What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated liquids containing the essence of a plant's fragrance, specifically the volatile aroma compounds. They are extracted from the plant by various means and are used in aromatherapy, perfumery, cosmetics and in food flavouring.
How are Essential Oils extracted?
Essential oils are extracted from the plants in many ways, including steam distillation, expression and enfleurage.
Steam distillation is the most common method. The flowers or part of the plant containing the essential oil have high pressure steam pumped through them. This steam carries the essential oils with them, which when cooled, results in water and the precious essential oil. The essential oils are then separated from the water.
Expression is used mainly to extract citrus oils. This means that the oils are literally squeezed from the peel. If you push your nail along the peel of an orange those little balls of liquid that spring up are the essential oil. As there is a lot of essential oil to be had from citrus fruits these oils are consequently cheaper, though by no means less therapeutic.
Enfleurage means to enflower. The oils from the petals of roses, jasmin and neroli are so delicate that this method is often employed so as not to subject them to the high heat of steam distillation. It involves coating the petals with wax or fat which in turn absorbs the essential oil. Solvents are then used to separate the oil from the wax. This oil, the most concentrated and valuable of them all, is then referred to as an absolute.
Why are Essential Oils so expensive?
Some plants will contain more essential oils than others. Flower oils are usually more expensive due to the small amount of oil which can be extracted from them.
For some rose absolutes it can take as many as 30 roses to produce a single drop! Others are less extreme, for example, it takes 100 Kg of Eucalyptus to produce 10 Kg essential oil; 100 Kg of Lavender to produce 5 Kg of essential oil and 100 Kg of roses to produce just half a kilo of oil. This explains the wide variation in prices between essential oils, but all of them are extremely precious.
Essential oils are usually sold in tiny bottles made from dark glass as they are sensitive to light.They also evaporate extremely easily so the lid must be put straight back on after use. They are so concentrated that we must respect how powerful they can be. With a little knowledge though, we can use them safely and effectively to add fragrance and well-being to our lives.
Do not use them neat unless taking advice from a qualified aromatherapist, and under no circumstances take them internally. Essential oils should not be used directly on the skin or ingested. Please do not use any essential oils during pregnancy without specifically consulting your doctor.
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