For over several thousands of years, humans have been employing essential oils for therapeutic purposes as well as sustaining good health. In effect, the ancient Egyptians extensively used essential oils. Currently, essential oils are used extensively in lotions meant for external use, aromatherapy, comforting baths and in a great assortment of herbal medications.
Any attempt to define essential oils accurately as well as in a few words is really difficult. For all practical purposes, one may possibly depict essential oils in the form of natural odoriferous (having potent fragrance) compounds that are present in or separated from plant materials. Generally, essential oils are in liquid form (in some exceptional cases they may be in semi-solid form, but seldom found in solid form), are not water soluble and volatile when they come in contact with steam. Essential oils evaporate at dissimilar paces under normal atmospheric pressure and at room temperature. Therefore, they are alternately referred to as ‘ethereal’ or ‘volatile’ oils too. In fact, the general term ‘essential’ is derived from the Latin expression ‘essentia’ – the ‘quinta essentia’, which the ancient alchemists regarded to be the attribute as well as the most vital element of all natural substances.
The comparatively rapid pace of evaporation of the essential oils and their distinct smell, apart from the chemical make-up of these oils, make them basically different from the stable, fatty oils. Among the several thousands of plant species identified by humans so far, comparatively a very little number of them provide essential oils. The essential oils actually develop either all over the complete plant or only in particular parts. A number of essential oils are found only in the roots, or the timber, bark, leaves, flowers or the fruits of the plants. In a number of instances, different parts of the same plant may possibly enclose essential oils of dissimilar composition.
Over the years, numerous theories have been put forward to elucidate the essential oils’ biochemistry; nevertheless, none of them has been established as being totally acceptable. Possibly, the essential oils are just purging products in the life progression of the plants. If this is the case, they are similar to specific gums, resins and balsams; however, a number of essential oils definitely seem to be the forerunners of this type of exudation products.
It may be noted that as far as their physicochemical attributes are concerned, the essential oils greatly differ and their chemical composition is generally complicated. Some of them are near exclusively made up of only one element, for instance, the essential oils obtained from sweet birch (methyl salicylate), wintergreen and cassia oil (cinnamaldehyde). However, the majority of the essential oils enclose a greater number of ingredients, sometimes 50 or even more – which is something not atypical. These individual constituents are members of numerous categories of organic compounds, especially the sesquiterpenes and terpenes, and their esters, alcohols, ketones, aldehydes, oxides and lactones among other things. A number of these essential oils are open chained, while several of them are cyclic and bicyclic. Some of them also belong to the aromatic series, for instance, benzyl acetate and phenylethyl alcohol, and findings of recent studies have revealed that the azulenes appear to have a vital function in the essential oils.
An analysis of the essential oils can be achieved by conventional physiochemical examinations, for instance, finding out the specific gravity, solubility in alcohol, optical rotation, boiling point and others. In addition, it is also possible to verify the free acids, esters, alcohols, ketones, aldehydes, phenols and phenol ethers through conventional tests. Recently, scientists have made vast advancement in examining essential oils, especially in isolating as well as identifying individual components, by means of introducing state-of-the-art chromatographic and spectroscopic methods, for instance, infrared and ultraviolet (UV) absorption, nuclear magnetic resonance, gas and thin layer chromatography as well as mass spectrometry. As the smell will continue to be a vital decisive factor always, the assay of an essential oil will not be absolute without cautious organoleptic examinations. However, it requires substantial experience on the part of the examiner to undertake the organoleptic tests of essential oils.
Majority of the essential oils are actually isolated from different parts of plants, for example, the leaves, stem, wood, roots, flowers and bark, by means of a process known as hydro-distillation – partially in primordial, changeable stills – and partially in contemporary stationary distilleries. Only in the instance of citrus oils, which are present in the peel or coverings of the citrus fruits, essential oils are isolated by means of expressing the peel mechanically. Specific varieties of flowers are actually extremely fragile and, hence, the essential oils enclosed by them are unable to endure the hydro-distillation process, neither are they suitable for expression. Hence, the essential oils contained by such flowers need to be isolated by means of extraction using volatile solvents (generally, extremely refined petroleum ether) to yield the purported natural flower oils in a real, solid variety that can be converted into complete, liquid form. Such flowers include jasmine, acacia, tuberose, mimosa and the like. It is possible to process a number of flowers, including bitter orange blossom and rose, either by means of hydro-distillation or through solvent extraction.
The amount of essential oil yielded by a plant actually varies depending on the species. In the majority of instances, the yield varies from approximately 0.2 percent to 2.0 percent. However, rose oil also known as Otto of rose and clover oil are two extreme examples in this case. While rose yields only 0.025 percent of essential oil, clover yields as high as 17.0 percent of clover oil.
It may be noted that several regions of the world produce essential oils, especially those having warm as well as temperate climatic conditions.
Not more than a hundred types of essential oils have already achieved genuine commercial significance. These essential oils are extensively used to add fragrance as well as essence to nearly a limitless assortment of consumer items, including food products, chewing gums, confectionery, pharmaceutical and dental formulations, alcoholic as well as non-alcoholic drinks, soaps, room sprays, detergents, insecticides, perfumes and cosmetics. They have also employed to camouflage the odor in artificial products, for instance, rubber goods, leathers and plastics.
Health benefits of essential oils
It has been proved that the essential oils offer numerous health benefits. They are obtained from the leaves, flowers, stems, barks as well as the roots of plants by means of distillation. Essential oils may have a direct or indirect effect on our body’s physiological system. For instance, taking a few drops of peppermint oil by mouth may promote digestion. Similarly, breathing in lavender oil causes a soothing impact.
A number of essential oils may be taken orally to aid in stimulating digestion, while several other essential oils are applied topically to alleviate inflammation and provide relief from pain. Essential oils having antiseptic as well as anti-fungal attributes are also employed to sterilize and cure scrapes, cuts as well as other injuries and skin complaints.
Aromatherapy is one area where essential oils are employed extensively. The use of essential oils in aromatherapy is not only very popular but has also proved to be useful in curing physical, emotional as well as aesthetic conditions. A number of essential oils have a tranquilizing and also invigorating effect on our nervous system and they can either raise or lower the blood pressure and regularize secretion of hormones in some way.
In addition, inhaling the steam of essential oils is helpful in the treatment of respiratory problems, for instance, a cold or influenza. The essential oils that are effectual for inhaling comprise eucalyptus, angelica, cypress, sage, myrtle, lemongrass, lemon, ocean pine, mountain pine, chamomile, juniper, niaouli, thyme, cedar and hyssop. It may be noted that steam inhalation of essential oil is usually not suggested for people suffering from asthma.
Employing essential oils for lymphatic massage is actually a typical aromatherapy treatment that activates the healing process of the body by means of inciting the blood circulation as well as lymph fluid. It needs to be noted cautiously that nearly all essential oils ought to be diluted prior to applying them directly to the skin, since direct application of essential oils may result in acute exasperation.
Normally, essential oils are diluted in the ratio of 15 drops of the oil to one ounce (approximately 28.35 grams) of carrier oil. It may be noted that carrier oil is basically any vegetable oil that is obtained by using the compress method on the fatty part of the seeds, kernels or nuts, for instance, wheat germ, almond, coconut, hazelnut, olive oil, jojoba and aloe vera oil.
There are a number of essential oils that alleviate the taut muscles and augment blood circulation. Such essential oils comprise lemongrass, lemon, rosemary, lemon verbena, juniper, lavender, birch, cinnamon and Swiss pine oils. On the other hand, essential oils that have a calming effect include petitgrain, Roman chamomile, rose, bergamot, lavender, mimosa, neroli, geranium, sandalwood, orange, cedar, rosewood, and tangerine. When you employ the facial and body oils every day, it helps to nurture the skin. Essential oils that are used for deep body massage comprise rose, jasmine, sandalwood, orange, cinnamon, ylang-ylang and iris.
Adding a few drops of essential oils to your bath will help to promote relaxation as well as lift your spirits. You may add five to ten drops of your preferred essential oil to the bath water and enjoy the benefits. Nevertheless, it is advisable that people having sensitive skin ought to dilute the essential oil by adding base oil. Ensure that you wipe the tub properly after the bath, since essential oils may leave stains on some type of tubs.
Having a comforting foot bath using essential oils is a wonderful experience. Add four drops of rosemary, peppermint and thyme oils to a big basin filled with water and soak your feet in it for some minutes to bring back life to your tired feet. In order to get some extra comfort, after you have soaked your feet, massage some lavender oil on them.
In addition, essential oils are useful in curing insomnia (sleeplessness) or to bring on a peaceful sleep all through the night. For this, you may add a few drops of the essential oil of your preference to perfume your pillow.
Last, but not the least important, handkerchiefs are an extremely handy means to utilize essential oils. Inhaling a handkerchief perfumed by adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil will help to alleviate the tension and pressure that build up all through the day. Adding only two or three drops of the essential oil to a handkerchief will be enough to serve the purpose.
Several types of synthetic or man-made oils are also available and they are generally much inexpensive compared to their natural equivalents. However, such synthetically prepared oils never possess the same curative attributes or results that are present in the natural essential oils. In addition, always bear in mind that essential oils are completely dissimilar to the ‘scented’ or ‘perfume’ oils – which are also known as fragrance oils.
It may be noted that perfume or fragrance oils enclose elements as well as chemicals that are not always obtained from plant sources. Very much similar to the man-made oils, fragrance or perfume oils also do not possess any remedial or healing attributes. This is the primary reason why it is always very important to carefully read the labels on all products that you plan to employ for aromatherapy.
Use Of Essential Oils
Contrary to the common perception, essential oils are not oily, but undiluted liquids enclosing effervescing fragrant compounds usually distilled from different parts of plants, including leaves, flowers, stem, bark and roots. Essential oils actually possess the genuine aroma and concentrate of the plants they have been obtained from and are hence known as ‘essential’. Essential oils are very valuable and a small amount sustains for long. They are also called ‘volatile’ or ‘ethereal’ oils and most essential oils are usually clear in appearance. Speaking precisely, every year people around the globe harvest thousands of tons of trees, shrubs, aromatic plants, flowers, roots and grasses and distil them most frequently by steam to obtain essential oils and absolutes.
Where do essential oils come from?
The aromatic matters found in the plants are produced in the chloroplasts of the leaves. These distinctively smelling substances coalesce with glucose in the chloroplasts to develop into glucides, which later flow around the plant. The glucides accumulate in specific parts of the plants either at a particular time during the day or the year.
However, the essential oils are also formed in the tissues that perform the function of secretion in a number of plants, while in other plants they are blended with glycosides. In the second instance, the essential oils are usually not evident till the plant is dehydrated or squashed. An ideal example of this is the valerian. It is important to note that the essential oils are deemed to be performing significant roles in the food assimilation process or metabolism of the plants. While a number of essential oils have hormonal actions, others comprise a phase in some other development. For instance, the essential oil present in the rind or peel of the orange is basically a phase in the process of vitamin A synthesis.
Significantly, the essential oils may be present in nearly all parts of the plant. However, their concentration varies depending on the plant as well as the moment in time of a day or a period in a year. For instance, essential oils are found in the roots of calamus and valerian, flowers like the lavender and rose, barks of the sandalwood and cedar-wood trees, fruits such as the lemons, cardamoms and oranges, berries like juniper and leaves of the thyme, rosemary and sage.
All plants possessing the essence ought to be harvested at a particular point of time during the day, in the right time of year and specific weather situations to enable one to extract the greatest amount of essential oils from the plants. In addition to these, as in the case of any other herbs (therapeutic or dietetic), the quality of the soil on which the plants are grown as well as the atmospheric or climatic conditions at a particular place also influence the amount and quality of the essential oils acquired from plants.
Absolutes are a special type of essential oils that are profound (heavy) and undiluted in nature. The essential oils extracted from flowers such as the roses and jasmines are perfect examples of absolutes. On the other hand, the essential oils that are in solid form at room temperature and need to be heated prior to use are known as balsams. Typical examples of the balsams include essential oils such as camphor and benzoin.
Properties of essential oils
It is important to note that though many essential oils may possess features that are exclusive to them, they may have common medicinal actions and utilities. In fact, more or less, all concentrates possessed by plants are antiseptic or insipid in nature. The essential oils derived from eucalyptus, thyme and the tea tree are best examples of this statement. In addition, a number of plant distillates also possess anti-viral characteristics. Among them, the essential oils extracted from garlic and the tea trees are the most potent.
Generally, the concentrate obtained from garlic is not used for aromatherapy massage for understandable reasons. However, as an alternative, the essential oil obtained from garlic is used as a medication as garlic capsules. Several concentrates obtained from a plant such as a rosemary and juniper are known to be effective in alleviating or preventing rheumatism. Massaging these essential oils on the surface of the skin invigorates the flow of blood as well as things pertaining to the lymph and boosts the supply of oxygen to the aching regions of the body. This process helps to remove the undesired elements such as the uric acid and lactic acid from the system. It may be mentioned here that the wastes such as uric acids and lactic acids are largely responsible for the acute pain endured by people enduring arthritic and rheumatic symptoms.
Numerous essential oils, as well as herbal medications, also possess a fascinating feature and that is their ability to normalize or produce various natural substances that work through the adrenal glands to produce adjustments in the body to combat stress and increase resistance to stress, and which usually produce no side effects. In fact, scientists in Eastern Europe have discovered that garlic possesses a special property whereby it can raise unusually low blood pressure and at the same time lower very high blood pressure.
In fact, the essential oil obtained from hyssop is said to possess a similar action like garlic. Several pieces of research have demonstrated that the hyssop essential oil makes the blood pressure to rise, subsequently fall and finally stabilize it at normal conditions. Interestingly, such a feature is unique for essential oils obtained from garlic and hyssop and is absolutely absent in any artificial or chemical medicine.
It is important to note that a number of physicians engaged in the field of remedial aromatherapy have also found that combinations of specific concentrates are more potent compared to the individual essential oils present in the blend. They are of the opinion that this is primarily owing to an inexplicable combined effort of the concentrates at work. As a result, the impact of the blends is more compared to the total of each of the individual essential oils in the combination. This phenomenon is especially evident in the case of the antibacterial activity of the essential oils. For instance, a combination of essential oils obtained from thyme, clove, lavender and peppermint is much more potent compared to what the chemist may anticipate of the combination considering the collective chemical elements of the essential oils in the blend.
While a blend of a few essential oils may prove to be more powerful than the total strength of each of them, it has been intriguingly noted that when more than five concentrates are blended together the result is harmful or counter-productive. However, a number of essential oils are extraordinarily aggressive against microbial germs even when they are used individually. For instance, the essential oil derived from the lemon is so aggressive that it counteracts typhoid, diphtheria and pneumonia bacteria below three hours! With a view to determining the essential oils that are most suited and effective for any individual, the French aromatherapy physicians normally undertake a special test known as the aromatogram that is said to be a vital key in optimizing treatment with aromatherapy. Employing the aromatogram entails collecting a layer from a contaminated region of the patient’s body, culturing the substance in a laboratory and subsequently testing it with at least 15 different essential oils to ascertain the right combination of the oils that would be most effectual for treating the infections in a particular person. Once the most powerful oils have been identified, they are produced as capsules and given to the patient for oral administration. It is surprising to note that under this form of treatment different combinations of essential oils are used to treat the same infections in different individuals. Hence, there is no fixed formula for treating any particular infection, but it depends on the individuals enduring the contagions.
Some therapeutic properties of essential oils
A number of essential oils possess some special remedial properties, including antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, cytophylactic and sedative. These topics are discussed in brief below.
As discussed earlier, more or less all essential oils possess antiseptic properties, which is one of their most noteworthy and helpful features. In fact, an expansive depiction of ‘antisepsis’ comprises anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-viral and common anti-microbial actions that are present in essential oils obtained from fruits, leaves, roots, flowers and barks of plants such as lemon, thyme, garlic, tea tree, lavender, pine, sandalwood, cinnamon and eucalyptus.
Essential oils possessing anti-inflammation features aid in alleviating irritation and tenderness. Normally, the indications of inflammation include aches, swelling, redness and sectional or complete loss of the concerned tissues. Some of the essential oils that possess anti-inflammatory features include concentrates obtained from rose, chamomile, sandalwood, lavender, benzoin and myrrh.
Many essential oils also help in restoring tissue function as well as the renewal of cells. Essential oils derived from basil, pine and rosemary are known to possess such extraordinary features. They are said to reinstate the performance of the adrenal glands, while the concentrate present in cypress, jasmine and ylang-ylang help to renew the functioning of the reproductive endocrine glands. On the other hand, essential oils derived from lavender and chamomile also rekindle the renewal of the cells in the dermis.
Many essential oils also have a distinct impact on the nervous system as their administration/ application leads to relaxation, comfort, alleviate pain, mitigate muscle contractions and soothe the nerve cells. Generally, essential oils obtained from rose, neroli, lavender, ylang-ylang and geranium possess these special properties.
Using Essential Oils
In actual essence, essential oils do not denote any oil but are unpolluted extracts from a wide range of plant parts, including the leaves, petals, flower heads, seeds, nut kernels, stalks and barks as well as gums and resins obtained from trees. In fact, the essential oils enclose the active element of any plant in an extremely condensed and powerful form. They are called essential oils as these substances are very vital for various human functions. It is important to water down or dilute the unpolluted and concentrated essential oils before applying them on the skin as they are really very potent.
As mentioned above, although the essential oils are referred to as ‘oil’, they do not possess any oily feeling. In fact, the majority of the essential oils are lucid. However, some of them, like orange, lemongrass and patchouli have an amber or yellowish hue.
The essential oils are produced in the tiny hollow spaces in the plant cells. Depending on the plant, they may be found in the petals, seeds, roots or even peel as in the instance of the oils extracted from the citrus fruits. These essential oils are removed from the plant parts by the distillation process or cold pressing. It may be mentioned here that the essential oils may differ significantly both in terms of cost and attributes or quality. A number of aspects, such as the scarcity of the plant, the country and the environment in which the plant was cultivated, may have an impact on the price and the quality of the essential oils. The price and quality of the essential oils are also determined by factors like the standard of the distiller and the quantity of oil produced by the plant.
Here are two examples to enable you to comprehend the matter better. While 100 kg of rose petals yield merely 20 ml of rose oil, it required 100 kg of leaves to produce 1 to 1.5 liters of peppermint oil. Although this particular aspect creates a difference in the price of rose oil and peppermint oil, it essentially does not reflect that one is less effectual than the other. As the essential oils enclose the real concentrate of the plant from which they are extracted, a tiny amount of it not only lasts for long but is also extremely effective.
It may be noted here that the essential oils do not mean any perfume or aromatic oil. The essential oils are actually extracted from real plants and offer therapeutic benefits, but the perfume oils are manufactured synthetically. Moreover, the perfume oils contain synthetic substances that create an artificial aroma and hence do not have any remedial value.
The remedial essential oils have the potential of offering several advantages and produce an intense effect on the body as well as the mind. It is possible to get relief from a headache or restore the vigor lost during the day by means of essential oils. The essential oils are fantastic and very simple to use in a bath, foot-bath or hand bath. When you massage with essential oils in the characteristic aromatherapy manner, it helps to invigorate the blood circulation throughout the body. At the same time, it sets off the natural healing process of the body. The fragrances of the essential oils have an impact on the sensitive hub of the brain and control our feelings.
In order to set free the natural aromas of the essential oils, one must use fragrance burners, aroma stones or spraying flasks. When you do this, you will be amazed to see how wonderfully it works on your body and mind.
- Essential oil fragrance burner
Essential oil fragrance burners are normally used for bigger areas so that the fragrance may linger for quite some time. It may be mentioned here that the more space, the more quantity of essential oil will be needed. As the essential oils fade away very fast distributing their aromas all over the room, you may need to add more oil after some time with a view to preserve the impact.
- Spraying flask
Usually, spraying flasks are used to produce a brief, but the instant effect in a room or any other place. In fact, spraying flasks may even be used inside a car either to stimulate your energy or to diminish the odor in the interior of the vehicle. In the event of having colds close to you, you may spray with lemon or once you have vacuumed the area, you may use your preferred essential oil or a combination of different oils. Alternately, you may also spray the covers, pillows and mattresses with lemon and lavender to make them smell clean and fresh.
- Aroma stones (Sandstones)
Aroma stones are generally used to emanate aroma for an extended period of time in small areas like toilets, halls, cupboards or even the chests. Using peppermint aroma stones in cars is very beneficial as it enables you to keep your focus and simultaneously neutralize car sickness. In addition, an aroma stone may also be used as a part of the decoration of the house or office.
It is important to keep in mind that you can use the essential oils in abundant ways to reinstate the synchronization of your mind and the body. For instance, you may use the essential oils as a remedy for headaches, air fresheners and even enhance your concentration while studying for examinations. These are only a few ways; there are many more ways – virtually anything that you may think of. You may even blend a number of essential oils with a view to realize a specific health benefit or merely combine them to enjoy their aromatic sensation. In fact, the chemical constitution and the fragrance of the essential oils are capable of providing you with precious emotional and physical healing advantages. Normally, such benefits may be attained by several means that may comprise breathing as well as external application of the watered down or diluted essential oils on the skin.
As the essential oils are highly concentrated and very powerful, they are normally diluted by adding any carrier oil, such as apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil, grape seed oil and others before applying them on the skin. So, when you are using an essential oil, you are actually using a watered-down blend of oils. This makes it easier for the skin to soak up the essential oils.
Inhaling the essential oils cautiously also provide important remedial advantages. When you inhale the essential oils in moderation, the oil molecules go into your lungs and are then soaked up by the bloodstream.
One may buy the essential oils in the form of blends of a number of unpolluted essential oils. When you purchase a blend of essential oils, you actually get some benefits. For instance, if you were to purchase a pure blend of essential oils, you don’t need to procure all the essential oils separately. While doing so would not only be very expensive, but you would also have to take the trouble of blending the particular essential oil you purchased proportionately with other oils. It is must be mentioned here that it requires great expertise and some experience to do the job.
Utilities of Essential Oils
Essential oils have multiple and varied uses. They are used in the manufacture of perfumes and to add aroma to skin care items. They are also added as drops to a vaporizer (spray) and also in spraying flask with a view to producing a specific environment, to put off a cold or just to refresh the air. Essential oils are also used in baths, foot-baths or hand baths with the objective to warm or loosen up cold limbs. In addition, essential oils are also used for foot-baths, hand baths and baths to generate an invigorating effect. They are used in compresses for cooling effects of sunburn. When added to massages and any skin care oils, the essential oils help in enhancing the blood circulation. Essential oils may also be inhaled directly from a vaporizer or any simple bottle to help in clearing blocked air passages or just to unwind.