What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils (also known as aromatherapy oils) are highly aromatic, highly volatile compounds obtained by the process of steam distillation, cold pressing or solvent extraction of flowers, leaves, seeds, bark and other parts of plants.
Producing an authentic, pure essential oil is both time and labor intensive, and in many cases takes an enormous amount of plant material to produce a small amount of oil.
The price of an essential oil is reflective of just how much time, labor and material were needed in order to produce the end product. For example, it takes approximately sixty thousand hand picked rose blossoms to produce just one ounce of pure rose essential oil, and around eight million hand-picked jasmine flowers to produce two pounds of jasmine essential oil. In addition, jasmine flowers must be picked on the first day they open, at night or during the very early hours of the morning before the sun rises.
Essential oils are made up of a complex cocktail of various naturally occurring chemical components, including ketones (camphone, menthone), alcohols (bisabolol, farnesol, linalool, nerol), esters (benzyl acetate, geranyl acetate), terpenes (limonene, pinene), oxides (1,8 cineole), phenols (eugenol, thymol) and aldehydes (citral, cintronellal, geranial).
The presence and combination of these various chemical constituents gives an essential oil its therapeutic value. Their effects on the physical, mental or emotional body can be, for example: analgesic, antiseptic, antibacterial, decongestant, relaxant, sedative, stimulant, tonic or vasoconstrictive.
The integrity and therefore potency of an essential oil is dependent upon various factors, including the manner in which the original plant is grown (ie., was it grown using organic methods or it was conventionally grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers). It is also dependent upon the method used for its extraction (ie., was it cold pressed, steam distilled, or solvent extracted for example), and the manner in which it is stored (ideally in dark glass, in a cool room out of direct sunlight).
In terms of the essential oil's purpose for the plant in which it is present, little is understood. We do, however, know that essential oils form an important part of the plant's immune system, helping to repel insects and other pests, and are sometimes referred to as the "blood" of the plant.
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