Essential oils are volatile, aromatic and non-water soluble substances obtained from the different parts of a plant. Essential oils are very concentrated aromatic essences of plants obtained from flowers, shrubs, buds, gums, seeds, leaves, fruits, berries, roots, barks, resins. For example, rose and jasmine essential oil is extracted from the flower when lemon and orange comes from the fruit peel, palmarosa from the leaves, frankincense and myrrh from the gum, juniper from berries, carrot seed and fennel from seeds, ginger and vetiver from the root of a plant, cinnamon from the bark, sedarwood from the wood. There are many parts of the plant which can be used for the extraction of essential oil and the benefits can vary. There is a very good example with the orange tree. Sweet orange is produced from the fruit, petitgrain from leaves and twigs and neroli comes from the blossom or flowers of the orange tree. Even though they all come from the same tree their chemical composition will be slightly different and therefore the therapeutic benefits will also have a difference.
Essential oils can be used with many different purposes. As history shows they have been used for thousands of years for different purposes and more we learn about them more versatile they become. Essential oils are commonly used as a natural medicine in aromatherapy, and also they are used in relaxation technics, beauty and personal care, massages, house cleaning.
How to use essential oils.
Aromatically. Inhaling essential oils is probably the most known method of aromatherapy, apart from aroma massage which you can find in nearly any spa salon. There are many ways how you can use them aromatically.
Bath. Bathing with essential oil is one of the oldest ways of practicing aromatherapy. Just add a few drops (4-6 drops) of essential oil in a warm bath by using a carrier agent (bath gel, milk, vegetable oil, bath salts). This is great for relaxation, stress and anxiety reduction, mood enhancement, good for alleviating muscle aches, pains and tension, stimulates blood circulation, improves tone and health of the skin, aids detoxification.
Steam inhalation. Add 2 drops to a steaming water, cover you head with a towel and breath through the nose, keep your eyes closed. This method is mainly indicated for helping to treat the respiratory system, good for cold and flu, good for sinuses.
Diffusion. This is done by a specifically designed diffusers. It works mainly for stress and anxiety reduction, mood enhancement, increasing concentration, relaxation, sleep disorders, and is great for the cold and flu season to reduce the spread of a virus.
Direct inhalation. This way you’re inhaling the essential oil directly, either from the bottle or palms of your hand, handkerchief, scarf, smelling salts. This is a great for uplifting the mood, relieving stress and anxiety, relieving nausea, supporting healthy breathing, gives emotional support and is very handy on the go.
Topically. This method uses essential oils by applying them on a skin. It is strongly recommended to dilute essential oils with a carrier such as cold-pressed vegetable oils (ex.: jojoba, grapeseed, sweet almond, olive, coconut, wheatgerm oil) or unscented creams and lotions. Of course there are always exceptions, for example lavender, helichrysum or tea tree essential oils can be used neat (undiluted) on a skin. These oils are very gentle and can be used as a first-aid oils on cuts and wounds. Anyways, it’s good to remember to dilute essential oils since they are very concentrated. It doesn’t mean that they will be less effective, it’s quit opposite, the carrier will help them to spread equally on a large area, will protect the skin from unwanted results, and some oils will give a better result when diluted rather than neat. So the rule less is more works perfect here. There are several ways to use them topically.
Massage. Probably everybody knows how massage can be relaxing. By adding few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil you can enhance the therapeutic benefit of massage by increasing the blood circulation, or helping to relax the muscles, nourish the skin or helping to fight the cellulite. Plus the aroma itself can uplift the mood and help with emotional balance. Massage in combination with essential oils can help with stress and anxiety, headaches, insomnia, chronic and acute pains, arthritis and rheumatism, muscle and joint pain, during the childbirth, relax and sooth the nervous system, enhance the immune system support and many more. This way essential oils work aromatically as well.
Creams and lotions. They can be greatly enhanced by adding few drops of essential oils for additional moisturizing and nourishing effect, as well as for helping to treat certain skin conditions like acne or eczema.
Sometimes essential oils can be also applied neat, which is unusual but in some cases very effective. For example lavender essential oil has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, soothing and healing properties and works amazing in case of emergency such as burns, bites, cuts.
Internal use or digesting essential oils. Even though the essential oils can be very safe they can also be dangerous. Not all essential oils are suitable for the internal use, and even the ones that are safe should be taken only in small amounts (1-3 drops). This method is not as safe as other methods because you need to have a proper background of knowledge on how to take them considering the overall health condition. Therefore it is recommended to use this method under a supervision of a trained practitioner unless you yourself received necessary education on this subject. It is true that ingestion of essential oils can be very efficient but again taking in consideration the proper knowledge and a common sense, otherwise they can do you more harm then benefit. For the general knowledge there are few ways for the internal use of essential oils:
- Essential oils can be taken in a vegetable capsule in a small amount only
- Essential oils can be mixed with honey and taken as a tea (doses must be considered with respect)
- Essential oils can be diluted with fatty oils like coconut
- Essential oils can be used in culinary (do a good research how to do it properly)
- Essential oils should never be taken internally by children, pregnant women and people who suffer with heartburn or ulcers
- Some oils should never be taken internally ( thuja, hyssop, wintergreen, anise, mugword, rue, sage officinalis, lavender stoechas, pennyroyal )
- Essential oils should be taken only in small amounts and only for a short period of time. Taking essential oils for a prolong period of time can cause a liver damage. More then 3 weeks is considered prolong period of time.
- Any uncomfortable sensation is an indication to stop taking the oils internally
The extraction method.
Throughout the history people have been using different methods of producing the essential oil. Some methods are not used anymore, and some are so much time and power consuming that it doesn’t make sense any more to use them. Nowadays there are four main extraction methods used for producing the essential oil.
Steam distillation is the most common method of extraction of essential oil is giving us the purest essential oil. During the distillation the plant material is placed under the pressurized steam which would pass through the plant material. The heat of the steam would release the essential oil within a plan and would travel with steam molecules through the pipe into a cooling container where it would return back into a liquid state. Since the essential oils are not water soluble they will be naturally separated from the water.
The expression or cold pressing is exclusively used for the citrus essential oils such as orange, mandarin, bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine or lime and some of the fatty oils like grapeseed, coconut, olive, jojoba and almond. In this method the peel of the fruit is punctured and then pressed in order to extract the essential oil, and oil is then separated by a centrifuge.
Solvent extraction or absolute extraction is used for the plant materials that are very delicate and can’t survive the heat of the steam distillation. In this method the solvent is poured over plant material and slowly heated which helps to extract the essential oil from the plant. Then the solvent is filtered out in order to separate the essential oil. This method is producing what is called an “absolute” rather then the essential oil itself. This method is mainly used for such essential oils like jasmin, neroli and rose otto. Absolute can never be as pure as the essential oil extracted by the steam distillation. That’s why absolutes should never be ingested. Due to their high price absolutes are often adulterated and here it’s good to buy these oils from a good and trusted supplier as well as to pay attention to a price. For example, 5 ml of rose essential oil can cost up to 200$. So when you see such type of oils for 10, 20 or 50$ you can be sure that that oil is either totally synthetic or heavily adulterated.
CO2 extraction ( hypercritical carbon dioxide extraction ). This is the latest method of extraction. It is a similar process to solvent extraction where the carbon dioxide in its hypercritical fluid state is used as a solvent. Here the plant is placed in a chamber and then carbon dioxide (CO2) in a hypercritical state is added. Carbon dioxide (CO2) become saturated with aromatic constituents and then pumped into another chamber with different pressure and temperature where in gets back to its original state, leaving behind the essential oils. Essential oils are then collected and CO2 is recycled. The benefit of this method is that the whole procedure is done a fairy low temperature (comparing to distillation process), the aroma of essential oil is very close to the original plant aroma. CO2 extraction, unlike the products of regular solvent extraction (concretes, absolutes, oleoresins), can be easily and completely removed by releasing the pressure. Which lets this process to eliminate the use of potentially harmful solvents such as hexane.
Of course not to forget the safety of essential oils. Even though they are natural you still need to know the rules how to use them. Remember that essential oils are very concentrated and even a single drop of it can provide an immediate therapeutic benefit. The rule “less is more” is the most suitable when it comes to essential oils.
- Do not use essential oils in eyes, inside of the ear, on mucus membranes.
- Essential oils must be diluted with the carrier oil (cold-pressed vegetable oil such as coconut, grapeseed, wheatgerm, olive, argan, macadamia, jojoba etc) even though some of them can be used neat (there are exceptions like lavender or tea tree oil, and it depends on the case, but better safe than sorry)
- Should be kept away from children
- Should be kept away from the fire, they can be very flammable
- Should be used with caution and in a bigger dilution on babies, kids, pregnant and old people (not all oils are suitable)
- Should be used with caution on people with known medical condition or the ones going through medical treatment
- Essential oils should not be ingested by babies, kids, pregnant and people with certain medical conditions (ingesting should be done under a supervision of a professional)
- Some essential oils can be phototoxic
Now once you know the rules of the game there should be no difficulties in using the products of nature.