Apr 08

Essential Oils, the basics

Pure Essential Oils are complex chemical compounds, most always fragrant, produced by plants to repel pests, or attract pollinators. Herbs, and many flowering plants contain essential oils within the leaves, stems, and flowers. Trees, flowering trees, and shrubs -contain oils within bark, needles, sap, flowers, and fruits.

All Essential Oils are obtained by extraction from raw plant matter, preferably fresh. Methods of extraction vary depending on the plant, and what part of the plant is being utilized. For instance, the beautiful fragrant oil in Orange Blossoms (Neroli) is extracted naturally using fats, purified water, or distilled alcohol. Commercially, a solvent such as Hexane is used, with the aid of distillation to obtain the oil from these delicate flowers. In contrast, the Essential Oil in the Orange fruit is expressed from the peel via cold press. In other words, the oil is literally pressed from the Orange peel by compacting the rinds until the oils squirt out! These two oils smell very differently from one another, and have very different chemical properties, and uses, yet are from the same tree.


Grating Orange Zest releases the pure Essential Oils from the peel, and the wonderful aroma! Note the beads of Orange Essential Oil glistening on the plate.


The most common method of extracting the Essential Oils from plants is steam distillation. Most herbs such as Peppermint, Sage, Rosemary, and Lavender are obtained through steam distillation. Essential Oils obtained from tree barks, saps, resins, and needles- such as Cedar and Pine- are also extracted by steam distillation. All Citrus fruit Essential Oils are obtained by the cold press method. Essential Oils obtained from delicate flowers, such as Rose or Apple Blossom are extracted with the use of fats or solvents.


Pure Rose Oil is very expensive, as it takes 50 bushels of fresh Rose Petals to obtain one ounce of Pure Essential Oil.


The quality of an Essential Oil is determined by the process in which it is obtained, the quality of the plant matter, and the skill of the producer.  Some Essential Oils go through more than one distillation. Specific chemicals are isolated and extracted from some Essential Oils for pharmaceutical and industrial uses. In today’s market, the types of Essential Oils can be considered as follows – Therapeutic Grade, Cosmetic Grade, Food Grade. However, these terms were created by those marketing and selling Essential Oils. These are not formal terms for quality standards. Currently, there is no agency to over see the quality standard and labeling of these oils here in the United States. Therefore, it is important to purchase oils from someone you trust who is well educated on Essential Oils, and the best uses for them. Don’t be afraid to do your own research!

Prices are determined by the amount of plant matter needed to create a worthy amount of Essential Oil, and the quality of the oil. The only way to know the true chemical make up and purity of an Essential Oil is to have it tested in a lab. Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry  is the only accurate method for testing Essential Oils. When an oil is tested, the lab running the tests will issue a report, and a certificate if the oil passes muster. There are not many labs in the country that offer this service, and it is very pricey. Unless dealing with a reputable source, most Essential Oils cannot be considered “Therapeutic Grade”. Many companies will insist they offer “Certified Therapeutic Grade” Essential Oils because they can charge more money.


Typical GC/MS analysis of Organic Lavender Essential Oil. Pesticides, or synthetic ingredients would also be detected.


Essential Oils are commodities; are traded, bought and sold globally. Prices fluctuate with the market, supply and demand, and the success of the plant crops. Prices can also change due to War, Civil Unrest, or Political Policy in countries where some crops are primarily produced. Before coins, or other forms of currency in the world, Essential Oils were highly prized, and denoted ones status in society. At one time in history Sage was valued more than Gold. Ancient archaeological artifacts from around the world repeatedly contain evidence of the use of Essential Oils, Herbs, and Spices thousands of years ago. The Bible contains many references to Essential Oils, and plants of value in that day.

Essential Oil

Pure Essential Oils are comprised of hundreds of chemicals, each having its own unique make up.


Today Essential Oils are still of great value to wellness, and every day life. They add flavoring to many foods, candies and confections. Chemical components of some Essential Oils have been used for decades in commercial industry and products. They are used in the Pharmaceutical, Chemical, and Pest Control business(es),too. The use of Essential Oils is growing increasingly popular as more and more people are learning about their uses, and benefits. It is important to get good information.

Click here for a link to Essential Oils approved by the FDA for use in food, and “Generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).