By definition, essential oils are natural oils that are highly concentrated from the source (can be shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes and seeds) that it’s extracted from and are also known as volatile oils. They are usually extracted through steam distillation, but can also be extracted by cold pressing. Essential oils have been around for many years due to their many uses: flavouring, adding scent and health uses. You can either dilute the specific oil in a carrier oil which is then massaged into the skin, diffuse the oil in the air, heat over a flame or burn it as incense.
Essential oils as well as plant extracts have been known throughout history since the beginning of time and are considered by many to be the missing link in modern medicine.
Essential oils are highly concentrated and far more potent than than dried herbs due to the distillation process. It requires a large volume of plant material to produce small amounts of a distilled essential oil. Did you know that it takes 5000 pounds of rose petals to produce 1 kilogram of rose oil?!
Most essential oils do not go rancid and are powerful antimicrobials. Although, some essential oils that are high in plant waxees (e.g. patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood) if not distilled properly, can go rancid after time. Essential oils can be distilled or extracted in different ways and will have dramatic effects on their chemistry and medicinal properties. Oils derived from a second or third distillation of the same plant material aren’t as potent as oils extracted from the first distillation. Though with certain oils, there may be additional chemical constituents that are released only in the second or third distillation.
Last but not least, it pays to research about different oils and how they are processed. Some oils are adulterated, engineered or have their life-span “extended” due to the use of several synthetic compounds being added to the oil. Ex. pure frankinense is often extended with colourless, odourless solvents such as diethylphthalate or dipropylene glycol and the only way to distinguish the “authentic” or unadulterated form would be to test through lab results. Unfortunately, a large percentage of essential oils marketed in North America fall into this category.
You, as the consumer, must understand the world of synthetic oils as well as low-grade oils cut with synthetic chemicals in order to be more educated in what you are actually purchasing.
POLL: Do you use essential oils? What’s your favourite scent?
Source: Essential Oils – Pocket Reference. Life Science Publishing, Sixth Edition. (2014, May).