What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are concentrated essences of a wide variety of plants. Each oil has its own unique and powerful properties and fragrance. Much are used in cosmetics, perfumes and as flavourings for food. In aromatherapy essential oils are used as a system of healing the body through massage, inhalation or bathing with blended oils. One essential oil may contain over one hundred chemical constituents.  Essential oils are found in the minute glands in one or more parts of the plant, which could be the leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, wood, resin, bark or roots.


Essential oils have been around for a very long time, and have a rich history. Ancient cultures in the Far and Middle East valued these oils, in particular China, Egypt and India. Ayur Veda is a system of traditional Indian medicine dating back to 1000 BC, and includes these oils in many healing and rejuvenating recipes. Egyptians used oils to perfume their clothes and bodies, to preserve and flavour food andto drink, to heal and of course to embalm.

The Greek physician Theophratus wrote a study of scent and the healing effects. His writings ‘Concerning Odours’ was written more than 2000 years ago, yet laid down the early groundwork for our current understanding of aromatherapy today.

The Arabs discovered the technique of distillation centuries ago. Distillation is a method of extracting plant essences by steaming and is still one of the most useful and widely used methods today. Persian Chemists during the eleventh century AD distilled highly exotic and most sophisticated essences, including the famous attar roses. It was the Crusaders who after learning these skills from the Arabs, then brought it back with them to Europe.

Healing Properties

The revival of essential oils for healing in the West was triggered by the French chemist Professor Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, and it was he who originated the term ‘aromatherapy’. Using essential oils, he conducted experiments on wounded soldiers during WW1. His work proved that essential oils, and in particular Lavender, are far more superior to

chemical antiseptics in their ability to detoxify and speed up the elimination of harmful substances which were produced by decaying tissue in the soldiers wounds. Gattefosse first became convinced of the power of Lavender oil after he accidentally burned his hand. The wound became gangrenous, so he applied Lavender oil, and the pain disappeared almost immediately, and the skin healed, perfectly cured. Antiseptic oils do not lose their effect when applied repeatedly either.

More recent experiments highlight the fact that essential oils are carried through the circulatory system to all the organs and eventually through the elimination system, the whole process taking from 30 minutes to 12 hours. You can experiment with this yourself by rubbing the sole of your foot with a slice of garlic, and then smell your breath in a few hours!!

The Production of Essential Oils

The extraction of oils is a highly complex and expensive business. Most oils are collected by distillation (steaming) or enfleurage (in grease). Both methods are time consuming, laborious and intensive, requiring expert use of complicated equipment and top quality materials.

Huge amounts of plants are needed to distil minute quantities of oil…. It takes the petals of about 30 specially cultivated Roses to produce just once drop of Rose essential oil, and several kilo’s  of Lavender to produce a small bottle of essential oil.

Synthetic Oils

Many synthetic scents have been produced successfully, but are of no use to anyone interested in the ‘theraputic’ values that essential oils carry, because synthetic oils are quite simply just a variety of pretty scents with no therapeutic values at all. Each essential oil is composed of many functions, such as softening the skin, acting as a preservative, being antiseptic, or to deter insects. Synthetic oils, as pretty as the scents may be, cannot ever replicate all these ‘natural’ aspects.



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. alexpdian
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 06:08:48

    i love aromatherapy too, esp if it woody aroma, its made me feels so relax. Sometime i bought aromatherapy stick and i light it at night before i went to sleep 🙂


  2. Parsley Sage UK
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 12:30:23

    Yes essential oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood, mandarin and tangerine are lovely scents for men both young and old.. I will be adding a section just for men with lots of nice blends and even some nice aftershaves. Lavender is a very good essential oil to help you sleep. You can even make joss sticks with lavender stems.

    Thank you for stopping by Alex … Happy New Year! 🙂


  3. Summer Skin – Moisturising Treats! « Parsley Sage UK
    May 03, 2011 @ 19:57:40

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