An essential oil is a concentrated liquid formed from the volatile aromatic compounds of a plant , obtained by extraction or distillation .
Today, there are more than 200 of them and, depending on their properties, are used in perfumery , aromatherapy , massage , diffusion , cooking or even for cleaning products .
But how are they made? How to use them? What are their benefits and dangers?
Manufacture of essential oils
The most commonly used method for making essential oils is steam distillation as it is suitable for the majority of plants.
The plant material is placed in a still on a rack. Water vapor supplied by a boiler passes through the aromatic plants. During its passage, the water vapor causes the cells of the plant to burst, thus releasing the aromatic principles in the water vapor.
This water vapor/essential oil mixture is directed into a serpentine tube which is immersed in a cold water bath. On contact with the cold walls, the mixture is liquefied and separates into two phases: the oil being lighter than the water, it is found in the upper phase while the water is in the lower phase. All that remains is to recover the upper phase to obtain the essential oil.
This method allows you to obtain good quality oil. It is carried out at low pressure in order to lower the boiling temperature: this prevents damage to the plants.
Other methods are used when distillation by steam distillation is not possible: for example, for citrus fruits, extraction by cold pressing is used because the essence of these citrus fruits is located on the skin of the fruit. .
Solvent extraction is a method reserved for plant materials that cannot withstand heat.
Uses and benefits of essential oils
Essential oils are widely used in diffusion because this method allows you to benefit from their therapeutic benefits. Some oils are particularly suitable for diffusion.
For example, to sanitize a room , you can use citrus , fir or tea tree essential oils. Eucalyptus or lemongrass oils will have an effective action against insects while the essential oils of Roman chamomile , true lavender or ylang -ylang have properties for well-being and relaxation .
By cutaneous route:
The cutaneous use of essential oils allows their active ingredients to penetrate the skin. They are particularly appreciated when used in massage . They must always be combined with a vegetable oil to benefit from their benefits.
When massaged on the abdomen , ginger essential oil will relieve transit disorders and abdominal cramps .
A blend of Cypress essential oil, rosemary and peppermint will soothe heavy legs .
A hot bath allows you to benefit from the benefits of essential oils through the skin but also through the respiratory route . They should never be poured directly into water but used on supports such as bath salts or shower gel . A bath with essential oils of lemon , niaouli or juniper will promote drainage and slimming . For a tonic bath , it is recommended to use essential oils of thyme or borneol . They can be directly applied to the skin, mixed with vegetable oil.
To calm stress , you can mix in 3mL of vegetable oil: 1mL of Petitgrain Bigarade essential oil and 1mL of true lavender essential oil. Then apply a few drops of the mixture to the palm of the wrists.
They can be used by placing a drop on sugar, bread crumbs or in honey. However, we must remain vigilant regarding the toxicity of the oil .
A drop of Chinese Cinnamon essential oil will fight against intestinal infections. Some oils can be used in cooking. At low doses, they can give new flavors. In high doses, they can be toxic. For example, you can add 3 drops of sweet orange essential oil to a chocolate cake.
Dangers and precautions to take
Essential oils contain highly concentrated aromatic molecules.
In order to benefit from their benefits without taking any risks, it is necessary to adopt some precautions:
- Essential oils are photosensitizing: it is recommended to wait 12 hours to expose yourself to the sun after applying essential oil to the skin.
- They can cause severe irritation or burns: they should never be used pure, they must be diluted in vegetable oils.
- Pay attention to dosages: an overdose or use for too long a period will be dangerous.
- For pregnant women: certain oils can increase the risk of miscarriage, so they are not recommended during pregnancy.
- Do not leave the bottles within reach of children. Some oils are contraindicated for use on children because they are too toxic.