Nature’s Gift of Essential Oils
All plants, seeds, roots, trees, leaves, and flowers contain aromatic and wellness properties, and those properties are considered “essential” because they make up the essence of the plant. So, essential oils are liquid plant extracts. They are naturally occurring, and we know that nature’s gift of these essential oils can be powerfully fragrant. These oils give plants their distinctive smells, and they also protect plants and play a role in pollination.
History of Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used for centuries by many cultures around the world. Their uses varied, from religious purposes to healing the sick. The earliest evidence of human healing with plants was found in the Dordogne region of France, where cave paintings depicted the use of medicinal plants in every day life, going as far back as 18,000 B.C.E.
Egyptians used aromatic oils as early as 4500 B.C.E., and the Egyptians became quite known for their knowledge of ointments and aromatic oils. They used perfumed oils, scented barks, resins, spices and aromatic vinegars. Oils from plants were converted into powders, medicinal cakes, ointments and pills.
Cedar and myrrh were used in the embalming process, traces of which have been found on mummies today.
The Greek’s knowledge of essential oils was adopted from the Egyptians. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.E.), the “Father of Medicine” recorded the effects of over 300 plants including thyme, saffron, marjoram, cumin and peppermint.
Hippocrates left behind one of the most important principles in modern medicine, “Above all the purpose of a doctor is to awaken the natural healing energies within the body”. Modern medicine infuses his wisdom every day in the form of the “Hippocratic Oath” taken by all doctors.
How are essential oils used?
Essential oils not only have an intrinsic value to plants, but they have also been used for food preparation, beauty treatments, and health-care practices, including emotional and physical wellness applications.
The compounds in essential oils are called “volatile aromatic compounds”. These compounds are small, organic molecules that change from solid or liquid to gas at room temperature. So, when you open a bottle of essential oil, you’ll notice that the aroma is very potent. That’s because the physical and chemical compounds that make up the essential oils allows them to move quickly through the air.
This unique property of essential oils makes them ideal for all sorts of applications, helping to maintain a healthy mind and body. The oil’s aroma and benefit it offers is determined mostly by the type of volatile aromatic compounds present in the oil.
There are over 3,000 varieties of volatile aromatic compounds. The nature of the oil varies from species to species, from plant to plant.
How are essential oils extracted?
Steam Distillation: This is the most common process of extracting an essential oil. Steam distillation is a process that isolates the aromatic, volatile element of the plant using steam.
Cold Pressed: This process is used almost exclusively for citrus fruits like orange and lemon, where the essential oil is extracted from the peel or rind. Oils that are extracted using this method are the most volatile of oils and can evaporate quite quickly when exposed to the air.
CO2 Extraction: This method pulls the most amount of aromatic compounds than any other distillation process. At low temps, carbon dioxide or CO2 can be pressurized to become a liquid, which acts as a solvent and is then used to extract the oil from plants.
After the process is completed, the extraction tube or vessel is returned to normal temperature and the CO2 rapidly converts to gas, leaving behind a high quality oil that is free of solvents.
Solvent Extraction: Some flowers are too delicate to be processed with heat, so they are soaked in a “hexane” solvent which extracts the volatile elements. Once the solvent has evaporated, the most fragrant parts are left behind. This process produces an “absolute” in essential oil lingo, meaning that the fragrant elements left behind are dissolved with high proof alcohol, chilled and separated into fragrant tinctures.
The tincture is vacuum distilled to evaporate off the alcohol, leaving an absolute.
3 Ways to Use Essential Oils
Diffusion is one of the most effective ways to use essential oils. You’ll notice a “diffuse” icon on the label of the bottle. All you need to do is fill the diffuser with water, and put 5-10 drops into the diffuser, as needed, and turn it on. The ultrasonic technology produces high frequency vibrations, turning the water into mist. As you breathe in the mist, the oil’s beneficial properties are immediately absorbed into your body. Here are some diffusers that I love!
Applying essential oils on your skin is another effective way to use essential oils. Again, make sure your oil has the “topical application” icon on the label. If you have a specific area of your body that needs relief, this method works best. You’ll need to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil before applying it to the desired area. As with anything you apply to your skin, don’t put it on sensitive areas!
Carrier Oils are used to protect your skin. Most of the essential oils I use are authentic and pure, and their high level of concentration can irritate your skin. I learned the hard way, and started using a little bit of olive oil, which helps transfer the essential oil to my skin without irritating it. Avocado, grapeseed and sweet almond oil are great options as well.
Carrier oils don’t limit the effectiveness of the essential oil at all. They just help transfer the oil to your skin.
Lastly, essential oils are also used for household purposes. Some essential oils can be used for cleaning and deodorizing, and those oils will have the “household” icon on the bottle. Some oils can be mixed with water, baking soda, vinegar or natural surface scrubs to create natural cleaning recipes. Tea Tree Oil is one of my favorites as an all-purpose cleaner.
What about my kids?
Essential oils can be dangerous if not used correctly, because they are so potent. My suggestion is to keep all the oils out of the reach of young children, as you would do with any medicines or other items that could be dangerous. Always use a carrier oil for young skin, as the undiluted essential oil can be very irritating to them. Most of the oils have age-appropriate suggestions, and can be diluted.
When essential oils are used correctly, they can provide an amazing sense of physical well-being, spiritual awareness, and emotional balance and positivity. If you want to supplement your diet, manage your weight, boost your energy, or feel great, you can count on nature’s gift of essential oils — allowing you to meet your wellness goals the natural way.