Essential Oils: The Basics - Part I

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are considered the most powerful constituents of plant’s metabolism, consisting of volatile, aromatic compounds. They are essentially the sustaining ‘life-blood’ constituents of the plant. They can act in the immune and defense mechanisms and, they also have roles in the growth, repair and reproductive processes as well.

Essential Oils for WellnessThese oils are aromatic ‘volatile’ substances, meaning that they are easily diffused into the air, dissolved in organic liquids, and some are even flammable. They are bio-active and react with other substances. For example, when you open a bottle, suddenly exposing it to air, the fragrance disburses naturally into the atmosphere. By contrast, most oils, such as carrier oils are not considered volatile as they generally, lack a defining fragrance, are non-reactive, and non-flammable at normal temperatures and pressure.

When we smell a flower or enjoy the scent of a forest, we are experiencing the natural ‘volatiles’ of the life processes, which the plants use to attract pollinators, repel invaders, and oftentimes in protecting themselves from disease. To a very large degree, the scent of the forest and the fragrance of a flower are integral parts of the plants metabolic systems. And, they are the scents of the very oils and essences we obtain from them.

Where Do They Come From?

Essential oils can be obtained by carefully distilling or simply pressing the flowers, roots, stems, trunks, bark, and leaves of the plant as well as every part of the fruit – skin, seed, pulp, and rinds. The truly amazing thing is that the very substances used by the plants’ metabolic systems are also useful and medicinal in the animal body; including humans.

They provide metabolic support for every system in the body from the skeletal system, circulatory system, nervous system, endocrine system, digestive system, even deep within the brain at the emotional centers hidden within the limbic system. The discovered essential oils which have positive effects on the body, therefore, clearly possess a valuable purpose in overall wellness. And, they help us in maintaining the balance of many natural physiological processes.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Essential oils are known to contain a broad list of unique organic compounds (hundreds, in fact). Many of the oils, such as frankincense, cinnamon, cistus, and sandalwood - just to name a few, have been used in beneficial wellness strategies for thousands of years. Additionally, these compounds possess properties which allow them to be used in modern day-to-day life to keep our environment clean and free from undesirable contaminants and environmental toxins. If you have ever walked through a mountain forest after a rain shower? You can smell the cleanliness of the air due to the natural secretions from the plants around you. It smells SO clean and pure. Wouldn’t it be great to enjoy this effect in your home and workspace every day? Well, you can!

True fact!
The term 'Essential' oil is derived from Aristotle's fifth property of matter. The five being; earth, air, fire, water and... ether, or spirit. The fifth element, spirit. was considered the 'quintessence' (fifth essence), which differentiated living things from non-living. Therefore, the 'essential' in essential oil refers to the life force of the plants from which they come - their quintessence.

How Are Essential Oils Used?

Pine Essential Oil for WellnessContrary to what you may have heard, you do not need any special certification to use essential oils. It is not necessary to become a licensed aromatherapist to use them. In the majority of situations, you can simply apply the oils topically, on the skin. But, this is only one method in which essential oils can be applied.

Traditionally, there are three methods which are most common for using essential oils. These methods follow the western European traditions established over centuries. Topical applications were favored by the English. Ingesting the oils and using in cooking were, not surprisingly, developed as the French tradition. And, the Germans were actually the ones who advocated inhalation and diffusing oils into the air.

Each of these traditions has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending upon the specific oil and the intended effect. Nevertheless, whichever method is used, the objective is to get the essential oil's active constituents into the blood stream where the body's systems can access and utilize the natural, chemical components for enhanced wellness.

How Do They 'Work'?

Testing has revealed many interesting properties of essential oils. For instance; essential oils which reach the blood stream either by; absorbtion through the skin layers, assimilation through the respiratory system, or through the digestive tract, can and do support physiology in positive ways. For this reason, we can view them as a kind of dietary supplement.

The natural constituents of essential oils have been found to reach the major organs, heart, liver, thyroid, etc. within seconds of being inhaled; they can be found in the blood stream in as little as twenty-six seconds when applied topically.

Similarly, the healthy body handles essential oils very well when eliminating the unused portion or metabolic by-products. In fact, a healthy adult body only requires three to six hours to expel the by-products of essential oils.

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