It’s a great privilege to use essential oils and to have the ability to bottle them up and use at our convenience; but where do they come from and how can we use them effectively?
In today’s consumer lead society we are bombarded with ‘natural flavours’ and ‘natural scents’, but many, if not all are chemical laden, artificial substances that are not good for the environment or our well being. Essential oils, straight from nature (organic preferable) contain the pure essence of the plant it comes from with no ‘nasties’ to be seen!
I have always had a love of fresh scents, whether it be the zingy aroma of a freshly peeled orange or the wonderful scents you get from being outdoors in nature. One of my favourite scents is walking through a pine forest and having that lovely woody, forest scent linger in the air, subtly changing depending which part of the forest you are in.
Walking through a garden of rose bushes and the gentle perfume that comes off them is far more interesting than anything you can get out of a bottle. The absolute number one scent for me is Lavender. It hasn’t always been the case, I think like many people (ashamedly), as a child I associated it with ‘old people’, whereas now, I cannot get enough of the stuff. Every night we diffuse lavender into the air and I sprinkle a couple of drops of oil on my pillow each night. I really do find It relaxing, not to mention its healing properties which make it ideal for treating insect bites and sunburn at the correct dilution.
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is liquid which contains the aromatic compounds of the flower of leaf, seed or root of the given plant. The term ‘essential’ is used at it contains the essence of the plant that it is derived from. There are many different chemical components that make up an essential oil, with different and varying amounts reacting with each other in a very specific way, depending on the individual plant. The delicate balance and interaction of these natural chemicals means its very difficult to make a synthetic oil smell as realistic as a natural oil. Unlike fatty oils, essential oils will not stain and will dry and evaporate away with time, which makes them a great way to scent your home without staining home ware or clothing.
How do we get the essential oils from the raw material into a useable product?
There are several ways to extract essential oils from the chosen plant. The most common method is by steam distillation. This is a process whereby steam passes through raw plant material. The heat vaporises the chemical compounds, which then pass through a tube and are collected. Once these vapours condense, you have the essential oils. Lavender and Mint are both commonly produced this way.
Another common method is expression. Expression- in a similar way to that of olive oil production, the raw materials are crushed or pressed to extract the oil. Orange and Bergamot are typically produced like this.
Delicate essential oils such as Jasmine are produced through solvent extraction.
Uses of essential oils
Essential oils have been used throughout history to treat illness and ailments, going right back to the Egyptian period. Today they are used for a variety of uses. Aromatherapy, where oils are used to improve physiological or physical wellbeing as a type of alternative medicine or simply for relaxation or well being is one of the most common uses. Essential oils can be used in compresses to help detoxify the body, the scent can be inhaled via steam or water diffusers, or even just inhaling the scent of a tissue can be effective.
Many essential oils have anti-bacterial and anti-septic properties. Take eucalyptus oil – its great for clearing sinuses by either dropping some neat oil onto a tissue and inhaling, or inhaling via steam. Alternatively it can be diluted with hot water and used as household cleaning solution. Oils can be used in cosmetics, for makeup and perfumes. In correct quantities and measured dilution, they can be used for food flavouring. Ever had a lavender Martini? I have and recommend you try it! It is very subtle and adds a delicate sweet flavour to the drink – not an over powering perfume as many assume it would.
Can you incorporate essential oils into your daily routine?
Care needs to be taken with essential oils as they can be harmful if not used correctly. They can also have an effect on medication, so if you are taking conventional medication, your doctor should be consulted before use.
For me, I think using essential oils are not only restorative, but can be a great way to treat minor ailments rather than reaching out for the shop bought, highly packaged chemical alternatives. I would like to think that I could try a natural remedy in the first instance, although I firmly believe that conventional treatments should always be explored and used when needed.
Like this piece? Comment below if you would like me to write about essential oils further. To read more about My Eco Edit, click here to read about why I am choosing a sustainable lifestyle.
thank you! Sally X