Essential Oils are the concentrated essences of various flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses, and the use of Essential Oils for medicinal purposes is called "Aromatherapy." Because essential oils are so sweet smelling, many people make the mistake of assuming that their value is limited only to charm and fragrance. Happily for us, modern research has proven that Essential Oils have remarkable medicinal properties, and one way to describe Essential Oils would be"The Fragrant Pharmacy."
Perfume oils (or fragrance oils) are artificially created fragrances or those that contain artificial ingredients. Perfume oils do not offer the therapeutic benefits that Essential Oils provide and should, therefore, never be used in Aromatherapy.
Essential Oils (also called Volatile Oils and Ethereal Oils) are concentrated in different parts of plants; therefore, the oils may be extracted from the leaves, seeds, bark, roots, needles or resins. "Steam Distillation" is the most common method of extraction (dissolving the oils out). Other methods of extraction are also used and include "Solvent Extraction" (extracting oils that can be damaged by distillation, using solvents), "Expression" (extracting oil from the plant by applying pressure), "Enfleurage" (a process in which odorless fats or oils absorb the fragrance of fresh flowers) and "Maceration" (a soaking process that separates substances into constituents). Modern manufacturing techniques and technology are constantly researching more efficient and improved methods for delivering these precious oils to us.
It takes a great deal of work and skill to produce essential oils, and the cost of each varies greatly, depending upon availability (some species are protected by law and quotas), as well as processing costs. For example, Indian Sandalwood is considered more desirable and fragrant than Australian Sandalwood, and is twice as costly, mainly because Indian Sandalwood is endangered and protected. Moreover, did you know that it takes eight million Jasmine petals to produce one kilo (2.2 pounds) of its Essential Oil, making Jasmine one of the most expensive oils on the market? On the other hand, it takes 220 pounds of raw Lavender to deliver seven pounds of its Essential Oil. So, when you see fluctuations in the prices of different Essential Oils, now you know the reason.
While called Essential Oils, the word "oil" is a bit of a misnomer. They are not oils at all, and are not oily to the touch. One test to verify the purity of essential oils is to place a drop on some blotting paper. When the oil evaporates, it should not leave a stain; hence, no oil residue is left. But one characteristic that Essential Oils do have in common with other oil-type products is that Essential Oils are not soluble in water - and they are only slightly soluble in alcohol. Most Essential Oils are clear, but a few are amber in color. There are about three hundred essential oils being used by practitioners today.
The scientific study of the therapeutic properties in Essential Oils was pioneered by the French cosmetic chemist, René-Maurice Gattefosse in the 1920s. The story goes that while making fragrances one day in his laboratory, Gattefosse burned his arm badly and found the quickest relief in the lab by putting his arm in a container of cold lavender oil. He was surprised to find that his pain went away quickly... and the burn left no scars when it healed. From then on, Gattefosse spent the rest of his life researching the healing properties of Essential Oils and coined the term, "Aromatherapy" for the medicinal use of these oils. This makes Aromatherapy a relatively new science when compared with the age-old herbal medicine of antiquity. It is interesting to note, however, that references to Essential Oils for medicinal purposes predates Biblical times, and even the "Father of Medicine," Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.) proclaimed that "the way to health is to have an aromatic bath each day."
Modern day research has confirmed many of the centuries-old practical uses of Essential Oils. Essential Oils provide countless valuable psychological and physical therapeutic benefits. For example, Sandalwood has been employed in the rooms of patients with mental health problems, because its fragrance produces a calming effect. It is also thought to help soothe tension and anxiety. A recent article from MSNBC discusses how mint oil was used by the ancient Chinese as a painkiller. Read this article here: Ancient minty painkiller worked, study suggests; Ancient Chinese used mint oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
The benefits of Essential Oils are usually achieved through inhalation and/or application of the diluted oil to the skin. Most people who are unfamiliar with Aromatherapy wonder how inhaling essential oils, or rubbing them on the skin for that matter, might offer any sort of health benefits. Because "herbal" formulations are ingested, and the plant's natural chemical compounds are broken down in our digestive systems and circulated throughout our bloodstream, their healthful effects can be easily explained. However, it should be remembered that Aromatherapy is a form of herbal medicine and employs the very same useful, natural compounds of certain plants, but they are introduced into the bloodstream through your lungs - or through the skin. Like herbal supplements, some Essential Oils have antiseptic properties, while others have an uplifting effect on the mind. In fact, both Aromatherapy and herbal supplements are beneficial ways to introduce natural compounds into the body, and in many cases, Aromatherapy is safer and faster acting than ingestion.
Essential Oils are natural by-products of the plants from which they are derived, and they are highly concentrated. Their usages in formulations are measured in drops. Because Essential Oils are so potent, use the smallest amount of Essential Oil required for the application. If two drops is all that is required, do not add a drop for good measure! Use essential oils sparingly. Essential oils are usually used when diluted with "carrier" (or base) oils. Never put an Essential Oil on your skin without diluting it with a carrier oil. A typical Aromatherapy formulation will have two to five drops of Essential Oil for each teaspoon of the carrier oil.
Carrier oils are typically oils that are cold-pressed (a certain amount of heat is used to help release the oil, usually not higher than 60-80 C/140-176 F) from the seeds of different plants. Fat plant oils, such as sweet almond oil, olive oil, hazelnut, rosehip seed and apricot oil, are examples of carrier oils.
Since you may need only one drop of essential oil for your application, it is easy to understand that it will not go very far when rubbing or massaging on the skin, but when diluted in a carrier oil, it will cover quite a large area. Carrier oils are unique to their application, and they also have therapeutic value as well, since they, too, include many beneficial properties themselves. The carrier oils used in Aromatherapy should be cold-pressed. Beware of the oils on your supermarket shelves, as they may have been processed with a chemical agent.
When using Essential Oils, always follow the directions carefully (as you would before using any medicinal or herbal supplements). Essential Oils are somewhat easy to use, but, like all medicinal applications, they can be quite harmful if used improperly.
Essential Oils may be purchased in their pure form or in "ready-made" formulations. Purchased in their pure form, you can make a multitude of formulations and customize their uses according to your personal preferences. Ready-made blends offer ease of use. It is up to you how you want to progress, and what benefits you ultimately wish to achieve with your own use of nature's precious Essential Oils.