Essential oils are the aromatic components of plants. They can be distilled from the flowers, seeds, leaves, bark, or roots of plants, grasses, and trees. Though the word “essential” comes from “quintessence” or the most exquisite and concentrated component of substance, it is also correct to refer to essential oils as volatile oils or essences. They are “volatile” because, if left uncovered, they evaporate or vaporize without a trace.
Many oils are produced as flavorings for the food industry or fragrances for the manufacture of cosmetics: perfumes, soaps, and lotions. This latter use is ancient and has a colorful history. They were also used medicinally, especially by those who subscribed to the belief that many diseases were contracted by exposure to malodorous air—malaria—and thus prevented by pleasant aromas. In fact, this theory held some merit as it was discovered during the Black Death that persons working in the perfumery industry who routinely inhaled floral and spice essences did not succumb to the plague. Especially important is this regard were cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg but also lavender, rosemary, and sage.
Most oils are produced by a process of steam distillation in which the volatile essence is liberated from the plant material and passed through a condenser where the vapor is cooled before dropping into a collection becker. In most cases, the oil is lighter than the water; so when it separates, it floats to the top where it is siphoned off. The remaining water retains some of the aroma of the oil and has some aesthetic uses, such as in spritzers or lotions. The essential oil is highly concentrated so, before use, most oils are diluted in what is called a carrier oil. All essential oils disperse easily in oils and waxes as well as alcohol and egg yolks. They are less soluble in vinegar and even less yet in water. Very few oils should be used directly on the skin. However, lavender is one of the exceptions even though it is usually perfectly effective when not used full strength.
This simple, simple statement should actually produce an “ah ha” experience. You should feel what it is like to have a satori experience, but I suspect most people will not attain enlightenment even if they reread these words. The words are bandied around so recklessly that most people are clueless about immunity so no “ah ha” happens and no synapses fire that give you glimpses into your inherent invincibility and immortality. Ho hum? Maybe but I won’t give up easily.
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2003
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