WHAT EXACTLY IS AN ESSENTIAL OIL?

Think of a few dozen fresh green leaves from a blooming coriander plant in the palm of your hand. When you squeeze those leaves hard enough, a green, juicy substance will ooze onto your hand. That juicy substance is your basic, undiluted essential oil. The squeeze method of extraction, however, is not one of the methods this book will cover, because it is much more time consuming than any other method featured here. From allspice to lavender and ylang-ylang, everyday and exotic plants are the bearers of essential oils, which, despite their name, do not feel oily. They are called oils because they contain oil-soluble chemicals derived from plant matter.

The term essential oil may vary according to each user, the term refers only to the essence — the concentrated and aromatic oils derived from plants and flowers long identified for aromatherapy
uses. These oils come from plant leaves, fruits, stems, and roots and are used for a variety of purposes, including therapeutic. You may encounter warnings whenever the therapeutic qualities of essential oils are discussed, advising you not to rely on essential oils to treat serious medical conditions and to seek professional medical care in such cases.

It is probably a good idea to follow these well meant pieces of advice while also keeping in mind that essential oils make up the immune systems of some plants, helping them fight infection and repel pests. Imagine then what they can do for you.


Essential oils are classified into three notes or scent characteristics: top, middle, and base. The classification depends on whether their scents are immediately evident once you establish contact with them. Eucalyptus and grapefruit essential oils belong in the top group of oils that tend to evaporate quickly and contain anti-viral properties. They are also light, uplifting, and because they are easily extracted, they are more inexpensive than either middle or base note oils.

A majority of essential oils, like black pepper, cardamom, and rosemary, are classified as middle notes, because they create a balance when blended with other oils. The aromas from middle note essential oils are not always immediately evident but they are characterized by warm, soft fragrances.
Essential oils classified as base notes tend to be heavy with solid aromas like those from balsam of Peru, cedarwood, and cloves. They are intense and rich, making their presence immediately evident when you come into contact with them. They are known to slow down the evaporation of the other oils and are the most expensive of all essential oils. Because essential oils are volatile (meaning that they evaporate quickly) and concentrated, special extraction methods are necessary to separate them from their hosts and harvest them for use. The most common method of extraction is steam distillation, which involves steam cooking the plant to release its essences. Other extraction methods include the following:

• Expression — using high pressure to squeeze out plant essences.
• Enfleurage — saturating flowers with vegetable oils to release the essences.
• Carbon dioxide extraction — using extraction equipment to pressurize and turn carbon dioxide into a liquid that is then used to steam distill essential oils.
• Solvent extraction — using chemicals such as alcohol to saturate dainty flowers, allowing them to release their essential oils.



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