To begin with, essential oils aren’t something new. Humans have been using them ever since the first man bent over and smelled his first flower. Since then they’ve been used in soaps, perfumes, air fresheners, candles, you name it. If it had a scent, chances are it came from essential oils. But what exactly are they? Well, in a nutshell, essential oils are the compounds inside plants, flowers and trees, which produce the aroma of that item. In other words, it’s what makes a lemon smell like, well, a lemon.
And though they are a form of liquid, when you squeeze that lemon, it’s not essential oil the spills out. That liquid is just the juice. The oil is in the skin, at least for lemons it is. Different plants hold their oils in different places, but they all have them. The family of liquids that essential oils are a part of are called hydrophobic liquids. What’s that? I’m glad you asked! You’ve heard the phrase “Oil and water don’t mix”, right? Well, it’s true, but not like two rival sports teams don’t mix. They aren’t enemies, they’re just not that into each other; like going on a blind date with someone who’s super fun to hang out with, but there’s no way you’re giving them your real phone number. You’re not repulsed by them, just not attracted.
Which brings us to the way essential oils are extracted, a process which, you guess it, has something to do with oil and water and the non-attractiveness of the two. The primary way is essential oils are extracted is through ‘distillation’, which is a process that looks like the moonshine still that Great-Grandpa George had in the woods behind his cabin. Basically, the plant material you want to use is placed on a grid inside a still. Water is added under the grid, and the still is sealed to prevent contamination. The water is then heated to create steam, and the heated water makes the plant material ‘sweat’ (ever used the steam room at your gym? Same process). As the steam rises, it grabs a bit of the plant sweat (Eew!) and they go on their blind date, having fun, but knowing it will end soon.
After traveling along a coiled tube they reach a point where the date is over and the oil is all “I like you, I just don’t ‘like you’ like you”. The steam water drips into a collection jar where it continues to cool. As it does, the oil begins to float on the top. What’s this look like? Ever use a gravy separator? You know the kind where you put all the drippings from your Thanksgiving turkey in the separator, let it sit for a few minutes so the bad stuff (oil) and the good stuff (water) separate, then pour out the good stuff – only, in this case, it’s the oil you want to keep, not the water.
The more precise and accurate your distillation process is, the less water remains, leaving a more pure product. Now, if you don’t have a still, you can still make your own essential oils at home. All you need is a crock pot. Put the item you want to extract the oils from in a crock pot, then fill ½-way with distilled water (NOT tap water), place the lid on with just a slight tilt to let steam escape, set the temp to low, and leave it for 24-48 hours.
Now for the fun part. Turn off the heat and then go away. Seriously. Take a vacation, go on a cruise, return to school and get your Doctorate. Bottom line, leave it. Seven days minimum. After the week or so has passed, remove as much of the condensed oil as you can, and try to not get any water. Put the oil in a mason jar (or similar) and leave it. Do NOT put the lid on, leave it open. For another seven days. What’s left should be fairly pure oil that you can use just like the expensive vials that your PTA friend sells. You know, that friend who used to sell Avon, Pampered Chef, Scentsy, ViSalus, MonaVie, Thirty-One… Yeah, that friend.
So now that we know where the oils come from, next week I’ll talk about one other method of extraction, and then we’ll get into the three ways oils are used, what a carrier oil is for and why you need it, and start looking at the many benefits of each plants oils. Thanks for reading!