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THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF AROMATHERAPY
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the practice of using naturally extracted essences of aromatic plants to promote the health and well-being of your body, mind, and emotions. These essences, called essential oils, contain the vital life force of fragrant botanical plants. Pure essential oils are the key to success with aromatherapy. They can restore balance and harmony to your body and mind, while adding depth, dimension, and definition to your life. The use of pure essential oilscharacterizes and distinguishes true aromatherapy, which always substantiates the work and supports the intentions of pioneers in aromatherapy.
USES AND ACTIONS OF ESSENTIAL OILS
You can use essential oils in a variety of ways. Inhale them directly from the bottle. Use them for skin care, hair care, and body care, as well as for numerous other beauty purposes. Use them for personal hygiene and oral hygiene. Take aromatherapy baths. Soak your tired, aching feet in a foot bath fragranced with essential oils. Dangle your fingers in a delightful hand bath. Give and receive aromatherapy massages. Breathe in aromatherapy blends to relieve congestion, clear your head, and make your breathing easier. Make delightful fragrances with essential oils.
While essential oils are the primary tools of aromatherapy, other plant derivatives can benefit you as well. Smelling a fragrant flower or an aromatic herb is aromatherapy, simple and honest. Crushing peppermint leaves between your fingers releases some of its essential oil. As you breathe in its exhilarating essence, you experience healing qualities of the herb. Spraying rose water or lavender water on your face freshens your skin as it disperses the soothing properties of the plant onto your skin. Floating a sprig of rosemary or a handful of orange blossoms in your bath releases skin-softening and emotion-balancing properties into the warm water. Burning dried herbs such as sage smudge sticks or using fresh herbs in homemade potpourri allows their aroma to waft through your home. Pouring boiled water over herbs for a facial steam bath releases aromatic essences that you can smell and feel immediately. When you squeeze a lemon or lime wedge into a glass of water, its aromatic molecules escape into the air. Eating fresh basil or fennel seeds in your food releases their healing attributes into your body.
Aromatherapy can help prevent or ease an assortment of ailments. Essential oils can boost your immune system and help you stay well. You can treat aches, pains, and injuries with essential oils. Essential oils can also help you reduce stress, lift depression, and restore or enhance emotional well-being. You can even disperse essential oils in the air throughout your home or office to help improve your productivity, alter the atmosphere, or modify your moods.
In this book, you will discover hundreds of aromatherapy blends, each designed for a specific purpose, as well as many different ways you can incorporate aromatherapy into your life. You will also learn how to choose and experiment with essential oils on your own. You can learn how to listen to your body and trust your innate instincts to take care of your body, mind, and spirit. Aromatherapy offers a natural approach to wellness that can infuse your life with a new sense of vitality, vibrancy, and pleasure.
WHAT IS NOT AROMATHERAPY?
The practice of using essences that did not originate from an aromatic plant that was once alive is not aromatherapy. No regulations restrict the use of the word aromatherapy. Anyone can sell anything and call it aromatherapy, and plenty of companies are doing exactly that. The result is that about 95 percent of the products sold as aromatherapy are counterfeits—pseudo-aromatherapy. Their aromas derive from synthetic scents, and they offer no therapeutic value whatsoever. True aromatherapy never uses synthetic aromatic substances.
Pseudo-aromatherapy relies on synthetic petrochemicals that merely smell but have no healing qualities. Simply having an aroma doesn’t make something aromatherapy; fragrant man-made chemicals can never qualify as true aromatherapy.
Every day, thousands of consumers unknowingly purchase pseudo-aromatherapy products as mass marketers strive to gain a greater market share of the aromatherapy “trend.” In fact, aromatherapy is not a trend. For more than 5,000 years, people have been practicing aromatherapy as a sincere healing practice. Many mass-market merchandisers have corrupted the category and robbed the word aromatherapy of its original meaning and its authenticity.
In their confusion, and through misplaced trust, millions of people mistakenly purchase “aromatherapy” products they believe will improve their health and well-being. If deceit was the only offense, it would be bad enough, but these petrochemical impostors possess the potential to seriously harm the health of the people who seek healing from them. Another sinister side effect is that these potent petrochemicals numb the senses to the subtle aromas of nature.
Below are some considerations to help you detect pseudo-aromatherapy products and petrochemical impostors:
• Place of purchase. Don’t expect to buy quality products containing pure essential oils at department stores, discount stores, drugstores, national or international chain stores, or supermarkets. Rarely, if ever, do these products contain pure essential oils. Likewise, your chances are slim of finding pure essential oils or true aromatherapy products in the bath and body boutiques in shopping malls or at most beauty salons. Nowadays, even few health-food stores offer products that contain pure essential oils.
• Type of product. The following are frequently sold as aromatherapy products but almost always are impostors: aerosol air fresheners, bath oils, bath salts, bubble baths, candles, electric oil burners or plug-ins, facial sprays and toners, feminine hygiene products, hair dyes and perms, nail polishes and nail polish removers, potpourri and simmer herbs, scratch-and-sniff products, sexual lubricants, shampoos and hair conditioners, and most skin-care products. These products rarely contain pure essential oils. Even if they did, the amounts of essential oils in them would be so minute as to be useless.
• Other ingredients. Always consider the other ingredients in the product. Essential oils can accelerate the absorption of these ingredients into your body. Read the list of ingredients of any product you are considering and think about whether you want them entering your body. What therapeutic value are essential oils if they are swimming in synthetic chemicals such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, surfactants, propellants, petroleum waxes, and preservatives? Often, these ingredients are petrochemical derivatives that compromise the integrity and negate the effects of the essential oils.
• Price of the product. Price can often indicate whether or not a product is true aromatherapy. Think about whether “rose” aerosol spray selling for $4.00 or a “jasmine” candle priced at $6.00 could possibly contain pure essential oil, when even one drop of pure rose or jasmine oil can cost several dollars.
Do your arithmetic. Consider the price of an “aromatherapy” body lotion that sells for $20.00. Subtract the retailer’s typical 100-percent markup, about $10.00. Next, subtract the cost of packaging, advertising, and freight, about $5.00. Estimate the manufacturer’s profit, about $3.00. That means the manufacturer likely spent a total of about $2.00 on allthe ingredients. At that price, the lotion cannot contain any therapeutic levels of pure essential oils.
Before buying, always ask yourself: How likely is this product to be true aromatherapy? You are wiser to invest your money in pure essential oils and make your own cosmetics. Don’t just trust labels or clever advertising. Use your common sense.
WHAT AROMATHERAPY CAN DO FOR YOU
Through essential oils, nature provides us with a network of therapeutic plant essences that have valuable healing properties. These highly concentrated essential oils are ideal for treating an array of physical, mental, and emotional problems. People around the world are searching for safe, effective, and environmentally responsible alternatives to conventional medicines and cosmetics. Those who have discovered aromatherapy have found exactly what they need to help maintain and improve their health and take care of their skin, hair, and bodies. Women, men, and children are all benefiting from the use of aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy works with your body in a very natural, holistic way. By gently activating your body’s own healing energies, aromatherapy helps to restore balance to your body, mind, and spirit. Aromatherapy complements almost any other type of therapy or healing practice, whether conventional or alternative.
Aromatherapy offers you easy ways to enhance the quality of your life and improve your health. Aromatherapy can prompt your body and mind to function more efficiently. It can help boost your immune system. Often, you can prevent common ailments or illnesses with aromatherapy. If you do get sick, you can use aromatherapy to minimize the discomforts and speed up your recovery. Aromatherapy can help you get back on your feet after an illness. It also makes a safe and effective first-aid treatment.
Aromatherapy can help you reduce and manage stress. Since none of us seems to be spared from modern-day stress, any reduction in stress will certainly improve or enhance the quality of our lives and restore balance to our lives. Stress plays a major role in almost all illnesses, both physical and mental. The regular use of essential oils can help you control stress, alleviate anxiety and tension, and minimize the physical aches and pains they cause. You can use aromatherapy to relax and unwind after a stressful day at work, at home, or on the road. Or you can use it to refresh and recharge yourself so that you can keep up the pace of your busy life.
Aromatherapy has a positive influence on the emotions. Many essential oils can help you regulate your moods. Some are uplifting and energizing; others are calming and sedating. Some work to restore balance. In Part Two of this book, you will learn about essential oils that can elevate your mood, soothe your emotions, clear your mind, quiet your anger, and even inspire your creativity.
You can make aromatherapy treatments for your skin, hair, and body that will add a new dimension to your beauty or personal hygiene routine. These creations can be among the most natural and effective types of beauty treatments. Aromatherapy can give a healthier appearance to any skin, especially troubled or problem skin. Essential oils can revitalize dry or prematurely aging skin, regulate oily skin, clear problem skin, and add a healthy glow to all complexions. Men as well as women will enjoy using essential oils in skin-care products and for hair care. Men also can employ essential oils in skin-softening and protective aftershave preparations.
In addition to offering a natural, holistic approach to enhancing health and well-being, the practice of aromatherapy supports the environment. Growing plants—lots of them—for the production of essential oils helps the planet and helps us. Too many people, in their race to turn the world into a concrete jungle, forget that without plants, humans could not exist. Plants provide us with a most vital element for life—oxygen. They manufacture and circulate this life-sustaining gas so that we may breathe. In doing this, they utilize the carbon dioxide we exhale—a waste that otherwise contributes to the greenhouse effect. Besides beautifying its surroundings, every plant that flourishes makes the air a little cleaner, reduces some of the effect of greenhouse gases, and diminishes global warming.
Cultivating crops for the production of essential oils has other environmental advantages. By avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, farmers who grow botanicals using organic methods help to counter soil erosion and reduce the toxic wastes that contaminate waterways and ground water. In developing countries, growing botanical crops can provide farmers with a greater economic return than other, more harmful industries, such as logging, cattle grazing, and growing crops for illegal drugs. People thus have an opportunity to make a better living in ways that are not as destructive to the land or to society.
Growing botanicals can help protect the world’s diminishing forests instead of demolishing them. Farmers need not clear-cut huge tracts of forest for grazing a few head of cattle. They can also restore lands depleted from grazing by growing botanicals for essential oil production. By reducing greenhouse gases, plants may also help preserve the fragile ozone layer. Each time you purchase pure essential oils, you cast a vote for natural botanicals that can have immediate and long-term effects on your health, well-being, and longevity, as well as on the health, well-being, and future of the planet. You send the message to manufacturers that you want to buy products that are good for the planet, that help sustain agriculture around the world, that preserve precious and valuable plant species, and that support life on earth.
You can use your purchasing power to make a significant statement and have a positive influence on the environment. Plants can help us solve some of the problems we face, if we will only let them do what they instinctively want to do—grow. By using botanicals in your everyday life, you can help guarantee plants’ survival. Their survival has a crucial impact on humanity. We need plants. We cannot live on earth without them.
Using pure essential oils has another far-reaching effect: It provides a perfect opportunity to connect with nature. In these stress-filled times, we often forget about nature and fail to appreciate the many advantages that the earth offers. In fact, the neglect of nature is largely responsible for the current global environmental crisis. Could there also be a connection between our irreverence for nature and the rising rates of disease?
Opening a bottle of an essential oil, which possesses the vital life force of a once-living plant, and breathing in its fragrant and therapeutic aroma can subtly yet powerfully remind you that you too are an integral part of nature whether you live on a farm in the rural Midwest or in a penthouse 100 floors above a modern metropolis.
Aromatherapy can make a big difference in your life. In this book, you will learn exactly how you can use aromatherapy for body, hair, and skin care; for creating personal perfumes and fragrancing your environment; for first-aid treatments; for relaxation; for maintaining or improving health; for boosting immunity; for reducing stress; and for enhancing or restoring emotional equilibrium. You will learn how to make many different cosmetics, skin oils, massage oils, fragrances, diffuser blends, inhalants, and therapeutic blends for treating a variety of conditions. You will find out about essential oils—what they are, what they do, and how to select them. You will discover how you can easily use aromatics in your everyday life. In short, you will come to appreciate essential oils for the value they can add to your daily life. In fact, once you begin using them and realize what a difference they can make, you will probably wonder how you ever managed without aromatherapy.
The History of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is nothing new. Virtually every ancient culture recognized the value of botanicals and aromatic plants and practiced primitive forms of aromatherapy. Ancient people used botanicals to adorn their bodies, to maintain physical health, and for religious purposes. The ancient Egyptians were among the first practitioners of aromatherapy. Fragrance was a dominant aspect of their lives, particularly for pharaohs and priests. Priests often doubled as physicians and perfumers; they guarded the secrets of their craft closely. Royalty and the rich lavished on themselves such botanicals as cedarwood, coriander, cypress, elemi, frankincense, juniper, myrrh, and rose, often anointing each part of the body with a different essence.
THE ANCIENT WORLD
The first perfumes were incense. The word perfume derives from the Latin per, meaning “through,” and fume, meaning “smoke.” Religious rituals celebrated a connection between physical matter and the spirit. Many ancient peoples believed that any disrespect or irreverence for the laws of nature could create illness or disease. They burned plants to invoke an atmosphere of reverence and to transcend the mundane world into the realm of the divine. They used botanicals to ward off evil spirits, purify their thoughts, and invoke meditation.
Incense burned day and night in early Egyptian temples. The Egyptians also used botanical gums; ointments; perfumed powders; and scented oils, waters, and wines. During elaborate religious rituals, Egyptians anointed their bodies with aromatic oils and burned elemi, frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood incense to glorify their gods. Incense helped them to heighten their spiritual experiences by deepening meditation, inspiring inner transformation, and purifying the spirit. Benzoin, cedarwood, juniper, and thyme incense freshened the air and expelled evil spirits in homes and temples. What ancient Egyptians considered evil spirits, we today might equate with psychological or emotional problems.
The Egyptians were famous for embalming their dead. Embalmers would hollow out the body cavities of the dead and fill them with aromatic plants and ointments. If the deceased came from a wealthy family, myrrh and cedarwood would be used. Less costly plants, such as cinnamon, elemi, sandalwood, and thyme, were used to preserve the bodies of commoners. Beauty and cosmetics were of prime importance to Egyptians, both in daily life and in preparing for the afterlife. Perhaps the world’s first cosmetic chemists were Egyptian embalmers who transferred their knowledge of preserving the flesh of the dead to treating the skin of the living.
Aromatic oils were the key ingredients in the earliest cosmetics. The ancient Egyptians believed in bathing frequently and anointing their bodies with botanicals to keep their skin healthy and youthful, as well as to protect against the harshness of the desert climate and the sun. Ancient Egyptians believed that perfuming their bodies made them more attractive and alluring. Indeed, Cleopatra supposedly seduced Mark Antony with her extravagant use of roses and other aromatics. Many of their perfumed oils and ointments also had healing properties and served as medicines.
At around the same time, Ayurvedic medicine, the oldest known form of medicine, was developing in India. The Vedic texts mention the healing properties of such aromatic plants as coriander, ginger, myrrh, sandalwood, and rose. The Kamasutra suggested using sandalwood for lovemaking and for beauty purposes. Sandalwood was also an integral part of early Indian religious and spiritual rites. The practice of perfumery was described in early Sanskrit literature, and ancient Indians took full advantage of the abundant aromatic plants of their country. Perfumery lore was intertwined with Indian legends and spiritual beliefs. Indians especially enjoyed the sweet scents of sandalwood, rose, and jasmine.
Hindu worshippers anointed themselves with perfumed oils to purge themselves of spiritual impurities and wash away their sins. In the temples, priests burned incense made of benzoin, sandalwood, and patchouli to banish evil spirits. At weddings, fires burning sandalwood and other scented woods, aromatic oils, and incense emitted lovely aromas into the air. The bride’s feet were anointed with sacred, scented oil. At the end of the wedding ceremony, the guests would toss scented rice at the newlyweds to validate their marriage vows.
Following their exodus from Egypt, the ancient Hebrew people traveled to what is now Israel, bringing with them their knowledge of incense and perfumery. Frankincense soon burned in their temples. Moses made a special holy oil from olive oil, myrrh, calamus, cassia, and cinnamon, and anointed priests with it. During their captivity in Egypt, the Hebrews had adopted the Egyptian custom of scenting their bodies with aromatic oils and their homes with incense. However, Hebrew law forbade the private use of certain aromatics that were designated as sacred: Only consecrated priests could use them in the temples.
Hebrew law required that maidens, before being presented at the royal court, undergo a yearlong purification process with myrrh and many other fragrant oils. When a heavily perfumed Jewish bride arrived at her wedding, guests joined in the celebration, and all were anointed with sweet-scented oils.
The Bible mentions the use of numerous aromatic essences, including cedarwood, cinnamon, coriander, cypress, frankincense, juniper, mint, myrrh, myrtle, pine, rose, and spikenard. Well known is the tale of the Magi presenting gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—three of the most valuable commodities of that time—to the baby Jesus.
The Babylonian empire was the main source of fragrant botanicals during ancient times. Babylonians themselves consumed vast quantities of such scents as cedarwood, cypress, fir, juniper, myrtle, pine, and rose. While in Egypt only the wealthy enjoyed perfumes, Babylonian law compelled all citizens to douse themselves with fragrance, probably to subdue offensive body odors. On festive occasions, Babylonians burned immense amounts of aromatic woods and incense and saturated their entire bodies with scented oils.
Other ancient cultures made use of aromatic botanicals as well. The Assyrians burned tons of frankincense in religious rituals and drenched their bodies with botanical perfumes made from frankincense. They used cedar, cypress, and myrrh in cosmetics and for medicinal purposes. During the regal gatherings of King Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, thousands of people were anointed with precious perfumes while aromatic incense burned all around. Every guest left these feasts with a garland of frankincense and myrrh.
The ancient Chinese and Japanese used perfumes in religious rituals. In both cultures, aromatic woods and herbs were burned at funerals. The Chinese used jasmine to venerate their ancestors; mourners would carry burning jasmine incense along the funeral procession. Both the Chinese and Japanese used botanicals for personal hygiene and beauty purposes, which they considered essential. Chinese women massaged fragrant jasmine oil into their bodies after bathing. The Chinese used some botanicals, such as cinnamon, ginger, and jasmine, to help restore health and balance to the ill.
Some ancient Africans also anointed their bodies with botanicals, primarily to soften their skin and protect it from the searing effects of the sun. In preparation for their wedding ceremony, a bride and groom would coat their bodies with scented oils and unguents, both to beautify their bodies and to deter evil on their wedding day. Many ancient Africans bathed their bodies with oils that were sweetly scented with aromatic roots and woods. The regular application of these oils helped their skin maintain its suppleness and elasticity while preventing skin problems.
The ancient Greeks learned about the art of aromatics and botanicals from the Egyptians. They respected the healing power of fragrant botanicals and perfumes, which they embraced as holy and healing medicines. Perfumes played a major role in Greek mythology. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, supposedly delivered perfume to earth from the heavens. The Greeks believed that plants derived from divine origin, and that plant extracts therefore possessed spiritual and godlike qualities. They honored their gods and goddesses at elaborate feasts and squandered vast quantities of aromatics during these celebrations. Wishing to partake of the good fortune of their deities and receive their blessing, the Greeks enthusiastically adorned their bodies with an abundance of personal fragrances in hopes of gratifying the gods.
The ancient Greeks figured that these therapeutic and medicinal perfumes would also have favorable effects on their minds, especially in treating ailments of an emotional or nervous nature. Healing the mind, they assumed, would restore physical health. During their daily routines, they anointed each part of their bodies with different aromatic oils. Wealthy Greeks built altars in their homes at which they held daily rituals involving the burning of incense. Perfumes played an essential part in funerals, and the dead were buried with bottles of their favorite fragrances.
Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” studied the healing properties of herbs. In the fourth century B.C.E., he suggested that imbalances in food, occupation, and environment could create sickness and disease. He prompted people to take responsibility for their own health as he taught them to heal themselves with plants and diet.
Theophrastus, who is known as the “father of botany,” suggested common fourth-century B.C.E. botanicals: all-heal (St. John’s wort), cassia, cinnamon, cardamom, dill, ginger grass, iris, lily, marjoram, myrrh, myrtle, rose, saffron, spikenard, and storax. He recommended infusing most plants in olive oil to ensure that their fragrances would endure, although he preferred using sesame oil to make rose perfume.
Besides being praised for their fine fragrances, perfumes were valued for their medicinal properties, such as the ability to relieve the inflammation of wounds and to reduce or eliminate tumors. Healing properties attributed to perfumes increased their popularity among Greeks. Dioscorides, a Greek physician and author of De Materia Medica, one of the earliest and most influential herbal-medicine references, praised rose for relieving headache and toothache, and for fighting bacteria and tuberculosis. People from all classes of society congregated at perfume shops in Athens. Artists and craftsmen, statesmen and philosophers, and wealthy men and poor peasants met to share gossip, ideas, and political views while whiffing thought-provoking fragrances. Greeks loved the sweet scents of botanicals and crowned their heads and those of guests with garlands of laurel and rosemary. Garlands of roses were used to relieve headaches and provide relief from drinking too much wine.
The ancient Romans gained their knowledge of both medicine and perfumery from the Greeks. They enjoyed using aromatics for cosmetics, hygiene, massage, and medical treatments. Bathing was an important ritual for the Romans; public baths became centers for cultural activities. The ancient Romans added aromatic oils to steam baths and hot tubs. Massage with scented oils followed their baths. Besides scenting their bodies and hair, the Romans fragranced their clothing and homes with botanicals. Aromatics and perfumes also figured in civic ceremonies. Following each conquest of the Roman Empire, the Romans introduced botanicals to their new domain.
Since time immemorial, indigenous tribes throughout the Americas have revered plants and have used them in rituals of cleansing, purification, and healing. Native Americans prepared ointments and salves from cedarwood, pine, and spruce. They burned smudge sticks—bound bunches of dried herbs such as cedarwood, cypress, and sage—to produce smoke that could purify the spirit, heal the sick, and induce spiritual and meditative states. They sought relief from respiratory problems, rheumatism, headaches, skin ailments, and various other complaints with botanicals such as cedarwood, pine, sage, and spruce.
THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD
With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the influence of Roman civilization in Europe waned, and the use of expensive and rare botanicals for beauty, bathing, and perfumery declined dramatically. Much ancient knowledge of perfumery disappeared forever. With the spread of Christianity, the popularity of botanical medicine waned, although commercial caravans and ships continued bringing supplies, such as cinnamon bark for heart, liver, and digestive tonics; nutmeg for pain relief; and rosewater for a soothing eyewash.
As Europeans allowed aromatic fragrances and medicines to vanish into obscurity for centuries, Arabs continued to explore perfumes’ myriad applications. Although archeologists have recently unearthed primitive stills dating back to 2000 and 3000 B.C.E., Avicenna, a tenth-century Arab physician, regularly receives credit for originally discovering the means of extracting the aromatic essences of flowers by distillation. His first creation was rose oil. Soon, he easily obtained many other essential oils. The popularity of perfume spread rapidly among the Arabs, Moors, and Spaniards. By the thirteenth century, as trade resumed between Europe and the East, the use of essential oils for beauty, health, hygiene, and medicinal purposes became popular throughout Europe.
THE RENAISSANCE AND BEYOND
By the middle of the sixteenth century, perfumers had become prominent and prevalent throughout Europe. They created essential-oil blends, some with claims bordering on the miraculous or magical. Many Europeans believed that bathing was unhealthy and preferred to perfume their bodies to conceal offensive body odors. The popularity of essential oils rose with this practice. During the reign of Henry III of France (1551–1589), perfuming became so extravagant that it was actually wasteful. The French fragranced everything—public fountains, leather goods, stationery, wines, and drinking water, as well as their homes, their bodies, their hair, and all of their clothing. Throughout the medieval period in Europe, great quantities of such herbs and essential oils as juniper, laurel, neroli, pine, and thyme were used to help combat and prevent the spread of illness, particularly epidemics and plagues.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the moral and philosophical climate of Europe shifted to emphasize stern religious discipline and lifestyle. In England, Puritanism prospered. The Roman Catholic Church adopted austere attitudes. This religious atmosphere exerted a mighty influence on people’s every action. Many members of the clergy frowned on any personal use of aromatics, partially because pagans and witches had incorporated them in their rites, and partially because religious leaders of the time felt that any display of vanity or adornment detracted from religious devotion.
As late as the eighteenth century, puritanically minded people discouraged women from using perfumes and fragranced cosmetics. Some British lawmakers felt that perfume possessed special powers that gave women an unfair advantage over men, so they proposed a law to prohibit women from wearing scents. Perfumes and cosmetics, according to these men, were forms of witchcraft that allowed women to seduce men and lure them into marriage while the men were not in full command of their senses. The law failed to pass, however, and the sale of perfumes, cosmetics, and medicines continued.
Essential oils remained the most powerful antiseptics available until modern chemicals appeared. Yellow fever responded to sandalwood and thyme oils, cinnamon combated typhoid fever, and lavender treated tuberculosis. After the middle of the nineteenth century, however, as modern chemistry and science evolved, perfumes shifted from the category of medicines into cosmetics. In 1869, scientists created the first synthetic fragrance, coumarin. The list of man-made perfumes unacceptable for medicinal purposes grew quickly. Essential oils fell from favor as other synthetic chemicals replaced botanical ingredients in medicines, perfumes, and beauty products. By the early twentieth century, modern perfumers were using more synthetic fragrances than essential oils in their scents. The natural beauty and health benefits of essential oils and aromatics were all but forgotten as scientists and perfumers switched to cheaper, consistent, and readily available man-made chemicals. Today, only the most costly commercial fragrances contain even the tiniest amounts of pure essential oils.
AROMATHERAPY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The modern revival of essential oils began during the 1920s, with the work of René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist and perfumer who coined the term aromatherapy. While experimenting in his laboratory, Gattefossé severely burned his hand. He immediately plunged it into the nearest liquid, which happened to be a bowl of lavender oil. He noticed that his hand healed very rapidly and without scarring. After his speedy recovery, Gattefossé dedicated the rest of his life to researching the therapeutic aspects of essential oils. His studies helped to revive an ancient, almost-forgotten art.
In the past several decades, with the emerging trends toward holistic health and natural skin care, interest in aromatherapy is reviving. Concern about the environment and the desire of many people to be closer to nature are probably partially responsible for this. In addition, the escalating costs of conventional medicine, the lack of personal attention provided by modern health-care facilities, and alarm over the numerous adverse side effects of many modern drugs and synthetic chemicals in cosmetics, plus the growing awareness of the advantages of preventive health care, contribute to aromatherapy’s popularity. As people take increasing responsibility for their own physical and emotional health, they warmly welcome aromatherapy into their lives. Today, aromatherapy is experiencing its greatest popularity in centuries, as people are becoming aware of its potential for enhancing the quality of their lives.
AROMATHERAPY FOR THE FUTURE
Today, aromatherapy stands at a crossroads. Mass-market pseudo-aromatherapy contradicts true aromatherapy as a tradition that healers have practiced for thousands of years. This misuse and mockery of aromatherapy violate the intentions of the pioneers who recognized its value in preserving health and life on this planet.
In the late nineteenth century, chemists began transforming the healing practice of perfumery into a petrochemical industry that today generates billions of dollars. Likewise, modern chemists are transforming the therapeutic and medicinal nature of true aromatherapy into another multibillion-dollar outlet for their petrochemical scents.
Will aromatherapy go the way of perfumery, or will it remain a healing practice? To a large degree, the future of true aromatherapy depends upon the demands of consumers. It also depends on their awareness and education about true aromatherapy. Most important, true aromatherapy depends upon the availability of pure essential oils, which require tons and tons of plants to produce. As we bulldoze forests to make farmland for the expanding purposes of “progress,” less land is available for growing plants. Beyond aromatherapy, we must remember that we require plants for our very breath of life. Those of us who care about the future of aromatherapy must be willing to share our wisdom and knowledge to educate people who have forgotten about our special alliance with plants. We hold the power to keep plants alive on earth; plants can keep us alive and breathing and can contribute to our health. No amount of money, drugs, or technology will keep us alive without plenty of plants to produce ample oxygen for us.
Beyond scent, we need to decide what aromatherapy means. We can choose aromatherapy, with pure essential oils that can heal and transform our lives with their therapeutic powers, or we can shop at the local mass merchandisers for pseudo-aromatherapy, with synthetic scents that merely smell and may actually harm us.
Essential oils are essences that are extracted from the bark, leaves, petals, resins, rinds, roots, seeds, stalks, and stems of certain aromatic plants. Essential oils are what give plants their characteristic smells. Pure essential oils are extremely concentrated. Many pounds, even tons, of plant material may be required to produce a relatively small amount of essential oil. For example, more than 150 pounds of lavender flowers will yield only 1 pound of lavender oil; approximately 5,000 pounds of rose petals produce but 1 pound of rose oil.
Essential oils are not oils in the same sense as vegetable oils like almond, olive, or sunflower oils. Essential oils are usually very liquid and do not feel greasy at all. Most will not leave an oily stain on clothing or paper. Essential oils are sometimes called volatile oils because they evaporate readily when exposed to air. They are soluble in vegetable oil and partially soluble in alcohol. However, they do not readily dissolve in water.
Sometimes essential oils are referred to as plant essences. The word essence can mean “heart,” “soul,” or “spirit.” Indeed, essential oils are the heart, soul, and spirit of aromatic plants. They contain the vital energy and the life force of the plants. Aromatic plants store essential oils in tiny pockets between their cell walls. As the plant releases the essential oils, they circulate throughout the plant and send messages that help it function efficiently, much as hormones do in humans. Many botanists believe that essential oils activate and regulate such activities as cellular metabolism, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration. Some scientists speculate that essential oils may trigger immune responses that assist plants in coping with stressful changes in climate and environment. Some plants release essential oils that protect them by repelling harmful insects and diseases, while others emit essential oils to attract insects or animals that aid in the plants’ pollination and propagation. Essential oils thus play an important part in the daily life and survival of plants.
Of the thousands of plants that populate the plant kingdom, relatively few produce essential oils. Even among those that do produce essential oils, many yield such a minute amount that it is not financially feasible to extract them. Other plants produce essential oils, yet the oils smell nothing like the plants; often, this is due to chemical reactions that occur during the extraction process.
Ironically, some of nature’s most fragrant flowers—gardenia, lilac, lily of the valley, magnolia, violet, and wisteria—yield no essential oils through steam distillation. Some flowers, such as carnation, honeysuckle, and narcissus, yield absolutes through solvent extraction (see page 23), but they are quite costly and smell little like the original flowers. Most fruits, with the exception of some citrus fruits, do not produce essential oils. Scents such as apple, banana, cherry, coconut, mango, papaya, peach, pear, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, and watermelon are not essential oils. Scientists in chemistry labs synthesize these fragrances from petrochemicals or fossil fuels. They are inappropriate for inhalation or therapeutic purposes. Frequently, synthetic scents can aggravate the problems or symptoms that the pure essential oils could ease or relieve.
HOW ESSENTIAL OILS WORK
Essential oils work on several different levels. The first way they affect most people is through the sense of smell. The sense of smell is the most complex and most sensitive of the five senses. Smell is also the least understood and least appreciated sense. Whenever you open a bottle of an essential oil, its volatile aromatic molecules permeate the air. As you inhale the aroma, odor molecules enter your nostrils and drift upward into the olfactory receptors—the structures in the nose where smell originates. The olfactory nerves are the only sensory pathways that open directly into the brain. They are also the only nerves in the body that can normally replace themselves.
A single odor molecule can excite olfactory receptors. When odor molecules reach the mucous membranes in your olfactory apparatus, they are greeted by about 10 million olfactory receptors on two small patches of tissue at the end of each nostril. Atop these receptors are cilia, tiny hairlike projections that wave rhythmically back and forth, waiting to detect scents and transmit information about them. The olfactory nerves terminate in the olfactory bulb, in the front portion of the cerebrum. Odor molecules then travel across nerve synapses to the olfactory tract, which sends sensory impulses into the olfactory area of the cerebral cortex, or the smell cortex, of the brain. Here the brain recognizes odors that initiate the sensation of smell.
Scientists theorize that each olfactory receptor acts like a key that fits a certain odor, allowing it to unlock, or identify, an aroma. The human olfactory system needs as few as forty odor molecules to recognize a specific smell. Some people can differentiate over a thousand different odors, while others have difficulty distinguishing even a few.
Once receptors identify an odor, nerve cells relay this information directly to the limbic system of the brain, or the “smell brain,” even before the odor molecules themselves actually arrive. The limbic system is a group of deep brain structures that are involved in the sense of smell and the experience of emotions, among other things. Here odors can trigger memories and influence behavior. In addition, the limbic system works in coordination with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus area of the brain to regulate the hormonal activities of the endocrine system. Odors can thus trigger the production of hormones that govern appetite, bodily functions, insulin production, overall metabolism, stress levels, sex drive, and temperature. The limbic system also influences immunity. Through their action on the limbic system, essential oils can have a positive impact on all of these functions by bringing balance to the body. In addition, the limbic system interacts with the neocortex area of the brain, and odors can affect conscious thoughts and reactions.
The limbic system affects the nervous system as well. Desires, motivation, moods, intuition, and creativity all originate within the limbic system. Because they act on the limbic system, smells can improve your psychological disposition, in addition to enhancing your physical health. Research shows that people who surround themselves with pleasant scents enjoy higher self-esteem and an increased sense of well-being. Smells prompt both physical and psychological reactions by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins in your brain. These hormonelike chemicals produce gratifying sensations, even feelings of euphoria, and generate an overall sense of well-being. Neurotransmitters can arouse sexual feelings, assist motor control, reduce stress, regulate alertness and sleepiness, relieve pain, and restore emotional equilibrium.
Smells can gain direct access to your emotions and work on a subconscious level to modify emotional imbalances or change behavior. Odors also can trigger long-forgotten memories and alter your attitude. Inhaling certain essential oils can enhance your emotional equilibrium, either calming and relaxing you or stimulating and energizing you. Calming floral fragrances such as neroli, rose, or ylang ylang oil will relax you, while the stimulating scents of black pepper, ginger, or peppermint oil will energize you. Some essential oils, such as geranium and lavender, work to restore equilibrium, according to what your body needs.
When you inhale essential oils, they also enter into your respiratory system. In your lungs, minute molecules of essential oils attach themselves to oxygen molecules. These oxygen molecules then carry the essential oil molecules into your bloodstream and circulate them, in much the same way that blood delivers nutrients, to cells in your body. Within the cells, essential oils can activate the body’s ability to heal itself and improve health.
Essential oils work through the skin, too. They can stimulate circulation to surface skin cells and encourage cell regeneration, the formation of new skin cells. They can calm inflamed or irritated skin. Some oils can release muscle spasms, soothe sore muscles, and relieve muscular tension.
Your skin can absorb the tiny molecules of essential oils. They can penetrate through the pores of the sebaceous (oil-secreting) glands. Once they enter the skin, essential oils travel through the intercellular fluid surrounding the skin cells. They then pass into your bloodstream where blood transports them to your internal organs and your lymphatic system. Throughout their journey, essential oils can benefit your immune system. Scientists suspect that essential oils stimulate the body’s own natural defense systems. Certain oils can encourage the production of white blood cells, thereby boosting your body’s immune response. Many essential oils fight harmful bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other foreign invaders within the body. Others boost immunity by reducing physical and emotional stress.
When taken internally, essential oils are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the digestive system. However, the internal use of essential oils for medicinal purposes is beyond the scope of this book. (There are several books available that focus on the internal use of aromatherapy for medical purposes; see Recommended Reading in the Appendix.) A health-care professional trained in medical aromatherapy should supervise any internal use of essential oils. Essential oils are the most highly concentrated form of botanical, and it is important to respect their power and potency.
Essential oils can improve your health and well-being in many different ways. Open a bottle of an essential oil and inhale it. Apply aromatherapy cosmetics to your face. Massage aromatherapy skin oils over your body. Take aromatherapy baths. Blend your own perfumes with essential oils. Disperse essential oils throughout your home or office with a diffuser. Whatever form you choose to use, aromatherapy offers you a wealth of opportunities to discover new levels of health. Essential oils can become your allies in caring for your body, mind, and spirit.
THE EXTRACTION OF ESSENTIAL OILS
During certain hours of the day in certain months of the year, farmworkers harvest crops that have been cultivated especially for essential oil production. By gathering the plants at these specific times, they can produce greater quantities of higher quality essential oils. To further ensure the freshness and quality of essential oils, extraction often takes place in or near the fields in portable stills.
Steam distillation is the most common method of extracting essential oils. Many old-time distillers favor this method for most oils, and say that none of the newer methods produces better quality oils.
Steam distillation is done in a still. Distillers place fresh, or sometimes dried, botanical material in the plant chamber of the still. A separate chamber generates pressurized steam, which enters the plant chamber and circulates throughout the plant material. The heat of the steam forces the tiny intercellular pockets that hold the essential oils to open and release the essential oils. The temperature of the steam must be high enough to open the pouches, yet not so high that it destroys the plants or fractures or burns the essential oils.
As they are released, the tiny droplets of essential oil evaporate and, together with the steam molecules, travel through a tube into the still’s condensation chamber. As the steam cools, it condenses into water. The essential oil forms a film on the surface of the water. To separate the essential oil from the water, the film is then decanted, or skimmed off the top.
The remaining water, a byproduct of distillation, is called floral water, distillate, or hydrosol. It retains many of the therapeutic properties of the plant, as well as water-soluble properties that the essential oils do not contain. Hydrosols are valuable in skin care for facial mists or toners, as well as for many other conditions and ailments. Floral water may be preferable to pure essential oil in certain situations, such as when treating a sensitive individual or a child, or when a more diluted treatment is required. (See HYDROSOLS in Part One.)
Cold-pressed expression, or scarification, obtains citrus fruit oils such as bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, and tangerine. In this process, fruit rolls over a trough with sharp projections that penetrate the peel and pierce the tiny pouches containing the essential oil. Then the whole fruit is pressed to squeeze the juice from the pulp and to release the essential oil from the pouches. The essential oil rises to the surface of the juice, and centrifugation separates the juice from the essential oil.
Some flowers, such as jasmine or tuberose, have such low contents of essential oil or are so delicate that heating them would destroy the blossoms before releasing the essential oils. In such cases, an expensive and lengthy process called enfleurage can remove the essential oils. Flower petals are placed on trays of odorless vegetable oil or animal fat, which absorbs the flowers’ essential oils. Every day or every few hours, after the vegetable oil or fat has absorbed as much of the essential oil as possible, the depleted petals are removed and replaced with fresh ones. This procedure continues until the fat or oil becomes saturated with the essential oil. Adding alcohol to this enfleurage mixture separates the essential oil from the fatty substance. Afterward, the alcohol evaporates, and only the essential oil remains.
Another method of extraction used on delicate plants is solvent extraction, which yields a higher amount of essential oil at a lower cost. In this process, a chemical solvent such as hexane is used to saturate the plant material and pull out the aromatic compounds. This renders a substance called a concrete. The concrete can then be dissolved in alcohol to remove the solvent. When the alcohol evaporates, a substance called an absolute remains.
Although more cost-efficient than enfleurage, solvent extraction has disadvantages. Residues of the solvent may remain in the absolute and can cause side effects. While absolutes or concretes may be fine for fragrances or perfumes, they are not especially desirable for skin care or therapeutic applications.
Some trees, such as benzoin, frankincense, and myrrh, exude aromatic tears, or sap that is too thick to use easily in aromatherapy. In these cases, alcohol or a solvent such as hexane can extract a resin or essential oil from the tears. This renders a resin or an essential oil that is easier to use. However, only those oils or resins extracted with alcohol should be used for therapeutic purposes.
Several modern methods of extraction are becoming popular alternatives to traditional steam distillation. They include carbon dioxide extraction, hydrodiffusion extraction, and turbodistillation extraction.
Carbon Dioxide Extraction
Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction employs carbon dioxide under extremely high pressure to extract essential oils. Plants are placed in a stainless steel tank, and as carbon dioxide enters the tank, pressure inside the tank builds. Under high pressure, the carbon dioxide turns into a liquid and acts as a solvent to extract the essential oils from the plants. As the pressure decreases, the carbon dioxide returns to a gaseous state, leaving no residues behind.
Many carbon dioxide extractions have fresher, cleaner, and crisper aromas than steam-distilled essential oils, and they smell more like living plants. Scientific studies show that carbon dioxide extraction produces essential oils that are very potent and have great therapeutic benefits. This extraction method uses lower temperatures than steam distillation, making it gentler on the plants. It produces higher yields and makes some materials, especially gums and resins, easier to handle. Many essential oils that are impossible to extract by steam distillation are obtainable with carbon dioxide extraction. In the future, many botanicals that are now unavailable may be extracted by this method.
In the hydrodiffusion process, steam at atmospheric pressure disperses throughout the plant material from the top of the plant chamber. In this way, the steam can saturate the plants more evenly and in less time than with steam distillation. This method is also less harsh than steam distillation, and the resulting essential oils smell much more like the original plant.
Turbodistillation is suitable for hard-to-extract or coarse plant material, such as bark, roots, and seeds. In this process, the plants soak in water, and steam circulates through this plant-and-water mixture. Throughout the entire process, the same water continually recycles throughout the plant material. This method allows faster extraction of essential oils from hard-to-extract plant materials.
THE PURITY AND QUALITY OF ESSENTIAL OILS
Selecting high-quality essential oils is more of a challenge today than ever before. When you first begin buying essential oils, you must rely almost entirely on the reputation of the supplier to guarantee the purity and quality of the oil you purchase (see Aromatherapy Resource Guide in the Appendix). Over time, as you smell different grades of essential oils and compare pure oils to synthetic ones, you will gain experience in recognizing the difference between high-quality essential oils and lower quality oils or synthetics. You’ll learn to trust your nose as time goes by.
Whenever possible, smell the real plants in their natural environment. Compare the essential oils to the plants. What is similar? What is different? Many oils smell identical to but stronger than the plant. Others smell different. Through smelling the plants, you will begin to understand what their essential oils should smell like. Surrounding yourself with the plants from which these essential oils derive increases your experience of aromatherapy. Touch the leaves. Enjoy the beautiful shapes of the blossoms. See the vibrant colors. Hear the plants’ movements in the wind. Feel the emanations of their vital energies. Breathe in their living essence. Being close to plants can make you aware of their subtle qualities and aromatic nuances that no chemist can copy. When you form a connection with them, you can remember them as you use their essential oils. This recollection can make your treatments more meaningful and more effective.
Pure Essential Oils Versus Synthetic Substitutes
The key factor in selecting essential oils is to understand the difference between pure essential oils and synthetic products. The practice of aromatherapy requires essences extracted from plants, not synthetic scents made from petroleum byproducts in laboratories. In aromatherapy, as with any other type of treatment, results are the goal. Synthetic oils can never produce the same desirable results that pure essential oils can, even if advancements in technology allow the production of synthetic scents almost identical in smell to pure essential oils.
Pure essential oils produce their effects by the relationships and synergy of their chemical components. Often the components that create their actions or prevent side effects are imperceptible to the most advanced scientific equipment. Even if these components are detected, scientists may deem them inactive when they are isolating important ingredients. Omitting any component completely changes the chemistry and physiology, thereby altering its action. This is one reason that so many synthetic scents and pharmaceutical drugs produce side effects, even if they are synthesized from botanical sources.
Whole essential oils work best for aromatherapy; they contain all the elements of the plants’ essential oils, just as nature created them. Therefore, they have greater therapeutic benefits than do the isolated components, which lack many of the important properties of the plants. All of the components of essential oils work in a synergistic manner, and all are necessary to achieve the best results.
Quality and Price
The highest quality essential oils are extracted from plants that have been cultivated under optimum conditions—they were planted at the right time, in balanced soil, and grown using organic farming methods; they flourished in an ideal climate with the right amount of water and sun; and they were harvested at the most opportune time of day during the most suitable season. Ideally, workers cultivating and caring for the plants nurture them with love and view them as a valuable asset beyond the mere financial gain they bring.
Distillation also determines the quality of essential oils. The type of equipment used, its age, the size of the still, the capacity of the plant chamber, the size and length of the coil in the condenser, and the pressure and temperature of the water in the condenser all affect the finished product. Another consideration is the distillation time. The time required to produce the highest quality oil varies from plant to plant. Most plants will release up to 85 percent of their essential oils within one hour. Some distillers hurry distillation to minimize labor costs or to increase profits by distilling more batches during the day. Rushing distillation may produce weak or inferior oils, whereas patience and a willingness to accept lower profits can produce superior oils with remarkable therapeutic properties that are released later during the distillation process. Other producers may add solvents to the water, increase the water pressure, or raise the temperature to produce more oil. Any of these measures compromises the quality of the oil.
Quality affects the price of essential oils. Growing plants and distilling essential oils are labor-intensive activities. This is why high-quality, pure essential oils are not inexpensive. Some plants are easier to grow and more readily available than others; some oils are easier to extract than others. The price of essential oils depends on the availability of the botanicals, the amount of essential oils contained within the plants, the ease of obtaining the essential oils, the location of the fields, harvest conditions, cultivation methods, local labor costs, seasonal and regional growing conditions, soil conditions, transportation and shipping costs, types of fertilizers used and their costs, weather, and world economics. In addition, the color, smell, and consistency of essential oils can differ from season to season and year to year. This also affects price. As a rule, the higher the quality of the essential oil, the higher the price.
Unfortunately, many suppliers of essential oils have researched the market and know what prices good essential oils can bring. They prey on the public’s lack of knowledge, inexperience, or gullibility. They pass off inferior oils or synthetic substitutes as pure essential oils by charging the prices consumers would expect to pay for higher quality essential oils. The only recourse is to know and trust your suppliers.
Adulterated and “Nature-Identical” Oils
When purchasing essential oils, you should be aware of a number of warning signs that may indicate that you are not getting the purest product available. Adulteration is the addition of other substances—either synthetic or natural—to extend or to alter the appearance, the chemical composition, or the smell of an essential oil. Some suppliers magically transform 1 pound of pure essential oil into 10 pounds of adulterated oil. Many manufacturers engage in this practice to expand their profits. For example, it’s common knowledge that the demand for French lavender oil is so high that each year France sells far more “lavender oil” than it produces. Sometimes companies, knowingly or unknowingly, sell products labeled as pure essential oils that are in fact synthetic or adulterated oils.
Adulterating essential oils with vegetable or carrier oils is perfectly acceptable if the label reflects this addition. For example, a facial oil that contains essential oils diluted in jojoba oil is fine, as long as the label doesn’t imply that the product is pure, undiluted essential oil. Unfortunately, some companies don’t disclose all the ingredients in their products. One way to detect if a product contains carrier oils along with pure essential oils is to place a drop of the product on a piece of paper. Pure essential oils will evaporate, usually leaving no trace, whereas those in carrier oils will leave an oily spot.
Adulterating one essential oil with a different essential oil is a frequent and fraudulent practice. For example, melissa oil often contains lemongrass oil to increase both the quantity of oil the company can sell and the profits the company can earn. Even more dishonest and dangerous is the adulteration of pure essential oils with synthetic scents. The most despicable and by far the most hazardous form of adulteration occurs when a supplier sells 100-percent petrochemical scents as pure essential oils. Not only do consumers who purchase such products fail to experience the therapeutic benefits of pure essential oils, but the synthetic substitutes can, in some cases, pose a danger to their health.
With aromatherapy’s growing popularity, and with the entrance of mass-market merchandisers into the aromatherapy arena, more and more businesses are selling aromatherapy products. The owners may know little or nothing about aromatherapy except that, if manipulated properly, it can produce great profits. This manipulation usually includes substituting synthetics for pure essential oils. Sadly, some companies that honestly want to offer pure essential oils and true aromatherapy don’t know enough to buy pure essential oils. They believe they are selling the real thing, yet their suppliers are deceiving them; they unknowingly pass the deceit on to the consumer.
Some signs may alert you to adulterated oil or synthetics. If a company sells all of its essential oils for the same price, chances are they aren’t pure. Essential oil prices vary dramatically. While one-half ounce of orange oil may sell for several dollars, the same amount of rose oil costs several hundred dollars. Any “rose oil” selling for several dollars an ounce is surely synthetic. However, many shrewd business owners now realize that consumers judge the quality of essential oils by price and, therefore, charge the current price for high-quality pure essential oils while providing buyers with poor-quality essential oils or, sometimes, synthetic substitutes.
If the label on a product doesn’t specify “essential oil” or “pure essential oil,” the product probably is not an essential oil. Unfortunately, even the words essential oil or pure essential oil on the label are no guarantee of purity. Some companies sell synthetic oils mislabeled as essential oils. Companies also often sell products called perfume oils. These are rarely made with pure essential oils. While the label may read “Oil of Neroli,” “Oil of Rose,” “Rose Oil Perfume,” or “Jasmine Perfume Oil,” the product is likely to be a blend of synthetic oils that attempts to simulate the smell of real flowers. Price may be an indication. If a very expensive essential oil is selling for several dollars as a perfume oil, it cannot be a pure essential oil. The few companies that make natural perfumes with pure essential oils and other botanicals usually specify on the label that their ingredients are essential oils in a base of alcohol or jojoba oil. These natural fragrances provide excellent alternatives to commercial colognes and perfumes.
Sometimes people confuse infused oils with essential oils. Infused oils are prepared by soaking or simmering botanicals in vegetable oils to impart some of the properties of the plant into the oil. These infused oils are greasy and are different from pure essential oils. Most infused preparations are natural and possess many therapeutic properties. I mention them to distinguish them from pure essential oils and to alert you to their existence. Common infused oils are aloe vera, arnica, calendula, chamomile, comfrey, mullein, and St. John’s wort. Calendula, chamomile, and St. John’s wort are also available as essential oils.
Nature-identical is a very misleading term that you should understand. So-called nature-identical oils are actually man-made petrochemical-based products that have been scientifically reconstructed to closely mimic the smell and, sometimes, the chemical composition of pure essential oils. There’s really nothing about them that is identical to nature. They do not derive from nature (except, perhaps, their fossil-fuel components), and they certainly are not identical to pure essential oils. The scientists who make these synthetics strive primarily to duplicate the smell. While only a dozen or so chemical components may be responsible for the smell of an essential oil, essential oils contain literally hundreds of components that combine to create their unique therapeutic properties. Many of these components are present in such minute amounts that even advanced laboratory equipment cannot detect their presence, yet these unidentified parts can contribute significantly to the synergistic and therapeutic effect of the essential oil. In addition, so-called nature-identicals lack the vital energy that essential oils have as a result of coming from plants that once reached their roots into the earth, felt the nourishing fire of the sun, bathed their flowers in the life-sustaining rainfalls, and fluttered their leaves in the caresses of the winds.
The action of an essential oil depends upon the delicate balance and synergy of all its components. With all the marvels of modern science, chemists still cannot duplicate essential oils in their laboratories. Some synthetic oils may smell very much like the real thing, but because they lack all of the genuine oil’s many components, they cannot produce the desired therapeutic results. Synthetic substitutes also lack the balance and synergy of pure essential oils.
Finally, when selecting your essential oils, question the products of any company that sells animal extracts, such as musk or civet oil, as essential oils. All pure essential oils come from plants, not from animals. Moreover, almost all of the so-called musk and civet oils sold are synthetic; the smell of real musk or civet oil is so offensive that most people would never consider wearing it. Be suspicious if a company offers essential oils that don’t exist or sells animal extracts as essential oils. All or some of their other oils may also be synthetic.
STORING AND HANDLING ESSENTIAL OILS
Storing your essential oils properly will protect their freshness and effectiveness, while extending their shelf life. Exposure to sunlight and heat can alter the properties of essential oils. Always keep your essential oils in dark bottles in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight or heat. Avoid leaving them in a moist or damp place, such as the bathroom.
Essential oils are very volatile and evaporate rapidly if exposed to air. In addition, oxygen can compromise their quality or change their chemical compositions. Always keep the bottles tightly capped when not in use. When using essential oils, never leave the bottles uncapped for more than a few seconds. To prevent contamination of your oils, avoid touching the dropper or the opening of the container to your skin or to anything else. Instead, allow the oils to drop from the bottle or dropper into the palm of your hand or into the bottle you are using for blending. Most essential oils will remain fresh for one year or longer with proper care and storage. The quality and aroma of some essential oils, such as patchouli, valerian, and vetiver actually improve with age.