There is a quote
When nature gives you lemon, make an essential oil
It is not about lemons specifically, the attraction towards the scents of Mother Nature is ingrained in every one of us. Scents surround us but we tend to take them for granted. These scents arise from the natural oils present in all kinds of parts of plants and herbs and have maintained a tradition that is thousands of years old, both religiously and spiritually.
These oils derived from flora have made their way into the contemporary world, having a therapeutic, aesthetic and culinary use. What are essential oils and how their blend influences our life, let us have an appraisal.
The Basics, what is an essential oil?
The word essential oil is a contraction for the original, ‘quintessential oil’. The concept took its origin from Aristotle who presented the fifth component of matter as the ‘quintessence’ among the other four as air, water, earth, and fire. The fifth element describes the spirit or life force of any matter.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Vocabulary of Natural Materials defines an essential oil as a
- product made by distillation with either water or steam or
- by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or
- by dry distillation of natural materials
According to Dr. Brian Lawrence “for an essential oil to be a true essential oil, it must be isolated by physical means only. The physical methods used are
- distillation (steam, steam/water, and water)
- expression (also known as cold pressing, a unique feature for citrus peel oils)”
Essential oils are composed of small organic molecules that tend to change their state( from solid and liquid) to gas very quickly and thus volatile. The type of organic compounds in any essential oil determines its aroma and the benefits it delivers.
More than 3000 aromatic compounds have been identified and they differ in their characteristics from species to species. Not only that, an essential oil may differ in its composition depending upon
- time of the day
- geographic conditions of the pickup site
- weather conditions at harvesting
Thus, the process of producing an essential oil and maintaining its quality is a tedious one and the cost of such oils speaks volume of it.
The source of Essential Oils
The essential oils contained in plants are not extracted from the plant as a whole but from specific parts that contain it. There are either external or internal secretory structures of a plant from where specific oils are obtained. To put it simply, these volatile oils can be extracted from the seeds, bark, stem, roots, flowers and other parts of plants.
The functions of essential oils in plants
We take the distinct smell of plants as granted but for plants, these beautiful and powerfully fragrant essential oils deliver significant jobs.
- The presence of essential oils in plants helps the plant to adapt according to their internal and external environment by constantly undergoing a change in their chemical composition.
- The smell imparted by the oils make the pollination process possible by attracting insects and birds.
- The same smell that attracts pollinators helps the plant defend itself from insects and animals that pose a threat to their survival.
- The process of allelopathy among plants owes its functioning to essential oils. The plant actually retards the growth of other competitors in its habitat by releasing its specific oils in this process.
- These essential oils are antifungal and anti-bacterial in nature, thus where they serve to protect the plant from any microbial activity, they are of great benefit to humans too.
What is an essential oil blend?
The process of blending essential oils is as intricate as its extraction, involving many aspects and issues to consider. Two or more than two oils may be blended together to compound the individual properties of the oils and thus creating a blend with enhanced therapeutic properties. The blending together of essential oils is done for many reasons
- For a more relaxing effect
- Sensual alertness
- Respiratory ailments
- Pain management
- Special occasions as holidays or celebrations
- Individual preferences
The essential oil blend is a symphony, which does not follow any random process. In fact, some essential details and protocol are necessary to follow:
- The purpose for which the oils are blended ( the kind of oils will depend on it)
- The choice of oils to be blended together ( for maximizing the resulting benefits)
- The chemistry of oils to be blended together ( oil’s viscosity, volatility, properties)
- The sequence of blending oils is also an important step ( following different sequence can change the fragrance as well as the final outcome)
- The source of oil is also very important in getting a synergic blend, plants from same species and same parts of plants yield a better combination
The above-mentioned aspects of oil blending are important to achieve a perfect synergy between the oils. Take for example; mixing oil containing heavier particles with oil with smaller molecules will result in long lasting effects of the smaller ones. Lighter molecules are better absorbed but are more volatile while larger molecules are less volatile but absorbed into the skin slower.
These properties render the oils specific in their function and by making an appropriate choice among different kinds of oils; a blend that complements our needs can be pulled off. Traditional recipes for blending essential oils are an endowment of centuries old wisdom and must be brought together with the modern times.
Uses of essential oil blends
Just as there are thousands of oils and blends available, the utilization of essential oil blends are many folds. Generally speaking, these oil blends are used according to their mode of application, which are
- Topical application
- Dietary consumption
Here are some categories where you can put your collection of essential oils or their blends to an efficient use
1. Within your household
- Give a boost to household cleansers
- Deodorize your fridge, cupboards, cabinets, drawers
- Freshen up your bathrooms
- chase away insects and flies
- neutralize any pet odors or shoe smells
- wipe clean stubborn stains like wax, oils, glue
- refresh your carpets, vacuum cleaners or your car indoors
- deodorize your linen and towels
- Use as an air freshener
- Transform your candles into fragrant lit ups
- Add your favorite oil to fireplace to freshen up or remove any smoke residues
- Refresh your silk flowers with a drop or two of your favorite oil
- Physical well being
- Oil blends are particularly useful in managing menstrual cramps ( Clary Sage, Basil, Rosemary)
- For headaches mix two drops of Eucalyptus, Peppermint, lavender oil per six drops of carrier oil
- Eucalyptus and Peppermint oils are magic potions for blocked airways
- Use Burdock root, Ginger, Hops Flower, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme mixed with a carrier for thinning hair
- For aching and tired muscles, infuse Eucalyptus, Sage, and Basil with warm Epsom Salt bath
- Treat insomnia with a few drops of Chamomile and Lavender oils to your pillow
- Massage a few drops of Wintergreen, Juniper, Vetiver oils to half a teaspoon of carrier oil for stiff and aching joints
- Do you require a natural sunscreen? Mix equal parts of Myrrh and carrot oils to two parts Jojoba oil
3. Spiritual and emotional well being
Essential oil blends have been used for enhancing the spiritual experience in almost every culture. There are specific oils for specific attainments like lemon, lime, and peppermint for cleansing, Jasmine, Grapefruit and lime for showing gratitude, Cypress and Sandalwood for enlightenment, Frankincense and Rose for coping with grief. In addition to these, different blends are available for creativity, personal growth, relieving anxiety, and rekindle the passion in your lives.
4. Refine your beauty regime
Essential oil blends can cover any kind of beauty regime without side effects, ranging from skin care, hair health, dental care, anti-acne care and anti-aging care line.
5. Essential oils for culinary cuisines
Essential oils and their blends have been a time-honoured tradition for cooking practices around the world. Apart from imparting flavor and fragrance to dishes, essential oils are being researched for their ability to deliver antimicrobial effects and combat against food borne illnesses. However, cooking with essential oils is a delicate art and requires experience but adds ‘the perfect signature touch’ to your cooking. Lavender, Peppermint, Citrus, Bergamot, Cinnamon, Ginger, Cardamom, Thyme, Anise, and Coriander are some of the essential oils that impart their distinctive properties to make an ordinary dish amazing.
Some considerations while purchasing essential oil blends
While making a purchase for an essential oil or blend, some buying tips should be kept in mind
- Do not go for a cheap deal
- Stay away from labels as ‘fragrant oil’ ( probably adulterated)
- Look for an expiry or oxidation date ( essential oils do get expired)
- Buy from an authority on such products
- Packaging must be impressive and protective enough for quality insurance
If you love the smell of orange/lemon rind and find yourself inhaling the aroma of peppermint or pine leaves, then go ahead….invigorate yourself and your surroundings with one of the best souvenir of nature, essential oils, and their blends.