An essential oil is a natural fragrant oil that can be extracted from any number of plants. They are the primary component in an aromatherapy treatment. The oils can be applied topically or inhaled to experience a number of health benefits. They are also used in beauty products, skin care products, and natural cleaners. Hundreds of different oils have been discovered and each of them brings something unique to the table.
The oil itself is often named after the plant from which it was extracted. They may also be referred to by their specific chemical compounds. There are often mixes of multiple oils sold together as blends. They are not called essential oils because they are necessary for the survival of the plant, but rather because they contain the essence of that plant’s fragrance.
A key property of essential oils is their volatile nature. This means that the oils easily evaporate. In contrast, glycerides oils like vegetable oil do not easily vaporize. It is this volatile nature that makes essential oils such an important part of aromatherapy. The oils are easily vaporized and released into the air without leaving behind any residue.
Why Are They Made?
It was once believed that essential oils were the leftovers of metabolic processes taking place inside the plant. It’s now known that plants produce these essential oils to assist with their growth and survival. The chemical compounds that make up these oils are referred to as secondary metabolites. While primary metabolites are necessary for the plant to live, secondary metabolites serve non-necessary but still useful functions.
Different plants will produce different essential oils based on their climate, environment, and predators. For example, a plant might produce essential oils that deter beetles or other pests. The secondary metabolites in their oils might attract a certain pollinator. The oils may also contain metabolites that are toxic to other plants, which prevents competition for sunlight, water, and nutrients.
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In some cases, humans use essential oils for the same reason that the plant uses them. The eucalyptus plant produces an oil with powerful antifungal properties.1 This oil helps protect the plant from fungi and potentially dangerous microbes. Humans can then extract that oil and use it for the same purpose. It is now a very common oil in natural bathroom cleaners.
The physiological benefits of any essential oil are directly linked to the chemical composition of the oil. It’s entirely possible for two different oils to have very similar benefits. Some oils have simple compositions while others are very complex. Agarwood, for example, contains more than 150 different chemical compounds.
Some plants can also produce very different oils depending on where they are cultivated. Basil from Europe will contain high quantities of linalool and estragole while basil cultivated in Australia will not. This affects the scent of the herb as well as the quality of the oil. For this reason, it’s important to check the source of any essential oil you are interested in purchasing and verifying that it is cultivated in the ideal location. Exactly where that location is will vary from one plant to the next.
How Are They Extracted?
Essential oils are extracted using one of the three techniques: distillation, solvent extraction, and expression. Each of these methods is typically reserved for specific plants or plant types. The oldest methods of extracting oils are believed to be solvent extraction methods. Today, distillation is by far the most common.
Most essential oils are extracted using a technique called steam distillation. The plant is placed inside of a distillation chamber above water. The water is gradually heated until steam begins to rise and pass through the plant. The essential oils are easily vaporized because of their volatile nature.
The combination of evaporated water and oil passes through an overhead coil where it is cooled. The vapor condenses as it is cooled and drips down into a collection chamber. The water and oil do not mix in their liquid state. This makes it easy to separate the two and retain only the pure essential oil.
The water will still contain colloidal suspensions of essential oil and is referred to as floral water, plant water essence, or hydrosol. Certain hydrosols are commonly used in the fragrance and beauty product industries. They include lavender water, rose water, and orange flower water.
Expression is reserved for extracting oil from citrus plants. It is more commonly referred to as cold pressing. The peel of the citrus plant is poked with holes and then submitted to pressure to squeeze out the oil. Some juice is also squeezed out at this time. The juice and the oil are separated and the final result is pure essential oil. This method can work for citrus plants with tough skins, but would not work for more sensitive plants like lavender or rose.
The final extraction method is solvent extraction. This produces an absolute instead of an essential oil, but the two can be used interchangeably. The most modern solvent extraction method to date is CO2 extraction. It uses a combination of temperature and pressure to convert CO2 gas into a liquid that can be used as a solvent. The solvent extracts the oil from the plant and is then converted back into gas form to leave behind only the oil.
In most cases, absolutes extracted with the CO2 extraction method will contain all of the same chemical compounds found in an oil extracted via steam distillation. However, it is possible for the absolute to contain some additional compounds that do not exist in the steam distilled variation. This is often beneficial because it means more plant compounds with potential medicinal properties.
There are some risks associated with CO2 extraction. Oils derived using this technique have been shown to contain higher concentrations of pesticides. It is important to only source extracted oils from organic suppliers. It is the only way to prevent the accumulation of pesticides in the oil. In general, it’s always best to invest in organic essential oils regardless of the extraction method used.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Essential Oils?
The benefits of essential oils have been widely debated for more than a century. Some countries, such as India and France, have made them an integral part of their health care system. America has taken much longer to consider the serious medical benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy. Luckily, we now have a large number of studies at our disposal to help validate the effectiveness of these oils.
A number of different chemical compounds found in essential oils have been discovered to have anesthetic or analgesic properties. This means that they have the potential to work as an effective pain reliever. The pain-relieving benefits of these oils can be experienced by inhaling the vapors or applying the oil topically to the troubled area. How effective a particular oil is at relieving pain is determined by the specific pain-relieving chemicals and their quantity in the oil.
B-caryophyllene is a common terpene with anesthetic properties.2 This oil has been shown to be most effective when applied topically. B-caryophyllene has a distinctive peppery aroma and is most abundant in clove essential oil. It can also be found in rosemary and hops.
Other essential oils that have been shown to reduce pain include lavender essential oil and ginger essential oil.3 Studies have shown that these essential oils are particularly effective in treating acute pain and nociceptive pain. It can also be used in conjunction with certain medications to increase their effectiveness.
Aromatherapy is also becoming commonplace during childbirth. Expecting parents are worried about the negative effects of pain medication on their unborn children. They instead choose to use essential oils to help control the pain as well as many other associated symptoms. Many studies and trials focusing on childbirth and essential oils have taken place. Some results show that mothers report less pain experienced while in labor after using lavender essential oil prior to birthing.
You can find multiple pain relieving oils mixed together at MONQ in their special blend called Relieve. It contains the primary oils of ginger, helichrysum, and spikenard. It also contains frankincense, black pepper, and lavender.
Reduce Stress And Anxiety
Stress has a negative effect on nearly all systems in the body. Stress is linked to several serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Essential oils in combination with medication or yoga can be very helpful tools for fighting stress as well as anxiety.
Linalool is one of the most common terpenes found in essential oils. More than 200 different plants have been found to produce linalool. It is most abundant in mint plants, citrus fruits, and plants in the Lauraceae family. It has been heavily studied due to its abundance in nature. One of its most impressive qualities is its ability to dramatically reduce stress and anxiety while exhibiting anti-depressive capabilities.4 It also has sedative, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsant properties.
The B-caryophyllene terpene previously mentioned for its pain-relieving properties has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.5 This is a perfect example of how a single metabolite from a plant can have multiple effects on humans once it is breathed in. The plant compounds activate certain receptors in the body and cause several beneficial changes at once.
There are several other essential oils that have stress-reducing qualities. MONQ has compiled several into a special stress-relieving blend called Zen. Its primary oils – ylang-ylang, sweet orange, and frankincense – have all been shown to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and promote clarity of mind. Using a specially crafted blend is a great way to ensure you get the right oils for the job.
Help Getting To Sleep
It’s estimated that more than 65 million people in America suffer from some degree of insomnia. It also affects significantly more women than men.6 It can be extremely difficult to treat without using potentially dangerous prescription medications. Many of those medications can also lead to addiction. Essential oils are one of the few safe and natural treatments available.
Chamomile is one of the most well-known natural sedatives in the world.7 It has been used for hundreds of years to treat spasms, fever, and insomnia. Many people already consume it regularly in the form of chamomile tea. Chamomile essential oil can also be inhaled to produce an even greater effect. It’s a great essential oil to diffuse before heading to bed. It’s particularly useful if you are one of the 65 million Americans who suffer from insomnia.
Kava kava essential oil has very similar properties to chamomile. The kava plant has been widely used by people in the South Pacific for centuries. At one point, it was often used by warriors to promote relaxation. One of the benefits of kava oil is that it improves the quality of sleep. Using this in conjunction with chamomile oil would help encourage sleep while also ensuring a good night’s sleep.
Plants Helping People
Humans and plants have evolved alongside one another for millions of years. The way our bodies handle essential oils is just one of the miraculous ways in which humans have grown to benefit from plant life. The plants produce secondary metabolites to keep away predators and ensure their survival, yet humans can use them to fight insomnia, reduce stress, and relieve pain.
These are only a few of the reasons why you should be using essential oils. Some of their other benefits include boosting energy, alleviating symptoms of allergies, improving mood and overcoming respiratory issues. We are constantly discovering new ways that the essential oils from plants can benefit mankind.
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