If you’re reading this, you’re probably new to the world of essential oils. Why are they essential?
Essential oils are derived from certain species of plants. These plants have their own built-in defense mechanisms against predators and environmental threats. Plant species have chemical constituents specific to the type of plant and its environment. You could say that these chemicals are “essential” to the survival of the plant.
Essential oils are derived from particular parts of a plant, such as roots, leaves, buds, twigs, rhizomes, bark, resin, flower petals, seeds or fruit. The origin of the oil affects its characteristics, such as color, volatility and viscosity. Generally, essential oils derived from the roots of a plant tend to be more viscous than oils derived from leaves or flower petals.
Essential oils are made in a few different ways. The most common method is steam distillation, where the plant material is subject to pressurized steam in order to isolate the chemical compounds from the plant material. Another method is cold pressing, or expression. The plant material is subject to physical pressure in order to isolate the chemical compounds from the plant material. Citrus essential oils are commonly prepared in this manner. A third method is solvent extraction. This method is often used for gums and resins, and other plant materials. The plant material is saturated in a solvent and the solvent is then evaporated in order to separate the essential oil from the plant material. There are other methods for essential oil extraction, however, they won’t be introduced in this article.
Some important things to keep in mind when working with essential oils:
- Because they are hydrocarbons, they are flammable. Keep them away from open flame and sources of heat.
- They are highly concentrated extracts of plant material, and as such should be treated with utmost care and respect.
- If a person or animal consumes an unsafe quantity of an essential oil, poison control should be contacted and first aid administered. Keep out of reach of children. I recommend adult supervision for children who want to work with essential oils.
- Essential oils have highly complex chemical profiles, often comprising hundreds of compounds. For this and other reasons, adverse interactions are possible in persons who are taking medications.
- For example, individuals who are taking blood-thinning medication should avoid angelica, birch, cinnamon, clove, fir (balsam), helichyrsm, Laurus nobilis, nutmeg, oregano, or wintergreen essential oils without first consulting a physician.
To recap, essential oils are powerful and beneficial extracts of nature’s bounty, and should be handled with care and respect. Always follow safety guidelines.