Essential Oils are
'volatile aromatic compounds'
distilled or expressed from raw plant material
Essential oils are organic compounds extracted from plants. There are various methods of extraction, but the main types are steam distillation, water distillation, and expression (cold pressing). These substances are what plants use to keep themselves healthy, fight disease, pathogens and viruses, and to heal themselves when wounded. They also help the plant keep pests and predators away.
A pure essential oil contains nothing other than what is extracted from the plant. The best essential oil is free of any trace of impurities such as pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals and the like. Less expensive oils are diluted with carrier oils, adulterated with synthetic versions of essential oils.
As organic, volatile materials, VOC's can react to light, temperature and time, but are non-greasy, and evaporate leaving no trace. In fact, some of my earliest experiences with essential oils involved store-bought brands that, although claimed to be pure, left orangey-brown residues ingrained in my diffuser. Ick!
What are essential oils?
How do I use them?
An essential oil derived from one plant may contain fifteen to over a hundred therapeutic compounds. Because humans are made from the same carbon building blocks as plants, our bodies know exactly what to do with these compounds when they enter our bodies via one of the 3 application methods (aromatic, topical, and internal). There are rarely, if ever, any negative sides effects when proper care is taken to administer the oils as directed. In fact, there are usually many unintended positive benefits that we aren't even aware are taking place.
Compare this to modern pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter options that typically have many unwanted negative side effects. These negative side effects occur because, in order to make money from the sale of these synthetic goods, each one must be patented. Yet Mother Nature is the only one granted patents on plants, meaning, drug companies have to add synthetic materials and fillers to their concoctions in order to make the big bucks. Ironically, the basis for the vast majority of the pharmaceutical options are known to work based on the plant-based compounds they are intended to mimic. Unfortunately, any time you attempt to mimc Mother Nature's perfect beauty, form and function, there are missing elements that just can't be mirrored exactly. (Think of how we don't absorb all of the nutrients in supplements because of their synthetic form.) This idea of the whole form functioning optimally together is referred to as synergy. It's this synergy between organic compounds that work together, harmoniously, naturally, that we can't mimic or replicate. This is part of the reason why pure essential oils are so effective - they maintain the synergistic integrity of the plant materials they are extracted from, so, even in our bodies, these substances work together to create positive change and support our body's ability to balance itself and function optimally.
As you will come to find out, essential oils contain a plethora of qualities we require daily in our home, work and personal environments. Many of them share properties even though their chemistry is completely different. (This means they also work different in our bodies, and it's why there's a learning curve when you're new and trying to figure out what oil to use for what purpose(s).) There are far too many properties to list, but the common ones are: analgesic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, astringent, calmative, carminative, decongestant, digestive, disinfectant, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, fungicidal, galactogogue, immunostimulant, mucolytic, nervine, sedative, stimulant, tonic, and many more.
The most important thing to remember on your essential oil journey is: relax! Trust your instincts and your own judgement. There are incredible resources and support to help you learn, grow and explore. Experimenting with recipes is recommended. As your knowledge increases, so will your confidence. Remember, we all started out with a bunch of essential oil bottles in our medicine cabinet, that we knew we wanted to use, but were unsure of how to do that. It just takes persistent use and a bit of time to feel fully confident, and by then you'll be reaching for these beautiful little bottles many times throughout the day, every day.