What exactly are essential oils?
Essential Oil – a natural oil typically obtained through a distillation process and having the characteristic fragrance or “essence” of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.
You’ve probably heard of essential oils at some point in your life and maybe you’ve diffused a few here and there for the nice aromatherapy they can offer. But I bet you didn’t know how deep this science goes, how the process works, or how to best use them to optimize your health and wellbeing. Well, it’s all pretty amazing! Get ready to get schooled on essential oils.
Where do essential oils come from?
A variety of plants cover the Earth in different shapes, sizes, colors, and scents. Many of these plants contain compounds that typically can’t be seen with the naked eye—they hide within the roots, flowers, seeds, bark, or other areas of the plant. These compounds are known as essential oils. They are highly concentrated, making them extremely potent. Also referred to as volatile aromatic compounds, essential oils give a plant its aroma, protect it from harsh environmental conditions and insects, and even play a part in plant pollination.
Use of essential oils throughout history
Essential Oils are not a new trend – in fact, they’ve been used for thousands of years! Ancient civilizations have used plants and their extracts for a multitude of reasons including aromatherapy, healthcare remedies, personal care, religious ceremonies and traditions, food preparation, and beauty treatments.
Ancient civilizations that used essential oils:
- Egypt: Egyptians used plant-based products in beauty treatments, food preparations, burial rituals, and religious ceremonies.
- Greece: In ancient Greece, men like Homer and Hippocrates explored the aromatic uses of plants, building on discoveries made by early Egyptians.
- Rome: Ancient Romans often used plant extracts for massage, perfume, and scented baths.
- Iran: In medieval times, people in the region of Iran often used and traded spices or resins for perfumery and maintaining health.
- India: Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic healing system native to India, has developed over the span of 5,000 years and includes the use of aromatic and plant compounds.
- China: For centuries, traditional Chinese practices have included the use of plant materials to promote wellness.
- France: Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist, is credited as the first to coin the phrase “aromatherapy” as he studied and researched essential oils thoroughly in the 19th century.
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.
How do Essential Oils Work?
As volatile aromatic compounds move quickly through the air, you will experience the scent when the compounds interact directly with sensors in the brain. 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. The delicate ratio of aromatic constituents found in any given essential oil are what make it unique and give it specific benefits.
How are Essential Oils created?
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. The essential oil hides within different parts of 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.
How are Essential Oils used today?
While essential oils and plant extracts have been used for centuries, essential oils still hold relevant applications today. With advancing technology, improved quality, potency, and safety, essential oils are now more accessible and easy to use in everyday life. Although essential oils were often used as a part of cultural practices and traditions of the past, we now have increasing scientific evidence and research to show the effectiveness and safe nature of essential oils in our day and age.
Essential Oils for Health Benefits
In ancient times, people used essential oils and plant parts to improve their health and well-being. Because essential oils can be used to soothe occasional skin irritations, promote healthy digestion, support good oral health, create feelings of clear airways*, and more, they have long been a popular choice for those who want to maintain good health.
Essential oils offer a variety of benefits, and each individual experiences essential oil use in their own way. Fortunately, the diversity of essential oils makes them a helpful way to maintain health, even for those who have specific health concerns, seek diverse health benefits, or experience sensitivity. Using essential oils for health benefits has become popular because it allows the user to tailor the experience to their specific wants and needs, rather than settling for a generic solution.
The Emotional Benefits of Essential Oils
With unique chemical structures, each essential oil holds a variety of benefits for the user. Some essential oils hold soothing, toning, and grounding properties, while others are known as energizing, uplifting, warming, or renewing. As our bodies go through an array of emotions and physical states throughout a single day, essential oils can help us manage and maintain well-being.
The chemical design of an essential oil gives it specific benefits. Some essential oils are helpful for cleansing or purifying, while others provide a soothing sensation to the skin. The aroma of essential oils can also create a chemical reaction in the brain, eliciting emotions and internal responses.
Our sense of smell can produce powerful, mental, physiologic, and emotional responses.
How to Use Essential Oils
Now that you know what an essential oil is and where essential oils come from, it is time to learn how to use them. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the wide array of benefits that essential oils hold. All you need is a basic understanding of how to safely and simply use essential oils during your daily routine
If you’re ready to learn more, we can show you how to use essential oils.