If you’ve never used them before, you may be wondering just what are essential oils?
The term “essential oil” comes from the Latin word, essential, which means essence or pertaining to essence.
What are essential oils? Essential oils are highly potent natural aromatic compounds and volatile liquids which are distilled from seeds, roots, bark stems, leaves, flowers and other parts of plants. The oils are necessary for the life of the plant in much the same way that blood is necessary to us. Essential oils are the fuel that plants create as they absorb plant foods. The chemical makeup of essential oils is complex and often consists of hundreds of distinct chemical compounds. Over 3,000 compounds have been properly identified, and the efficacy of essential oils is well established.
In their leaves, essential oils serve several functions. Their odors attract insects for pollination and they repel pests and other germs which could harm the plant. Although this varies widely by plant, it typically takes a minimum of 50 pounds of plant material to make one pound of essential oil.
Essential oils are composed of tiny molecules that can penetrate every cell and administer benefits at the most fundamental level to our body. The term “oil” can be misleading to some, as most oils do not have the consistency of what we think of for an oil. With a few exceptions most essential oils are light and watery.
When you use essential oils you are taking advantage of nature’s active ingredients in an extremely concentrated form. Essential oils are the most concentrated form of any botanical. Because of the high concentration, it is extremely important that care be used.
The History of Essential Oils
Essential oils have been used throughout all of recorded history for medicinal purposes and have also been used for beautification, food preparation and currency.
The Egyptians were believed to be the first “true” aromatherapists. They used essential oils to fumigate sick rooms, for massage and in cosmetics. They also incorporated them into their religious ceremonies, burning frankincense at dawn as an offering to the sun and myrrh at dusk as an offering to the moon. Hieroglyphics in Egyptian temples describe oils recipes and depict blending of the oils.
The tombs of Pharaohs were filled with jars of essential oils. In 1922, when archaeologists entered the tomb of King Tut, there was a lingering fragrance in essential oils that had been there for over 3,000 years.
The Bible mentions essential oils repeatedly. In fact, there are at least 231 references to plants, herbs and holy oils in the Old and New Testament.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia – all according to the sanctuary shekel – and a hint of olive oil. Make these into sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It we be sacred anointing oil.” Exodus 30:22-25
To get an idea of the value of essential oils in ancient times, we are told that frankincense and myrrh were given to Jesus at birth, along with gold. Myrrh is also mentioned in the burial of Jesus.
The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, was and advocate of both aromatic baths and fumigation with aromatics. There are historical records that indicate that he fumigated Athens with an aromatic oil and saved the city from plague. Hippocrates developed herbal medicine into science by basing prescriptions upon observation and diagnosis of the patient.
Today, numerous scientific studies have supported that essential oils have the ability to support health.