What is an Essential Oil?

Essential Oils are all over the place these days and the benefits can’t be denied. From bug spray to baking and calming anxiety to fixing multiple ailments, Essential Oils are kind of magical. I say magical because for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how an oil could do anything outside the kitchen. Turns out there’s a science behind it and it took me far too long to actually sit down and learn about it.

So what are Essential Oils?

lemon essential oils

“Essential oils embody the regenerating, protective, and immune-strengthening properties of plants”

In scientific terms essential oils are volatile liquids derived from plant matter such as fruit, bark, leaves, seeds, roots, and flowers. Now what the hell is a volatile liquid you ask? Volatile simply means that a liquid evaporates easily at room temperature. This would be why when you twist off the cap to your oil your nostrils are quickly filled with the scent- yay aromatics! Essential oils also penetrate the cells in our body, even the blood-brain barrier, very easily due to the small molecular size of the constituents (the building blocks of oils). These two juicy facts are just a few reasons why aromatic, topical, and internal use of essential oil are so effective.

Scientific lingo aside, I want to go over how you get the oils from the plant and why quality is the single most important thing when purchasing your oils. You’ve probably seen oils in your local health food store, grocery store, at craft fairs, and in your family and friends homes. But what you may not know is that there is no real system in place to monitor the quality or purity of essential oils. Ridiculous right? Well did you know that each bottle of oil only has to contain 3% pure Essential Oil? THREE! That’s so bizarre to me. The rest can be fillers and liquids used to dilute. This is why I chose to go with doTERRA, because they have chosen to implement their own standards and pride themselves on Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade oils.  Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Essential oils are extracted from plant matter by two methods:

  • Steam Distillation: Plant matter is placed in a chamber and steam is added. The steam and oil rises to the top (remember, it’s volitile – easily evaporates) and guided to another chamber where the liquid is cooled and the oil separates from the water. The oil can then be collected easily. (FYI: It takes about three tons of plant material to produce a single pound of Melissa oil.)
  • Cold Expression: This method is most commonly used for citrus. Plant material (usually rinds) is placed under a large mechanical press and when pressure is applied the oil is released from the plants oil sacs and collected in a vat.

In today’s culture we want what we want and we want it fast. This way of living takes a huge toll on our bodies and the planet we live on. To produce the quantity of aromatic products we consume (perfume, smelly washer beads, scented cleaning products, etc) an unnecessary amount of pesticides are used on crops and loads of chemical solvents are added to aid in processing the oils as quickly as possible. Yes these practices will still smell wonderful but they will lack most, if not all, good benefits of the oils. So do your homework when it comes to the quality and purity of your oils and DO NOT take internally if you are unsure.

Relaxing lavender spray

Relaxing Lavender Spray

Aromatic, Topical, Internal

All the scientific lingo aside, there are three ways to use Essential Oils and they are listed above. Aromatic simply put is inhaling either a fine mist or a vapor – smelling. Topical use is when an oil is applied to any surface on your body. Your skin really is your largest organ and believe me when I say it may deflect many things, but it also absorbs much more. (Think about the use of nicotine or birth control patches.) And last but not least is internally which is ingesting oils for the purpose of aiding digestion, mental health, and even as a flavor enhancer. This method should be done with care and only with oils that are 100% pure (CPTG oils).

So as you can see, there really is a lot to know about oils but I hope that this post has helped you get a basic understanding. I plan to go into further detail on actually using the oils but that is for another day. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what your favorite way to use essential oils is.

 

Cheers!

 

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