The world of essential oils is a fascinating one, but it is easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information available to us today. Each essential oil contains 200-500 constituents or components, which make them very diverse in their effects. No two oils are exactly alike, even if they have many of the same constituents. You can see why keeping “the facts” straight can be quite mind-boggling.
However, once you begin to explore essential oils and their vast array of uses, you will find how utilizing these oils on a daily basis can support your journey to wellness. A stash of just 10-20 high quality, diverse oils is an excellent start.
Essential oils are volatile liquids (this doesn’t mean they will explode. It just means they evaporate quickly) and natural compounds distilled from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes, fruit, resin and herbs. A single oil can consist of hundreds of natural, organic compounds. In humans, these oils can provide support for every system in the body.
You may wonder how essential oils are extracted from plants. Four basic extraction techniques exist; cold pressing, resin tapping, absolute oil extraction and steam distilling.
Cold pressing is used to extract fatty oils, such as olive, almond, jojoba and coconut oils. This method is also used for citrus essential oils. Cold pressing is a simple technique in which a very heavy weight is placed on top of a container full of plant material. The heavy weight then presses the oils out of the plant material.During the resin tapping method of extraction, external plant parts are cut. This allows the internal resin to seep out and be collected. The resin is then steam distilled.
Absolute oil extraction is the most complicated of all the extraction methods, because it requires use of a solvent. A solvent is simply a substance that helps to dissolve another substance. Solvents range from harsh toxic chemicals (think paint thinner) to pure water. This method is used for plant materials that are so delicate they would not survive an initial steam distillation. A solvent is added to the plant material during distillation. The solvent helps to pull the essential oil out of the plant without compromising the integrity of the oil. A second extraction is performed to remove the solvent and produce the final, absolute oil.
Tests have shown that oils reach the heart, liver and thyroid in three seconds when inhaled and were found in the bloodstream in twenty six seconds when applied topically.
Points to Ponder
- 1Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in many cultures for medicinal and health purposes.
- 2Grade A oils are therapeutic, made from organically grown plant material and distilled at low temperatures. No other grade is acceptable for personal use.
- 3A single oil can consist of hundreds of natural, organic compounds. In humans, these oils can provide support for every system in the body.
Steam distillation is the most common of all oil extraction methods. This processes allows oils to be extracted from very delicate flowers and plant materials. During this process it is critical to control temperature and pressure to avoid burning the oils during distillation. A water bath is placed over a heat source, with the aromatic plants suspended over the water. Heat is used to transform water in to steam that rises and passes through the plant material. The steam becomes heavy with essential oil molecules and then moves into a condensing coil. This causes the steam to separate into two parts; floral water and essential oils. Water and oil do not generally mix, therefore a natural separation exists.
Now that we have these essential oils extracted, bottled and ready for use, how do we know which oils have the highest quality? All oils in the world fall into one of 4 categories: Grade A, Grade B, Grade C and Grade D.
Grade A oils are therapeutic, made from organically grown plant material and distilled at low temperatures. Grade B oils are food grade, but may contain synthetics, pesticides, fertilizers, chemical extenders or carrier oils. Grade C oils are perfume oils that often contain adulterating chemicals. They usually use solvents, for example, hexane, to gain a higher yield of oil per harvest. Solvents can be cancerous and are in many store bought oils. Grade C oils might also be diluted 80-95% with alcohol. Grade D oils are called “Floral water”, which is aromatic only and is usually a byproduct of Grade A distillation. After the oil is extracted, the leftover trash water is sold to companies, which will fill 5% of the bottle with this leftover “trash water”, fill the rest with carriers and label it “pure”.
Grade A is the only true, pure oil. Using a Grade D oil would be like walking into your fridge, taking a glass of milk and diluting it 95 % before you drank it. It wouldn’t have the full benefits of milk. That’s why you want to purchase only Grade A oils. Before purchasing oils, confirm the source grows their own plants, owns their own fields and controls the entire process; from the farm to the sealed bottle. Pesticides, pollution, previously farmed land – all can affect the quality of an oil.
Now what? You have chosen a Grade A oil and are ready to put it to use. Our bodies are complex. The reason you get a headache and I might get a headache are caused by different factors. There are literally hundreds of constituents in each oil and each addresses our body systems in unique ways. Trying various oils in various combinations could lead to a personalized full body support system. There are many resource guides available to help you determine which oils are best for your specific needs.
Essential oils can be used in three basic ways; aromatically, topically and in a dietary manor. Tests have shown that oils reach the heart, liver and thyroid in three seconds when inhaled and were found in the bloodstream in twenty six seconds when applied topically. One drop of essential oil used on the skin may be in every cell in the body within 20 minutes of application (this is one reason it is so important to use only therapeutic grade oils).
Essential oils can be used aromatically by diffusing or inhaling the oil directly. Place oils in your palms and breathe deeply or use a diffuser that creates a fine aromatic mist and releases it into the air.
Oils can be applied topically to the skin, but be cautious of “hot oils” that can cause a burning sensation when applied. Some “hot oils” are peppermint, oregano, thyme and clove. If a reaction occurs you should dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond, grape seed, coconut or olive oils. The molecules in these carrier oils are much larger than those of essential oils. Using a carrier oils slows down the rate the body can absorb the essential oil, because it has to “ping pong” through the larger molecules of the carrier oil to get to your skin. Carrier oils can make your essential oils last longer too. You should always dilute oils on small children, as their skin is more permeable and absorbs the oils more quickly. A wonderful area for application is the bottoms of your feet.
Finally, oils can be used by taking them internally. Oils can be placed into empty vegetable capsules, which can be purchased at health food stores or online and taken as supplements, used in recipes and give your water a nice little zing of flavor. Read labels to be sure the Grade A oil is safe for consumption. Some are specifically approved by the FDA and labeled for internal use. Other, lower grade oils may actually be toxic. Do your research and chose a brand that has a quality control system. Be aware that most essential oils on the market ARE NOT therapeutic grade. Properly stored essentials oils do not “go bad”. If an essential oil has an expiration date it could already be diluted with a carrier oil, which could eventually go rancid.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in many cultures for medicinal and health purposes. They can be used to swap out all of the toxic cleaners and chemical laden personal care items in your home. Even our pets can benefit from the use of essential oils. What are you waiting for?
Latest posts by Lisa Sweeney (see all)
- The Many Health Benefits of Lemongrass Essential Oil - July 5, 2017
- Essential Oils for Pain Management - June 30, 2017
- Do Real Men Use Essential Oils - June 28, 2017