What are essential oils?
Essential oils are a liquid, an aromatic substance generally extracted from a plant by steam distillation containing volatile active ingredients. They provide the quintessential properties of the plant, in a concentrated form, with a wide variety of active substances that have been very precisely identified by chromatographic analysis.
ONE DEFINITION... AND ONE REGULATION
AFNOR (Association Française de Normalisation* - part of one of the world’s largest groups of accredited third-party certification bodies.) has provided a precise, official definition of essential oils, which must “be obtained from vegetable raw material either by distillation with water or steam, or from the epicarp of Citrus fruits by a mechanical process, or by dry distillation”.
HOW ARE THE ACTIVE INGREDIENTS EXTRACTED?
The two traditional methods for extracting essential oils are 1- cold expression, which is appropriate for citrus fruit peel, and 2- steam water distillation, which is appropriate for most plants. Steam water distillation consists of moving steam through the plant mass to release the essences found in the small gland-shaped pouches and then collecting them as an essential oil following condensation—a natural process resulting in a flawlessly pure product.
3 THINGS YOU (PROBABLY) DIDN’T KNOW!
✓ They are called essential “oils”… and yet do not contain a single fatty acid!
✓ Citrus fruit peels (sweet orange, lemon, mandarin, grapefruit, and so on) produce “essential oils” often referred to as “essences”, obtained by cold-grating the pockets of essence that are scattered across fresh peel. Citrus peels can also be distilled, allowing the obtention of essential oils almost free of phototoxic molecules.
✓ The essential oil yield of an aromatic plant is often very low, which accounts for its price. When an oil is offered at a price that is too low, without mention of its origin, they are often considered as not "neat,” meaning they have not been processed, diluted or manipulated in any way with solvents or other additives.
WHAT ARE THE PROPERTIES OF ESSENTIAL OILS?
How can essential oils help? They can help with almost everything, thanks to their amazing diversity and recognised efficacy... Essential oils have more than 10,000 known aromatic components, which explains why their therapeutic arsenal is so extremely varied and extensively developed. It is also why essential oils can soothe anything from a sore throat to a stomach ache, skin or urinary tract infection, sleep disorder or digestive problems... and much more! Furthermore, while each essential oil has a main component with a “key” quality, it also offers many more. These are due to the significant or minor molecules found in each one (lavender, for example, contains over a thousand!). For instance, some essential oils can kill bacteria, viruses, dust mites, fungi, insects, etc., all at the same time. By contrast, the standard medication contains no more than one or two active molecules and is therefore aimed at a specific pathology or symptom. Can they be combined? Yes, especially as essential oils, which are already effective on their own, perform even more powerfully in synergy with others.
HOW SHOULD YOU STORE YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils need to be stored away from light and heat (ideally, between 5 and 30°C). Essential oils of rose, thyme thymol or peppermint, for instance, harden into crystals at low temperatures (though this has no impact on the quality of the essential oil which, as soon as it returns to room temperature, becomes liquid). Ideally, they should be stored in their original packaging (with the instructions) to prevent errors, with the caps tightly screwed on (as they are oxidisable and volatile) and upright (to prevent the oils from corroding the dropper and cap, which are made of plastic). By following these precautions, your essential oils can be stored for up to 5 years (only 3 years for citrus essences, slightly less, around 2 years, for essential oils made from coniferous pines, e.g. Scots pine).
*French Standardisation Association.
Extract from 48 essential oils which every home needs to be healthy, practical guide by Top Santé.