What Are Essential Oils
What Are Essential Oils
While the name ‘essential oils’ may sound as if they are oils that you essentially need, the name actually refers to the fact that these oils actually capture the essence of the plant. Essential oils can come from almost any part of the plant, and are expressed from leaves, stems, bark, roots, fruit, and even flowers. Essential oils can most properly be called volatile aromatic compounds. They are considered volatile because they will dissipate fairly quickly when exposed to the air, some more quickly than others. Pine essential oil has a stronger and longer lasting fragrance than might a floral such as lily of the valley essential oil.
A Long History of Use
Ancient peoples lived much closer to the natural world than do most of us today, and we can thank these people for first discovering and making use of these oils. While it can only be speculated where essential oils were first extracted and used, there is evidence that Ancient China, Egypt, India, and the Mediterranean region used essential oils thousands of years ago.
Essential oils played an important part of people’s lives for hundreds of years as they were used for cosmetics, perfumes, medical treatments, and even fumigation. It might be safe to say that although essential oils never entirely faded from the human scene, they certainly did not get the attention that they now deservedly do for hundreds of years.
Bottling Up Essential Oils
It certainly would be convenient if all one had to do to get essential oil out of a plant was to put a tap into it, as is done to produce maple syrup, but getting essential oils out of plant parts is a bit more difficult than that.
- Distillation is a method of extraction that has been used for thousands of years, and is still used today for some oils. The advantage to distillation is that because the essential oils can be taken from the rest of the plant at a relatively low temperature, and then refined from the distilled water as it condenses, the essential oil is pure.
- Cold pressing is used with mainly with citrus such as oranges, limes, and lemons. Because the essential oils are easily accessible in the rinds of these fruits, just squeezing them will cause the essential oils to flow out.
- Solvent extraction uses volatile chemicals such as acetone and hexane to pull the oils out of plant parts. Because of the chemicals used in the process, these essential oils are not generally recommended for use in food or beverages. The essential oils produced this way are used in perfumes, candles, toothpaste, and shampoo.
- Enfleurage is a rather lovely word, and if it makes you think of flowers, you would be right. Although it’s only used in a very limited way today, usually by home enthusiasts of the process, enfleurage encompasses using a neutral fat spread on a glass sheet to capture the essence of the flowers pressed into it.
Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
We’ve already mentioned the uses of essential oils in cosmetics, foods, perfumes, etc., but one of the best ways to use essential oils is in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has a number of uses, and a diffuser is often used to introduce the essential oil into the air, although the oil can also be added to bath water as well.
- Aromatherapy is excellent at producing an overall feeling of relaxation and peace.
- Those suffering from insomnia can often find themselves drifting off easily with the use of aromatherapy and essential oils.
- Mild to moderate headaches respond well to aromatherapy.
- Aromatherapy can give your immune system a real uplift and can accelerate healing.
Essential oils already play a big part in all our lives, and making an effort to include them in even more can enrich your life and make it much more pleasant.