ESSENTIAL OILS 101

screen_2x (18)-2.jpg

WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?

Imagine taking the refreshing scent of a whole peppermint plant and putting it into a tiny bottle, or capturing the heart-warming fragrance of rose petals in a single drop. This is the power of pure essential oils. Yet, what makes these plant potions so magical? 

A variety of plants cover the Earth in different shapes, sizes, colors, and scents. Many of these plants contain aromatic compounds that typically can’t be seen with the naked eye—they hide within the roots, flowers, seeds, bark, pith of citrus fruits, or other areas of the plant. These extracted (volatile) compounds are known as essential oils. They may provide plants with protection from predators (animals or insects interested in snacking on the plant) or attract those helpful critters and crawlers who pollinate and propagate. They are highly concentrated, making them extremely potent. Also referred to as volatile aromatic compounds, essential oils give a plant its aroma, protect it from harsh environmental conditions and insects, and even play a part in plant pollination. The extracted oil allows us to use them in natural fragrance, skin and body care, home cleaning, and for emotional/physical ailments.

Scientifically speaking, an essential oil is comprised of hundreds of chemical constituents, the combination of which provides plants with distinctive qualities and healing properties. Their function in nature is as secondary metabolites in their plant of origin. Whereas a primary metabolite is essential to a plant’s survival, essential oils provide protection from predators or other threatening influences and promote healthy reproduction, contributing to attracting pollinators and other vital processes.

HOW ARE THEY EXTRACTED?

Essential oils are produced by one of two primary methods of extraction, steam-distillation or cold pressing (a process unique to citrus peel or rind oils.) When carried out, the end product is a therapeutic-grade essential oil that harnesses the maximum potency and health benefits. By contrast, lower grade essential oils are more often extracted through chemical processes or with solvents to increase yield and profit.

Essential oils are extracted through the art of distillation. A large amount of clean, high-quality (typically fresh) plant material is placed in a still and carefully heated to separate out the volatile oils from the plant's other components (including the water-based portion, known as a hydrosol), creating distilled aromatic concentrates.

Once extracted, essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic ingredients. Because it takes so much plant material to produce a small amount of oil, a little can go a long way. In fact, one drop of organic rose essential oil contains 60 whole flowers! Such potency means that, for many uses, diluting your essential oils is a good practice. For example, when blending oils for aromatherapy purposes, placing just a few potent drops into the essential oil diffuser of your choice creates an immersive fragrance experience that can last for hours. 

HOW THEY WORK

The molecular size of their active compounds are incredibly small on a molecular level, they easily pass through the dermal layers of the skin, are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, cross the blood-brain barrier, and penetrate the cell membrane. Essentially, they are accessible and transferrable to the body.

Essential oils can boost your immune system and help you stay healthy as well as treat aches, pains, and, other injuries. Essential oils can also help you reduce stress, lift depression, and restore or enhance emotional well-being. You can even disperse essential oils in the air throughout your home or office to help improve your productivity, alter the atmosphere, or modify your moods. You can begin to learn how to listen to your body and trust your innate instincts to take care of your body, mind, and spirit. Working with essential oils offers a natural approach to wellness that can infuse your life with a new sense of vitality, vibrancy and pleasure.

THE EMOTIONAL BENEFITS OF ESSENTIAL OILS

With unique chemical structures, each essential oil holds a variety of benefits for the user. Some essential oils hold soothing, toning, and grounding properties, while others are known as energizing, uplifting, warming, or renewing. As our bodies go through an array of emotions and physical states throughout a single day, essential oils can help us manage and maintain well-being. The chemical design of an essential oil gives it specific benefits- some essential oils are helpful for cleansing or purifying, while others provide a soothing sensation to the skin. The aroma of essential oils can also create a chemical reaction in the brain, eliciting emotions and internal responses.

When you inhale a deep breath of an essential oil from the bottle, the oil’s scent is processed in the olfactory system of the brain through the olfactory nerve. The olfactory system is the part of the brain that is in charge of controlling your sense of smell. The olfactory system connects to the limbic system, where your emotions and memories live. As you breathe in the scent of an essential oil, the limbic system creates a response in your brain based on your memories associated with that particular aroma. Many times, the responses triggered by your limbic system can be emotional responses that are calming or uplifting, depending on the unique chemical structure of the oil. More importantly, because responses in the limbic system are based on memory, each person experiences each essential oil a little bit differently.

ELEMENTAL PROPERTIES FOUND IN ESSENTIAL OILS

Restoring: These are oils for emotional and physical support. They are meant to help revive, strengthen, and rejuvenate the body and the senses. Lemongrass, Melissa, Cinnamon, Cassia, Clove, Birch.

Uplifting: These oils are meant to be inspiring. They encourage feelings of exhilaration, refreshment, and enlivening. Bergamot, Wild Orange, Douglas Fir, Grapefruit, Lemon, Tangerine, Blue Tansy, Lime.

Energizing: These oils are used to bring feelings of motivation and activation. They tend to be brisk, naturally stimulating oils that help wake up the mind and body. Peppermint, Fennel, Dill, Spearmint.

Clarifying: Topically, these oils are used to improve skin tone and appearance, and aromatically they can be used to help settle and resolve ambiguous, uncertain feelings. Rose, Geranium, Marjoram, Melaluca.

Calming: These oils are helpful for relaxation, both physically and mentally. They are typically used for stress relief, meditation, and preparation for sleep. Lavender, Basil, Bergamot, Roman Chamomile, Clary Sage, Petitgrain.

Soothing: These are oils that help to ease and alleviate issues, both emotional and physical. They are meant to reassure and console as needed. Myrrh, Ylang Ylang, Melissa, Black Pepper, Ginger, Cedarwood.

Stabilizing: These are oils that help steady the nerves and encourage more even, balanced emotions. Spikenard, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Patchouli, Sandalwood.

 

Recognition of essential oils as powerful promotors of physical, mental, and emotional health is rapidly expanding. Backed by growing scientific validation, this rediscovery of holistic self-care with oils is demonstrated in the wide range of popular uses from improving mood, rejuvenating the skin and overall health and cleaning. Essential oils are fast becoming the number one chose as the natural way to keep oneself and loved ones healthy.

Susan Zaring