Which oils are essential oils?

Essential oils are the key ingredients in aromatherapy. Essential oils are extracted from fragrant parts of wild or organically grown plants. The oils are made up of numerous different organic molecules and a large number of elements such as alcohols, esters, ethers, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, and acids.

The pristine quality of essential oils is vital. Host plants must have been grown in a healthy environment because their delicate therapeutic values are easily extinguished by chemical pesticides or pollution.

Important to know which oils are essential oils?

Plants develop the myriad properties present in the oils for protection, regeneration, fighting pathogens. Essential oils are compounds of many organic constituents which unite in a delicate, complex balance.

It is the exquisite balance that produces the therapeutic and olfactory qualities. Every essential oil contains up to 300 different constituents. This is why it is so important to use 100% pure natural oil. The therapeutic value of essential oils lies in the total mysterious complexity of the natural composition in nature’s perfect balance.

Essential oils are derived from various parts of the plants: roots (ginger), flowers (lavender), leaves (rosemary, clove), grass (palmarosa, lemongrass), bark (cinnamon), resin (pine, frankincense), wood (cedarwood), fruit (lemon, mandarins) and vegetables (carrot).

Essential oils have been scientifically analysed, their main properties identified, and when used appropriately are quite safe. The action of the complete essential oil is much more than the action of its parts.

The methods to extract pure essential oils from the plants are steam distillation, expression, and extraction. To produce 1 kg of lavender essential oil requires 200kg of fresh lavender flowers, 1 kg of rose oil between 2,000 and 3,000 kg of rose petals, 1kg of lemon essential oil 3,000 lemons.

Key properties of essential oils:

They are insoluble in water.

They are soluble in other oils.

They are volatile.

They will oxidise over time.

They will polymerise if left in bright light, so store the essential oils in dark glass bottles.

Essential oils are extremely volatile – effected by environment, light, temperature, air, and moisture. They can evaporate quickly, so keep them in tightly closed coloured bottles in cool, dry, and dark places. Plastic must be avoided because it can interact with the chemical make-up of essential oils and, in time cause disintegration.

The essential oils have different viscosities, some (like peppermint and rosemary essential oils) are almost like water, while others (such as patchouli and myrrh) are thick like a syrup.

Citrus essential oils have a shorter life than the others, especially lemon, grapefruit, or orange. They can turn cloudy when they start to deteriorate.

Essential oils are grouped in three rates called top notes, middle notes, and base notes. Top notes essential oils are lightest with the fastest rates of evaporation – a few hours in the case of eucalyptus. Middle notes essential oils last about a day, such as lavender, geranium, and peppermint. Base notes are slowest to evaporate, some lasting a few days: these are used as fixatives to hold a blend together, such as patchouli and sandalwood.

Safety rules for essential oils

Essential oils are concentrated and should be used with care. However, if the following sensible precautions are observed, there is no cause for concerns.

Essential oils must not be taken internally.

Do not use pure undiluted essential oil neat on the skin.

Keep away from the eyes. If contact is made, splash the eyes with tepid water.

Some people are allergic to certain essential oils, much as they are with some flowers.

Certain essential oils should not be used while taking homeopathic medicines, as these essential oils may counteract the effects. They are eucalyptus and peppermint.

In baths, mix essential oils in a tablespoon of jojoba or carrier oil.

Special care should be taken if the following conditions apply:

High blood pressure: avoid eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Low blood pressure: avoid lavender, ylang ylang, and marjoram.

Epileptics: avoid basil, rosemary, eucalyptus, and sage.

Pregnancy: only a few essential oils are safe: lavender, sweet orange, mandarin.

If exposed to sunlight, avoid citrus oils.

Sensitive or allergic skin; avoid basil, bergamot, thyme, and tea tree.

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