Intro to Oils
Introduction To Essential Oils
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the pure and concentrated energies held within the plants cells. These aromatic cells are located in specific parts of the plants. For Sandalwood, for example, the aromatic cells are in the bar. For Rose, they are found in the petals. For Orange, the peel, etc. Various organs of the plant itself either produce and/or store the essence. What we call oil cells or hair cells are living cells in which the essence is found. Oil or resin ducts are spaces within the plant tissue that hold the essence. Through the regression of bordering cells, the space becomes enlarged and hose-like (essential oils from seeds, resinous trees such as Spruce, etc.). Oil containers exist when the cell walls of the oil-producing cells dissolve, as in the citrus family. There is not one part of the plant that does not produce or store the essence. Sometimes the same plant can hold different essences. The perfect example of this phenomenon is the orage tree. Oragne essntial oil is derived from the fruit, Petitgrain is extracted from the leaves, and Neroli from the blossom. They all offer very different characteristics and healing properties.
The difference between organic and non-organic essential oils is that organic essential oils are extracted from plants that have not been treated with pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, or any form of unnatural treatment. Non-organic oils may contain toxic and unnatural substances that may harmful or cause allergic reactions. Do expect to pay more for oils distilled from organic plants since it does cost a lot more to grow crops naturally and organically.
Essential oils should be stored in a cool dark place because many oils are sensitive to UV light. Store the oils in dark amber or cobalt glass bottles. Essential oils should never be stored in plastic bottles or with plastic droppers as the vapors may damage the dropper or plastic container. Essential oils will keep for approximately 1 year when properly stored. Some citrus oils such as lemon, orange and lime will have a shorter shelf life. Keep all essential oils beyond the reach of children.
What is an Essence, an Essential Oil and an Hydrosol?An essence is contained with the plant, while the essential oil is the end resulf of extracting the essence from the plant material through steam distillation, extraction or enfleurage. A hydrosol is the end result of the steam distillation; it is the condensed water charged in aromatic molecules and on which float the essential oil. Hydrosols offer wonderful healing properties and are gentler and safer even when essential oils have to be avoided.
Blending for the individual
All essential oils have the power to affect us both emotionally and spiritually. Only those that are right for the individual at that moment of their life will possess the subtle potential to transform.
Climate, altitude and type of soil and its fertility is significant in producing therapeutic grade oils. Along with the time of day and year plays a major influence on the quality and abundance of essential oils which has both a daily and seasonal cycle of each plant type.
Concentration of Essential Oils in flowering plants is generally highest at midday during warm dry weather, with a few exceptions. Some are best concentrated after the morning dew and just before the heat of the day. Each year these harvests will vary in their abundance and quality, unless they are quality controlled.
Properties of Essential Oils
Each essential oil has its own unique properties, while also sharing some common therapeutic actions with other essential oils. All plant essence have antiseptic to a greater or lesser degree and also have the capability of healing.
Methods of Applications
This method is good for nervous tension, colds, the flu, and sinus congestion. Pour a few drops in hot water, then cover your head and breathe deeply for at least 15 minutes.
This method is best for arthritis, dermatitis, rheumatism, dry skin, muscle aches and pain, stress, nervous tension, insomnia, and emotional imbalance. Add 6 to 10 drops in a carrier base (oil, milk) into your warm bathwater and soak for at least 15 minutes.
This method is best for bruises, muscle aches and pain, and skin problems, Dip gauze or washcloth into warm water (4oz) and add 10 drops of essence. Apply the compress directly to the affected area. Epsom salt and Sea Salt are a great mixture to use for a compress 1 tbsp. of each mix well and apply.
Add 15 drops of essence to a 30 ml (1oz) of unscented massage oil.
There are numerous ways in which one can apply and use essential oils for therapeutic benefits and pleasure. They involve the skin absorption, ointments, compresses, vaporization and baths, as well as inhalation. Whichever method you choose, their effect is always physical, spiritual and psychological effects.
How Do I Determine the Quality of Essential Oils?
The quality of essential oils can vary widely. As a consumer (and even as an aromatherapist), it is difficult to assess quality. Essential oils come from all over the world, and suppliers or companies usually obtain oils from farmers or wholesalers whose practices and integrity they have come to trust over time. The end consumer would not be aware of (or have the capability to assess) those relationships and practices. For those interested in learning more about regulating bodies and certifying organizations, some information and links are provided below.
How are essential oils regulated?
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for regulating foods, food additives, drugs, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. The legal difference between these categories is determined by the product’s intended use.
The FDA considers essential oils either cosmetics or drugs, depending on their intended use. The FDA makes decisions concerning the regulation of essential oils on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a company claimed that the aroma of an essential oil promoted attractiveness, the FDA would most likely regulate the product as a cosmetic. If a company claimed that an essential oil was effective as an aid for quitting smoking or in treating or preventing any other condition or disease, the FDA is more likely to regulate the product as a drug.
How do I find quality essential oils?
Because standards for quality control of essential oils do not currently exist in the United States, it is important to find reputable sources that sell good quality essential oils if you are planning to use them for health-related purposes. Whether you buy essential oils in a store, from an individual, or from the internet, be sure to read any information provided on the label or website, or ask questions about quality.
Some important considerations
- Is the Latin name of the plant provided so that you are sure you are getting the right essential oil? For example, there are several species of lavender.
- Is the name of the country in which the plants were grown provided? A consumer would not be expected to differentiate oils from different countries, but this information is important to aromatherapists because quality can vary by country. This is an indication that the company is marketing to knowledgeable parties as well as general consumers.
- Is there a statement about purity? You should be informed if it is not 100% essential oil (meaning, it has been altered or mixed with something else).
- Is the cost comparable in comparisons with other brands of the same essential oil? If it’s really cheap, it probably isn’t the real thing.
- Does it smell as you expect it to smell?
- Is there information about organic growing or wildcrafting (gathering wild plants)? Most essential oils sold in the U.S. are not certified as to their organic status, but some European brands are.
Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in practice, 2nd Ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential oil safety: A guide for health professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Linda Halcon, Ph.D., M.P.H., B.S.N., R.N.