When you think of the word 'oil' the first thought that usually comes to mind is a greasy substance. But in the case of essential oils, many people are surprised to learn that it simply isn’t the case. Believe it or not, essential oils aren’t actually 'oily' at all – but like oil, they do not mix with water and are oil soluble.
So, what are essential oils?
Essential oils are volatile liquids; the word volatile referring to their physical characteristic of evaporating quickly. Interestingly, the Oxford Dictionary also defines volatile as “changeable and fickle, lively and light-hearted and transient”, which is actually a great way to describe the 'personality' of essential oils. In fact, the word volatile describes essential oils so well it would be easier and less confusing if they were referred to as 'volatile oils' in the marketplace (as they are often are in the aromatherapy industry).
In simple terms, essential oils are the concentrated 'goodness' extracted from the plant that they come from. It is this part that often acts as a defence for the plant to keep insects away and provide free radical protection. In other words, because plants can't get up and run away from predators, they have to have other unique ways of defending themselves. For example, organic gardeners often plant basil between their tomato plants to keep insects away.
Where do essential oils come from?
Despite what many people think, essential oils don’t only come from flowers, but can be extracted from various parts of plants. For example, fennel comes from the seeds, lavender comes from the flowers, bergamot comes from the peel of the fruit, and as the name suggests, sandalwood comes from the wood. Depending on the source they come from, they can actually affect different layers of your skin (which I will explain in later articles).
Essential oils also come from the one botanical source, and the area where the plant is grown has an effect on the quality and benefits of the resulting oil. It probably comes as no surprise that the best sources for essential oils are plants grown in their country of origin, as the climate and soil conditions are the most optimal.
Are all oils essential oils?
In a word, NO. Despite often being confused with essential oils, the following are most definitely NOT:
Unfortunately, there is much commercial hype associated with the words “essential” and “aromatherapy”, and unscrupulous businesses will try to sell consumers cheaper options using clever alternative names.
So always make sure you do your research, because many oils simply ain’t essential oils.