What is an essential oil? First, let’s talk for a minute about what it isn’t. An essential oil is not the lifeblood of the plant, as some people have proclaimed. Plants draw water from the ground and send it to their leaves and fruits; it does not circulate like our blood does, but water would be most the appropriate thing to be called the lifeblood of the plant. Likewise, an essential oil does not circulate within the plant for any purpose, and is not an energy store or food source. There are oils derived from plants that we use in our diets, or burn for energy. Olive oil is used for both purposes. We also use corn oil, sunflower oil and so forth. These are called fatty or lipid oils. They are stable and don’t have much odor. You could leave a bottle of vegetable oil open on your kitchen counter and it would never evaporate, which is not the case with an essential oil.
So then, what is an essential oil? It is a complex chemical, unlike the simple cooking oils. It is an oily liquid produced by plants for any of various reasons having to do with the world outside the plant. For one, it may protect the healthy plant against predator insects, or against bacteria or fungi, or against animals that would eat it. Essential oils of this type are produced in the roots, bark, flowers, leaves and seeds of the plant. They are found on the surface of these plant parts, or released to the soil or to the atmosphere. Examples would include spikenard, myrrh, peppermint and rosemary. This class of essential oil also is released by some plants to warn others of their species to increase their output of the same predator-repelling oils.
Another kind of essential oil attracts bees or other pollinators. These are produced in the flowers and fruits. Examples of this type of oil are rose, fennel and orange oils.
You can see that essential oils are made to be released from the plant to carry out their purpose. They evaporate at room temperature, and when they do, they have an odor or taste, called an essence. Obviously they are not the lifeblood of the plant, but they are essential to its life.
We gather great quantities of plants to distill the essential oils from them to help us with our health issues. Essential oils are far more potent than dried herbs. In fact, one drop or peppermint oil is the same as 28 cups of peppermint tea. They can be pretty “essential” in that use. They can ward off or kill bacteria and fungi. They can lift our mood and improve our organ and glandular functions. They can help strengthen and heal. Essential oils have been used as medicines for thousands of years.
There are three grades of essential oil: perfume grade, food grade and therapeutic grade. The first, perfume grade is distilled only for its smell. It can be distilled using chemicals such as anti-freeze or other toxic agents. This type of oil is placed in soaps, detergents and scented candles. Food grade is meant to flavor food. The number one food grade essential oil is peppermint as it flavors our toothpastes, mouthwashes and candy. It can be distilled using high temperatures and high pressure. Just like cooking in high temperatures destroys the vitamins and enzymes of food, high heat destroys any medicinal or therapeutic value of the oil. Food grade essential oils are often found in health food stores and are not very expensive. Therapeutic grade essential oils have been handled carefully so as to not destroy the molecules that promote healing. They are processed over low heat and over low pressure to make sure that all the constituents or healing molecules are intact. If the essential oil is missing one constituent, it alters what that oil can do.
For example, The Canadian Red Cedar tree Thuja plicata has two different types of oils distilled from it. One oil Canadian Red Cedar is distilled from the leaves of the tree. It is an insect repellent and colored red. While the other oil Western Red Cedar, distilled from the roots, is clear in color and is used for lung and urinary problems. They have nearly the same constituents except that Canadian Red Cedar is missing Alpha Pinene, which is only 2% of the constituents in the other oil! This tiny difference in constituents makes a huge difference in the color and the use of the oil! I bring this up to tell you that the difference between a cheaper, food grade oil and a therapeutic grade oil could only be one small molecule that was lost in processing but what a difference that would make in the action of that essential oil. It will not do what therapeutic grade oil is supposed to do. What can essential oils do for you and me? As you can see, they do a LOT more than just smell good!
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information, products and/or techniques mentioned is provided for educational purposes and not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult with the health authorities of your choice. The decision to use, or not to use, any of this information is the sole responsibility of the reader. Don’t expect the same results unless you are using Young Living Therapeutic grade essential oils and supplements. The author assumes no responsibility to or liability for any loss, damage or injury resulting from the use or misuse of any information provided here.