flavor industry.
Essential oils do not have the same composition of oils like olive oil or coconut oil. Unlike traditional oils, essential oils contain “Terpenes”. These are the organic compounds which give essential oils that healing touch. Essential oils also have that magical smell. While, some oils have nice smell, others may have an offending smell at first. Smells can act upon our brain and invoke emotions. Hence, aromatherapy uses essential oils for healing.
Essential oil is the life lines for their host plants. They provide protection for host plants against natural attacks from other insects. The essence also protects them from diseases caused by virus, bacteria and fungus. The plants have been on the face of earth much before humans existed. And, throughout their lifetime, they had been fighting insects and microbes which attack them. Because of this “experience”, the plants have adapted themselves to the nature. This adaptation has developed immune system which protects them. When humans use the oils in mild quantities, it protects them. When the usage is beyond a threshold, oils act against us. They act against us just like they act against insects. Such an attack would cause a lot of problems to humans and animals.
Extraction of Essential Oils
Essential oils are extracted from aromatic plants. To get the best quality, oil has to be extracted from the native of the plant. Again, to take an example, tea tree oil is native to Australia. The best tea tree oil will always be produced in Australia.
There are various methods of oil extraction. The real method of extraction depends on type of plant. Different plants have different levels of “essence content”. The most common methods of extraction are:
- Solvent Extraction
The most common method of extraction is distillation. Distillation also takes various forms like steam distillation, water distillation, etc. Steam distillation forces steam to pass over, the plant leaves or flowers. The evaporated steam is then cooled leaving behind oil and water. Since most oils are water insoluble, water and oil separation is easy. Lavender oil extraction follows this method. The components of lavender oil does not degrade by heating. Water distillation uses boiling water instead of steam.
Expression is a technique to extract oil from citrus fruits. Cold pressing of the fruit brings out a mixture of oil and fruit pulp. Oil is separated from the pulp, using different methods, depending on the fruit.
Solvent extraction uses solvents like chemicals, fats, carbon dioxide, etc. to extract the oil. This method is necessary for plants with low essence content. Flowers generally contain low essence content and extraction follows this method.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
You would find a lot of essential oils in the market with “Therapeutic Grade” claim. Up to this point, there is no such thing. There are no standards for quality essential oils. To sum it up, you can consider that there are two kinds of essential oils. Good and bad, that’s it. Either an oil is pure or it is impure. If an oil is impure, do not use it. It is difficult to distinguish between pure and impure oils, even for the experts. Having said that, I would suggest a couple of things:
- Check for the smell. It should smell natural.
- Check the labels. It should say 100% pure. Many oils come blended with carrier oils to cut the price. Quality takes a back seat.
Always use your instincts and judgements and never get carried away by endorsements. You should use only pure oils for aromatherapy or application on skin. Some people use blended oil for cleaning purposes. It is a matter of personal choice. Synthetic oils may smell like genuine oils, but they do not have potency. In the word of essential oils, potency and purity rules. Everything else is secondary.
Storage of Essential Oils
Often, essential oils come packaged in dark glass bottles. Dark colored bottles prevent sunlight. Sunlight affects the potency of the oils and is best avoided. Another important thing to note is to keep the bottles away from kids and pets. See the section below on the safety of the oils below.
Common Essential Oils
- Black Pepper Oil
- Cinnamon Oil
- Clove Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Frankincense Oil
- Jasmine Oil
- Lavender Oil
- Lemon Oil
- Neem Oil
- Peppermint Oil
- Rose Oil
- Rosemary Oil
- Sandalwood Oil
- Tea Tree Oil
Home Remedies with Essential Oils
- Head ache
- Insect bites
- Tooth ache
Essential Oils Safety
Essential oils are made up of small molecules. They can pass through our skin. Direct application of essential oil on skin can create undesired effects. This is because of their pureness and concentration. You can mix essential oil with a carrier oil to apply on the skin. Essential oils are also not safe for animals.
Safety is a vast topic. There are good books available in the market. I recommend keeping one of those good books handy. I would recommend Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2e. The authors of the book Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young are experts in the field.
Essential oils are gateways to the world of aromatherapy and better living with nature. A guided introduction to the world of essential oil is necessary for newcomers. There is a lot of information and misinformation out there on the Internet. You have to be careful and choose what suits you best. Don’t be mislead by marketing and hype around something. Always use your own judgement and a handy guide to help and protect you and your family.