What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are becoming very popular today with several companies selling them directly to consumers. What exactly are they though? How are they made? Don't worry if you feel overwhelmed. At first, I felt the exact same way. I am here to help you!
Medicinenet.com defines essential oils as an oil derived from a natural substance, usually either for its healing properties or as a perfume. There are more than ninety essential oils available for use today.
There are six different ways to create essential oils: distillation, expression, enfleurage, solvents, carbon dioxide, and maceration.
Distillation is where a plant is freshly picked and held over boiling water. The steam from the water extracts the oil from the plant, is collected in a tube, and cooled in a vessel. The steam returns back to a liquid state by the time it reaches the vessel. Since water and oil do not mix, the oil is easily captured and bottled. Some plants have water soluble aromatic compounds. After the oil is separated, the water is saved for those who use aromatherapy. Most pure essential oils on the market are extracted this way.
Solvent extraction isn't used by many aromatherapists. It's not one hundred percent sure the solvent is completely separated from the essential oil. It's also an expensive method like enfleurage. Plants are dissolved in a solvent of choice by the person extracting the oil. The plant and solvent are boiled until the solvent has evaporated. A vacuum is used to pull the oil away.
Expression is the most direct way to extract essential oils. Plants are literally pressed repeatedly until all the oil has been collected. Olive oil is made in a similar way. This is a common method used by companies with citrus fruits.
Enfleurage is an outdated method for extracting essential oils. It's an incredibly old technique that was made popular in France two centuries ago. It's not used much anymore simply because it's too expensive. Plant blossoms are placed in heated vegetable fat, where the oil is absorbed. Once all the oil is absorbed, the blossoms are replaced with fresh ones. After being repeated several times, the oil and fat are separated.
Carbon dioxide extraction is the newest method to collecting essential oils. It's incredibly expensive, so it's still in the fine tuning stage. Carbon dioxide is turned into a liquid and used as a solvent. Once the pressure on the liquid carbon dioxide is lowered, it returns back to its gaseous state. There is no trace of the carbon dioxide left at this point. There are no known harms to the human body or the environment with using this method. Carbon dioxide is naturally found in our bodies as well as in plants themselves.
Maceration is when carrier oils take the place of solvents. Plants are dried out and ground up into a powder. The powder is placed in a vessel and the carrier oil is added. Over the course of a week, the vessel is occasionally shaken. At the end of the week, the liquid is poured out of the vessel. The solids in the bottom of the vessel are pressed until all the liquid is gone. Liquids poured and pressed out are mixed together and then clarified. With this process, it's common for the essential oil to become rancid. Its shelf-life is only about twelve months.
I hope you don't feel like you're drowning in definitions after reading all of that! Pictures helped me in school when learning new processes, so I made sure I included them for y'all. This is a basic break down of how essential oils are made. When you hear how companies create theirs, now you'll have an idea of what their process consists of.
Until next time,