What are essential oils?
Aww, you know that burst of citrus goodness that just gives you the happy feels while peeling an orange? Well my friend, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. These naturally occurring, volatile aromatic compounds are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. Essential oils provide plants with protection against predators and disease and play a role in plant pollination.
History of essential oils
The ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used essential oils nearly 6,000 years ago in cosmetics, spiritual customs, and as medicinals. The bible references Frankincense 22 times and Myrrh was one a key ingredient in Moses holy anointing oil.
Look out world, essential oils are making a come back. Today we enjoy these little aromatic compounds for their vast benefits ranging from food preparation, beauty and hygiene products, to health-care practices.
"Aromatherapy is an especially effective treatment for stress related problems and a variety of chronic conditions"....the aromatherapy Board Commission
Methods of extraction
Steam distillation is the most common method of extracting eo from plants. The process uses pressurized steam to pass through the plant material which releases the aromatic compounds from the plant into the steam. When the steam cools, the water and oils separate and the oil is collected off the top. Temperature and pressure are very important to the potency of the eos; too little pressure or low heat and the oil will not release, too much heat and the oils composition and efficacy is compromised.
Expression or "cold press" uses a mechanical pressure (instead of steam) to extract the oils from the plant. Cold press is used most often in the extraction of citrous oils, such as wild orange, lemon, lime and bergamot..etc. from the rind.
To ensure a high quality essential oil, harvesting practices of the plants are just as important as the extraction/distillation process. The best oils come from the plants grown and harvested in their natural habitat, by experienced farmers. An ethical oil company will also want to ensure these farmers are paid fairly and will want to minimize their environmental footprint throughout the whole process.
How to Use Essential Oils
It is important to always follow the instructions on the bottle! With that in mind, lets just briefly go over the more popular ways to use essential oils:
Aromatic ~ Inhaling and diffusing essential oils can be be very stimulating, soothing, or calming, depending on the oil. Essential oils are quickly absorbed by the smell receptors, which have a direct link to the limbic system by way of the olfactory nerve. The limbic system is part of the brain that supports a variety of functions including smell, emotions, behavior, and memory. For this reason, essential oils have an especially powerful effect via aromatic application.*
Diffusion of essential oils is an effective way to cleanse and purify the air, and is generally considered the safest way to use them. A diffuser that uses cold water or air to disperse eos into the air is ideal, but not necessary. The same aromatic benefits can be achieved by simply rubbing a drop or two of essential oils in the palms of your hands and then cupping around your nose and inhaling deeply.
Beneficial areas you can apply essential oils:
Forehead and Temples
Bottom of Feet
Chest and Abdomen
Arms and legs
Other ways to enjoy essential oils topically:
Adding a few drops to a warm bath
Make a hot or cold compress by soaking a towel or clothe in water, adding essential oils, and then applying to the desired are
Add oils to salt scrubs, lotion or other body care products
Areas to be avoided:
Eyes, Nose, and Ears
Broken, damaged, or otherwise injured skin
Any known sensitive areas/skin
Avoid directs sunlight/UV for a few hours after applying citrus oils
Internal ~ I would not recommend digestion for most eos on the market, always read the label. However, high quality oils can be used in recipes for flavoring foods or added to water/drinks or veggie-caps for targeted wellness.