September 11, 2014

ESSENTIAL OILS: WHAT ARE THEY?

Essential oils are the extracted products of aromatic plants, by distillation or mechanical processes (like cold pressing).

More than thirty plant families produce essential oils, which include about ninety species.

Essential oils, in general, are composed of more or less volatile molecules, formed of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms.

The word “oils” should not mislead, these products have nothing in common with other oils of vegetable origin.

They are called oils because they also have a lower density than water, and therefore in the distillation phase, they float above the aromatic water just as a vegetable oil would do.

 

WHY DOES THE PLANT PRODUCE ESSENTIAL OIL?

Plants produce essential oil for multiple reasons:

  • to attract pollinators
  • to perform allelopathic functions (inhibition of growth or of the development of plants in competition)
  • inside the plant they have an antibiotic and defensive function following the attack of external agents (herbivorous animals, pests, micro-organisms, fungi, etc.)
  • they can be waste products of plant metabolism
  • they act as intermediaries in many energy reactions
  • they promote the repair of damage that plants can suffer
  • they guarantee the survival of the plant even in unfavorable environments, such as those characterized by severe drought.

 

Essential oil, being in fact a lipophilic substance, limits the loss of water from the surface of the plant and it is for this reason that, maintaining the plant in unfavorable environmental conditions, it develops a greater quantity of essential oil.

Remember that the same plant, grown in different habitats and conditions, can produce essential oils with completely different characteristics; moreover, there are varieties of the same species that have different characteristics in the composition of essential oils: these are commonly called chemotypes.

 

USE IN HERBAL MEDICINE TRADITION:

Most of the plant essences are also used as an herbal product, but the therapeutic properties of an essential oil do not always correspond to those of the plant from which it derives. Essential oil and the plant from which it is extracted are often two non-equivalent but complementary therapeutic forms.

The essential oil, in fact, being a volatile component, is present in very low percentages inside decoctions, infusions or in the dried plant.

Essential oils represent the main products used in Aromatherapy. This term refers to a branch of phytotherapy that uses essential oils, in combination with other ingredients of plant origin with the aim of promoting the physical and mental well-being of the individual.

It is a practice that does not use essential oils only from an olfactory point of view, but also topical (such as massages, baths, footbaths, compresses, etc.) and oral. In aromatherapy, essential oils can be used pure or, in most cases, mixed together to achieve a synergistic effect.

In order to create a good synergy, not only the symptoms to be treated but also the cause of that disorder must be taken into consideration, since the great power of essential oils lies primarily in the capacity to arouse emotional responses, which can lead to a general beneficial effect on the individual.

 

ESSENTIAL OILS AND APPLICATIONS:

Although many essential oils have been used since ancient times, much remains to be investigated about their exact pharmacology, especially since they are very complex compounds and concentrated in active ingredients.

As with all medicinal plants, even the essential oil, extracted from one of these, has a broad spectrum of action on our body, generally acting in multiple ways and with different functions. In order to obtain a clearer picture of the action of essential oils, we will discuss in the next articles the main systems of the human body, indicating which oils can be used in that area or system, based on a specific problem and the effect you want to obtain.

 

 

More informations on:

Steam distillation

 

Other articles that may interest you:

How to distill Mint

How to distill Tangerine peel