What is an Essential Oil?

I do a lot of wellness fairs where I introduce people to doTERRA and always ask, “are you familiar with essential oils?” when someone stops by my booth to get a sense of where they are in their usage.

Some people are like magnets and walk up saying, “I love Breathe, I use it everyday!” or “Peppermin t has been amazing for my headaches!” then there’s the other end of the spectrum, “Not really…what are they?”

Even if you’ve heard of essential oils – maybe you’ve used a friends’, or enjoyed them being diffused in a store – it’s likely you’re confused as to what they actually are.

No shame, I know I was! I thought I’d take a step back this week from talking specific oils, and lay out the basics of what’s in those bottles.

Where Essential Oils Come From
An essential oil is a naturally occurring volatile aromatic compound found in plants. These compounds give plants their aromatic qualities and are found in different parts of all plants including seeds, stems, petals, bark, roots, etc.

These oils give plants their characteristic smell, protect the plant, and help it pollinate. The aromatic compounds – and there are over 3,000 of them – vary from plant to plant and are highly potent and concentrated.

How Essential Oils are Extracted

There are two ways to get the essential oils from the plant to the bottle you receive; steam distillation and expression/cold pressing. The method of extractions depends on the type of plant, for example citrus oils use the expression/cold press practice while steam distillation is the more common method used for the majority of plants.

Extracting essential oils is a very delicate process, and if done incorrectly can affect the potency and effectiveness of the oil.

Here is a little more on steam distillation:

In steam distillation, water is boiled and the resulting steam passes through the plant material. The steam carries the volatile aromatic compounds from the plant into a collecting tube, where the steam is cooled and condensed back into water. Because essential oils are lipid soluble, they are easily separated from the water. dōTERRA.com

And expression:

This method involves the rind portion of the fruit, or the outermost waxy layer of the fruit’s peel. Unlike steam distillation, this method does not require a heat source, so it is often referred to as “cold pressing.” To begin, the fruit is placed in the expression machinery where it is passed across rasping cylinders that cut up the surface of the peel.

As this process occurs, small sacs containing essential oil break open and release their contents. Water is sprayed over the fruit to collect the essential oil. At this point the essential oil is still mixed with some watery materials from the fruit’s flesh and some solid particles from the rind. To isolate the essential oil, this mixture is filtered and centrifuged, allowing separation of the pure essential oil product from any water or solid particles.  dōTERRA.com

Essential Oil Properties/Uses 

As I mentioned earlier, there are over 3,000 volatile compounds, each of which give plants different smells and hold different benefits. The properties of the many oils out there have a wide range from anti-microbial, to detoxifying, to laxative, to stimulant, to antidepressant, and many many more.

There are three ways to use essential oils depending on the type and benefits you wish to reap; aromatic, topical, and internal. However you use your oils, they need to be diluted due to their potency.

Do you use essential oils? If you’re curious about where to start, check out my page on essential oils here or email me with your questions at samantha@simplywellcoaching.com!

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