Essential Oils 101: A Beginner’s Guide


What IS an essential oil?

Essential oils are volatile, aromatic oils produced by plants. Plants produce essential oils for a variety of reasons, sometimes as part of their defence strategy against micro-organisms or as part their reproductive process to attract pollinators or seed dispersers. People have extracted essential oils from plants for centuries and found a multitude of applications for them including food, medicine, cosmetics and religious sacraments. These oils are found either in the leaves (e.g, eucalyptus), berries (juniper), grasses (palmarosa), petals (rose), roots (angelica), rind (orange), resins (frankincense) or wood (cedar).
The distinctive smell and relaxing properties of Lavender, for example, come from the constituents of the essential oil contained in Lavender’s flowers.

How can a plant have therapeutic properties?
A typical essential oil contains more than a hundred different chemical compounds, each of which has a specific quality; for example, antiseptic. In fact, most compounds in essential oils have antiseptic properties. Other compounds may be antifungal, antiviral, carminative, or decongestant – to name but a few.

How do we get the essential oils out of the plant?
Essential oils obtained by putting the plant material through a specific extraction process. Depending on the plant, these include steam distillation, hydro-distillation, cold-pressing or Co2 extraction.

How are absolutes different from an essential oil?
Absolutes are also plant-derived oils, but their oils are contained in parts of the plant that are too delicate to withstand the high temperatures involved in steam distillation. Absolutes are therefore instead extracted using solvents.

What’s the difference between an Essential Oil and a Cosmetic Grade Oil?
Cosmetic grade oils available on PureNature are blended using natural essential oils, natural isolates and/or or nature identical compounds together to create an oil which has a fragrance very similar to the pure essential oil. They provide a more economical alternative to more expensive oils such as Rose, and also offer a more sustainable option for endangered oils like Rosewood.

Cosmetic oils are used for fragrance purposes only and are not considered therapeutic.

What are constituents?
Constituents are the chemicals that make up an essential oil. These chemicals are what give the oil a particular aroma, therapeutic properties and potential contraindications.

What’s a hydrosol?
Hydrosols (also known as floral waters, flower waters or distillates) are the ‘bi-product’ from the distilling process. They contain the water-soluble fractions from the plant and only a trace amount of essential oil. This means they have different properties and applications.

What about fragrances?
Fragrances are man-made aromatic formulas that can replicate natural aromas that are expensive or impossible to extract naturally. They also serve as humane alternatives to animal derived notes such as musk or civet. Fragrances can also be used to create entirely new ‘concept’ scents which don’t exist naturally such as ‘Coral Reef’. Fragrances can be made from any combination of essential oils, parts of essential oils, nature identical molecules and synthetic molecules. Fragrances are considered to have no therapeutic properties and should not be confused with pure, natural essential oils.

Why are some oils sold as “3% in Jojoba oil”?
Dilutions are either essential oils or cosmetic grade oils diluted in Jojoba oil to create an affordable alternative to the un-diluted oil e.g Jasmine, French Rose. These dilutions are not recommended for use in oil burners or vapourisers.

What is a Co2 extract?
These are extremely pure plant extracts produced via a highly efficient extraction process using pressurized carbon dioxide. Co2 extraction produces essential oils of a quality and purity quite unlike those produced by steam distillation. However, the process requires expensive equipment and so the price for these oils is much higher.

What is rectifying?
Rectified oils have been slightly altered in order to achieve desired levels of particular constituents to meet certain specifications. If the original distilled oil does not meet these requirements, it can be further processed through additional distillation or through the addition or removal of the required constituents. For example, Eucalyptus oil is often rectified because it is required to have a minimum of 70% cineole to meet certain pharmaceutical grades.


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