Essential oils are aromatic liquid extracts from plants. They are volatile, meaning they will evaporate easily from a liquid to a vapour. They contain the true essence of the plant. Essential oils are very concentrated and a little goes a long way.
Usually, essential oils are extracted from the plant by steam or water distillation or in the case of the citrus essential oils by cold pressing. Our native New Zealand essential oils of Manuka and Kanuka are steam distilled from the leaves and twigs.
Essential oils come from all parts of a plant. Examples are Ginger from the root, Frankincense from the resin, Juniper from the berry, Fennel from the seed. Isn’t nature amazing! The Orange tree is particularly clever – it produces Petitgrain from the leaf, Neroli from the flower, and Orange from the fruit.
The chemical constituents of essential oils are complex. They provide both the aroma and the therapeutic benefits of each oil. By mixing 3 or 4 essential oils together, in what we call a synergy blend, a very powerful effect can be created for physical or emotional needs.
You need to know that there's no governmental agency or generally accepted organisation "grades" or "certifies" essential oils as "therapeutic grade," "medicinal grade," or "aromatherapy grade". There is no formally approved grading standard used consistently throughout the essential oil industry.
Be aware that essential oils are not the same as fragrant oils. Essential oils come from true plant sources and have naturally occurring chemical components. Fragrance oils, or perfume oils, are artificially created – they contain synthetic chemicals and do not have the therapeutic benefits of 100% pure and natural essential oils.
Essential oils do not feel “oily” to the touch. Most are clear in colour, some like Orange and Patchouli are yellow-amber, German Chamomile is blue. They can vary greatly in price. Some are expensive because the plant is rare, or it may take a lot of plant material to extract the oil. Rose is a good example – it takes 30 or 40 roses to produce a single drop of Rose essential oil.
When buying essential oils choose from a supplier you trust. Look for small amber, blue or green glass bottles, not clear, with a dripulator insert. Look for a “use by” date, the botanical name, directions for use and safety information. Look for the concentration of the essential oil. It is common for the more expensive oils to be diluted in Jojoba Oil, but the label must say so. Store your essential oils in a cool, dark, dry place (not the refrigerator).
When choosing essential oils for your personal use go for aromas that really appeal to you. Your best friend’s favourite aroma can be very different from the one you prefer or need. Listen to your instincts – an essential oil which particularly draws your attention is usually the right one for you at that time.
It is very important to know when using essential oils to never apply them directly to the skin.
Essential oils are not problematic for everyone, but people with sensitive skin, to be safe, should avoid topical application.
This aromatic world offers wonderful treasures. Indulge and enjoy!