Essential Oil Basics

Essential Oil Basics

Here are the essential oil basics...

What are essential oils

Also known as volatile oils, essential oils are hydrophobic liquid concentrates extracted from plants from which they borrow their fragrance. They have been used for centuries for cosmetics, spiritual and emotional purposes. Clove, lavender and eucalyptus are some of the more common essential oils available in the market.

Essential oils have very many uses. From cleaning to relaxation, beauty care to home remedies, different essential oils serve diverse purposes around the house.  Lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree oils have great disinfectant properties. They therefore are very good for cleaning items and surfaces in the house. Their characteristic sweet fragrances leave the house smelling fresh, and some like the clove oil even help to rid the house off common pests.

Lavender, cedar wood and chamomile have great relaxation properties and are often used in spas as massage oils.  The oils have also been used in the beauty industry as deodorants, teeth whiteners, shampoos as well as skin oils to reduce wrinkles, stretch marks and treat dandruff.

Essential oils have also earned their spot in the natural medicine and home remedies category. Some oils have been known to heal burns, treat bruises, curb cravings and reduce morning sickness.

How are they made?

Essential oils are made through distillation, solvent extraction and expression. In distillation, steam is passed through the plant’s bark, peel, leaves or flowers so as to vaporize the volatile compounds. Once the vapors condense back into a liquid, they are collected in a bottle. The expression method is older than distillation. It involves the pressing of the plant to release the oils. Olive, lemon and orange oils are made using this method. When the plant’s volatile oil content are too low, solvent extraction method is used. Like the name suggests, a solvent is used to extract the oil from the plant.

What are hydrosols?

The recondensed liquid once the steam has vaporized the volatile compounds from the plant during the distillation method of extracting the oil is known as hydrosol. While some have unpleasant smells, others are sold fragrant products. Popular hydrosols in the market are lavender, lemon and rose water.

What is an absolute?

When oils are extracted from the plant through the solvent extraction method, the highly concentrated extract is known as an absolute. This method is especially popular in flowers because of their delicate nature which makes it hard for them to withstand the high temperatures associated with the steam distillation method.

What is an extract?

An extract is oil that has been expressed from a rind through cold pressing.  This method is specific to citrus essential oils and was done by hand in the olden days. The modern method of expressing is referred to as the ecuelle a piquer process and involves prodding action, pricking and sticking. Once the juices from the rind are collected, centrifugal force is used to separate the water from the oil. The oil is the extract. Extracts are more stable than distilled essential oils and do not deteriorate as fast. They are also better for aromatherapy.