From the ingredient vault: Essential oils

Posted by Diana Zapata on

I want to start this post with an excerpt from Valerie Ann Norwood's book on Aromatherapy. 

"Essential oils are one of the great untapped resources of the world. The concentrated essences of various flowers fruits, herbs and plants have been used for centuries all over the world, but in modern times we have forgotten the power of these ancient medicines of the earth, preferring instead to use the products of perfume and chemical companies which imitate the natural fragrances and medicinal and cleansing properties of the essential oils. Because the essential oils are so sweet-smelling, many people suppose their value is essentially one charm and fragrance- but this is a mistake. Modern scientific research has proven that essential oils are potent, with remarkable medicinal properties. These substances are very complex in their molecular structure and very powerful. The essential oil of oregano, for example, is 26 times more powerful as an antiseptic than phenol, which is the active ingredient in many commercial cleansing materials.

Unlike chemical drugs, essential oils do not remain in the body. They leave no toxins behind."

So there you have it, essential oils are therapeutic, fragrant and powerful. Reason enough for us to explore all of what they have to offer and infuse them into our blends.

 

CHEMISTRY OF ESSENTIAL OILS

Essential oils are composed of chemical compounds with oxygen, carbon, and oxygen as it's building blocks. These are divided into hydrocarbons (made up of terpenes) and oxygenated compounds (esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols and oxides).

Terpenes

Highly antiseptic, anti-inflammatory. Some examples include Chamomile, Rose, Pine, Spruce, Fir. 

Esters

Normally very fragrant and tend to be fruity. Sedative and antispasmodic. Some examples include Lavender, Clary Sage, Cardamom, Marjoram.

Aldehydes

Antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, sedative yet uplifting qualities. Examples include Verbena, Citronella, Melissa, Lemongrass and Lemon. Best used in low concentrations as they can cause skin irritations.

Ketones

Can be toxic but some have therapeutic benefits, especially in secretion of mucus as well as cell and tissue regeneration (wound healing, reducing scar tissue, stretch marks). Examples include Helichrysum, Peppermint, Atlas Cedarwood, Vetiver, Eucalyptus, Sage.

Alcohols

Immune-boosting, anti-fungal, antiseptic. Gentle and tolerable. Uplifting and energizing effect. Examples include Geranium, Rosewood, Peppermint, Juniper.

Phenols

Anti-bacterial and disinfectant qualities. These essential oils should be used in low concentrations and for short periods of time since they can lead to toxicity if used over long periods of time. The liver works harder to excrete them. Phenols are also classified as skin and mucus membrane irritants and although they have antiseptic qualities, they can cause severe skin reactions. Examples include Oregano, Savory, Thyme, Cinnamon and Clove.

Oxides

Expectorants. Examples: Tea Tree and Eucalyptus.

METHODS OF DISTILLATION

The aromatic oils can be found in different parts of a plant, including seeds, bark, root, leaves, flowers, wood, balsam and resin. Depending on available resources, yield amount and others, different methods of distillation are used. 

Most essential oils are either steam distilled or expressed (applied pressure). Other types of distillation include solvent extraction (using solvents to produce concretes, resinoids and absolutes) and enfleurage (which yield pomades and enfleurage absolutes).

WARNING

Not all plants are beneficial to your health or safe to use in aromatherapy. Just because it is natural, it doesn't mean you can and should use it. The following are some essential oils that you should never use, as they can be poisonous or dangerous to use in therapeutic applications: 

Bitter Almond, Boldo Leaf, Calamus, Yellow Camphor, Horseradish, Jaborandi Leaf, Mugwort, Mustard, Pennyroyal, Rue, Sassafras, Savin, Southernwood, Tansy, Thuja, Wintergreen, Wormseed, and Wormwood. 

As always, thank you for reading us.

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See you next time.

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Sources:
•The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood
•The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless
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