Essential oils are natural products extracted from a single plant species. They can often be found in the stems, leaves, flowers, fruits or even roots of certain plants. Essential oils are also known as ethereal oils, volatile oils or aetherolea.
According to Wikipedia, “An essential oil is ‘essential’ in the sense that it contains the ‘essence of’ the plant’s fragrance—the characteristic fragrance of the plant from which it is derived.”
Essential oils are most commonly used for aromatherapy, a holistic healing treatment that uses essential oils to promote health and well-being. Aromatherapy is often used to induce relaxation, but there is no scientific proof that essential oils can effectively treat any conditions.
Before using essential oils you should always consult a health physician—improper use can lead to allergic reactions and skin irritation. Essential oils should also be kept away from children and pets—who are particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of improper use.
Where Did Essential Oils Originate?
Essential oils have been used throughout history be many different cultures. It is believed that the earliest pioneer of essential oils was Ibn al-Baitar, a physician, chemist and pharmacist from Al-Andalus in the 12th Century.
In the last few decades interest in essential oils has been reinvigorated with the popularity of aromatherapy and holistic approaches to medicine.
How are Essential Oils Made?
- Carbon Dioxide: One of the newest ways to extract essential oils from plants is by using carbon dioxide. This method is generally more expensive, but leaves you with an essential oil that has a scent more similar to the original plant.
- Expression: Many times essential oils are produced by pressing them from the leaves, seeds, stems or roots of freshly picked plants.
- Distillation: Steam distillation is the most common approach to extracting essential oils from plants. Plants are hung over boiling water and the steam pulls the oils out of the plant.
- Enfleurage: This process is one of the most expensive, and rarely used to extract oils. It involves placing the plant on top of animal fat, lard or vegetable fats—the fat then absorbs the essential oils from the plant. The fat is then separated from the oil using solvents.
- Solvents: This method is often frowned upon because it involves chemical solvents. The plant is dissolved in a solvent (usually benzene or hexane) and then the solvent is evaporated–leaving behind the essential oil.
Popular Types of Essential Oil
- Chamomile: Chamomile oil can help boost mood and relaxation
- Jasmine: Jasmine oil is said to help balance hormones and increase libido
- Lavender: Lavender oil can be used for stress relief and is associated with aiding in better sleep
- Lemon: Lemon oil is used as a digestive aid and also helps improve mood
- Peppermint: Peppermint oil is often used to calm the mind, aid in digestion and relieve headaches
- Rose: Rose oil is often thought of as an antidepressant and anxiety reliever
- Sandalwood: Sandalwood oil is said to help alleviate coughs, insomnia and calm nerves
- Tea Tree: Tea Tree oil is commonly used to help fight infections, acne and athlete’s foot
Benefits of Essential Oils
Help Improve Sleep Quality
Lavender oil is often used to help improve sleep quality. Spraying a mixture of lavender diluted with water onto your pillow before sleeping can help improve sleep. You can also use an oil diffuser to fill your bedroom with lavender aroma to help you sleep.
To Relieve Stress & Anxiety
Many believe that the smell of some essential oils can help relieve stress and anxiety. However, many tests on the effects of certain essential oils to relieve stress and anxiety have been inconclusive. Often times essential oils are used during a massage to help increase relaxation and add to the ambiance of the experience.
Headache & Migraine Relief
Have a headache? Try dabbing some peppermint oil on your forehead and temples. Two studies conducted in the 90’s found that doing this relieved headache pain in most subjects.
More recent studies have also found that Lavender can help relieve headache pain when applied in the same way.
In Persian culture it is also believed that rubbing a mixture of sesame oil and chamomile to the temples effectively relieves pain due to headaches and migraines.
Reducing Inflammation and Redness
Many essential oils are believed to help reduce inflammation and are often used in DIY remedies to improve acne and redness. Some studies even show that certain essential oils have anti-inflammatory effects—the most common being tea tree oil.
Antibiotic and Antimicrobial Qualities
Peppermint oil and tea tree oil are believed to have antimicrobial effects. The rise of drug-resistant bacteria has sparked scientist’s interests in essential oil’s properties. Researchers have used essential oils to create a bioactive coating to protect against infections.