What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the concentrated essences of a plant. Extracted from the roots, bark, fruits, flowers, grasses, seeds or leaves of virtually any plant or tree, they contain all of the aromatic compounds and health benefits the organism has to offer. Used for therapeutic as well as for medicinal purposes, their properties have been recognized by holistic and medical practitioners dating as far back as ancient Egypt.
From the plant’s perspective, the alluring aromas of their essential oils serve several purposes: to attract pollinators, to deter certain pests of the animal or insect variety, to prevent competing plant species from growing in proximity, and to protect the plant form fungal infection and other disease.
How Should Essential Oils Be Used?
Essential oils can be used in many ways, and their benefits go far beyond medicinal. When diffused, essential oils can aromatize and enliven your immediate environment, and many are commonly used in household cleaning formulations.
Essential Oils Best Practices Infographic
Here are the most common uses for essential oils:
Cosmetic uses for essential oils
Many cosmetic preparations contain essential oils to varying degrees – some strictly for aromatics and some to encourage a particular result such as moisturizing the skin and scalp, as a toner for oily skin or to add shine to the hair. For topical/external use, be sure to adhere to recommended dilution factors to avoid irritation. Essential oils can be diluted in carrier oils such as almond oil, fractionated coconut oil or avocado oil for massage or in the preparation of cosmetic formulations such as shampoos, soaps and lotions.
Therapeutic uses for essential oils
Their therapeutic uses are wide-ranging as well, with four main methods of delivery: diffusion, direct inhalation, topical use and ingestion. The latter two should always be performed under a strict caution as essential oils are highly concentrated and can be extremely caustic if undiluted. Taking essential oils internally is not recommended unless you are under the direct guidance of a health practitioner who is also certified in aromatherapy. Regardless of what you might read on the internet or pick up from a well-meaning friend or colleague, undiluted essential oils can be incredibly dangerous when used improperly. Heed all package warnings or consult an aromatherapy professional before attempting to treat any ailment or complaint with essential oils taken internally.
Essential oils for culinary use
Many essential oils are found in culinary preparations, and they can also be used to flavor your favorite dishes. Basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and other herbs, bergamot, lemon and other citrus are just some of the wonderful flavors you might encounter. Many herbal tea preparations use essential oils to enhance their flavors. As with any highly concentrated compound, a little goes a long way: just a few drops in a sauce or beverage can lift your taste experience to new gastronomic levels!
Essential oils to aromatize your home
For aromatherapy purposes, diffusion and direct inhalation are the primary methods of treatment. Diffusion can be accomplished with commercially purchased essential oils diffusers, through which the oil is gently heated to release its scent, or through various other methods. Essential oils are often added to candles, their scent released as the wax burns.
Powerful results from direct inhalation of essential oils
Direct inhalation of essential oils involves breathing deeply of the undiluted aromas of the oil to achieve a particular result, such as inhaling peppermint or menthol to combat nasal congestion. Complaints that include depression, fatigue, generalized anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness, anger or grief can also be positively treated through direct inhalation of the appropriate essential oil or combination of essential oils.
Household uses for essential oils
Household uses for essential oils are vast and various, and some are already quite familiar to us. Citronella, for example, is excellent for repelling mosquitos. Eucalyptus and cedar in your closet will keep the moths away, and tea tree oil is a disinfectant and anti-fungal that works well on all kinds of surfaces. Orange oil is a great conditioner for fine wood furniture and flooring. Rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, peppermint, lavender and lemon are all antiseptic, while lemon and pine are commonly used in many commercial cleaning preparations
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Essential oils are extracted from plants, grasses and trees. For the most part, oils are extracted and processed in the geographic region in which the plant is grown. For quality essential oils, it is always preferable that the plant is grown in its natural habitat. Most single essential oil preparations will state the origin of the plant on its label.
There are two main methods of extracting essential oils: distillation and expression. Steam distillation is by far the most common, but this varies depending on the plant and the intended end product. This method involves injection of steam into the still under high pressure. As the steam cools it yields the essential oil.
Expression involves the physical pressing of the plant material to produce the oils. Commonly used in the extraction of citrus oils, the expressed product is either centrifuged or allowed to settle in order to separate the oils from other liquids expressed during the process.
Other extraction methods include CO2 extraction, solvent extraction and enfleurage, which are mostly commonly used for perfumery applications.
Learn More about Essential Oils
Integrating essential oils into your daily routine is a natural way to enhance your health, happiness and well-being. To learn more about essential oils and their wide range of benefits, bookmark our blog and come back often to discover articles, tips and information.