Understanding Essential Oils

Essential oils are the oil-based aromatic extracts derived from the leaves, stems, fruit, bark, flowers, roots, or seeds of plants. They are a highly concentrated form of volatile oils—another name for essential oils—and have many beneficial properties.[1] Historians estimate that humans have been using essential oils for 5,000 to 6,000 years for medicinal, cosmetic, and hygienic purposes. The earliest methods and technology did not produce the essential oils we are familiar with today. Whereas many of today’s essential oil producers focus on purity, the ancient versions were likely adulterated with stray plant materials, debris, and other oils. As time passed, extraction methods and technology improved. Let’s look more at how essential oils are created and the many ways they can be used.

How Are Essential Oils Created?

There are a few ways to create essential oils and the ideal extraction process is determined by the oil’s source and how well it’s phytoconstituents respond to extraction. Distillation and using solvents are the most popular ways to extract essential oils. Plants or oils that are too delicate for distillation must be expressed, mechanically crushed, or extracted using solvents. Others, like whole citrus fruits, may be mechanically rolled over needles that puncture and release essential oils, a process known as the ecuelle or scarification method.[2]

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Distillation

hen using the distillation method, there are three distinct ways to obtain oils: water distillation, water and steam distillation, and steam distillation. Pure steam distillation is the most gentle of the distillation extraction methods. In water distillation, the plant material is boiled, and the essential oils are decanted…

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