How Essential oils are extracted
Because plants are complex, essential oils are extracted using several different techniques. Like wine making, essential oil production is both an art and a science. All methods are important, and the value of the finished product depends greatly on the distiller’s experience and on the oil’s intended application.
Steam distillation is the most widely used method for producing essential oils. There are two types of steam distillation:
Steam is injected into a tightly sealed chamber that holds raw plant materials. As the steam strikes the plants, the heat causes small internal sacs to burst. These sacs hold the essential oil, and are the same ones that rupture when you rub an aromatic plant such as lavender, rosemary, or sage between your fingers and catch a strong whiff of its fragrance. Essential oil molecules are minuscule, and are easily transported out of the chamber and into a chilled condenser by the airborne steam. After collection is complete, the essential oil and water are separated,
The whole plant is suspended above a large container of boiling water. The rising steam collects the essential oils and continues upward, where a receptacle catches it and pushes it through a separator. In both methods, the remaining water is normally reserved. Called hydrosol, it is delightfully scented and is used to add fragrance to linen sprays, perfumes, and body care products such as body lotion and facial moisturizer.
Carbon Dioxide Extraction
There are two primary methods by which essential oils are commonly extracted: carbon dioxide (CO2) distillation and supercritical CO2 distillation:
Carbon dioxide distillation, or CO2 extraction, uses carbon dioxide to carry the essential oil away from the raw plant material. In this method, carbon dioxide is chilled to between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit before being blasted through the plant material. This is much like cold-pressing in that it yields pure essential oils that have not been even slightly altered by exposure to heat
Supercritical CO2 distillation, the carbon dioxide is heated to 87 degrees Fahrenheit before being blown through the plant matter at a much higher speed. Under these intense conditions, the CO2 is transformed into a heavy vapor that rapidly carries the essential oil away from the inert plant material. As the CO2 is warm rather than hot, the resulting essential oil is pure and unaltered.
The process of cold-pressing, or expression, is used exclusively for obtaining essential oils from citrus fruits. This simple method involves placing the aromatic portion of the fruit’s rind in a press at 120 degrees Fahrenheit to extract the essential oil that gives citrus fruits their characteristic scents.
Hot enfleurage, which calls for the combination of fat or fatty oil with whole flowers, is the oldest-known method of essential oil extraction. Still used by some exclusive perfume manufacturers, the process involves placing blossoms in a shallow layer of warmed fatty oil that absorbs the essential oils from the petals. As the flowers wilt, they are replaced with new ones until the oil has been completely saturated with essential oil. The essential oil is then extracted with a solvent such as alcohol, and the remaining fat or oil is used to impart fragrance to soap and other products.
Essential oils extracted with the help of chemical solvents such as methylene chloride, hexane, or benzene are called absolutes. In this method, the solvent is used in place of water or CO2. Much of the solvent evaporates during the initial phase of extraction, and the remainder is spun off in a centrifuge or removed via a vacuum. However, solvent extraction leaves minute traces of the extraction chemicals in the essential oil.
The word aroma is derived from the Greek word for spice and is broadly used to denote fragrance. Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that draws upon the healing power of plants, with a strong focus on essential oils. In aromatherapy, these oils are used for improving physical and mental health as well as for positively influencing mood and cognitive function.
The term aromatherapy is a bit of a misnomer, giving the impression that this form of medicine is based solely upon scent. Rather, in aromatherapy, essential oils are inhaled for the physical and psychological benefits that occur as the oil’s molecules stimulate the brain. They are also applied topically, allowing for absorption through the skin and into the bloodstream. Because essential oils vary in potency, it is vital that you follow instructions for dilution prior to use. In addition, more is not necessarily better; a small amount of essential oil is usually plenty.
Because aromatherapy is noninvasive, it is often suitable for use alongside other forms of therapy. Holistic practitioners, who seek to treat the whole patient rather than focusing solely on the symptoms and the illness, are pioneers in using aromatherapy in conjunction with Western medical treatments, homeopathic remedies, herbal medicine, Reiki, meditation, and more. Like these practitioners, you may do the same, using aromatherapy to complement other treatments.
Essentials of Essential Oils
1. Essential oils aren’t oils at all
Despite their appearance and that oil is part of their name, the substances we call essential oils are not technically oils, as they do not contain fatty acids. Instead, essential oils are concentrated organic elements with potent medicinal qualities.
2. Essential oils are highly concentrated
One hundred pounds of lavender produce a single pound of lavender essential oil, and two tons of Bulgarian roses produce just one pound of rose essential oil. A single drop of essential oil may contain the power of several plants.
3. Keep essential oils out of reach of children
While certain essential oils are ideal for use by everyone in the family, many are not suitable for use by children, and several are toxic if swallowed.
4. Conduct a patch test prior to using an unfamiliar essential oil
To prevent painful skin irritation, conduct a patch test prior to applying an unfamiliar essential oil or a product that contains something you haven’t used in the past. Combine a single drop of the essential oil with ½ teaspoon of the carrier oil of your choice, then rub it on the inside portion of your upper arm. Wait a few hours to ensure no itching or redness develops.
5. If you are allergic to a plant, you are allergic to its essential oil.
Since essential oil is a highly concentrated form of a plant, if you are allergic to the plant, such as chamomile, roses, or thyme, avoid using the essential oil in any capacity.
6. Watch out for adulteration
When purchasing an essential oil from an unfamiliar source, check to ensure it is pure before using it for aromatherapy. To do this, place a single drop of the oil on a piece of paper. It should evaporate within an hour at the most, and it should not leave a ring of oil behind. This test works for all oils except myrrh and patchouli, and absolutes such as jasmine, rose, and vanilla.
7. Heat and sunlight destroy essential oils over time.
Don’t store your essential oils near a heat source or in direct sunlight, as repeated exposure to heat and sunlight cause deterioration. Keep them somewhere dark and relatively cool, such as inside a box that is in turn stored in a closet.
8. Essential oils generally retain potency for five years or longer.
When stored in a cool, dark place, essential oils retain potency for five to ten years on average. Citrus oils are the exception; these retain full potency for a maximum of two years.
9. Dark-colored glass bottles are best.
Most manufacturers package their essential oils in dark-colored amber or sometimes blue glass bottles. When creating essential oil blends, making massage oil, or concocting another recipe that will be stored for more than a few days, package the resulting product in a dark-colored glass bottle to prevent long-term exposure to any type of light. Glass is preferable to metal, as it will not react with the oils, and glazed ceramic containers will also work. Do not use plastic bottles.
The Science of Scents
Imagine inhaling the fragrance of a rose in full bloom on a warm summer day, or catching the scent of fresh garlic and rosemary in the kitchen, and consider how those scents bring about a shift in your state of mind. Essential oils, which contain massive concentrations of powerful plant chemicals, stimulate the subconscious with their scents, bringing feelings of alertness, happiness, calm, relaxation, or sleepiness.
Aromatherapy not only has a positive effect on the psyche and spirit by working in concert with the limbic system but it also aids in physical healing. This occurs in two ways:
Minuscule essential oil molecules are absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs when inhaled,
These tiny molecules can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the skin when added to bathwater, used in body care products, or applied during a massage.
When physically applied to the body, healing essential oils help keep undesirable bacteria and viruses at bay while stimulating the immune system; they also have a powerful detoxifying effect associated with increased lymph and blood flow.
Because of its ability to positively influence emotions, aromatherapy can help mitigate the downward cycle of depression and malaise that often accompanies illness, exhaustion, and periods of prolonged physical or mental stress.
Science has proven time and again that emotional state has the power to change the body’s chemistry and that such changes in chemistry directly affect the immune system. By using aromatherapy to keep negative states of being such as stress, tension, and sleeplessness at bay, you can give your overall health a boost. Because of its ability to positively influence the body and mind, aromatherapy is an exceptional form of prevention.