What are Essential Oils?

I use a lot of essential oils, especially lavender. Since I use so much of it, I decided to create an oil profile table…then I found out there are about 120 different essential oils! I still plan on creating the table, but this work will take a lot longer than I had expected. Since there are so many oils I have decided to only profile and post one oil at a time. This will allow me to give more in-depth information about the oil as well as keep my post lengths under control.

I don’t plan to do more than one or two a week, so this is going to be an on-going segment.

I am a researcher by nature, so the first question I asked myself was, “What is an essential oil?”

From Wikipedia:
An essential oil is a concentrated, hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the “oil of” the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant.

Essential oils do not as a group have any specific chemical or pharmaceutical properties in common. Instead they are defined by the fact that they convey characteristic fragrances. It follows that the common tendency to speak of essential oils as a category, as if that implied anything in particular about their medical, pharmacological, or culinary properties, is highly unreliable and often actually dangerous.

Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation. Other processes include expression, or solvent extraction. They are used in perfumes, cosmetics, soap and other products, for flavoring food and drink, and for scenting incense and household cleaning products.

Various essential oils have been used medicinally at different periods in history. Medical application proposed by those who sell medicinal oils range from skin treatments to remedies for cancer, and often are based on nothing better than historical accounts of use of essential oils for these purposes. Claims for the efficacy of medical treatments and treatment of cancers in particular, are now subject to regulation in most countries, and to avoid criminal liability, suppliers of fringe remedies are becoming increasingly vague in what they promise.

As the use of essential oils has declined in mainstream evidence-based medicine, one must consult the older textbooks for much information on their use.

Interest in essential oils has revived in recent decades with the popularity of aromatherapy, a branch of alternative medicine which claims that the specific aromas carried by essential oils have curative effects. Oils are volatilized or diluted in a carrier oil and used in massage, diffused in the air by a nebulizer or by heating over a candle flame, or burned as incense, for example.

The techniques and methods first used to produce essential oils was first mentioned by Ibn al-Baitar (1188-1248), an Andalusian physician, pharmacist and chemist.

Essential Oil Scent Notes

From Dean Coleman:

Top Notes
Essential oils that are classified as top notes normally evaporate very fast and typically have anti-viral properties. They tend to be light, fresh and uplifting in nature and are usually inexpensive. Top notes are highly volatile, fast acting, and give the first impression of the blend. However, they are not very long lasting.

Middle Notes
The bulk of essential oils are considered middle notes and normally give body to the blend and have a balancing effect. The aroma of middle notes are not always immediately evident and may take a couple of minutes to establish their scent.  They are normally warm and soft fragrances.

Base Notes
Essential oils that are classified as base notes are normally very heavy and their fragrance is very solid.  It will be present for a long time and slows down the evaporation of the other oils. These fragrances are normally intense and heady. They are normally rich and relaxing in nature and are typically the most expensive of all oils.

Since the love of my essential oil life is lavender, my next post will be a profile on Lavender.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. greenmakeup
    Oct 31, 2010 @ 09:51:29

    I like very much your blog, especially posts about essential oils, excellent done!
    I just wanted to let you know that I have added you to my blogroll.
    Have a nice day!


  2. Lance
    Nov 12, 2010 @ 00:31:13

    Oh yes, essential oils are hard to resist. I love keeping them in my kitchen so I can smell them every time I go looking for a plate. I use them to help me as a Natural allergy relief.


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