What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are steam distilled from the root, seed, leaf, needle, bark, flower, fruit, and wood of plants. Low pressure, low heat is the preferred method of distillation. Other methods may be employed such as expression for the peel of fruits such as lemon, orange, and grapefruit. Supercritical CO2 is a method that uses Carbon Dioxide to produce a fragrance true to the plant. Absolutes are created through solvent extraction and are not considered true essential oils. They are mainly used for perfumery.
Essential oils have a common name (orange, for example) and a Latin name (Citrus aurantium). The Latin name is broken down into the Genus (Citrus) and the species (aurantium). When purchasing essential oils, it is important to know the Latin name also. The effect of species within a genus varies greatly. The therapeutic actions of true lavender (Lavandula vera) are very different from hybrid or sweet lavender (Lavandula hybrida).
Essential oils may be relaxing (lavender -- Lavandula vera), stimulating (rosemary -- Rosmarinus officinalis), balancing (frankincense -- Boswellia carterii), and/or euphoric (ylang ylang -- Cananga odorata).
How Are Essential Oils Used?
Essential oils are used via the bath, diffusion, massage, or compress. They are highly concentrated and must be highly diluted. Try adding 3 drops of lavender (Lavandula vera) and 3 drops of ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) to a full bath for a relaxing and euphoric effect. 6 drops of Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) and 6 drops of Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) added to 1 ounce of carrier oil (such as jojoba) would create a balancing and euphoric experience. 2 - 2 1/2 % dilution is recommended for massage. Essential oil may be added directly to the pad of an electric diffuser or to the water well of a candle diffuser.
Are Essential Oils Safe?
When used in proper dilution, most essential oils on the market today are safe. There are some essential oils that should not be used by consumers, such as mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, sassafras, thuja, and wintergreen. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) for example contains the ketone "thujone" which is considered neurotoxic. Some oils are caustic and could burn the skin if applied neat. Cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) contains the phenol "eugenol" which is hot and caustic.
Children and pregnant women should use a small subset of essential oils in 1% dilution. Do not use essential oils at all with young babies. Some pregnant women should not use essential oils at all, especially if there is any danger of miscarriage. It may be prudent to completely avoid essential oil use during the first trimester.
Do not ingest essential oils! Some are highly toxic in small doses. Keep them locked away from children and animals. Do not get them in your eyes! If you do, blot with olive oil and flush with water.
In spite of all these warnings, most essential oils can be used safely and bring great pleasure into the lives of those who use them.
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