Essential oils have been used for centuries for their therapeutic benefits. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used essential oils to treat his patients more than 2,500 years ago! Since then, aromatherapy has gained worldwide popularity and is now one of the most popular forms of alternative medicine.
Egyptians were among the first to use essential oils in their medical practices, rituals and beauty recipes. Some essential oils were used as currency or exchange for precious metals like gold coins during times where there was no paper money available!
Today, essential oils are used for a wide variety of purposes from skin care and hair care to emotional support and physical healing. You can find essential oils in natural beauty products, household cleaning supplies, diffusers and more.
In this comprehensive beginner’s guide to essential oils, we’ll go over
- what essential oils are
- how essential oils are made
- types of essential oils
Scroll on if you’re ready to read the most comprehensive beginner’s guide to essential oils!
I will be making this into a series for easier reading!
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are natural, concentrated oils that are extracted from plants. A good way to think about it is that the essential oil is the blood of the plant. They are the plant’s “lifeforce” and “essence.” No wonder there are so many health benefits!
These oils contain the plant’s aromatic compounds, which are responsible for the plant’s scent and therapeutic benefits. Each plant is unique in it’s health benefits, so it makes sense that each essential oil carries it’s own unique therapeutic properties.
Other things that determine an essential oil’s therapeutic properties?
- Soil the plant is grown in
- Climate conditions of location where plant is grown
- Altitude of location where plant is grown
- When the plant was harvested
- When the oil is extracted
- How the oil is extracted
So, you see, not only is each individual essential oil unique in general, but each batch or bottle you will ever use will be unique in nature!
There are over 300 essential oils in use today!
Where do essential oils come from?
Essential oils are derived from specific parts of plants.
Each essential oil is unique is where it is extracted! For example, Frankincense will always come from the resin of a tree. Rose will always come from the flower. Cinnamon will either come from the leaf or bark of the tree. And so on. Other examples include:
- Citrus oils like orange, mandarin, lemon, are from the peel of the fruit
- Lavender and rosemary are derived from the leaves and flower tops of plants
- Ginger comes from the root
- Balsam fir and pine are from the needles and twigs
Properties of Essential Oils
There are many different types of essential oils, each with its own unique properties. Some of the most common types include:
- Antibacterial. These oils have antibacterial properties and can be used to disinfect surfaces or to treat wounds.
- Antifungal. These oils can help treat fungal infections such as athlete’s foot or candida.
- Anti-inflammatory. These oils can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Anti-neuralgic. These oils relieve pain by numbing the nerves.
- Anti-rheumatic. These oils reduce inflammation and swelling, typically found in arthritis.
- Anti-spasmodic. These oils relax muscles and relieve spasms.
- Antimicrobial. These oils have antimicrobial properties and can be used to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Antioxidant. These oils can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
- Antiseptic. These oils can be used to cleanse wounds and prevent infection.
- Astringent. These oils can help tighten pores and tone skin.
- Anti-viral. These oils can help fight viruses.
- Anti-venomous. These oils can help neutralize venom from insect bites or snakebites.
- Anti-depressive. These oils can help improve mood and alleviate depression.
- Decongestant. These oils can help clear congestion.
- Digestive. These oils can help relieve indigestion and promote healthy digestion.
- Nervine. These oils can help calm the nerves.
- Anesthetic. These oils can numb the senses and relieve pain.
Now that we know a little bit about what essential oils are and some of their different properties, let’s learn about how they are made!
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Essential oils can be derived in several ways. Below are the two most popular and common.
The most common widely used way to extract essential oil is steam distillation. This process involves the plant material and a boiling water in two separate vats. The steam from the boiling water passes through the plant material until it produces a vapor that can be condensed into an essential oil. The resulting liquid contains the desired aromatic compounds found in the plants.
Common steam distilled essential oils:
- Tea Tree
Each plant is unique in steam distillation and requires different temperatures and time limits. For example, it can take up to 18 hours to steam distill Eucalyptus and the temperature should never exceed 225 degrees Fahrenheit. However, Geranium only take 1 to 3 hours to steam distill and the temperature shouldn’t exceed 200 degrees.
More can be produced in a shorter time and it is less labor intensive.
The high heat of steam distillation has the potential to change the molecular structure of the plant.
Extracting essential oils through the cold pressing method is one of the oldest and simplest methods available. This process involves using a mechanical press to extract the oil from the plant material. Cold Pressing works by pressing the plant material between two cold plates. The oil is then forced out of the plant and collected.
Common cold pressed essential oils come from the Citrus family:
- This results in a purer oil that retains more of its therapeutic properties
- Does not use heat or solvents, which can damage or alter the chemical composition of the oil
- Gentle process that doesn’t damage the plant material
- Slower process
- Can be difficult to extract all of the oil from the plant material
- Can only be used with certain types of plants, such as citrus fruits
Essential Oils Are Not All Created Equal
Before purchasing any essential oil, it’s important to do your research! Or buy from a trust source. The problem is, there is no official system that makes one oil 100% Pure Therapeutic grade and another not. Any company that sells essential oils can label it 100% Pure and call it therapeutic grade.
Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA. The Essential Oil only has to 5% pure to be labeled as 100% Pure Therapeutic grade. That means, if you’re not careful, your essential oil could contain fillers or additional fragrances (which in turn could contain other harmful chemicals).
This is a marketing gimmick by alot of companies!
What is a True 100% Pure Essential Oil?
A true 100% essential oil contains no fillers or other chemicals. It is the oil directly from the plant itself. One way to determine whether essential oils are truly pure or not is to find out if they publically release the chemical test results of batches. Every essential oil you buy from Simply Earth contains these results, which is one reason I love them so much!
I have also put together a list of 10 questions to find out and ask before purchasing essential oils from them! This is a handy guide you can use to be sure you are getting the highest quality oil!
The more information a brand is willing to disclose about their oils, the more trustworthy they are!