What is an Essential Oil?
The essential oil (EO) is the scent of an aromatic plant which will create an essence through photosynthesis. Among the 800,000 species of plants, only around 10% are capable of this. This essence enables them to repel or attract insects as well as promoting healing from certain ailments or wounds.
The aromatic molecules are held in a secretory part of the plant. It can be the grain (EO Green Anise), the bulb (EO Garlic), the bark (EO cinnamon), the flower (EO Neroli), the wood (EO Cedar tree), the leaf (EO Eucalyptus) but also the fruit, the berry, the needles or the zest (in this case we would call it an “essence” and not an EO). A plant can, therefore, produce different essential oils depending on which part is distilled.
Care is advised when using EO’s as different essential oils though coming from the same plant will not necessarily have the same properties as they are chemically divergent. You cannot substitute one for another and it could even be dangerous to do so in some cases; an essential oil coming from one part could be perfectly fine whereas the one coming from another part could be toxic. Another thing to note is that different plants within the same family can have very similar names (E.G. Eucalyptus globulus, lemon eucalyptus, eucalyptus radiata, eucalyptus-menthol) however they are very different in application. So, if you are not sure which one to use, always refer to the Latin name!
How do we obtain an essential oil?
An essential oil can be produced either through distillation (in a copper or stainless steel still) or through a cold extraction.
• Distillation is the most common method as most of the plants can support this process. It consists of heating water until evaporation occurs in one of the chambers of the still. The steam will then move onto the chamber that contains the plant and extract the aromatic molecules; they are soluble in steam. This enriched steam will then be cooled down to condensate it. The result of this is a mix of essential oils (non-soluble in water – they will remain at the surface) and herbal distillate also known as flower water.
• The cold expression is usually used for citrus as their essence cannot be distilled. This method consists in simply squeezing the fruit under a high-pressure water hose to separate the essence from the peel; A little bit like when you peel a citrus fruit and you can feel the oil on the skin under the pressure of your fingers. It is called an essence as only an essence that has been distilled can be called an essential oil.
Essential Oil Distillation Process
What does an essential oil look like?
An essential oil can be liquid, viscous (EO Myrtle) or crystallized (EO Field mint) and despite the name they are not greasy in texture, but they can actually be volatile so remember to always keep your bottle tightly closed.
They have a density close to the density of water but are not water-soluble (this is why they can be distilled) so you would need to mix them with a vegetable oil to use them on your body or with a liquid soap if you want to use them in the bath.
Sensitive to heat and UV, it is recommended to keep EO’s in a dark and cool and dry place or even in the fridge. Essences are even more sensitive to heat. Each EO, essence or flower water has a specific resilience so make sure to check with your provider before burning. Care is also advised in this instance as they could catch fire if left unattended.
Essential Oils can be very beneficial when utilised in the correct way so always remember to ask our staff members in-store if you’re unsure.
Written by Julie Bachelot in our Nourish Web Store. Stay tuned for Part Two of our Essential Oil Series coming soon!
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication