Distillation is a process of heating the plant in water, capturing the steam & separating the droplets of essential oil from the steam as it condenses. The result is a highly concentrated oil that captures the fragrance of the plant.
A citrus peel is an easy example of a plant's essential oils. When you gently bend the fresh peel back, you see a fine spray of the oil coming from that peel. This is the essential oil being released and the part that is captured during the distillation process. Prices of oils vary, based on how expensive they are to produce, for example...it takes approximately one ton of rose petals (close to 60,000 roses) to produce just one ounce of rose oil. Now we know why rose is one of the most expensive e.o.'s around!
As the ancients knew, the benefits of essential oils go far beyond their pleasing aroma. These concentrated plant essences retain the healing properties of the herbs & flowers from which they are distilled and can be used for treating both physical & psychological disorders.
When e.o.'s are inhaled or applied to the skin, the aromatic molecules enter the bloodstream & are circulated throughout the body. They are used for a variety of physical conditions, from fighting respiratory infections to relieving digestive upsets, headaches & PMS.
The effects of e.o.'s on the emotions are the result of a different physiological pathway. Chemicals in the air stimulate olfactory cells in the nose, which relay the information to the brain, where smell is perceived. The olfactory nerve pathways are tied in with the brain's limbic area, the seat of our emotions, memories, intuition & sexual response. That's why the sense of smell is the most influential trigger of memories & emotions.
There is scientific support for aromatherapy! Researchers are proving what the ancients already knew...essential oils have a powerful effect on the mind & body! There have been studies done on the effects of e.o.'s on brain wave patterns. They've shown that beta brain waves, which indicate a state of heightened awareness, are increased when stimulating oils such as black pepper, rosemary or basil are inhaled. Calming oils such as neroli, jasmine, lavender & rose produce more alpha and theta brain waves, indicating relaxation & well-being. Other studies have found that daily use of essential oils dramatically improved the mood of women at midlife & elderly patients suffering from insomnia found that the aroma of lavender helped them fall asleep quicker & sleep longer than prescriptions sedatives did.
When purchasing e.o.'s, avoid labels that state 'perfume oil', 'fragrance oil' or 'nature identical oil'. These are not pure e.o.'s. Check the label or product literature for in-depth information. Reputable companies provide the common and botanical names of the plant, the country of origin, whether wild-crafted or organic & the extraction method. You should only buy e.o.'s on dark glass bottles to protect them from the damaging effects of heat & light. Don't buy essential oils in plastic bottles because they will dissolve the plastic, likewise with rubber-tipped droppers left in the e.o.'s. Store them in a cool, dark place. The shelf life of an e.o. is about 2 yrs, 1 yr. for citrus. There are some oils that just improve with age like sandalwood, frankincense & patchouli!
ALL essential oils are therapeutic! Some companies try & use that term to justify their higher prices. Don't let that term alone be your deciding factor in your purchase. There are a couple of tests you can personally do to see if the essential oil you have bought is a true one & not diluted with other oils. The first one is to place a drop of your e.o. on a piece of paper. If a greasy spot remains after an hour or two, the product has probably been diluted with other oils. The second one is to add a drop of e.o. to water. If the oil forms a cloudy slick on the surface of the water, it's probably a synthetic oil. Shameful, but there are companies out there that do that sort of thing
Essential Oil Safety...In general, don't use e.o.'s undiluted (neat) on your skin. However, unless your skin is especially sensitive, you may discover that some e.o.'s are safe to apply directly to the skin. Do NOT ingest essential oils without the guidance of a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. Keep e.o.'s away from your eyes. There are e.o.'s that can cause photosensitivity, mostly the citrus ones...can all cause uneven skin pigmentation if used within four hours of exposure to sunlight. Keep e.o.'s away from children. When using them on children, use only the non-toxic & non-irritating ones such as lavender or chamomile...they are the gentlest & even then don't use them undiluted (neat). Use e.o.'s with caution during pregnancy. General rule is to use half of the normal adult dosage & stick with nonstimulating oils such as chamomile, frankincense, lavender, geranium, grapefruit, neroli, rose & sandalwood.