Essential Oils got their name from two basic observations. First they were believed to be essential to the life of the plant. Second, they didn’t mix with water, so therefore it must be an oil. Right? Well, almost. It is hydrophobic (doesn’t mix with water) but it is not a true oil because it doesn’t contain any fat.
Essential oils can be extracted from a plant’s seeds, roots, bark, leaves, flowers or fruit. The main method of extraction is known as steam distillation. Other methods of extraction are cold pressed or expressed, solvent, and more recently CO2 extraction.
There are some basics that are very useful to know when selecting essential oils.
What’s on the label? (or should be included in the product information)
1) Common name, ie. Lavender
The first name listed is the common name. This is usually the way you will see essential oils listed in recipes or blends, often the botanical name is used so there is no doubt as to which variety of lavender is desired.
2) Botanical name, i.e. Lavandula angustofolia
This is the most important listing for an aromatherapist because this is the primary method of identifying exactly from which plant the oil was extracted.
3) Method of extraction
Primary methods of extraction include steam distillation, cold pressed, CO2 Extract or Absolute. The method of extraction plays an important role in the quality and grade of essential oil you are using.
4) Country of origin
The geographical location of where your essential oil were grown and harvested is important since the soil and weather imparts much of the scent and composition of an essential oil. Reputable companies source oils out of the individual countries of origin. I like to use the wine analogy for visualizing this. As with different kinds of wine, essential oils vary with different kinds of soil, geographical location, rainfall, harvesting–all of these factors affect the quality of the oil.
5) The plant part used
Knowing which plant part is used helps verify the type of oil you are getting. For example, you can get Clove Oil from the bud, the stem or the leaf. Each renders a slightly different percentage of effective constituent and can be important to your blend.
6) Organic or non-organic
Organic oils are often used for culinary uses. We are all becoming conscious of the importance of using pesticide-free oils. Keep in mind that organic certifications are expensive and some countries may not have an organic certification or farmers may find it too expensive to attain.
The more informed you are the better choices you make when purchasing essential oils or aromatherapy products.