Essential Oil Basics

From the Beginning

History of Essential Oils

Plants have always been man’s first line of defense against the troubles this world can bring. Ancient cultures used essential oils as medicine, to beautify and care for the skin, to calm nerves and ease anxiety, to scent their bodies and their environment, in spiritual ceremonies, in cooking and pretty much every aspect of life.

Hippocrates, an ancient Greek doctor touted the use of essential oils in baths and massage as the way to health. He studied and documented the medicinal effects of essential oils from over 300 plant species. The more modern English, German, and French cultures revered the medical philosophies of the ancient cultures and helped to keep them alive during dark mystical years when the use of such things was thought to be a form of witchcraft.

By the 1800s essential oils had made a come back with many doctors prescribing them as a treatment for a variety of illnesses. The habit has persisted through to this present age but has been met with some skepticism by western medicine. Still, doctors in European countries offer essential oils as medicinal alternatives to the conventional treatments of certain diseases.4

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are essences of the plants from which they are extracted. Though some essences may have an oily feel, they are not like traditional oils. Essential oils or plant essences are made of molecular compounds called phytochemicals and they are very volatile. These volatiles are not simple molecules. They are beautifully complex chemicals.

Phytochemicals are comprised of carbon atoms arranged in chains, rings, or a combination of both with other molecules and atoms attached (i.e. Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Sulfur). Most of these molecules fall into varying categories of compounds such as Aldehydes, Esters (most common), Ethers, Ketones, Alcohols, Phenols, Oxides, and many other too numerous to mention.

A single essence can be made of hundreds of phytochemicals. And, most essences have more than just one category of phytochemical present in their makeup. These phytochemicals are what gives an essence it’s characteristic health benefits.

How are Essential Oils Made?

Essential oils are Mother Nature’s own recipe, and we may never fully know all the components of an essence. Plant essences are stored in small, specialized pockets within the plant. They are extracted from the plant parts via various means. Depending on the plant, these pockets may be concentrated in the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, skin or bark. How they are extracted depends on the plant. Some are quite delicate like jasmine and require a chemical extraction, others are hardier like Lemon or Sweet Orange and can be cold-pressed.

It is also important to know when to harvest a plant for extraction. For example, Jasmine flowers must be harvested by hand in the morning hours whereas Sandalwood trees must be about thirty years old and as high before cutting down and extracted. Such details can only be known by experienced growers. Thus, reputable growers are many times family business where such details have been handed down from generation to generation.

An essence can be extracted in four basic ways: steam distillation, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, or maceration. The most common method is by steam distillation. Quality essential oils are always extracted at the source site or close by. And distilled essences are extracted at low pressures to avoid oxidation of the essence which will alter the look and smell of the essence and thus it’s beneficial nature. The extraction of a plant essence concentrates it so, the resulting essential oil is very potent and should be used with respect and caution. Learn More.

Essential Oils Safety

No matter how they are extracted plant essences are concentrated so caution must always be used. Here are some general safety rules:

  • If you are taking medications, please ask your doctor or research drug interactions with the essential oil/s you have chosen to use.
  • Test an essential oil (or blend) on a small patch of skin before using.
  • Always dilute an essential oil

If you have never used an essential oil before, be sure to use just one at a time and either journal or make a mental note of your initial response and noticeable affects within one to two hours. As with any homeopathy remedy, several exposures may be necessary to achieve the desired results. Go slow.

Be sure that the essential oils you use are all-natural with no synthetic additions and are 100% certified organic. Never take an essence internally without first checking with a qualified health professional. Never ingest an essential oil that has been diluted with an oil or another diluting agent.

Storage

Always store your essential oils in a cool dark place with the lid tightly closed. Remember essential oils are volatile. An open lid will cause the essence to evaporate and quickly! You can refrigerate or freeze them. If you freeze an essence, let it come to room temperature naturally before using. Stored in this fashion an essence can last up to 2 years or more. Check with your supplier for more information on specific essential oils.

Why Buy New Life Essential Oils?

The genus and species of a plant dictate the essence’s characteristics and benefits. For example, there are some 30 different varieties of Lavender.1 They may have the same genus name and even look similar, but they are different in composition and therefore offer different benefits. The most common are found in Central and Southwest Europe. They are Angustifolia (True Lavender), Latifolia (Spike Lavender), and Lanata (Wooly Lavender).2

How and when a plant is sown, grown, harvested is vital to the consistent nature of the essence. Things such as altitude, temperature, rain (or lack thereof), and surroundings can alter the color, smell, and benefits of an essence.

Experienced and ethical growers understand these parameters and account for such details in their yearly crops to ensure a year-to-year consistency and quality of the essence produced. Ethical growers also understand how important it is to extract an essence in such a way as to preserve the integrity of the essence.

Extraction at high a temperatures and pressure will change the structure of these delicate molecules. Thus, it often smells different and may even have a different color. It goes without saying then, that the true benefits of the essence are altered as well.

New Life is one of only a few essential oil distributors whose source requires an actual third-party organic certification. All our essential oils, as well as plant oils, are part of this certification program called Ecocert. Ecocert is comprised of field auditors, in-house analysts, and a review board. Certification is granted when a grower has successfully met the conformity requirements set out by the standard of organic specifications.3 These specifications spell out details of

  • The species of plant seed is used for crops
  • How, when and where crops are grown
  • When they are harvested
  • How they the essence is extracted
  • Bottling and storage practices.

References:

  1. https://downderry-nursery.co.uk/lavender-classification-and-naming/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavandula_angustifolia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavandula_latifolia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavandula_lanata

  1. https://www.ecocert.com/en/certification
  2. http://essentialoilsacademy.com/history/
  3. Leiann King, Brenda Wright, Amanda Reynolds, Foundational Aromatherapy
  4. Dr, Joel Wallach, BZ,DVM,ND; Dr, Ma Lan, MD, MS, LAC; Passport to Aromatherapy, Wellness Publications, 2015

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