Nov 10

Defining Essential Oils in Aromatherapy

Dried lavender herb and essential aromatherapy oil

Dried lavender herb and essential aromatherapy oil

Essential oils are used throughout the various types of aromatherapy treatments. They have been referred to as the quintessence of a plant’s being. The Oxford English Dictionary defines quintessence as “An extract from anything, containing in concentrated form its most essential principle.” Essential oils are concentrated aromatic liquids extracted from a variety of aromatic plant material through the process of distillation. These natural organic substances are produced in various glands and sacs within aromatic plants. Each essential oil is usually produced in one part of the plant, except in a few cases. Where a plant produces essential oils in more than one of its parts, differences of odor and in chemical composition occur. For example, the oil from the leaves of the cinnamon tree has a cinnamon and clove like odor; where as the oil from the bark has the characteristic ‘cinnamon’ odor. Another example is from the bitter orange tree: Bitter orange oil is produced from the peel, petitgrain from the leaf and neroli from the blossom; all have different odors yet similar properties.

In traditional aromatherapy circles, Essential oils are extracted from many different kinds of plants. They can be extracted from culinary herbal plants. Some examples of this can be seen in basil, clary sage, rosemary, peppermint, and thyme. Essential oils can also be extracted from various kinds of seeds. For example, angelica, coriander, black pepper and cardamom all have wonderful essential oils with a variety of different properties. Fruits like lemon, mandarin, bergamot, grapefruit and lime also have some great essential oils that are quite helpful throughout the practice of aromatherapy. There are many flowers like rose, ylang ylang, jasmine & lavender that have the perfect essential oils for aromatherapy treatment procedures. Some resins including frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and elemi have essential oils that can be extracted for aromatherapy purposes. Many of the woods from various kinds of trees make excellent essential oils for aromatherapy. Some examples include cedarwood, sandalwood, camphor and cinnamon. Wood, though, isn’t the only useful part of the tree in terms of essential oils for aromatherapy purposes. Leaves and twigs can also be quite helpful for this purpose. The leaves and twigs of tea tree, eucalyptus, melissa, petitgrain and patchouli have been found to be quite helpful in aromatherapy procedures. Some grasses including lemongrass & palmarosa are used extensively throughout aromatherapy.  Roots, Rhizomes & Bulbs including angelica, ginger, garlic & vetiver are also used in most aromatherapy treatments.

Each plant contains a percentage (which varies between 5% – .01%) of essential oil, and it is this fact that dictates the amount of plant material needed for distillation to create a specified amount of essential oil. For example, it takes up to 100 kilos of rose petals to produce 1/2 liter of rose whilst 100 kilos of lavender will yield approximately 3 liters of lavender essential oil. The quantity of plant material needed also dictates pricing of the individual essential oils.

The quality of an essential oil is influenced by a number of factors, such as its geographical and botanical source, the prevailing climate, the standards of local farming, the time of harvesting and the skill of individual harvesters and distillers. The essential oils used in aromatherapy are only a small proportion compared with that of the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic trade. In the food trade, essential oils are used as flavorings for many different dishes. In the pharmaceutical industry, essential oils are used quite differently. In most cases, they are used for medicines, toothpastes, gargles, cough sweets and inhalations. Friar’s Balsam and Vick’s Vaporub is a good example of products they are used in. Moreover, the  pharmaceutical industry uses a variety of essential oils in various products. For example, clove oil is commonly used in toothpaste. Peppermint oil is in many of the products you consume for digestive disorders. Eucalyptus oil is commonly inhaled to help deal with stuff noses and colds. Lavender oil is a great remedy for insect repellent or after bite soothing lotion. Tea tree oil is used throughout dentistry practices. The use of essential oils, though, doesn’t stop there. In the cosmetic trade essential oils are used in face creams, make up and perfume. Essential oils have many different uses in the world of aromatherapy treatments.


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