• Jan Baker

Essential Oils Demystified

Updated: May 15, 2021

Romantics and enthusiasts will tell you that essential oils are the "life force of a plant", similar to the human spirit. Reseachers will say that they are a mixture of organic compounds, many too small or complex to classify under a microscope.

So what exactly is an essential oil? Well, they are the base materials used by all aromatherapists. They are highly aromatic substances made in plants - it's what gives a plant its smell; however, they don't become "oils" until they have been extracted from the plant and there are several ways in which this can be done. We often refer to them as essences before they are removed from the plant. These essences are located in highly specialised cells within the plant itself. There are several ways in which an essence becomes an oil. The properties of the oil are therefore dependent on which part of the plant is used to make it, as all oils are hydrocarbons with specific chemical properties.

The amount of essence in a plant varies a great deal from species to species and this is mostly why prices vary so much. You may have seen in one of my videos that Jasmine & Rose are two of the most expensive essential oils. This is because it takes around 7.5 million Jasmine flowers to produce only 1kg of essential oil. Similarly, it takes about 30 flowers to make a single drop of Rose essential oil. So around 5,000kg of rose petals are needed to make a single kilogram of essential oil and this is why they have a deserved place in our Opulence range.

Do you find Aromatherapy a bit "out there"? A bit alternative? Well, essential oils have in fact been used for centuries. Did you know that the Egyptians used Myrrh and Cedarwood for embalming as early as 4,500 BC? The fact that 6,500 years on, we have perfectly preserved mummies should convince you like nothing else that they work! Myrrh has strong anti-bacterial and antiseptic agents and cedarwood contains a natural fixative. So, it's no wonder mummies look so good for their age! The Romans' favourite was Chamomile, used to treat skin complaints and help heal wounds. This is because scientifically, Chamomile contains a natural anti-inflammatory agent called azulene. Of course the Romans didn't know this, they just know that it worked! Similarly in Greece, India, China and Arabia, the use of aromatic plants thrived. In London, for example, during the Great Plague, bundles of Lavender, Cypress & Cedar were burned in the street. And undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, as all are powerful antiseptic agents!

Plants were also used to make all medicines and remedies right up to the turn of the 20th century. Herbalists and Apocatharies dispensed infusions, ointments and powders for everything from hair loss to impotence. Of course, when the big pharma companies took over much later, creating their tiny "magical" pills, this made many of the natural remedies look old-fashioned and even primative in comparison. By the 1960s the world was focussed on the advances made in surgery, hospitals and doctoring. Unfortunately this meant that research into herbal cures then took second place. You can't patent a plant so there is little profit in plant medicine, and this is why plant-based treatment has been sidelined as modern medicine has developed and the big pharma companies have taken over conventional health treatment.

So if you've been thinking that complementary health may be a bit "alternative" or hasn't any science behind it, think again. Today, scientists studying botanicals find more and more vital ingredients in nature than in testtubes. Aspirin is a good example. The painkiller comes from the willow tree. The Australian tee-tree plant contains a germ-killer a dozen times more effective than carbolic, and I'm sure somewhere you've studied that carrots contain beta-carotene, now shown to be an important agent in the battle with cancer.

Just look at all the products you have at home. How many contain lemon, pine or tee-tree? How many people buy citronella candles for the garden to keep away mosquitos and bugs? Essential oils are everywhere... have a look the next time you're in the supermarket!

Jan x

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