Long before medications were developed by using microbes, hormones and enzymes, humans used to turn to nature to treat a wide range of ailments.
People used to take essences from plants, distill them to oils to soothe pain, quiet coughs, or promote restful sleep. The results were so good that this information was passed down to generations of healers and physicians.
Essential oils come from a group of chemical molecules in plants called terpenes, the cellular level compounds that create a plant’s scent.
This unique scent is coming from the combination of over 100 terpenes in each plant.
Terpenes may be found in the plant’s flowers, roots, leaves, bark, stem or seeds. Not only do these compounds give plants their powerful scents, they also make plants particularly potent for a wide range of uses—as flavorings in food, as scents and cleaning agents in household and beauty products, and as medicines with demonstrated remedial properties.
When we are talking about essential oils, we are not talking about oils in their true sense. Olive oil, canola oil, or almond oil remain in their liquid state after heating. They are called fixed oils. But essential oils vaporize when heated.
Most essential oils are made from plants using one of 3 methods:
- Distillation is a process where we use steam to break down the plant and capture the compounds within it as they escape as vapour.
- Expression is another method that is mainly used for citrus plants. It is also called cold-pressing and it uses a mechanical process to rotate and puncture the rind of a fruit. The essential oil and juice are then released from the rind and collected in a container.
The method known as solvent extraction uses a solvent – such as methanol, ethanol, hexane, or petroleum ether – to draw the terpenes and other matter out of a plant. The substance that results is called a concrete. An absolute is the final product of solvent extraction. It consists of an alcohol-based essential oil extract with about 5-10 parts per million (ppm) of solvent residue remaining from the extraction process. Absolutes are normally used only for aromatherapy.
- Hypercritical carbon dioxide extraction – or CO2 extraction – was developed only recently and it makes it possible to capture elements that would be lost during the other processes. It also produces a more authentic plant fragrance.
The use of plants for healing started amongst our earliest ancestors, who noticed that certain plants have the ability to heal sick people. Around the 7th century BCE, visiting physicians from several Greek cities arrived in Egypt and left with knowledge about the use of essential oils in healing. In the Bible, nearly 200 mentions of essential oils occur throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Each essential oils have different properties for healing, relaxation, or mood alteration. You can use essential oils in your bath water, put them in your massage oil or take advantage of essential oils’ medicinal properties.
Anytime you use a fragrant plant extract in your bath, as a massage oil, as an inhalant in your home, or for health or healing, you are practicing a form of aromatherapy.
Essential oils contain volatile organic compounds extracted from the source plant, and these may be able to improve your health. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are naturally occurring chemicals. Most scents are made up of VOCs. Some VOCs, such as methane, are harmful to the environment, but essential oils are considered to pose far fewer environmental risks.
The essential oils used in aromatherapy may relieve stress or stimulate the body’s energy levels. They may promote relaxation and restful sleep. They may also have an effect on depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, chest and nasal congestion, infection, and a wide range of other common ailments.