What are Essential Oils?
They are oils that are derived from plants and have wide variety of uses; from ingredients in commercial products to home health remedies. The term “Essential” is due to the fact that the oils are a concentrated form of the “Essence” or intrinsic nature of the plant.
One of the characteristics of these oils is that they contain the concentrated scent of the plant and they are very aromatic. The use of these special oils for therapeutic purposes has a long history and has given rise to the term “aromatherapy”. There are about 300 essential oils in use today.
How are the oils extracted?
A process called distillation is the primary method used to extract the oils from the plant materials. This is the same process used to extract alcohol from corn (think moonshiner’s still). Water containing plant material is boiled. As the steam exits it carries molecules of the oil with it. The steam is cooled and the water condenses back from a vapor to a liquid. As the liquid settles, the oil rises to the top and can be skimmed off. The amount of plant material required to extract a given amount of oil varies greatly from plant to plant. It may only take a couple of pounds of lavender buds to yield an ounce of oil, but about 500 – 600 pounds of rose petals may be required for an ounce of rose oil.
Other methods such as solvent extraction or expression may be used to coax the oil from the plant material. The particular method used is dependent on the type of plant. Some methods work better than others with various types of plants.
What About Lavender Oil?
There are 3 main reasons why lavender oil is probably the most popular of all the essential oils. First, it has a wonderful aroma. It is used as a natural fragrance in perfumes, air fresheners, bath products and candles. Second, it has a wide variety of therapeutic uses. Lavender oil is used as an antiseptic for killing germs, a topical pain killer, and for treating wounds, sores, burns and even headaches. In aromatherapy lavender oil is used to relieve stress and promote sleep. Third, lavender oil is affordable. Compared to most of the other oils, the cost is quite reasonable. Few natural products are as pleasant, versatile, effective and yet relatively inexpensive as lavender.
What About Aromatherapy?
Essential oils are what aromatherapy is all about. Different oils and mixtures of these oils are used to treat different symptoms. You have probably used this therapy without even realizing that you did. Remember the strong smelling salve that your mother rubbed on your chest when you had a cold? The aroma tended to help open your sinuses and allow you to breathe better. It likely contained eucalyptus or another aromatic oil. Over-the-counter commercial products for treating cold and flu symptoms using aroma can even be found at your local pharmacy. Air fresheners with different oils are being marketed based on the moods they induce. While this approach to wellness is just beginning to go mainstream, it’s not something that is just practiced by the societal fringe that couldn’t escape the sixties.
How do you buy Essential Oils?
The most important factor when making a purchase is to ensure that the oil is 100% pure and natural. There are synthetic copies of some oils on the market that are less expensive than the real thing, but they don’t have the same healing and beneficial properties as the natural product. If you are only planning to use the oil for its aroma, it might be OK, but if your intent is a therapeutic use you will want the natural oil.
If you have never used essential oils before, start with the smallest quantity you can buy so you that you can make sure you really like it before making a large investment. If there is an aromatherapist in your neighborhood, you may be able to sample some oils before you buy. Some of these oils can be purchased at many health food stores, and just about anything you want can be bought online. Before buying online try to find independent reviews to learn if the seller is reputable and the products are of high quality.
Another thing you might consider before making a purchase is the possibility of buying your oils in a kit. This is often a good way to get started in your experience.
How do you use Essential Oils?
With hundreds of oils, and thousands of combinations of those oils, and hundreds of applications, you can see how this could become a significant area of study.The two primary means that are used to apply the oils are through inhalation of the aroma and massaging the oil into the skin with a carrier oil. I highly recommend purchasing a reference book on essential oils, which will contain many recipes and directions for application.
Caution – Essential oils should never be taken internally, and should never be used on the skin undiluted, they should always be mixed with a carrier oil. The one exception is lavender, which can be used in very small amounts to treat pain or aid in healing wounds.
Another interesting use for these oils that is often overlooked is for natural flea control . It is a great way to battle the parasites without applying toxic substances to your pet.