Essential Oils History
Documented history reveals that essential oils have been administered as infusions and ointments in the Bible and in ancient Egypt, used as remedies throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and aromatic plants have been burned to purify and clean the air.
The term “essential oil” evolved from “quintessential oil”, which was dubbed so by the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle. He believed that all matter is composed of four elements, namely, fire, air, earth, and water. The fifth element, or quintessence, was considered to be the spirit or life force. Distillation and evaporation were thought to be processes of removing the spirit from the plant. Today, we reflect this in our language, as the term “spirits” is still used to describe distilled alcoholic beverages. We now understand though, that essential oils are physical in nature and each is composed of a complex mixture of chemicals. The essential oils, taken from the seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, blossoms or fruit of plants, can be applied topically or inhaled, to benefit us humans both physically and mentally.
What Is Aromatherapy?
All plants affect the body in some way. Using pure essential oils medicinally falls under the "Complimentary and Alternative medicine"(CAM) category, which makes me chuckle since herbal therapies have been used for millenniums! People once knew how to use everything in nature to their benefit, because that's the way the creator set things up! Nature was their medicine chest, and their grocery store. You would think that conventional medicine would be considered the "alternative"! Anyway, let's take a closer look at this "alternative" medicine.
The discipline of medicine referred to when using pure essential oils is called "Aromatherapy". Aromatherapy does more than just make your house smell nice! The history of modern aromatherapy began in the early 20th century, when French chemist Rene Gattefosse coined the term "aromatherapy" and studied the effects of essential oils on many kinds of diseases. Their use went out of fashion midcentury, but was rediscovered by another Frenchman, a physician, Jean Valnet, in the latter part of the century. Since then, aromatherapy has developed a following that continues to this day.
Specifically, Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils (also known as volatile oils) derived from plants for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Aromatherapy triggers strong psychological benefits(e.g., relieves stress) in addition to certain pharmalogical effects (e.g., pain relief). Essential oils healing effects have been scientifically verified, so don't just think of them as folklore!
Safety testing on pure(stressing the word pure, here) essential oils has shown minimal adverse effects. Essential oils aren't usually administered orally. Absolutely never ingest highly pungent oils such as oregano, ginger and cinnamon without dilution, as some essential oils can cause burning of the inside of the mouth and esophagus if not diluted. You should always check with your physician or Certified Aromatherapist first before taking essential oils internally. Please visit the "Essential Oils Cautions" page before using essential oils.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential Oil is the highly concentrated plant oil, or the "essence" of the plant. To emphasize just how highly concentrated essential oils are, it takes roughly 30 square feet of lavender plants to make just one 15 ml bottle of lavender oil!
The major chemical components of essential oils include terpenes, esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, and oxides, which are volatile(meaning they evaporate quickly) and may produce characteristic odors. Different oils contain varying amounts of each of these compounds, which give each oil its particular fragrance and therapeutic characteristics. Out of the vast number of plant species, essential oils have only been well characterized and identified from a few thousand plants. We know that younger plants produce more oil than older ones, but old plants are richer in more resinous and darker oils because of the continuing evaporation of the lighter fractions of the oil.
Varieties of the same species may have different chemotypes (different chemical composition of the same plant species as a result of different harvesting methods or locations) and thus, different types of effects. Pure essential oils various therapeutic properties are extremely concentrated, and some oils can be toxic. For these reasons it's important to understand which oils to use, when to dilute them, and how to administer them.
Essential oils are used to treat a wide range of symptoms and conditions. Plant oils are chosen for their specific characteristics according to the need, and two or more oils can be blended together to achieve a desired or enhanced effect. Essential oils are sometimes used in combination with massage and other therapeutic techniques as part of a holistic treatment approach.
The exact composition of each essential oil is determined by the plant variety, the plant parts sampled, the time of year the plant is harvested, and the conditions under which the plant is grown. Buying from reputable sources when purchasing essential oils is imperative so that you know that you're getting the exact oil and standard of quality every time you buy. Visit "How To Choose Quality Oils" to learn more.
What Is A Carrier Oil?
A carrier oil is a fixed oil(fixed oil = a fat that is liquid at room temperature).
Carrier oils are used to dilute pure essential oils. They help to minimize the skin sensitivity that can occur when essential oils are used in their pure form, especially those that are high in phenols such as cinnamon. Bark oils tend to be more irritating to the skin than leaf oils. Carrier oils ensure that essential oils applied topically are comfortable. Diluted essential oil does not lose effectiveness, but diluting it reduces waste due to over application.
The best carrier oils are natural, healthful oils. Mineral oil is not recommended. Some recommended carrier oils are:
Ben oil(Moringa oil), olive oil, almond oil, pumpkin seed oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, sesame or other vegetable oil.
What Is Hydrosol?
Hydrosols, also known as hydrolats, floral waters, hydroflorates, flower waters or distillates, are the by-product of distillation and contain the water-soluble components of the plant, as well as suspended microscopic droplets of essential oils. Every liter of hydrosol contains between 0.05 and 0.2 milliliter of dissolved essential oil, depending on the water solubility of the plant’s components and the distillation methods. Hydrosols contain carboxylic acids, which may explain their anti-inflammatory activity. Hydrosols have numerous benefits for the skin!
Some uses for hydrosols include:
1. Hydrating components in a product, e.g. cream, cleanser, etc.
2. Effective toners
3. Anti-inflammatory, cooling
4. Wound healing
5. Safe for infants and young children in baths (1 tbsp) or spritzers.
Expiration And Storage
The shelf life of essential oils varies depending on many factors, including purity.
Steam-distilled essential oils have a shelf life of up to 5 years.
Expressed essential oils such as lemon, orange and bergamot have a shelf life of up to 3 years.
Vegetable oils have a shelf life of 18 to 24 months.
Hydrosols - sensitive ones like Cornflower have a shelf life of 6 months, up to 12 months for others.
Ways to tell when your essential oil is deteriorating:
1. The aroma has changed
2. The essential oil has thickened
3. The essential oil has become cloudy
Tips for optimizing shelf life:
It's important to store your products at constant temperatures not exceeding 60° F(the fridge is perfect). "Essential oils should be stored in tightly closed, darkened glass containers in a cool place to ensure lasting quality" (Buckle, 2003; Tisserand & Balacs, 1995). Protect oils from light, heat and oxygen. Remember to always close the bottle after use.
Essential oils, vegetable oils and hydrosols are very sensitive to heat which can greatly increase:
- contamination of allergens in for essential oils
- increase peroxide value for vegetable oils and increase microbiological pollution in hydrosols
It's a good idea to write the date you opened it on the bottle for future reference.
Credit For Content:
US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health - Selected Antimicrobial Essential Oils Eradicate Pseudomonas spp. and Staphylococcus aureus Biofilms
US Department of Health and Human Services
University of Maryland Medical Center
Institute For Science and Technology Research and Development/Chiang Mai University - Chiang Mai Thailand
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Division of Agricultural Chemicals, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi India
University of Minnesota
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Hansa Center for Optimum Health
The Magazine of Domestic Economy, Volume 5
The Herbalist by Joseph E. Meyer
Saint Louis University
The Herb Book by John B. Lust
University of Minnesota