What is an essential oil?
Historically, it was thought that matter was composed of only four elements: fire, air, earth, and water. There was a mysterious fifth element called, quintessence, which was the "spirit" or life force.The process of distillation was what removed the "spirit" from plants. The quintessence is now known as essential oil. The term "oil" is somewhat misleading because there are no fatty acids in essential oils. They are readily absorbed into the skin, rather than true oils, that sit on top of the skin and create a barrier. Essential oils are not greasy and can actually have a drying effect on the skin. For this and other reasons, the eyes and other mucous membranes should be avoided when treating with essential oils.
What is the purpose of essential oils?
Plants make essential oils for the purpose of protection and pollination. The oils offer protection through their antibacterial and antifungal properties. For defense against being consumed by animals and insects, there are terpenoid compounds present. Citrus fruits produce linalol to deter predators. It is these chemicals that increase pollination, by preventing other species from growing around them. It was discovered that these chemicals could also be used to treat illness and disease in humans, making it necessary to come up with a process in which to collect these precious oils.
How do we get the oils from plants?
Pure essential oils are extracted using either steam distilled or cold press methods.