What are Essential Oils?
When you experience the aromatic smell of a flower, what you are smelling are its essential oils. Essential oils are referred to as ‘essential’ as they indicate the very essence of the plant. If we think of peppermint oil, we automatically reflect on the distinct smell and taste it provides. Essential oils are naturally occurring compounds found in the parts of plants such as the seeds, stems, leaves, flowers and roots (1). They are 100% natural volatile aromatic chemicals, meaning they consist of organic molecules that have the ability to evaporate when in a normal indoor atmosphere (temperature and pressure) (2). Amongst these chemicals include alcohols, esters, ethers, ketones, aldehydes and phenolic (1). Essential oils have many uses in our everyday lives, including use in the food, beauty, cosmetic, cleaning, pharmaceutical and perfumery industries (1) (3).
Essential oils are obtained from medicinal and aromatic plants that make up a large proportion of nature. These beauties are naturally synthesized by plants to provide protection from predators and harm, and are even thought to aid in plant reproduction by attracting insects that assist in pollination (3). Within special glands of the plant, these chemicals are made via energy obtained from the sun and other elements from the air, soil and water (4). They are then stored as micro-droplets within the organs of plants until they diffuse, spread across the plant’s surface, and eventually evaporate into the air providing a beautiful aroma (1).
The process of essential oil extraction begins by crushing or grinding plant material in order to decrease the size plant molecules and rupture the cell walls of plant glands that contain the oils (3). The most common method of collection is called steam distillation. Plant material is placed in a still placed over heated water which usually sits between 60°C and 100°C (5). The steam produced by the water rises, moves through the plant material and subsequently ruptures the glands contain the essential oils (5). As the oils are volatile, they rise with the steam and travel through condensing tube to be collected in a still (5). The essential oils and water are then separated (5). You can find an amazing video on the process here. Another method, referred to as expression, involves the application of mechanical pressure on plant material such as citrus rind to extract the oil (6). It is also referred to as cold-pressing (6).
Interested in getting your hands on some essential oils? My favourite brand is Doterra. They are pure, as the plants are gently distilled or expressed in order to obtain clean products. Along with this, Doterra’s products contain no fillers, artificial ingredients or pollutants, which have the ability to cause harm. They are 100% pure and sourced from the best quality harvests from around the World. Doterra also uses a testing process referred to as CPTG Quality Testing, ensuring that the oils are not contaminated (7). If you would like to purchase some of these gems, please feel free to contact me and I’ll direct you to my purchasing site.
Keep your eyes peeled for more to this series on Essential Oils. Don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list so you don’t miss out on any new content!
1. Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review. Mallappa Kumara Swamy, Mohd Sayeed Akhtar, Uma Rani Sinniah. 2016, Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine .
2. EPA. Technical Overview of Volatile Organic Compounds. EPA. [Online]
3. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopædia. Essential Oils . [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/essential-oil.
4. Essential Oils . PubMed Health . [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0025082/.
5. Doterra. Part 3: Distillation Methods - Steam Distillation. Doterra . [Online] https://www.doterra.com/US/en/essential-oil-production-distillation-steam-distillation.
6. Why Doterra? Doterra . [Online] https://www.doterra.com/US/en/why-doterra.
7. Pure Doterra Essential Oils through CPTG quality testing . Doterra. [Online] https://www.doterra.com/US/en/cptg-testing-process.