So You Want To Know About Essential Oils?

Essential oils (EOs) have been used for centuries, but in recent years there has been an increase in the popularity of their use for helping to maintain health and wellbeing. However, essential oils are not to be confused with essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are termed ‘essential’ because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesise them, meaning they must be obtained from food. Instead, Essential Oils Supplier are ‘essential’ in the sense of being the concentrated essence of a plant. The Chambers Dictionary defines ‘essential oil’ as “a mixture of volatile oils which have distinctive and characteristic odours, obtained from certain aromatic plants”. Here ‘volatile’ has nothing to do with anger or aggression; it simply means that the oil has the capability to change quickly from a liquid into a vapour.

Commercially, EOs are used in cosmetics and toiletries and as natural flavourings in food. Nowadays, many people are using them at home as a domestic aid and to help with everyday health complaints. They may also seek the help of a qualified aromatherapist, a professional therapist who typically combines massage with the use of specific oils relevant to an individual’s needs.

How are essential oils made?

The oils are derived from various sections of plants. For example, Juniper oil is derived from the berry, Chamomile and Clary Sage from the flowers, Celery from the seeds, while Cinnamon oil is taken from the bark. Rosewood, Cedar and Sandalwood oil come from the wood of the actual tree concerned.

When buying essential oils, you may notice differences in prices. Citrus oils such as Sweet Orange typically cost just a few pounds, while the likes of Neroli and Rose Absolute may set you back more. The disparity in cost is usually a reflection of the methods by which the essential oil is obtained and how rare or expensive the actual plant is to grow and maintain. For example, Sandalwood has been prized by many for centuries and is central to many religious ceremonies. Its popularity, coupled with the fact that the trees need eight to 14 years to grow, means that demand for Sandalwood has outstripped supply and the price of the oil is higher than that of others.

Common EOs such as Lavender and Peppermint are usually distilled, where steam is used to vaporise the volatile compounds in the plant. The vapours then condense back to liquid.

Citrus oils owe their cheapness to the fact that the peel of the fruit contains a relatively high amount of oil and the trees are not expensive to grow. These oils are usually expressed or cold pressed.

Most EOs from flowers are obtained by extraction, using a solvent such as ethyl alcohol, which is then removed by evaporation. This is usually because the flowers don’t contain enough oil to be expressed and they are too delicate to be subject to steam distillation.
How are essential oils used?

There are many methods of enjoying essential oils. Good quality incense sticks and candles are often made with them, or else they can be diffused in the air via a special stone or ceramic burner. Many people add a few drops of oils such as Lavender to the rinse cycle of the washing machine or mix their own blend of oils with alcohol and/or water for use as a natural deodorant and/or air freshener. When used therapeutically, the oils can also be used in a bath or can be inhaled by adding a few drops to a bowl of steaming water. For everyday ailments however, it is always advisable to consult a professional aromatherapist or else refer to a trusted book such as Christine Westwood’s Aromatherapy: A Guide For Home Use.

Just as essential oils can have beneficial effects, they can also be dangerous if misused. Out of the many oils available, only Tea Tree and Lavender should ever be used neat on the skin, and even then, only very, very sparingly. When used in massage, EOs should only be used by the drop in a carrier such as Grapeseed oil, and when added to bathwater, it’s advisable that they be diluted in full cream milk beforehand. Never take essential oils internally or give them to babies or pets. Always ask a qualified aromatherapist before using essential oils if you’re pregnant, as there are oils that should be avoided completely during this time.

Used with care however, the use of essential oils can be an asset to any home, and a great adjunct to a health and beauty care regime.

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