There is not a culture on earth that has not incorporated plants and herbs into health rituals, recipes, and fixes at some point in their history. Each nation has different names for these things. Aryuveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or even down-home remedies are all comprised of the same stuff: Plants. In today’s age, many have become aware of the importance of plant-based remedies in their journey to natural health and vitality.
People are finding themselves turning to healthier forms of healing than the pharmaceuticals and drugs that doctors traditionally prescribe. In addition to being attentive about eating choices, activity levels, and overall well being, people are also using plants and herbs are as medicine to treat small ailments and encourage good health. From those plants and herbs are things called essential oils, which are excellent extracts to supplement a healthy lifestyle and ensure that the body maintains optimal vitality.
What Are Essential Oils?
Because of the popularity of herbs as medicines, there have been many ways that essential oils have been created and defined. The most basic definition of essential oils is a highly concentrated form of oils that reside in plants and herbs. They are the primary actives of different plants distilled into a potent, stable form that can be used in a variety of ways and stored for a very long time. Essential oils come in many different colors depending on what plant is distilled and how the process is completed.
There are two main ways that essential oils are created: steam distillation, and carbon dioxide distillation. Steam distillation is the most common and involves using heat to “steam” the oil content from the plant leaving behind its water (which is how hydrosols are created, another great tool for your skin!), and solid matter. On the other hand, carbon dioxide distillation involves using carbon dioxide as a solvent to separate the oil product from the plant.
This method of creating essential oil is low heat and does not change the molecular structure of the product. Using carbon dioxide ensures that you are receiving a high potency essential oil without damage to the structure and integrity of the plant. The downside of this method is the aspect of using liquid carbon dioxide as a solvent, which is not considered a “natural distillation” to many. However, because carbon dioxide is commonly found in nature and leaves no residual chemicals or permanent changes to the essential oil, many health conscious and natural brands utilize this method of distillation for their products.
Some oils are commonly found and inexpensive, and other oils are incredibly pricey for even the smallest of drops. Steam distillation tends to yield essential oils that are lower in price but still of high quality. Carbon dioxide distillation produces the highest quality and potency but tends to cost for precious oils from exotic herbs and resins. A less conventional method for extracting essential oils is through cold pressing or expelling. Cold pressing is a great option for those who would like unheated essential oils without the use of any solvents or chemicals. This is the most intensive option to create essential oils. However, it does leave a high-quality result that gives the true to plant smell and potency.
Why Should You Use Essential Oils?
There are many fantastic benefits to essential oils in general. When the oils are within the plants, they perform vital functions like encouraging insects to pollinate, as well as warding off potential predators and disease. These same properties are found when the oils are expressed and diluted and can have incredible effects on different processes within the body. For example, clary sage is a potent oil that eases menstrual cramps. Eucalyptus oil relieves coughs and breaks up congestion in the chest. The possibility for blends and uses are endless, and as long as they are applied and diluted correctly, they can be used for all skin types and children.
How Do You Use Essential Oils?
Essential oils contain the concentrated oils and phytochemicals of the herbs found in their leaves, stems, and other plant material. Some essential oils can provide 30 times the amount of one herb plant, so it is integral that these oils are used safely and with vigilance to ensure no headaches, irritations, or adverse reactions occur. The two main ways to use essential oils are topically, or aromatically. Before discussing the different methods for each, we must reiterate that attention to detail and safety is a must! Essential oils require dilution. The vast majority of essential oils should be diluted in their chosen carrier for safe use. Dilution helps for ratios to be tested before use as well as easy dosing for any treatment schedules, recipes, and remedies. Before fully applying any new essential oil dilution, patch test if topical, and lightly test scents if dealing with aromatics.