Previously we discussed the differing types of fragrances, and their use in perfumery. Perfumes aren’t a concentration of pure aromatic compounds in fact the most commonly sold form of perfume (Eau du Toilet) only has 5%-15% concentration of aromatic compounds. Aromatic compounds aren’t essential oils either, so what exactly are essential oils? And how do they differ from these aromatic compounds commonly found in perfumes?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts containing aromatic compounds, and they must be from plants. The name holds a lot of clues to essential oil, as it is an oil that needs to contain the essence of whichever plant it is extracted from. They are most commonly extracted through steam distillation. Steam distillation allows for temperature sensitive material, which a lot of essential oils are to be extracted safely without decomposing. Which many organic compounds tend to do. Other methods such as expression, solvent extraction, absolute extraction are also used. Like cooking oils essential oils can also be cold pressed. The advantages are similar in as it will preserve some nutrients that can be lost in heat induced extraction. This can also affect the fragrance of the oil.
Essential oils serve not just as a fragrance, but they also contain numerous medical, anti-fungal, and anti-insecticidal benefits. It’s use as in modern recorded medicine has been found to be as early as 1188 by what is now modern Spain. However it’s use as medicine predates even that, with the Ancient Egyptians famously using it not only as medicine, but also for seduction. Cleopatra was famous for her signature lavender scent, which legend claims helped seduce Julius Caesar. The Indian folk medicinal branch know as Ayur Veda were one of the most well known and famous pioneers of essential oil as medicine.
Aromatherapy which is a form of alternative medicine wouldn’t be the same without essential oils. Aromatherapy uses these scents to promote both psychological, and physical well being. Essential oils by their definition are strong concentrates, so only a small amount is often needed, and it is commonly diluted. It is often used complimentarily with other forms of therapy such as massage therapy, or acupuncture. This practice has of aromatherapy has been documented in many ancient civilizations from the Greeks all the way to the Chinese. The modern branch of Aromatherapy started at around 1907 and first appeared in print in 1937 in France on a book by René-Maurice Gattefossé called Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales. Essential oils by their definition are strong concentrates, so only a small amount is often needed.
Essential oils are even used in foods as flavouring agents. Although it’s not to be taken lightly as the type of oil, and its concentration must be correct, otherwise I could be toxic.
How, and what the function of your essential oil is will be dependent on what you want. From silky smooth skin, healing infections, curing an upset stomach, to simply smelling divine. Whatever it is you’re looking for there is probably an essential oil lying in wait for you. So dive in the the colorful world of plant essences, and start your journey at our very own stores.