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Introduction to Essential Oils

The fragrance of a flower, smell of a citrus fruit and scent of eucalyptus or pine trees are all therapeutic. Would you not agree? An Essential oil is a plant extract that gives out natural aromas specific to the plant. Steam distillation or cold pressed are the two processes used to extract essential oils. This depends on the part of the plant that is used to extract oil. If the nuts are used to extract the oil, then its mostly cold-pressed. Similarly, for the citrus fruits the rind is the part used. Here too the method of extraction used is cold-pressed. If the leaves, stems and flowers are used to extract essential oil, then it’s done through the process of steam distillation.

The word “essential oil” is the short form of the original word “quintessential.” As per the Aristotelian theory the Matter consists of the four elements – Fire, Earth, Water and Air. Aristotle in his theory also mentioned the fifth element or quintessence, where quintessence was considered to be the spirit or life force. And it was believed that the processes distillation and evaporation extracted the spirit from the plants. However, in the modern era we know that the essential oils are not spirits but are physical in nature and are made up of many complex chemicals.

What are Volatile Aromatic Compounds of Essential Oils

Naturally occurring volatile aromatic compounds are found in flowers, roots, seeds, bark and other parts of plants. These small organic compounds form the essential oils. The naturally occurring Essential Oils emit distinctive smell, protect the plants and also play a vital role in pollination.

The volatile aromatic compounds are small organic molecules that have the ability to change state quickly from liquid to a gas to solid. Let’s put it like this. The moment someone opens a bottle of essential oil, say lavender essential oil, you will immediately notice the strong aroma even from a certain distance. That is chemical and physical properties of the aromatic compound of the lavender essential oil propels them to move quickly through the air and interact directly with the olfactory sensors present in the nose.

What makes Essential Oil Ideal for Aroma-therapeutical therapy

The unique volatile aromatic compounds present in the plants are what makes an essential oil ideal for aromatherapy and therapeutical uses. These organic compounds found in essential oils aids in maintaining a healthy mind and body. The unique properties of each and every essential oil determines the Aroma as well as the benefits of a specific essential oil.

The nature of an essential oil differs from plant to plant within the botanical families and also from species to species.  The composition and quality of any given essential oil vary depending on the factors such as

  • the time of the day it was harvested/distilled
  • season
  • geographic location
  • weather
  • method and duration of distillation

Essential oils have been used by human beings for centuries in beauty treatment, therapeutic uses, food and also as medicines.