Essential oils are volatile oils extracted from herbal ingredients such as flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and carrots. But how are essential oils extracted? What is the power of an essential oil? And how can you use essential oils? In this article we will discuss the extraction, properties and application of essential oils.
Brief Aromatherapy history
In 1922 a number jars with fragrances were found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankamon, in which the smell of Nardus and Clove was still noticeable. Cleopatra had, in addition to her famous natural beauty, many fragrant oils. The Egyptians embalmed their dead with resin and essential oils which worked as a natural insect repellent. Greeks and Romans developed their bathing culture with the knowledge of essential oils gained in Egypt and sprinkled their bodies, clothes, bed and walls of houses with them. In Persia, people at that time had the habit of spreading various types of essential oils 3 times a day: in the morning myrrh, in the afternoon a mixture of 16 different oils and in the evening a composition of soothing scents.
During the Middle Ages in Western Europe, when hygiene was very bad, certain essential oils were often used against odors and disinfectant properties. Churches were disinfected with sulfur, hops, pepper and frankincense. Physicians and caretakers had bags of fragrant herbs on their walking sticks, which they kept under the nose when they visited the sick. The rich wore a silver chain with a holder, filled with essential oil.
How is essential oil extracted?
There are different ways to do this. Many methods have gone through a revolution in time and have been modernized. Below are the most common ways to extract essential oil. However, I have added the age-old method: “Enfleurage”, which unfortunately is not used much anymore, but is very interesting.
A commonly used method is steam distillation. This method was first used in the Middle Ages by the Arabs, who used steam distillation for the extraction of essential oil. How does this work? By passing steam through the oil-rich plant parts, the oil evaporates with the steam. Once the steam has cooled down to water and the oil will become liquid again, and the oil can be separated from the water. Because the oil is lighter than water and not mix with water, it will float on the water.
Another method is dry distillation, which is used for a few wood species. The solid is gently heated in dry distillation. During that process, the oil evaporates, after which the vapor condenses and is collected. Examples of the extraction of oil in this way are cade oil that originates from juniper wood and the guaiac oil produced from guaiac.
In order to obtain essential oil from the peel of citrus fruits (eg orange, mandarin, citrus and grapefruit oil), presses are used. By pressing the fruit shell with a press under pressure, the essential oil is released. With this method, there is no heat used as it might destroys important components of the essence.
This is an age-old method of extracting very fine and difficult to isolate blossom oil, which cannot be obtained by steam distillation. The tender and freshly picked blossoms are placed next to each other on butter or pork fat, which is previously spread on a glass plate. On top of that a second glass plate, another glass plate will be places, which is provided with two sides of grease. In total, 5 to 10 of these layers overlap. The blossoms are partly changed daily; a process that often repeats itself for several weeks, until the fat is saturated with the essential oil of the blossoms. With the help of alcohol, this oil is removed from the grease. The alcohol is finally removed by evaporation. This procedure is very laborious and is only carried out today with very valuable blossoms (like jasmine and rose). The essential oils created in this way can therefore be rather pricey.
The power of essential oil
Essential oils are well known for its medicinal and beneficial effects. This allows the oil to contribute to the purification of the body, the restoration of the hormone balance and the promotion of digestion. Essential oil can also have a positive effect on the immune system and the state of mind. Our sense of smell is one of the oldest senses and directly connected to the limbic system in the brain. In this part of the brain, memories are also stored and our emotions stimulated. This explains why memories and emotions are associated with certain fragrances. Essential oils are extracted from fragrant, medicinal plants that mainly have a positive effect in the body and mind.They activate the immune system and restore the balance.
How do I use essential oil?
This can be done in many different ways. That is different for everyone. From massages to a foot bath, but also by evaporating or adding to a wonderfully warm bath. It all depends on your preferences or any specific needs. We will list a number of commonly used ways here;
Essential oils can be evaporated in different ways so that the scent can spread and purify the air. For example, think of:
– Essential oil on a tissue on the heating radiator
– Sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on a pillow, cloth, scarf, bed linen or blanket. Thus unpleasant smells are replaced by pleasant and useful.
– Aroma lamp: the tray of the aroma lamp is filled with water (without carbonic acid), add a few drops of essential oil. The smell is spread by the evaporation of the water.
– Evaporators: electric fragrance diffusers are used without the need for water or open fire and are therefore safer than the ordinary aroma lights. Very suitable for the nursery or workspace.
Pay attention !! Never use essential oil on a plastic or varnished surface!
Using essential oil in bath is particularly pleasant. However, never use essential oils only mixed with water. The pure oil continues to float on the water with the result that skin irritations can occur due to the direct contact with the skin. The essential oil must be made water-soluble with an emulsifier, such as neutral bath foam, or shampoo, honey or even whole milk.
Pay attention !! Pure essential oil can damage a plastic bath! Always mix with an emulsifier!
On the skin
Massage is in many ways a pleasant way to enjoy essential oil. Never use essential oil pure on the skin, with some exceptions (tea tree, lavender). Mix an essential oil with a fatty vegetable oil (eg jojoba or almond) to make your own perfume, massage or nourishing skin oil.
Fact! Essential oil from earth and clay?
Hell yes! In June the first monsoon of the year brings life to the earth of Kannauj in India. This will bring you the smell of rain after a hot summer! Immediately after this first rain shower, the earth is extracted and dried in the sun. Then the earth is distilled and ‘caught’ in a barrel of sandalwood oil. These so-called “Attars” may be pricey but definitely worth a try.
Essential oils are a wonderful wonder from nature. A great gift from nature that must be respected. As Aromatika already indicates; “Trust in the power of nature”. And in my opinion, people tend to forget this too easily. Make use of the gift of nature, experience it, experiment with it in a responsible way. Mix, smell, and experience that power. You will discover a whole new world !!