“Essential oils are created and stored in specialized plant structures such as secretory cells, glands, glandular hairs, and oil or resin ducts. The secretory cells that produce the volatile oils trap the photo electromagnetic energy of the sun, and with the help of glucose, convert it into biochemical energy in the form of aromatic molecules. In a process similar to photosynthesis, plants create essential oils by trapping and transmuting light and energy.”
— Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green.
Essential oils are stored in all parts of plants. You can find and extract essential oils from the flowers, seeds, leaves, twigs, branches, grasses, bark, wood, roots, rhizomes, fruit peels, gums, and resins.
How are the oils extracted?
The two main processes are distillation and pressing
Distillation. In order to break open the plant structures holding the essential oil, heat is applied. Heat and water are used to extract the oil. If you have ever steamed vegetables, you’ll have the basic idea. You put the broccoli (plant material) on the steam basket with water under it, turn on the heat, and go!
Pressing. This method is most often used for citruses since the essential oil is found in the peel. When you cut a grapefruit, you cut open some sacs holding the essential oil, and then you can smell it. Try smelling a grapefruit peel before you cut it. You’ll notice a huge difference in the aroma’s intensity after the sacs are cut open.
How are they used?
Essential Oils are typically inhaled or applied on the skin.
Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, and therefore the central nervous system. (What a great way to calm down!) Additionally, inhaled essential oils come in direct contact with nasal passages, sinuses, trachea, and lungs. Physical contact between the essential oil and the internal structures of the respiratory system creates many benefits:
- Inhaling essential oils can treat respiratory conditions such as colds, the flu, sore throat, sinus congestion, environmental allergies, etc.
- The respiratory system is frequently a “first avenue” of infection. Inhaling essential oils can help prevent respiratory infections.
- Essential oils can cross into the bloodstream from the lungs. This is a quick way to deliver essential oils to the whole internal system of the body via the blood.
Even though the skin is waterproof, it is a dynamic organ that can absorb topical substances. Since skin covers the entire body, you will most likely be applying essential oils to it. Applying essential oils to the skin affects the skin directly, and is another method of introducing the oils into the bloodstream.
Essential oils are made up of hundreds of individual chemical components. Their ability to penetrate the skin depends on their size, volatility, and their solubility in lipids and/or water. Generally, a smaller molecule will pass through more easily and quickly than a larger molecule – but even the large, non-volatile molecules will penetrate over a 24-hour period.
- Not all oils can be used for inhalation. For example, oils high in phenols, aldehydes (citral in particular) and some monoterpenes can be irritating. This depends on the individual and may require some experimenting.
- Some oils may be contraindicated with asthma and serious allergies.
- Be careful with the dosage, as too much oil inhaled can cause headaches, dizziness, and can irritate the membranes of the nose and lungs
- Irritation of the skin
- Care needs to be used when applying over areas that have been in regular contact with perfumes and synthetic cosmetics.
- Essential Oils are very concentrated and you should always consult your healthcare provider
So, why should I care?
Research has shown the exceptional therapeutic properties within essential oils. They can help you in so many ways ranging from emotional support and immune support to household cleaning products you can actually feel good about using!
Once you give oils a chance you will be so happy you did.