Essential Oils, or volatile oils, are the “life blood” of plants and are found most often in their flowers and leaves. Essential oils rapidly evaporate, do not leave stains, and have medicinal, as well as aromatic and other properties. Their scents are that of the plant from which they come. Essential oils can be powerful antioxidants that create an unfriendly environment for free radicals and those that contain sesquiterpenes [a large and diverse class of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants that are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature] have the ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier.
Essential oils are used in different alternative therapies such as aromatherapy and massage therapy. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, “Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process. It was the French perfumer and chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who coined the term aromatherapie in 1937 with his publication of a book by that name.
There are different methods used to extract essential oils from plants. The most common method is through a process called steam distillation. Plants are suspended over boiling water, and the steam extracts the oils from the plant. The steam is then quickly cooled, causing it to condense back into water. Water and essential oils do not mix, and so the two are separated and the essential oil can then be collected.
Another way essential oils are extracted is through chemical solvents, where the plant is placed into a solvent such as methylene or benzene, which evaporates off, as it has a low boiling point. This method is expensive and is primarily used with costly oils that cannot be distilled, like vanilla and jasmine.
There are other processes used to extract essential oils, such as with carbon dioxide, a newer method, and enfleurage, a much older method only used now in France.
Essential oils are used as odorants (chemical compounds that have an odor) in perfumes, cosmetics, detergents, soaps and various industrial products, such as paints and animal insecticides. They are also used as flavors in different foods, such as bakery goods, candies, pickles, meats and soft drinks. Essential oils are used in a multitude of medicines and dental products as well.
For an essential oil to be of therapeutic grade and used for medicinal purposes, it must be harvested at a specific time of the year and under specific conditions. It must be grown and distilled in a very particular way as well, among other things. Many oils sold in the market are not therapeutic grade.
For two of the more popular essential oils, lavender and peppermint, the following is a small list of some of their uses:
Lavender: calming/sleep aid, bee sting/insect bite, burns, cuts, eczema, scar tissue, motion sickness
Peppermint indigestion/flatulence/diarrhea, rodents, ants, cockroaches, nausea.
If you are looking to use essential oils as an alternative to traditional Western medicine or for other purposes, it is recommended that you consult with someone knowledgeable in the field first, as there are certain precautions you should be aware of, you need to be taught different ways to apply the oils, and an understanding as to which oils would be best for your specific condition.
The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for medical care or to prescribe treatment for any specific health condition.
Suzanne Savion is a Certified Holistic Health Practitioner and Master Life Coach. She can be reached at: www. mastercoach. webs.com or masterlifecoach_therapist.net
By Suzanne Savion