Aroma Info, Health

What are Essential Oils?

Definition: any of various volatile oils in plants or trees, which have the odour or flavour of the plant from which they were extracted.

Given the growing popularity of Essential Oils it is important to understand what they are, where they come from and how they may be used safely. It would also be useful to understand how they differ from Absolutes.

We can see from the above definition that Essential Oils are extracted from living or recently living plants. These highly aromatic substances are manufactured by certain plants within specialized cell walls and, strictly speaking, are known as plant essences until concentrated by steam distillation.

If concentration takes place by means of solvent extraction, the resulting ‘oil’ is technically known as an Absolute. The concentration of plant essence within any given cell wall varies dramatically from species to species – thus explaining why some oils are relatively cheap (ex. Sandalwood Amrys) and others expensive (Sandalwood Mysore).Plant essences are extremely complex chemical structures that are grouped into eight main categories of aromatic molecules. Most Essential Oils are composed of varying amounts of one or more these constituents.

It is the unique proportions and combinations of these aromatic molecules which gives any essential oil its characteristic scent and properties. Distinctive combinations of molecules are possible within a single species due to local variations in climate, soil conditions or sunshine for instance.

The best example of this in our range can be observed by comparing our High Alpine French Lavender with the lowland Lavender from our basic Essential Oils section. They are from the same species and yet most people describe the aroma notes of the High Alpine as being much more complex and interesting.As mentioned earlier, once concentrated by steam distillation, the volatile oils are able to be called Essential Oils.

Methods of Use

Essential Oils are highly concentrated and should only rarely be used in their undiluted form. They are also extremely volatile, meaning they evaporate quickly if exposed to air. These properties partly explain why Essential Oils are so often quickly effective in treatment but also why they must be protected from light, heat and air.

Storage in tightly sealed coloured glass bottles is recommended.Being an oily substance in their own right, Essential Oils blend perfectly with Carrier Oils for massage. Carrier oils include Sweet Almond, Jojoba, Grapeseed, Wheatgerm, Avocado, Macadamia and many others. This is one of the most effective and direct methods of obtaining the benefits of pure Essential Oils.Essential Oils are also utilized in perfumes and in fragrancers, diffusers and oil burners –for the benefit of the scents they impart.

Tiny molecules of Essential Oil are released into the room’s atmosphere and are actually absorbed via the lungs and into the bloodstream where they begin to have their desired affects just as in massage.Questions often arise concerning the suitability of ingesting Essential Oils – or taking them in small doses internally. It must be said that in France there is some truth to this rumour but it comes with conditions.

French aromatherapists are also practicing G.P.’s and there has been considerable experience built up over the years relating to the safe use of particular Essential Oils for internal purposes. This is not an area for self-exploration. Amphora Aromatics does not recommend or support the internal use of Essential Oils without expert medical supervision to avoid potentially serious consequences as a result of mistakes in judgement.

A qualified Aromatherapist should be consulted whenever questions arise concerning the suitability of any given Essential Oil for a particular purpose. Failing that, there are many good books on the subject.

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