Essential Oils Handbook

Essential oils are known by a variety of names: volatile oils, essential oils, ethereal oils, or aetherolea. The name “essential oils” likely originates with the belief that the scent of the oils comes from the essence of the plant. These plant oils have found huge popularity in recent decades in cosmetics, aromatherapy and health uses. With over 180 plants identified as containing oils from which these essential oils are derived, there are hundreds of applications and uses to which the plants are put. However, along with the benefits touted for the oils, there also are risks.

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What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are more accurately called volatile oils. This is due to their volatility, or ease with which they evaporate when exposed to air. They are plant-based, and do not saponify (convert to soap-like substances), like fatty oils do, in air. Many plants contain oils, such as oils in seeds like sesame, flax, hemp, sunflower and corn. Those seeds may contain as much as 45 percent (occasionally higher) oil in the seed.

Essential oils are found in almost every part of various plants, in varying quantities. The lower the concentration or stability of the oils, the more valuable they become. Those oils derived from flower petals often require the greatest effort, from the lowest concentration, to make a quantity of oil and therefore are quite expensive.

Champaca oil, for instance, costs more than $2,400 per ounce. Naroli oil, too, exceeds $400 per ounce, due to the huge number of petals that must be harvested to produce the oil. On a more familiar scale, understand that the price of saffron is high due to the labour involved in hand-harvesting and the quantity of the flower’s stigma that must be gathered. Harvesters hand-forage over 75,000 flowers to achieve one pound of saffron, making the spice more valuable than gold.

Name & Description of Essential Oil

Agar

Ajwain

Amyris

Angelica

Anise

Balsam

Basil

Bay laurel

Benzoin resinoid

Bergamot

Birch bark

Blackberry

Black Pepper

Black SpruceBlack Spruce Essential Oils

Blood orange

Blue tansy

Buchu

Buddha wood

Cade

Cajeput

Calimodin

Calamus

Camphor

Cannabis

Caraway

Cardamom

Carrot

Cedarwood

Chamomile

Cinnamon

Cistus

Citron

Citronella

Clary sage

Clove leaf

Cocoa absolute

Coconut

Coffee

Copaiba balsam

Coriander

Costmary

Costus

Cubeb

Cranberry

Cumin

Curry leaf

Cypress

Cypriol

Davana

Dill

Echinacea (purple coneflower)

Elemi

Eucalyptus

Fennel

Fenugreek

Fir needle

Frankincense

Galangal

Galbanum

Garlic

Geranium

Ginger

Goldenrod

Grapefruit

Green mandarin

Helichrysum

Henna

Hickory

Ho wood

Honeysuckle

Horseradish

Hyssop

Jasmine

Jerusalem artichoke

Juniper

Kanuka

Key lime

Lavandin

Lavender

Ledum

Lemon

Lemongrass

Lemon verbena

Lime

Linalool

Linden blossom

Litsea cubeba

Magnolia

Manuka

Marjoram

May chang

Melissa

Mentha arvensis

Moringa

Mountain savory

Mugwort

Mustard

Myrrh

Myrtle

Neem

Neroli

Niaouli

Nutmeg

Oak moss

Orange

Oregano

Orris

Osmanthus

Palmarosa

Palo santo

Parsley

Patchouili

Petitgrain

Perilla

Pennyroyal

Peppermint

Pine

Plai

Ravensara

Rose

Rosehip

Rosemary

Rosewood

Sage

Sandalwood

Sassafras

Savory

Schisandra

Senega

Spearmint

Spikenard

Spruce

Star anise

Sunflower

Sweet birch

Tangerine

Tarragon

Tea tree

Thyme

Tobacco

Tsuga

Tuberose

Valerian

Vanilla

Vetiver

Violet leaf

Vitex

Warionia

White lotus

White willow

Wintergreen

Yarrow

Ylang ylang

Yuzu

How are Essential Oils Obtained?

Volatile oils can be extracted from plants by several methods, similar to oil seed extraction for food based oil. The purest method is expression or using pressure to squeeze the oils from the solids of the plants. This can be either a cold- or hot-press system, differing only by the heat generated in the pressing process.

The most valuable olive oil is pure cold pressed, where the oil or seed meal does not exceed a specific temperature in the process. It sometimes is only the first phase of extraction. When you read the label of olive oil, it may say “first cold press.”

That does not mean it is produced entirely by cold press. More likely, it is cold-pressed, then subjected to greater pressure that increases the temperature and extracts a greater quantity of oil. It may then be subjected to a solvent extraction to capture almost all of the remaining oil.

Each oilseed, and each plant with essential oils contains a differing amount of oil. Canola and flax seeds contain up to 45-48% oil, while soybean contains less than 30% oil. Grapeseed contains up to 20% oil, while olives contain up to 50% oil in the flesh of the olive and only 5% in the seed (similar to corn kernel oil).

For commercial food oils, like canola, soybean and corn, processors want to recover as much of the oil as is possible. Pressing would not be cost effective for them, so they resort to solvent extraction. Unfortunately, in many instances, hexane—an extreme carcinogen—is used. Even though hexane released in any amount, in the air, is banned by the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration allows hexane and other chemicals to be used, so long as they leave only “negligible” amounts of hexane in the food product!

Since essential oils largely are unregulated by the FDA, there are no restrictions on how the oils are extracted, so solvent extraction in cheaper oils is more common than in high-quality ones.

Other methods of extraction include distillation and use of alcohol solvents and tinctures. Preservation methods, sometimes employed during the extraction process, may involve using glycerines and a resulting soap-based oil.

Click here to read more about the extraction process

Harvest & Preparation

What Are the Uses for Essential Oils?

Using essential oils requires care and knowledge of risks

The more aesthetic uses for essential oils are as fragrances or in cosmetics. Aromatherapy combines aesthetic purpose for volatile oils and medicinal or health benefits. Many of the plants that produce essential oils have anecdotally been associated with specific medicinal properties. A huge library of folklore and folk treatments have evolved over hundreds of years, indicating efficacy at curing, treating, or preventing various conditions.

However, the pharmaceutical industry, possibly because they do not identify a profit source from marketing items that can be harvested for free, have been sceptical. The scientific sector also, while not denying the effectiveness of various herbal remedies, disparages their use by claiming that there is not enough scientific evidence to support claims of benefit. At the same time, they allocate only meagre resources to exploring the value of these plants and their oils.

It is important to note that many of these oils should not be taken internally. Most are intended for topical treatment and even those whose histories have shown them to be safe in small quantities when consumed are dangerous when consumed in large quantities. These include such seemingly innocuous and common essences as peppermint or clove oil.

Uses & Benefits

What Are the Risks Associated With Essential Oils?

From cosmetics to medicines, volatile oils have myriad uses

Essential oils have been shown to be antitumour, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial. People also may think, though, that because they are natural oils, they are safe. This is untrue. Some users develop severe allergic reactions to the oils with rashes and inflammation occurring. Other oils can be poisonous when absorbed through the skin or taken internally. Just because they are natural, do not assume they are safe. Think of the poison ivy oils and human reaction to them to see how “natural” is not always “safe.”

Instances of people swallowing a few drops and having the oil “go down the wrong way” into the lungs. The burns and irritation resulting from this accident have led to pneumonia. Sage oil has caused seizures in children, while swallowing wintergreen is similar to overdosing on ASA. Many oils increase sensitivity to sunlight, and users can incur severe sunburn if using these photosensitive herbs in excess or carelessly.

Other oils may be safe on their own but interact badly with other compounds. Some may be safe in aromatherapy but can be fatal if absorbed through the skin. Knowing contraindications of various herbs and essential oils is vital for a person to use them beneficially and safely. Still, most volatile oils offer incredible health advantages and work well as remedies, even if they are considered to be folk medicine.

In the same way that natural does not mean safe, folk medicine does not mean the oil or herb is ineffective.

Recipes & Blends