What are Essential Oils?
Essential Oils are oils that are extracted from plants and trees. They contain highly aromatic and volatile compounds of the plant and tree that give the oil its strong scent and aroma. More than 3,000 different compounds have so far been identified, and is has been proven that these compounds, once extracted and turned into essential oils, can offer some tremendous health benefits.
The plant materials that are used to generate essential oils include leaves, flowers, seeds, grass, fruit peel, twigs, bark, needles and roots of plants and trees. Each essential oil has its own distinctive aroma, and also differs in color, viscosity and taste. Various methods are used to extract the volatile compounds from these materials: steam distillation, water extraction, cold-press expulsion and solvent extraction.
Why Essential Oils?
Essential Oils have a wide variety of health and wellness enhancing properties. While they are not drugs and do not promise to treat, cure, or prevent diseases, they can offer relief for many common health related issues most people experience throughout their lives at some point or another.
There is an abundance of studies by scientists and health professionals that have proven the high efficacy of essential oils’ inherent natural compounds. One exemplary study by Amr Edris from the National Research Center “Pharmaceutical and Therapeutic Potentials of Essential Oils” gives a comprehensive overview of the health benefits of essential oils, which include:
- anti-spasmodic (relieves spams, cramps & involuntary muscle movements)
- anti-inflammatory (fights inflammation & swelling)
- anti-viral (fights viral infections)
- anti-bacterial & anti-septic (fights & prevents bacterial infections)
- anti-fungal & anti-parasitic (relieves fungal & paraside infections)
- anti-depressant (relieves depression & anxiety)
- aphrodisiac (increases libido)
- anti-oxidant (protects from free radicals)
- digestive (improves gastrointestinal functions)
- cicatrisant (promotes healing of wounds)
- expectorant (dissolves & encourages secretion of mucus)
- galactogogue (promotes mother’s milk production)
- emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow)
- sedative (reduces anxiety & irritability)
- diuretic (improves water & salt excretion via urination)
- astringent (contracts body tissues and skin pores)
The list could probably go on.
The quality of essential oils is determined by careful production method, proper harvesting, the season of harvesting and the handling of the essential oil as it makes its way to the end consumer.
Methods of Extraction:
Steam distillation likely is the most commonly used method for extracting the oils from plants.
The plant material is placed over heated water so the steam can pass through the material and extract the volatile, aromatic compounds by vaporizing them. The vapor is then cooled off in a condenser where it transforms back to a liquid. Because water and oil don’t mix, the oil floats on the surface and is siphoned off.
The advantage of this method of extraction is that the temperature used to heat up the water and generate the steam is below the boiling point of the volatile compounds in the plant material; so the natural properties of the plant remain intact and at high potency.
The water that remains from this extraction process is referred to as a hydrosol or hydrolats; They contain the water-soluble components of the plant and a minute amount of essential oil which does give them an aroma, but nothing compared to the essential oil of the same plant. The most commonly sold hydrosols are rose and lavender water.
Cold-pressed / Expression
The cold-press extraction method involves squeezing the oils out of the plant or fruit, and is most commonly used for citrus peels such as tangerine, orange, bergamot, mandarin, grapefruit, and lemons. The peel is often punctured prior to the expulsion which breaks the peel’s surface and makes it easier for the oil to release from the peel. In a centrifuge, the oil is then separated from any fruit juice or peel.
Water Extraction / Distillation CO2
During the water distillation process the plant material comes into direct contact with the plant. It is used primarily for flowers which could clump together in the steam distillation process.
Solvent extraction is most often used for flowers which generally contain less volatile compounds and are also more sensitive to heat exposure of steam distillation. Solvents such as hexane or supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) or alcohol are used to extract the oil from flowers.
Solvent extraction using hexane produces a product commonly called concrete which is basically a mix of oil, wax, resins and other plant material.
A further process involves separating the essential oil from the concrete (i.e. the wax, resin and other plant material). This extraction is generally done using alcohol and the resulting product is called absolute.
Absolutes may contain residue of alcohol and small amounts of wax and other plant material. They are therefore heavier than essential oils, but do offer very concentrated aroma which makes them popular for the production of perfumes.
Another solvent extraction method involves supercritical carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas which at a certain pressure and temperature it becomes solid. Supercritical carbon dioxide is the fluid form of CO2, so generated at very specific pressure and temperature to reach that state in between gas and being solid. This liquid CO2 is then used to extract the oils from the plant material. After the oil extraction the CO2 is converted back to a gas, again by manipulating pressure and temperature. The gaseous carbon dioxide dissipates completely and leaves behind only a high-quality essential oil.
This method is fairly new and still very expensive to implement. The benefit being that the oils can be extracted at lower temperature, thus preserving the volatile compounds in the plant material for the highest quality extract. CO2 extracted essential oils, because of their purity, are most commonly used by the food industry and for skin and body care products.
Resins are a substance that trees commonly excrete when injured; it is commonly called sap. They are basically the tree’s volatile essential oil that as it excretes from the tree and gets exposed to air becomes sticky and then hardens.
Resins can be processed into a powder and used for incense or medicinal purposes. Steam distillation allows the extraction of the essential oil contained in resin.
A note about infused oils: these oils consist of a carrier oil in which a plant material such as rose petals or calendula petals are soaked for a prolonged time and at a very low heat. This draws out the plants bioactive compounds offering benefits in topical applications, but the process differs from essential oils in that it doesn’t extract the plant’s high potency volatile elements.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a term that describes the use of essential oils for the purpose of improving and enhancing our health and well-being. By means of breathing, sniffing, massaging or ingesting of essential oils we absorb the natural compounds inherent to the various oils throughout the body where they unfold their health stimulating and balancing powers on a variety of organs and our brain.
When absorbing essential oils through our olfactory system (the nose), we can reach and influence important brain functions. The nose has receptors that when stimulated create a chemical reaction with the By means of breathing, sniffing, massaging or ingesting of essential oils we absorb the natural compounds inherent to the various oils throughout the body where they unfold their health stimulating and balancing powers on a variety of organs and our brain.
When absorbing essential oils through our olfactory system (the nose), we can reach and influence important brain functions. The nose has receptors that when stimulated create a chemical reaction with the limbic system in our brain. The limbic system regulates behavior and emotions like fear and anger, as well as other basic functions such as hunger and thirst. It also supports memory and the sensory system, controls pain and the nervous system which regulates pulse, blood pressure and breathing.
A disruption to or malfunction of our limbic system manifests itself in many commonly known health issues such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders such as binge or emotional eating, memory loss, behavioral issues, change to mood and hormone balance.
Essential oils absorbed by breathing, massage or ingestion quickly get into our bloodstream from where they can reach and target areas in your body that are out of balance such as the digestive system, aches and pains, respiratory issues, etc.
Essential oils can be absorbed through several applications:
Inhalation of the oil through the mouth or nose by sniffing the bottle directly or adding a few drops to a damp cloth or an aromatherapy pendant. While this is a very safe method, some people may perceive the scents to be too strong for a prolonged period of time.
Because the essential oils, if of high quality, are very strong and concentrated, they need to be diluted for any direct application to the skin. Especially when the skin is punctured, inflamed or injured in any way, or if high sensitivity to allergic reactions exist, care should be taken to properly dilute essential oils before rubbing them into the skin.
A common dilution ratio is anywhere from 3-10% of essential oils to be mixed with a carrier oil such as almond, avocado, argan, coconut, or jojoba oil.
Applied to various parts of the body, the health benefits of essential oils is wide-ranging and quite astounding. See additional information under the specific blend.
The feet are a most effective place to massage in essential oils. The feet are the fulcrum of all nerve endings of the body’s organs and systems – 7,200 nerve endings according to The Maine Council of Reflexologists. Massaging and applying essential oils to the areas on the feel associated with the various parts of the body, supports proper body functioning and enhances the health benefits of the oils.
Furthermore, the pores on your feet are thicker and larger than anywhere else on the body. Also, the skin on your feet do not produce sebum, which is the oily shield protecting the skin elsewhere on the body. Both of these factors allows for the oil to be absorbed more easily and quickly.
The feet are also less sensitive than the skin across the remainder of the body and therefore pose the lowest risk of any kind of skin reaction to the oils. This may allow to apply even “hot” oils such as oregano, thymus and citrus oils without being diluted.
Diffusing the essential oil presents the lowest risk as the concentration of essential oils is lowered substantially during the vaporizing process of a diffuser.
Essential oils should be ingested only if they are specifically labelled to be suitable for internal use. Ideally, the internal use of essential oils is supervised by a trained aromatherapy specialist such as a holistic health practitioner.
Refer to our Essential Oil Use Guide for best practices and specific uses.
Kandala Essential Oil Blends
Check out our various blends and experience the wonderful benefits these herbs & plants have to offer:
Ingredients : Essential Oils of Peppermint (Mentha Piperita),Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus), Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Ingredients: Essential Oils of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Ylang Ylang (Cananga Odorata), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Lemon (Citrus limonum)
Ingredients: Essential Oils of Lemon (Citrus limonum), Frankincense (Boswellia Carterii), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), Copaiba (Copaifera Officinalis), Petitgrain (Citrus bigaradia), Dill Weed (Anethum graveolens)
Ingredients: Essential Oils of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Spanish Marjoram (Thymus mastichina),Copaiba (Copaifera Officinalis), Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis Nobilis)
Ingredients: Essential Oils of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Spanish Marjoram (Thymus mastichina), Cedarwood Himalaya (Cedrus deodara), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea), German Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)
As with any other natural product, some people may develop a reaction when exposed to even the most natural and pure source of a plant, flower, or tree. Likewise, with essential oils, which are the most concentrated form of its source material.
Some of the naturally occurring chemicals in essential oils could cause a skin reaction such as aldehydes (citronella) and phenols (eugenol). Citrus plants also increase the photosensitivity of the skin, so when applied topically, extended sun exposure should be avoided. Some of the known potential skin irritants include bay, cinnamon, clove, citronella, cumin, lemongrass, oregano and thyme.
Elderly, babies and children as well as pregnant women should be careful when using essential oils. These groups are generally more sensitive to essential oils. And while the effects are not documented well enough to be of any proof, it’s not worthwhile taking any risks. Pregnant women should avoid clary sage, rosemary and rose.
Avoid contact of essential oils with the eyes as it can cause severe damage to your eyes. And if in doubt about whether or how to use essential oils, consult your health practitioner for advice.
Check the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website, which has a comprehensive overview of safety concerns of essential oils.