As the interest in aromatherapy grows for those interested in alternative health, wellness, and fitness, many folks ask “what are essential oils” and “how do they differ from other oils like olive oil, coconut and the like”? This brief primer should help clarify the matter, and get you started in the wonderful world of aromatherapy. Essential oils are concentrated volatile aromatic compounds produced by plants – these are the easily evaporated essences that give plants their wonderful scents, more akin to an alcohol than what we commonly think of as an oil.
Each of these complex precious liquids is extracted from a particular plant species. Each plant species originates in certain regions of the world, with particular environmental conditions and neighboring fauna and flora. The result is a very diverse library of aromatic compounds, with some essential oils being made up of more than one hundred distinct organic chemicals. Pure essential oils are distilled from oil sacs found in most structures of plants – the leaves, roots, flowers and more. Almost all essential oils are made up of several, sometimes hundreds of various molecular compounds. The combination and ratios of these compounds give each oil it’s particular aromatic and medicinal properties.
Essential oils are not just a by-product of plant growth; plants use these oils in a manner similar to those prescribed in medical aromatherapy: to fight infections from microbes, fungi and viruses; to protect themselves from animal invaders; and some suspect they may be used for chemical communication between plants of the same species. While essential oils come from the plant world, they are particularly suited to use in natural health, wellness and fitness programs as their chemistry is remarkably compatible with our own; they are easily absorbed into our bodies, even at the cellular level. To produce essential oils of therapeutic quality – those that retain as much of the original plant essence in its original state as possible – the most gentle extraction method that will draw the oil from a particular plant is most desirable.
Extraction methods range from Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction – being the most gentle (and most expensive), to pressing (as for extracting the oil from citrus rinds) and steam distillation, to solvent extraction. Steam distillation is most common, and as a result of only requiring heating to just above the boiling point of water, is considered gentle enough for most essential oils. Humankind has used plants for healing for many thousands of years, and it’s from this tradition of that the use of aromatic plant compounds is medicine began. Documented use of aromatic plants dates back to near 4500 B.C., though it was in the hands of the ancient Egyptians that the use of oils and plant aromatics was truly developed. Oils were used in the embalming process, in medicine and in purification rituals. In 1922, when King Tut’s tomb was opened, 50 alabaster jars made to contain nearly 350 liters of oil were discovered. There are also over 200 references to aromatics, incense and ointments in the Old and New Testaments; Frankincense, Myrrh, Galbanun, Cinnamon, Cassia, Rosemary, Hyssop and Spikenard are noted for being used for anointing rituals and healing of the sick.
Modern use of essential oils in natural health, wellness and fitness programs began with the discovery of Lavender’s healing properties by a French scientist in the middle of the last century. Lavender was found to have effective healing properties for skin wounds, strong anti-inflammatory properties, and wonderful calming effects when inhaled. Further research has confirmed superior efficacy of essential oils for a broad range of physiological conditions. Research has confirmed centuries of practical use of essential oils, and we now know that the ‘fragrant pharmacy’ contains compounds with an extremely broad range of biochemical effects. There are about three hundred essential oils in general use today by professional practitioners, though the average household could fulfill all its likely needs with 10 (for wound healing, cold fighting, insect repelling, calming children and the like), perhaps 20 if their use were a touch more esoteric (for deepening meditation, enhancing yoga practice, etc).
Using essential oils is very easy, fun, and can be extremely rewarding. Employing oils is most commonly done using one of these methods: inhalation, topical application, and in certain instances ingestion. Diffusing essential oils with a cold-air nebulizer is best for inhalation, as these units make a fine mist of the oils which are easily absorbed in significant quantities. This method is effective both for psychological effects and support for the respiratory system. Topical application usually involved the dilution of essential oils in a carrier oil to a 5% or less concentration to be used with certain massage techniques. Massage is often used for relief of muscle and joint pain, and also with calming and uplifting psychological results. Topical application will frequently take the form of blends for healing various skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and even revitalizing aging skin. Finally, ingestion – which should only be done with very detailed knowledge from a qualified professional – is often used in the form of oil placed in gel capsules. Peppermint oil is frequently used this way for digestive complaints.
There is such a wonderful variety of uses for essential oils; to get the most from them, educate yourself further through courses, texts and knowledgeable practitioners. Most of all, be safe, have fun, and welcome this new edition to your alternative natural health, wellness and fitness regimen.
Misty Rae Cech ND is a degreed natural health professional and the founder of Ananda Aromatherapy, a source for pure wildcrafted and organic therapeutic grade aromatherapy essential oils and synergistic essential oil blends.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com