Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is all about essential oils. Essential oils are naturally-occurring oils that have been extracted from the various parts of different plants including the leaves, the bark, the stem, the flowers, the fruits and even the roots. Essential oils are not to be confused with perfumes which frequently are manufactured using a variety of ingredients, many of which are synthetic and do not provide the same types of mind and body benefits.
There are several commonly used methods of extracting the essential oils from plant matter. The oldest method and the one that is still the most commonly used is distillation. In this process, the plant material is heated. The volatile components are then able to be condensed and collected from the vapors that result. Maceration, enfleurage, solvent extraction and expression are other methods used to extract essential oils from plant matter.
Something interesting about essential oils and something many people don’t realize is that there are different qualities of essential oils. While there is no formal grading system for these essential oils, where and how the plant was grown can have a significant impact on the quality of the oils that are extracted. Environmental conditions such as the weather and soil quality will impact the harvest as will the actual time of harvest, the farming methods used during planting and harvesting, and believe it or not, the way the plant material is treated after it has been harvested.
Essential oils contain a number of different chemical components and it is these components that influence the various effects on the body. While this sounds dangerous, it really isn’t as our bodies naturally produce and utilize many of these chemical components. First and foremost, essential oils stimulate our sense of smell. From there, the chemical components go to work, stimulating or sedating the different systems within our bodies.
For example, the chemical component ester acts as a sedative, a calming agent, an anti-fungal and an anti-inflammatory. Esters are found in lavender, chamomile, bergamot and sage. Ketones promote new cell growth and help wounds heal faster and they’re found in rosemary, camphor, sage and eucalyptus. Alcohols act as diuretics, they kill bacteria, energize and stimulate the body. Tea tree, ginger, rose, rosewood, peppermint, sandalwood and patchouli are some of the plants that contain alcohols.
The methods used to extract essential oils from plants produce highly concentrated oils. Therefore, you need only a very small quantity to reap the benefits. Oftentimes, concentrated essential oils are first diluted and then inhaled or absorbed. This makes economical sense, especially when you realize that essential oils can be expensive. When you begin shopping for essential oils, you’ll also notice that many are sold as blends of different oils. Buying blended essential oils can save you a good deal of money. It’s also very easy to create your own essential oil blends, and doing so can be more fun.