An Introduction To Essential Oils
When Did Using Essential Oils Begin?
Before modern medicine, doctors from early times used herbs to treat illness and ailments. They knew of the healing properties of the plants that surrounded us. For example, the Atharvaveda is an ancient text of Hinduism. It dates back to about 1200 BC. It documents early use of herbal medicines and forms the beginnings of Ayurveda.
Scientists from the 18th century began to extract the oils from aromatic herbs. They learned exactly how these oils affected the different systems of our body. In fact, it is this research that has given us many of the world's most successful drugs. Presently, we use: codeine, digoxin, ephedrine and lidocaine. These are a few examples that came from herbal sources.
There were many scientific advances made during the age of enlightenment. This progress led most of the population away from herbs.
Eventually, doctors began to use treatments such as antibiotics and pharmaceuticals. Recently, there has been an unexpected shift back to herbs and essential oils. More people in North America, Europe and Australia are consulting herbal professionals. Many people now use herbs and essential oils in their homes.
Sales of herbal medicines have more than doubled. This includes all over the counter or prescribed remedies.
From 1993 to 2012 these sales have increased from 3 billion to 6.4 billion dollars.
How Are Essential Oils Made?
The extraction of essential oils starts with the plant material of aromatic plants. The three most popular methods are: steam distillation, cold pressing and CO2 extraction.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) currently defines essential oils as such: “An essential oil is a product made by distillation either with water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rings or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.”
By this definition, a product extracted by the CO2 method is an “Absolute” and not an essential oil.
This method uses a steam bath to extract the essential oils from the plant material.
As can be seen in the illustration above, the steam rises through the plant material. It dissolves the oils from the aromatic plants and carries it up the tube. The vaporized oil and steam then enters a coil surrounded by a cooling bath. It is here that the separation takes place. This cooling bath brings the temperature back down.
'Hydrosol ' is the term used for this oil and water mixture.
Once the temperatures of the hydrosol are cool enough, most of the oil separates from the water. It then rises to the top. When they drain the hydrosol off, pure essential oil is all that remains.
Citrus oils often use this extraction method.
Distilled citrus essential oils are more unstable. They also deteriorate faster. This is due to the heat involved. For this reason, it is preferable to use mechanical extraction for citrus essential oils.
In cold pressing, essential oil manufacturers shred the rinds of fresh fruits. Afterwards, they grind and press them to remove the oils.
This method is not as efficient as distillation, but the oil is of a far higher quality.
The latest form of extracting oils from plant material. It is a rather interesting process!
Carbon dioxide is a gas at room temperature and under normal atmospheric pressure.
Under extreme pressure, CO2 takes on the characteristics of a liquid. This property gives it the ability to act as a solvent.
The correct terminology for this extraction method is , Supercritical CO2 extraction. This "supercritical state" gives the gas the ability to act as a liquid.
It is this pressure which allows the supercritical CO2 to dissolve the essential oils from the plant material.
Releasing the pressure allows the CO2 to turn back into a gas.
Once this occurs, all that remains is the oil.
What Makes Essential Oils So Effective Against Germs?
Plants have adapted over the course of thousands of years. These changes ensure survival from predators and other organisms.
Essential oils play a crucial role as a protection mechanism for these plants.
Essential oils contain a wide variety of compounds. These components slow, stop the growth or kill bacteria, molds, viruses and yeasts.
Essential oils target the outer walls and the fluid that fills the cells of these organisms.
In some cases, essential oils completely change the structure of these life forms.
These properties make them perfect for eco-friendly house cleaning.
A few examples of how essential oils attack germs:
- Essential oils contain a constituent called phenols. Phenols are capable of denaturing proteins in some viruses, bacteria and molds. This disrupts cell activity or kills them.
- Terpenoids in some essential oils can disintegrate the outer membrane of microbes. This renders them useless.
- Phenylpropenes in a few essential oils alters the membrane. This affects energy transport for some bacteria, mold and yeast cells.
The way essential oils work against germs is more than one or two mechanisms.
Instead, they cause a cascade of reactions. These reactions involve the entire cellular structure of germs.
“Essential oil versatility”. Is the term used to describe this.
To be sure, there are dozens of compounds that make up a single essential oil. Each one may have a different effect on the cellular structure of germs. This is what makes them truly remarkable for green cleaning!