An essential oil is a highly concentrated natural plant extract in the form of an aromatic liquid. When essential oils are used, the aromatic molecules of the oils are absorbed into the blood stream and transported to the limbic system. The limbic system is the processing center for reason, emotion, and smell and can thus trigger an emotional release. Although there are three different grades of essential oils only the top grade, therapeutic grade, has healing properties. We utilize organic therapeutic grade essential oils in our practice for massage and aromatic inhalation. Essential oils are concentrated volatile aromatic compounds produced by plants, the easily evaporated essences that give plants their wonderful scents. Each of these complex precious liquids are extracted from a particular species of plant life. Each plant species originates in certain regions of the world, with particular environmental conditions and neighboring fauna and flora. The result is a very diverse library of aromatic compounds, with some essential oils being made up of more than one hundred distinct organic chemicals.
What do they do for plants?
Essential oils are extracted from oil ‘sacs’ in flowers, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, wood and bark. They differ significantly from the well-known vegetable, nut and seed oils which are made up of various fatty acids (essential oils are not). Essential oils are used by the plants in somewhat the same way they are by humans – they fight infection, contain hormone-like compounds, initiate cellular regeneration, and work as chemical defense against fungal, viral, and animal foes. Despite their foliar origins however, essential oils have a similar structure to some compounds found in blood and tissues, allowing them to be compatible with our own physiology.
How Essential Oils Are Extracted
To produce essential oils of therapeutic quality – those that retain as much of the original plant essence in its original state as possible – the most gentle extraction method that will draw the oil from a particular plant is most desirable. Extraction methods range from Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction – being the most gentle (and most expensive), to pressing (as for extracting the oil from citrus rinds) and steam distillation, to solvent extraction. Steam distillation is most common, and as a result of only requiring heating to just above the boiling point of water, is considered gentle enough for most essential oils. (Note: All of Ananda’s essential oils are of Therapeutic Quality, being 100% pure, unadulterated, and properly produced to this standard – Read more about how essential oils are made).
The History of Essential Oils
Humankind has used plants for healing for many thousands of years, and it’s from this tradition of that the use of aromatic plant compounds is medicine began. (see About Aromatherapy for a more in depth discussion of the olfactory aspects of essential oil use). Documented use of aromatic plants dates back to near 4500 B.C., though it was in the hands of the ancient Egyptians that the use of oils and plant aromatics was truly developed. Oils were used in the embalming process, in medicine and in purification rituals. In 1922, when King Tut’s tomb was opened, 50 alabaster jars made to contain nearly 350 liters of oil were discovered. There are also over 200 references to aromatics, incense and ointments in the Old and New Testaments; Frankincense, Myrrh, Galbanun, Cinnamon, Cassia, Rosemary, Hyssop and Spikenard are noted for being used for anointing rituals and healing of the sick.