Essential Oils

What are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils are secondary metabolites produced by certain types of plants. You may have heard them referred to as the “lifeblood of plants”- this is not incorrect per se, but it is a very simplified explanation. An important thing to realize is that plants are complex living organisms. They are not simple. Essential Oils are produced by plants and used for such diverse actions as defense against predators, disease, and/or other plants that are invading on their territory and threatening their ability to grow and to attract pollinators, among others.

Another important thing to know is that plants have evolved alongside animals, and because of that they have had to cope with the same environmental stressors as we have. This is why we can benefit from the essential oils they produce in many of the same ways that plants do.

We distill the plants that contain essential oils, most commonly by steam or water. After distillation, we are left with highly concentrated essential oil, which has the both the fragrance and the healing properties and other characteristics of the plant from which it was extracted.

Sound farfetched? It’s really not that complicated. Just like we know that different plants contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that our bodies use when we eat them, the essential oils contain constituents that we use as well.

Do all plants contain Essential Oils?

No. In fact, if you see strawberry essential oil- run. Because that is not an essential oil. Same with Lilac. Those oils are fragrance oils, and they are not the same things. In fact, there are more than 250,000 plants in the plant kingdom and of those, only about 450 species produce useable essential oils, and only 125-150 of those have therapeutic uses.

Herbalists use thousands of plants- however, they are not using the Essential Oil distilled from within the plant- they are using the whole plant parts- roots, flowers, leaves, bark.  This is important to remember because Herbs and essential oils, although both obtained from plants, have very different roles and applications. The same plant can produce essential oil and also be useful in herbalism. But they may not produce the same results or therapeutic benefits as the other.

Why should I pay more for an Essential Oil? Distillation is distillation, right?

Wrong. There are a few things to think about when shopping for Essential Oils.

  1. It takes a lot of raw plant material to get a little bit of Essential Oil. For example, my preferred brand has:
    1. 75 Lemons in the 15 mL bottle of Lemon.
    2. 27 square feet of Lavender flowers in a 15mL bottle of Lavender.
    3. 1 pound of Peppermint plants in a 15mL bottle of Peppermint.
    4. 22 pounds of Rose petals in a 5mL bottle of Rose.
  2. Ask any farmer and they will tell you, farming practices matter, and every crop is different. It matters when the seeds are planted. It matters when the plant is harvested, sometimes down to the time of day. It matters what kind of pesticides and fertilizer are used. It matters what kind of soil is used. These things all affect the health of the plants, and the health of the plants affect how much and how good the Essential Oil is.
  3. There is no real oversight for Essential Oils. You are trusting the producers to be honest with you about what they are selling. For example, the law says that for a bottle of Essential Oil to be labeled as 100% pure it only must contain 3% of pure oil. The rest can be whatever additives and fillers they want- usually water or cheaper oils. Most companies have their own way of telling you that their oils are 100% pure and therapeutic quality. Just like with anything else, you can’t always trust marketing.

*There is a lot of competition in the Essential Oils market. And because of that there is a lot of misinformation- sometimes malicious and sometimes not. I used oils from several different brands out there before I settled on my favorite brand, and I could tell which ones I liked the best from the way they smelled, and more importantly the way they worked.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say that there’s only one brand of quality oils. That’s silly, and it just isn’t true.  Yes, there are bad oils. And there are even more mediocre oils. But there are some good ones out there too- Research is important, and I like being able to say that I chose my brand because I compared it to others and it was superior, and not just because someone told me to.



Retrieved from:

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

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*All the information contained on this site are based on my research into the herbs and oils and not on any specific brand or product. I am not a doctor or physician of any kind and the information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease or medical condition. This site is intended to share information on herbs and essential oils and my personal journey with them. No statements on this site have been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition.

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