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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

The Fundamentals of Essential Oils

Dec 03, 2014 01:18AM ● By Mary Oquendo

What Are Essential Oils?

They are hydrophobic liquids that contain the volatile oils that are distilled from the bark, berries, flowers, leaves, peels, resin, rhizomes, seeds, stems or wood of living plants. Essential oils feel oily because they are often diluted in a carrier oil such as almond, apricot kernel, citrus or grapeseed.

Most essential oils are produced by steam distillation. Even hydrosols, the “waste” water of the steam distillate process, retain therapeutic properties. Nothing is wasted. For tougher materials, such as citrus peels, mechanical expression or cold-pressed methods are used. Solvent extraction is used for more delicate flowers. Solvent extraction is a complex process which usually leaves a trace residual solvent in the essential oil.

The How, Why and Uses of Essential Oil

A plant’s essential oil governs its immune system. It is the plant’s blood. It navigates that plant through the insects, fungus, viruses and bacteria in its environment. Different essential oils have their own unique physical and emotional therapeutic properties, such as anti-diuretic, anti-fungal, anti-microbial and others. Humans and animals absorb these essential oils into our bloodstream by contact, inhalation or ingestion. In addition, essential oils have many household uses, including cleaning and disinfecting properties.

Contact: Soaps, massage oils, shampoos, lotions, perfumes, cosmetics, bath and other spa products

Inhalation: Incense, air fresheners, aromatherapy diffusers and candles

Ingesting: Tinctures made by a medical or other licensed professional

Household: Use in trash cans, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and drains

Store essential oils in dark-colored glass bottles as heat and sunlight degrades them.

Price and Availability Options

There are many considerations in factoring prices.

• Quality and/or rarity of the botanical country of origin

• Amount of oil that can be distilled from the botanical

• The standards of the distillery, as well as size as large companies can reduce operating costs through volume

• Organic sourcing

• Type of oil, the type of oil also affects price

• Fragrance oils are synthesized in a lab, cheaper to produce and have none of the therapeutic properties of essential oils.

• Therapeutic grade essential oils are more expensive to produce than their non-therapeutic grade counterparts.

• Hydrosols are a water-based version of the essential oil. They are a by-product of the distillation process. They were discarded until it was discovered that they still retained the therapeutic properties, minus the terpenes. Essential oils are dangerous for cats as they are unable to metabolize terpenes. Most hydrosols are a safe alternative for cats.

•Absolutes are a very concentrated essential oil. It is an involved process and will likely have trace amounts of
solvents. They are very expensive and are not ingestible.

•Blends are a combination of several essential oils designed for a particular issue.

• Tinctures are therapeutic grade essential oils in an alcohol base.

The aromatherapy industry is not regulated. Barbara Bird, creator of The Scented Groomer line of aromatherapy products for groomers, says, “With the tremendous surge in the popularity of aromatherapy and use of essential oils, the demand is straining the supply. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the appearance of adulterated products or oils that have been stretched by the addition of cheaper oils or poor-grade distillates. It is important to purchase essential oils from trusted sources and companies with a commitment to quality and a history with aromatherapy. Expect to pay more for products using good quality essential oils.”

Cautions: As with any product, there is a danger of an allergic reaction. Do a patch test before applying topicals and use caution when ingesting or administering tinctures. Improper dosing of tinctures can result in mild to severe medical emergencies. In addition, improper use of topicals and inhalants cause damage to eyes and lungs. Consult with a medical or veterinary professional before treating any medical condition or if you are pregnant.

Use products according to the manufacturer or your professional instructions. Never use essential oils undiluted. Although many products are packaged already diluted in carrier oil, read the label to confirm.

Essential oils are flammable. Use aromatherapy diffusers according to the manufacturer’s directions. Do not apply essential oils directly to the plastic components of household appliances as the oils can damage plastics.

Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master pet tech, pet first aid instructor. She is the co-owner of Hands And Paws-Reiki for All in New Milford. She can be reached at See ad, page 52.