By definition, and essential oil is “a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.”
Essential oils are the concentrated essences (hence the name) derived from herbs and spices.
The volatile aromatic compounds give them their inherent aroma, as well as their intrinsic medicinal properties.
Essential oils may be derived by various methods – including distillation of various kinds.
Contrary to popular belief, essential oils are not synthetic substances that are employed to add scent to an item.
While there are synthetic oils that imitate the scent of true essential oils, these typically do not possess the potent properties inherent in authentic essential oils and are typically considered inferior with regard to any therapeutic benefits.
Synthetic imitations are considered potentially hazardous if employed therapeutically, making it doubly important to discern which ‘essential oils’ found in the market are real and which ones only boast of the name.
The use of essential oils has existed since time immemorial, although due to the restrictions of available technology, obtaining essential oils in olden days was in some cases very laborious, and the resulting products often very costly.
What are essential oils used for?
Essential oils are used for a wide array of different things, although the earliest and most common use of essential oils was as a type of perfume.
Essential oils are very potent, and in many cases mildly to severely allergenic, and as such, it has to be diluted with a carrier oil.
Once a major commodity in the perfume industry essential oils were blended with base oils and other essential oils to make enticing perfumes.
In the medical world, essential oils were employed chiefly as an addition to salves, balms, creams, butters, and oils since its concentrated nature allowed it to be effectively used as a substitute for copious amounts of fresh or dried herbs.
Because essential oils are technically speaking the essence or active compound of an herb, it therefore possessed the most potent healing capacity – making even minute amounts of the oil integrated into a medicated salve, oil, or balm equivalent to macerating or infusing a large amount of herbs.
The most common use for essential oils nowadays is as a therapeutic substance employed for aromatherapy.
While this is nevertheless in the line of perfumery, the demand for essential oils used solely for the purpose of aromatherapy, regardless of the chosen medium of use, has made it among the most popular commodities in the alternative medicine area.
Totaling its many uses, essential oils have been employed in the creation of everything from perfumes, oils, candles, soaps, medicines, and nearly every possible cosmetic commodity.
Due to this astounding demand, synthetic essential oils have been created to help meet the requirement for scents, making it cheaper and more affordable for the masses.
However, as a rule of thumb, whenever you intend to use essential oils for medicinal purposes, always choose organic, certified pure essential oils.
What are essential oils made of?
Essential oils are really a cocktail of volatile substances and essences that comprise its body, its aroma, and even its medicinal actions.
The composition of an essential oil varies depending upon its source plant, as well as the method of extraction employed to obtain the oil.
How are essential oils made?
Essential oils are present in nearly every organic herb or spice in the world, with some possessing far more concentrated or medically viable amounts than others.
The making of essential oils have come a long way from often primitive methods that involved slow and time-consuming infusion, maceration, orenfleurage (the practice of placing herbal matter in tallow or beeswax to extract its essences; commonly employed in traditional perfumery).
In modern times, various methods are used to extract essential oils, depending on which plant is being extracted, scale of operations and budget.
With the advent of technology, the extraction of essential oils from herbs and spices has become a science, especially with the introduction of CO2 extraction, steam distillation (the most commonly employed means of extracting essential oils) and cold pressing (more often performed to extract oils from seeds and bark, more so than in leaves or petals). Still more methods of extracting essential oils exist, although the most common means that yields the most essential oils is steam distillation.