Aromatherapy 102

in Vibrant Living Blog

Essential Oil Aromatherapy 102

As we continue exploring the art of essential oil aromatherapy I think it’s important to understand how essential oils are actually created and produced. Extraction of essential oils can be complex and has a significant impact on the type and quality of essential oil.  Although the term essential oil is commonly used to refer to any oil extracted from a plant, a ‘true’ essential oil is one that has been collected through steam distillation. The French tend to consider steam-distilled oils the only true essential oils, and the only ones worthy of use on aromatherapy. Other means of extraction do however exist and are used to create hydrosols, absolutes, florasols and pressed oils.

Steam distillation remains the traditional and most widely used form of essential oil extraction throughout the world, and works most effectively given the high insolubility and volatility of a lot of these essential oils. In a simple steam distillation process, heat is applied to a sealed vessel filled with water and plant material. As the water boils, steam passes through the plant material and evaporates the oils. The condensate is then tubed to another vessel and cooled. As the steam condenses and drips into the receiver vessel, the oil and water begin to separate. Depending on it’s density, the essential oil will either float on top of the water or pool below it. And voila, you have your essential oil.

Hydrosols, are a delightful by-product of this distillation process and are created when water becomes filled with the aroma of the plant being distilled. Rose water or Rose attar, is a particularly desired and popular hydrosol, and has been used all over the world. You could even attempt a simple distillation in your kitchen using a pot and a funnel with a long tube attached!!! Try using some Lavender buds, leaves and stems, rosemary flowers and leaves or rose petals and enjoy both the resulting hydrosol and essential oil.

Manual extraction is another method and, as is self evident, yields pressed oils. Pressed oils tend to be oils mainly from the citrus family. Have you ever pressed the skin of an orange or lemon and felt the sharp sting of a citrus oil? Well that’s a form of manual extraction since the essential oils in citrus fruits, reside in the tender chambers just below the surface of the rind. As the rind is torn, the tiny chambers are broken and the volatile oils surge forth. Traditional manual extraction called for plunging your hands into a vat of citrus rinds and grabbing and squeezing or macerating to release the essential oils, which in turn would rise to the surface and could be collected with a sponge. As you well may expect, this is now all done mechanically.

Oils produced through solvent extraction are also called absolutes. In this process flowers are covered with a chemical solvent (sometimes petrol ether), which extracts the essential oils and is then evaporated off leaving the essential oils in the container.

I tend to shy away from solvent extracted oils as solvents are unpleasant synthetic chemicals and threaten our environment. Often, traces of solvent are left behind in the oils, which result in an unpleasant product.

And finally, Critical carbon dioxide and subcritical Carbon dioxide are the two most contemporary methods of extraction. These cold processes are able to capture the purest and finest notes of plant material. Oils produced through these methods are called cold-processed oils and they tend to retain extremely delicate notes usually lost in steam distillation. The process of extraction with liquid carbon dioxide however, requires a great deal of very expensive equipment and extremely low temperatures. Due to the low temperatures used in this method of extraction, thermal degradation and cross contamination that occur with other methods are avoided leading to very high quality and expensive oils.

So if I haven’t thoroughly bored you with my long explanation on extraction methods, go out and grab some plants and see what you can come up with in your own kitchen and garden. And if you feel like splurging, check out my essential oil blends or aromatherapy perfumes. You can rub them onto your wrists and neck as you would any perfume or roll onto your pressure points for maximum effect. And if you’re feeling particularly romantic and adventurous, put them to good use on your fast approaching Valentine’s day!!

And if you really wanted to play with fire and observe the wild antics of freshly released citrus oils, press the peel of an orange or lemon in front of a candle flame and watch as the volatile oils ignite in tiny flashes as they come in contact with the flame. But please be careful!!!!!!

Remember to tell us what you concocted in your kitchen

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