An Introduction to Essential Oils

What are Essential Oils? 

Essential oils are the natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants. They are highly concentrated (over a hundred times more concentrated than dried herbs), and are used by plants for protection (from mould, viruses and bacteria for example).

When we extract these oils from plants for our own use, we can derive these benefits as well.

How are Essential Oils beneficial to us?

Essential oils have been used throughout history and in many cultures for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits. For example, in Ancient Egypt, the use of Frankincense, Myrrh and Cedarwood aromatics were commonly used in perfumes and medicine, (although their extraction methods and form the oils took would have differed from today)[i].

In Europe during the Bubonic Plague in the 16th Century, aromatics were used to purify the air and it was found that those most in contact with aromatic compounds (perfumers) were virtually immune to the plague[ii].

In modern times, essential oils have been used for their fragrances in cosmetics, toiletries and food. However, they are also now being rediscovered and used more and more for their therapeutic qualities.

How are they extracted?

Good quality, therapeutic grade oils are most commonly extracted through low pressure steam distillation or cold pressing. This is crucial to the quality of the oils as it preserves the active components.

It is also really important to keep contaminants out of the oils to ensure that they are both safe and effective to use. Their chemical composition can be tested using Mass Spectrometry and Gas Chromatography.

In using the above methods, and carefully growing plants organically, in the regions in which they are indigenous and thrive, it is possible to obtain very good quality oils which will have immense therapeutic benefit. I cannot stress enough the importance of using pure, high quality oils that are derived using the above processes and are not synthetic or adulterated in any way.

How can they be used?

Essential oils are used for a wide range of emotional and physical reasons, and can be used individually or as part of a blend of oils. They are highly concentrated and should always be used with respect and caution, especially when used with babies, children and pregnant women.

The oils can be used aromatically, (diffused in the air or smelt straight from the bottle), which can have a wonderful effect on the senses – creating feelings of wellbeing and calm, or being energising and aiding with mental clarity and focus.

They can also be used topically (applied to the skin). Care should always be taken to dilute the oils appropriately and patch tested for sensitivity.

Finally, you may also hear people talk about using oils internally for specific therapeutic effects. This is not usually recommended in the UK and should never be done without the guidance of an experienced, qualified Aromatherapy Practitioner, as misuse of oils in this way can have a toxic effect on the body.

Essential Oil caution:

Essential oils are powerful and should always be used with care.

Citrus oils such as lemon and orange are photosensitive so avoid sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after applying directly to the skin.

Keep oils out of reach of children. If you are pregnant, nursing, or under a doctor’s care, consult your doctor. Avoid contact with eyes, inner ears and sensitive areas.

Always check for further contraindications and warnings.

I buy my essential oils here

[i] Modern Essentials 6th Edition

[ii] Tisserand R & Young R (2014) Essential Oil Safety a Guide for Healthcare Professionals.

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Some of the links on my website are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, the price is the same for you and I receive a small commission that helps to keep Nudi Organics up and running.

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