Aromatherapy Essential Oil has earned a very strong reputation, with its important ingredients being included in many popular luxury perfumes and cosmetics. It is also becoming a very important item included within most relaxation Gift Baskets for Women.
All of these aromatic therapeutic products have brought about a revolution in the health and beauty product market, and have been shown in some cases to increase the well-being of product users, through these natural aromatherapy remedies, and product enhancers.
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is a liquid aromatic compound, which extracted from specific parts of the plants such as seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, wood, roots or peel.
For example, while in extraction of sandalwood, all of these aromatic cells are in the bark, whereas in the case of roses, these aromatic cells are in petals.
Every part of these plants store the essence and help in production of this essence, and there is no part of the plant that isn’t involved in the production and storage of this aromatic essence. In some cases, a plant can actually create and store multiple essences with different scents. One plant that actually goes through this phenomenon is the orange tree. The essential oils for the orange tree come from the fruit itself, while petitgrain is taken from the leaves, and Neroli is extracted from the blossom. Each oil and bi-product from the orange tree is unique, and possesses very individual characteristics and healing properties. Not oils are created the same or equally, so you need to take this into account when purchasing different aromatherapy essential oils.
So how can you determine the quality of an aromatherapy essential oil, before you buy it? Well, an aromatherapy essential oils value is dependent on the quality and chemical composition, which can be influenced by:
How exactly is aromatherapy essential oil extracted from plants? There are many extraction methods, the most common being; steam distillation, cold-pressed extraction and solvent extraction. Let’s take a look at these extraction methods a little more closely.
The most common process that is regularly used to extract pure aromatherapy essential oils is steam distillation. Why is this the most popular method? This is due to the fact that during steam distillation, the plants do not come into contact with contaminants. If you’re looking to get essential oil in its purest form for therapeutic purposes, then this is the way you do it.
How does the process work? The plant of choice is first put into the extraction vessel. Then steam is added, and is passed through the plant. All off the heat given off by the steam will form open pockets in the plant that contain aromatic molecules and oils in the plant. When these pockets are open, the plant then releases aromatic molecules, and then fragrant molecules rise with the steam.
The vapors that carry these molecules work within the closed system, and then out towards the cooling device. Then cold water is used to cool these vapors, and while these vapors cool, they will condense and then transform into liquid form. Then this liquid is collected in a container, and like with any oil mixture, it begins to separate. All of the essential oils will actually float up to the top, and the water in the mixture will settle to the bottle. This aromatic water, called hydrosol, is floral water that can also be used.
This form of aromatherapy essential oil extraction is used to get essential oils from plants in the citrus fruit family. For this process, mechanical pressure is used, which will force the oils out. All of these oils are initially in juice form, and contain water, but eventually this water will be evaporated, leaving only essential oils behind. One downside to using this form of extraction is that the cold pressed oil begins to spoil pretty easily and more quickly than if you were to extract them using other methods. If you’re looking to avoid wastage, it’s important to use this method for small quantities only.
Much of a plant’s material isn’t capable of tolerating high temperatures during extraction methods like steam distillation. High heat damage will impact a plant, and once this happens, essential oils become damaged and can no longer be distracted. For plants that can’t take the heat, there is this solvent extraction. What are these plants that need to use solvent extraction? These include jasmine, rose, Neroli (orange bloom), tuberose and oak moss.
For this extraction process, you can use methanol, ethanol, alcohol, hexane and petroleum. One downside with using these solvents is that in order to extract essential oils in most cases, there can be residual leftovers and impurities that can be left over in the end product. Since they’re impure, those who are very true to the art of aromatherapy will refuse to use these impure products unless they’re purified.
How does the process work? Plant material is initially washed in a bath of hydrocarbon solvents. This will dissolve all of the required plant material that you need, including the aromatic molecules, plant pigments and waxy matter. Dissolved matter actually mixes in with the solvent, and then this solvent mixture is filtered and distilled using low pressure processes. After you distill and process these materials further, then resin and concentrated concrete remain and additional processing using alcohol can help you to extract essential oils, leaving a final product called absolute.
It takes more than 50 pounds of eucalyptus, 150 pounds of lavender, 500 pounds of rosemary, and 1,000 pounds of jasmine and more than 2,000 pounds of rose to make just one pound of essential oils! This price actually correlates with directly with the labor, amount of plant material that is needed for distillation process.
Extraction methods used in the making of Aromatherapy Essential Oil:
Essential Oils: Steam, water or dry for distilling. This process isolates all of the volatile and water-insoluble parts of a plant for essential oils. When using oils for therapeutic aromatic use, distillation is used to extract oil from plants that have high oil content.
Concretes: This is extraction through hydrocarbon-type solvents. For solid concretes, there is about 50% wax and 50% volatile oils. Liquid concretes typically contain 20% wax and 80% essential oil.
Resinoids: Extraction through a hydrocarbon solvent, either petroleum ether, or hexeme. Resinoids are usually made from certain types of dead organic matter, and are used in perfumes to prolong the effect of a fragrance.
Absolutes: This is the second process of a solvent extraction from concrete. The absolutes are repeatedly treated with alcohol, and this creates a highly concentrated viscous liquids. Traces of ethyl alcohol can remain in the final absolute, which may make it unsuitable if you’re making oils for a therapeutic use. Remaining solvent is actually minimal, and can be used when made with care and knowledge in therapeutic uses.
Pomades: True pomade is produced using a process known as enfluerage, which is something that isn’t typically done today. In this process, freshly cut flowers are placed on a layer of fat. The last step in this process would be alcohol extraction to produce absolute or perfume.
Resource: The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils written by Julia Lawless
When the actual art of making natural perfumes was first developed, aromas were usually organized into notes. These notes were relative to their smell, and their rate of evaporation, and are tagged with either being, top, middle or base notes.
For essential oils that are classified as top notes, they tend to evaporate rapidly, and this can happen in some cases within 20 minutes.
All of these aromas are generally fruity, sharp and vibrant, and can help stimulate, awaken and motivate your body, allowing you to have a better sense of concentration.
All of these top note essential oils will affect the body in a physical way by cleansing, detoxifying, and stimulating the body systems.
Some examples of top notes are lemon, orange, peppermint, bergamot, chamomile, lemongrass, bay and neroli.
Aromatherapy essential oils that are considered middle notes tend to evaporate over a longer period of time, usually over the period of one hour.
All of these aromas tend to be described as herbaceous, evergreen and tend to be more balanced in odor.
For many, these middle notes are considered the heart notes, and they help to anchor the highly active top notes.
Middle notes often provide the scent with more balance to the body and your sense.
You can use essential oils with middle notes are used for body regulation when you’re experiencing a period of over or under activity.
Some examples are lavender, rose, geranium, ylang-ylang, jasmine, hyacinth, pine and thyme.
For base notes, the essential oils will evaporate much slower and span over several hours time.
These base notes possess aromatic profiles that verge on earthy, sweet, woodsy, and balsamic.
These scents tend to be very relaxing and pacifying, and these notes often offer one with peace and tranquility.
The essential oils with base notes can truly help your body when you have hyper reactive symptoms.
They can sedate the user, and this is great when you’re looking for a calming or soothing effect.
Examples of these base notes are patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood, myrrh, cinnamon, clove, wood and nutmeg.
In many aromatherapy formulations, one can utilize all of the benefits of the three notes in a blend in order to get a balanced effect.
It is very acceptable though to use only one or two of these notes in your essential oil blends.
The combination that you use depends on the purpose behind why you’re using it, and what your desired outcome is going to be.
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