What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the true essence of a plant, hence the word essential.

They come from a group of chemical molecules in plants called terpenes (or hydrocarbons), the cellular level compounds that create a plant’s scent.

Terpenes are organic compounds produced by a plant to create an aroma, a key factor in the plant’s ability to protect itself from parasites. Many trees release strong-scented terpenes in warm weather. This process helps create create clouds so that a stand of trees can regulate its own temperature. Terpenes are the main component of essential oils.

Essential oils are volatile extracts that capture the natural smell and flavor – the essence – of a plant.

Each plant species has a specific and unique combination of over 100 terpenes. These make the scent of that species different from any other one. Terpenes may reside in the plant’s roots, flowers, leaves, seeds, bark or stem. These compounds are responsible not only for the plants scents, but also they define the other properties and uses of the plant: as food flavor, as beauty or cleaning product scents, and, of course, as medicines with demonstrated remedial properties.

We use the term essential oils, but we are not really talking about oils in their true sense. Think of olive oil, sunflower oil, or almond oil, for example. What do happens with these oils when we heat them for cooking? They remain in their liquid state even at high temperatures, which is why they are called fixed oils. But essential oils vaporize when heated. That’s what makes them easy to inhale in aromatherapy, and it’s what makes them effective for other medicinal uses.

How are Essential Oils made?

Most essential oils are obtained from plants by one of these basic methods: distillation, expression, and either solvent extraction or hypercritical CO2 extraction.


Distillation is a process of using steam to break down the plant and capture the compounds within it as they escape in the form of vapor. It begins inside a sealed container, with the plant material placed on a grid to let moisture reach to it from all sides. The particular distillation method will depend on which parts of the plant contain the terpenes that make up the plant’s essence:

  • In water distillation, the plant is placed in water inside the sealed container, and the water is boiled to produce the steam that breaks the plant down. A distiller will use this method for blossoms, in particular, because water distillation makes it easier for the steam to get through them.
  • In water-and-steam distillation, the plant stays on mesh above the level of the water so that the steam can move up through the plant.
  • In steam distillation, there’s no water in the container at the beginning of the process. The distiller injects steam into the bottom of the container at high pressure, and the steam rises through the plant matter, softening it so that the essential oil can be obtained.
  • In hydrodiffusion distillation, the steam enters the container from the top rather than from the bottom. This process creates an environment in which the essential oil can be extracted from tougher parts of the plant, such as the bark, a woody stem, or the seeds.

Once the container has been sealed, the steam – whether produced within the container or injected from outside – softens the plant until the plant’s terpenes rise in the form of vapor along with the steam. As the vapor and the steam rise, they travel into a condenser, where they cool until they become two separate liquids: essential oil and water. Then they descend together into a container at the bottom of the condenser, where the essential oil collects on the surface of the water. Because oil and water do not mix, it’s fairly easy to siphon off the essential oil.


Expression, also known as cold-pressing, is used for citrus plants, such as bergamot, lemon, orange, and tangerine. It uses a mechanical process to rotate and puncture the rind of a fruit. The essential oil and the juice released from the rind are then collected in a container.

The juice and oil from citrus fruits were once expressed by hand, but with today’s sophisticated equipment, they can both be expressed in massive quantities. The expressed liquid is allowed to stand until the essential oil rises to the top.

Solvent Extraction

Some kinds of essential oils have to be obtained through another method, usually because their source plants are too fragile to withstand the deliberate stresses of distillation or expression. For example, this is used for delicate flowers like jasmine and gardenia.

First it is used a solvent – such as methanol, ethanol, hexane, or petroleum ether – to draw out the plant’s terpenes, its chlorophyll, and some plant tissue as well as the fats or waxes contained in the plant. The substance that results is called a concrete (and has nothing to do with the material used to pave roads). Then the concrete is mixed with alcohol to draw out the scented molecules.

The final product of this process is called an absolute. It consists of an alcohol-based essential oil extract with about 5 to 10 percent of solvent residue remaining from the extraction process.

Absolutes are used only for aromatherapy, but some therapists discourage their use because of these trace amounts of solvents. Manufacturers of cosmetics and perfumes often use absolutes in their products.

Hypercritical CO2 Extraction

Hypercritical carbon dioxide extraction or CO2 extraction was developed quite recently. It makes possible to capture elements – such as the medicinal properties of plants like frankincense and ginger – that would be lost during one of the more widely used distillation processes. It also produces a more authentic plant fragrance.

Hypercritical CO2 extraction uses very high pressure to bring gaseous carbon dioxide to the point where no physical distinction remains between liquid and gas. The dense quasi-liquid that results is able to pass through the plant material and extract the compounds that make up the plant’s essential oil. This method is also used to extract caffeine from coffee beans.

How do Essential Oils work and what are their benefits?

Plants are more complex than we can imagine. They are the only living things that can produce their own energy using the light of the sun. All the rest of us, humans and animals, we need nutrients to life.

Plants have an “intelligence” of their own. They have a complicated system of  communication, both within each individual plant and also with the surrounding  environment. These communications are made by “chemical messengers”.

They make each plant to have unique taste, aroma and colors to protect it from predators. They also provide sweet smells to attract pollinators and coatings to keep bacteria and fungi at bay. Some plants even release a chemical that prevents competing plant species to to occupy their territory!

This is fundamentally why essential oils are so powerful as natural remedies. They capture the healing and protecting properties of the plant and use them to support our own bodies.

For example, most flowers give off scents that are attractive in nature to bees. Similarly, women use floral oils such as rose, jasmine and lavender to attract men.

The plants of oregano and thyme naturally repel bacteria, viruses and parasites in nature, actions that protect the plant itself. When we use their oils, our bodies can benefit in the same way if we suffer with infections from candida, the flu or the common cold

How to use Essential Oils?

Everyone has a personal style of using essential oils. Some people use essential oils as natural remedies. Others use them to fragrance the air. Some use them to replace toxic personal or home care products. Others introduce few essential oils drops in everything: cleaning products, toothpaste or shampoo. And, of course, some people love to cook with them.

Well, let’s discover your own personal essential oils style!

Aromatic use

This means that the essential oil enters your body through breathing, primarily in your lungs. There are several ways we can do this:

  • Inhalation

Place a drop or two of oil or a blend of oils in the hands, rub them together, make a cup around the nose and mouth and breathe in. Some essential oils require prior mixing with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, to dilute the concentration and prevent skin irritation. You may also place a drop or two of oil on a cloth and hold it close to the face and inhale.

  • Diffusion

Diffusion is perhaps the most popular method of aromatherapy, spreading the oil in the room. Oil diffusion can change your mood by relaxing or stimulating your mind, while the essential oil evaporates. It can kill airborne pathogens and treat a respiratory condition.

There are four main types of diffusers:

    • Atomizing – no water is involved; the essential oil bottle is connected to the diffuser to create a pure vapor.
    • Vaporizing – use water with the essential oil; ultrasonic waves spread the oil and water particles into the air – most preferred.
    • Evaporative – blows air from the room through a pad or filter that has essential oils on it. The oils evaporate very quickly.
    • Heat – use heat instead of blowing air to accomplish diffusion.

You may also diffuse essential oils is by using a spray bottle. Oils can be mixed with water or alcohol and then sprayed in the air, on surfaces or on the body.

Topical Use

Essential oils applied directly to the skin enter the bloodstream. They are absorbed because the oils are fat-soluble.

Neat application” is when we apply an oil to the skin with no carrier oil. We can do that on the soles of the feet. Why? On the soles of the feet there is a lower risk of skin irritation. There are no sebaceous glands there and it is no sebum witch waterproof the skin. When you apply oils to the soles of the feet, the oils bypass the liver, will not accumulate there and will not be processed by the liver. They will spread in the body unprocessed via the circulatory system.

Other key points of application on the body are behind the ears, neck, abdomen, upper back, temples and along the spine.

Essential oils are commonly combined with a carrier oil, which not only dilutes the essential oil but also prevents easy evaporation. Some of the best carrier oils are coconut oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, almond oil, pomegranate seed oil and avocado oil.

Internal Use

When it comes to using essential oils internally safely, there is a lot to consider. Above all, we must remember that not all essential oils are made equal – each has its unique chemical makeup, properties, and interactions with the body.

Not all essential oils are created equal due to differences in harvesting, production, and testing from distributor to distributor. While some essential oils are pure and thoroughly tested, others contain fillers, preservatives, or impurities that degrade the oil’s quality and make it unsafe for internal use.

While many have questioned the internal use of essential oils, research and studies continue to confirm and validate the practice. Researchers confirm the safety of pure essential oil use internally, and there there is a lot of information available to help users stay within the safe parameters of internal use.

You can always add a drop or two of essential oil to a glass of water to obtain the internal benefits. Not only will essential oils add a powerful flavor to plain water, but they will also be easy to use internally.

Another easy way to use essential oils internally is to put a few drops in a supplement capsule, which is especially effective for strongly flavored oils.

For internal benefits, essential oils can also be placed directly in the mouth and swallowed. Keep in mind that essential oils are extremely potent, and even a single drop on or under the tongue can be extremely effective. Essential oils that are too potent to take directly should be diluted in at least four ounces of water before use. Always dilute essential oils like Thyme, Cinnamon, Clove, Oregano, and Cassia.

Adding essential oils to your favorite food dishes and baked goods is a great way to enjoy the flavor-enhancing benefits of essential oils, as well as their health benefits. Essential oils can enhance the flavor of any entrée, beverage, dessert, marinade, or other dish that can benefit from complementary flavors.

What is Holistic Health?

Holistic health does not focus solely on the physical body.

Holistic health integrates five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual. When these five areas are combined, a person is able to live their life to the fullest. If one area is compromised, it is possible that another will be affected. Today, we’ll look at the five aspects of holistic health and how you can support each of them with simple but effective practices.

Physical Health

Our physical health is what we almost always associate with the term “health.” The reason for this is that signs and symptoms that the physical body is in pain or performing poorly can be quite obvious. Physical signs are easier to quantify than non-physical signs.

Improving your physical health begins with implementing a few key practices. Begin by getting at least eight hours of sleep per night. A full night’s sleep allows your body to relax and repair. Another important practice to adopt is to be physically active 30 minutes per day. Everyone’s exercise routine is unique, but everyone can benefit from at least 30 minutes of activity. Another practice is to limit your intake of processed foods. Consuming fewer processed foods and hydrogenated oils will help lower your risk of chronic disease.

Emotional Health

Our emotional health is an often-overlooked aspect of our well-being, but it is just as important as our physical health. Neglecting our emotional health can have negative consequences and affect our physical health.

Seeking therapy when necessary is an excellent way to support your emotional health. Keeping a journal is another way to process your emotions. Here you can write down your thoughts and feelings, as well as highlight the good times in your life. In times of stress, you will be thankful for the ability to reflect on the good times.

Social Health

People who have developed strong bonds with their family, friends, and community are often the happiest in life. Having an in-person connection makes us feel more connected to the rest of the world. Getting involved in your local community is an excellent way to maintain your social health. Consider volunteering for a charity or joining a club.

Developing relationships is only one aspect of promoting your social health. It is sometimes necessary to end relationships in order to prevent them from negatively impacting your health. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who bring you toxic energy or raise your stress levels.

Spiritual Health

You don’t have to be religious to care for your spiritual health. There may be some overlap, but the main focus of spiritual development begins with connecting with your soul and the world around you. Spending time in nature or meditating can help you reconnect with the world and yourself. If you follow a religion, you are free to do so.

Mental Health

Our mental health is the final component of holistic health. This area frequently intersects with our emotional and physical health. While emotional health refers to our feelings, mental health refers to how our brains work. Excessive drinking, smoking, and drug use can impair our cognitive abilities. Keep your brain active with learning opportunities and healthy by eating foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to support your mental health.

Do you want to learn more about all these?

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