What Are Essential Oils Exactly?
The simple answer is that essential oils are highly concentrated natural plant extracts. Often, one needs to only use a drop or two to produce significant results due to this concentration. However, there is much more to learn about the mystery of what are essential oils.
Consider dried rose petals… Do they smell as fragrant as when it was picked? Of course not. That's because the essential oil of rose is very delicate and vaporizes easily into the air. Once it's dried, very little of the essential oil is still left. In fact, it takes 5,000 pounds of rose petals to distill one pound of rose oil, making it one of the most expensive and precious oils available today.
It is the same with herbs. Once an herb is dried, it only contains 3 – 5% of its essential oil, and it is the essential oil that makes us well! Plus, in the process of drying the herb, many of the delicate constituents found in the essential oil of the plant are lost altogether.
To obtain these oils, sometimes an entire plant is distilled and may only produce a single drop of essential oil – which is the reason why essential oils have more potency than dried herbs.
Again: What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the life-blood of the plant. They protect the plant from bacterial and viral infections, cleansing breaks in its tissue and delivering oxygen and nutrients into the cells. In essence, they act as the immune system of the plant. That is why they are so essential to the plant — without them, plants could not survive.
In the human body, they have a similar action — such as transporting valuable nutrients to the cells, increasing oxygen intake, and digesting toxic waste in the blood. This is because the three primary elements – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – are common to both human beings and essential oils. This shared chemistry makes essential oils one of the most compatible of all plant substances with human biochemistry. The lipid-soluble structure of essential oils, and the fact that they have a protein-like structure similar to human cells and tissues, makes them even more compatible with human tissue.
What are Essential Oils and How are They Different from Other Oils?
Essential oils are very different from vegetable oils (also called fatty oils), such as corn oil, olive oil, peanut oil, etc. Fatty oils are produced by pressing nuts or seeds. They are quite greasy, do not help transport oxygen, and will go rancid over time. In comparison, essential oils absorb quickly, are not greasy. Nor do they clog the pores like vegetable oils can.
Furthermore, essential oils are highly complex substances. They are mosaics of hundreds – even thousands – of different natural chemicals. The average essential oil may contain anywhere from 80 to 400 known chemical constituents. Many oils contain even more, occurring in minute quantities – but all contributing to the oil's therapeutic effects. It requires years of study to understand these constituents, their activity and functions… some of which we are yet to understand.
In addition, essential oils can be processed in different ways, which dramatically effects their chemistry and medicinal action. Oils that have been redistilled two or three times are obviously not as potent as oils that have been distilled only once. Also, oils that are subjected to high heat and pressure in processing have an inferior profile of chemical constituents, since excessive heat and temperature fractures break down many of the delicate aromatic compounds within the oil — compounds that are responsible for much of the therapeutic action of the oil.