An Introduction to Essential Oils
You may be somewhat concerned about the impact that man-made chemicals could have on your body. It’s likely that you’ve heard of using essential oils as a natural alternative to many of those chemicals.
Essential oils are often used in perfumes, food flavorings, in aromatherapy, and medicinally. Chances are, the more information you find, the more confusing the topic gets.
The Simple Answer
Essential oils are plant extracts that keep the natural aroma, flavor, and beneficial properties of the plant. The resulting oil is concentrated and potent.
- A drop of peppermint oil is as potent as 25 cups of peppermint tea
- 10,000 pounds of rose petals are needed for a single pound of rose oil
- 250 pounds of lavender will yield 16 oz of lavender oil
Extracting the Oil
Some oils are extracted from the leaves of plants or from under the bark of trees. Some are extracted from seeds or flowers.
There are several methods used to separate the oils from the plant. The method used depends on the plant’s properties.
Also referred to as cold pressing, this method is used to separate the oil from citrus peels. The rind is punctured and the oil is released by pressure. The expressed oil retains the natural waxes and full aroma of the citrus fruit.
With distillation, steam passes through the plant matter, and the steam rises. During this process, the oil rises to the top and the water sinks. The result is a concentrated plant oil. The remaining water (hydrosol) can also be used for its therapeutic benefits.
Heat will destroy the therapeutic benefits of some plants. When heat is not an option, the plant is mixed with a solvent. Plant materials are mixed with methanol, hexane, ethanol, or petroleum ether. This process is used to extract soy and canola oil. Some practitioners choose not to use solvent extracted oils because of the potential for solvent residue.
Carbon Dioxide Gas
Since CO2 converts to liquid when it is highly compressed, the carbon dioxide dissolves the plant molecules separating the oils from the plant matter. The gas disperses leaving the essential oils behind.
Diluting Essential Oils
Now you know how potent essential oils can be.
Overuse, or using a concentration that is too strong can have consequences, ranging from mild irritation to burns. Most essential oils should be used diluted.
Diluted in Water
When diluted in water, essential oils can be sprayed to repel insects, sanitize surfaces, and used as perfume. A drop of oil can be added to your bath or to soak your feet. The oils you choose will depend on your desired results.
Diluted in Oil
When diluted in a carrier oil, the mixture can be applied directly to your skin. Some choose to use olive oil or coconut oil. With a carrier oil, the essence is held to your skin surface longer, so your body can absorb more of the plant bio-active compounds.
Added to Products
If you enjoy making your own skin care products or are looking into using natural alternatives, essential oils can be added to soaps and lotions. For example, lavender added to a lotion can help heal your skin topically and is also absorbed for additional benefits.
How the Oils are Used
The use of plant extracts to nurture health and healing has been acknowledged throughout recorded history. People relied on what was available to them.
The early Egyptians used oils for worship and embalming. Later, the Greeks used an ointment blended with myrrh to keep battle wounds from getting infected.
Some essential oils can be diluted and sprayed into the air; some can be mixed with carrier oils and diffused into your environment.
Absorbed Through the Skin
These homeopathic compounds can also be diluted and applied to your skin so the active components can be absorbed. A favorite blend can be used in place of processed perfumes.
Some oils can be ingested, but the practice is not always recommended. Oils like cinnamon and peppermint can cause severe burns. On the other side, some people use essential plant oils in place of traditional medications. If you want to start using essential oils in this way, you should work with someone educated in the field.
Validated by Research
Once thought by some to be less than scientific, today’s studies validate the use of some plant oils within the scientific community. Some hospitals and clinics have been conducting their own research and testing oils on patients with some positive results.
Some Recommended Essential Oils
- Arborvitae oil repels insects
Just as, or even more impressive, frankincense and ginger oils are two which are known for easing inflammation such as arthritis.
Safe and Effective When Used Correctly
If you do a bit of homework, it’s pretty simple, but keep in mind that essential oils can interfere with some of your medications.
Some suggest that essential oils should not be used on children at all while others recommend heavy dilution depending on the oil.
Women who are pregnant may want to consult a professional before use but for most people, essential oils can have many benefits for health and well-being when used correctly.