Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for countless therapeutic and ritual uses. It is said that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use essential oils in their medical practices, rituals, beauty recipes, mummification, and even travel ceremonies in the afterlife. Some essential oils were so valuable that they were considered a form of currency and were often exchanged for precious metals and rare spices. The Greeks and Romans quickly realized the appeal of essential oils and began using them in various therapeutic applications, the most famous of which is aromatherapy. Soon Chinese healers, Ayurvedic healers, Persian doctors all over the world began to invent their own recipes, to develop more concentrated compositions of essential oils from all kinds of plants, bark, flowers, resins and seeds. Since then, essential oils have been used throughout history to fight various ailments and diseases, in beauty rituals, and to maintain holistic health and well-being.
In the middle ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the knowledge about aromatic substances was lost. In fact, during this time, the level of development of civilization has decreased so much that it was considered harmful to health even to swim. This was a time of great superstition and absurdity in medieval Europe, and many who used the knowledge of herbs and applied them in practice were convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. It was only during the black plague pandemic, when the population of Europe was on the verge of extinction, that people gradually began to recognize the power of plants and their powerful bactericidal properties. But even then people, having lost ancient knowledge, burned in big fires on streets only strongly smelling plants and wood, hung up herbs on windows and watered rooms with vinegar for protection from diseases. For almost a thousand years, the use of essential oils was forgotten.
The pioneer of modern aromatherapy was a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefoss, who coined the term «aromatherapy»in 1937. Gattefoss first discovered the healing properties of lavender oil in 1910, noting that the burn of his own hand when treated with lavender not only relieved pain, but also healed without any scars. Gattefosse wrote:«…a laboratory explosion engulfed me in flames, which I tried to extinguish by rolling on the grass…». He was taken to the hospital with severe skin lesions, where he was treated with classical medicine. As a result his burns did not heal, provoking the appearance of rapidly developing a gas gangrene on his hands. None of the medications used by the doctors gave positive results. As a last resort, after removing all the bandages, Rene himself applied lavender essential oil to the affected areas. The result was stunning — «only one washing with lavender oil stopped the «gasification of tissues». This treatment was accompanied by profuse sweating, and healing began the next day (Gattefosse R.-M., 1937). Using this valuable discovery, he continued to treat wounded soldiers in the First world war. Much of Gattefoss’s work was continued and developed by follower Jean Valnet, a French army doctor during world war II. It is the antiseptic, analgesic and anti-infectious properties of essential oils that have made them so valuable for the treatment of ulcerated wounds and gangrene. As a doctor, Valnet continued his work with essential oils after the war, placing a new emphasis on treating patients with essential oils and herbs. The rest, as they say, is a history.
Our guide to using essential oils for beginners
We start with the basics! Essential oils are a powerful medicine, and the good news is that you do not need to have a specialty of a chemist and biologist to know how nature gives such amazing therapeutic properties of essential oils, do not need to have a practice of healing in the field of aromatherapy and naturopathy, all you need you have right at your hand. Phytotherapists, aromatherapists and naturopaths use in their practice more than 300 essential oils, each of which has a proven therapeutic property and a positive result of application. This amount of essential oils may seem extreme, but don’t worry! You certainly don’t need to have 300 essential oils at home. A good collection of 10 universal essential oils is suitable for the correction and prevention of most ailments.
So what is essential oil?
Essential oils are pure highly concentrated essences, volatile, aromatic extracts from plants, shrubs, herbs, seeds, resins, flowers and fruits. They can be as transparent as amber, yellow, green, pink, and even dark blue (Yarrow), and range from very liquid, like water, to almost solid consistency (Vetiver).
Each essential oil is extracted from certain parts of plants such as:
- Myrrh, Frankincense and Frankincense Rosen: extracted from a tree resin;
- Lemon, Lime, Sweet orange, Grapefruit and Bergamot: extracted from the peel of fruit,
Cinnamon and Cedar wood: extracted from the bark;
- Ginger and Vetiver: both are extracted from the root;
- Laurel and Eucalyptus: extracted from the leaves of the tree
rose: extracted from flower petals,
- Cumin and Cardamom: extracted from the seeds or pods;
- Fir and Cypress: extracted from the needles and twigs.
Each essential oil contains over 100 therapeutic components, and each and every day one opens new ones. These components differ even in the same plant species.
Let us take as an example, Lavender. You can grow the same kind of lavender – one in the fields of Provence, and the other in your backyard, and both plants will have similar but at the same time different properties. This is due to the fact that the soil, climate, altitude, and many other natural and geographical factors will affect the composition of the plant. Even if the plants are planted in the same garden, each plant has a unique property and composition, so the oil extraction will be different in composition and quality. This is an important factor in determining the price of essential oils in case you are wondering why one essential oil costs more or less than the other.
How to make essential oils
Essential oils are extracted by various methods, such as solvent extraction, cold pressing (used in the production of essential oils from citrus fruits), maceration and enflerage, but most often by distillation with steam in large copper boilers. Creating an essential oil requires a lot of work, and in some cases, tons and tons of plant material to make even a small amount of essential oil.
For example: In order to get only 30 ml of rose essential oil, you will need 60,000 roses. For 4 liters of lavender essential oil, you will need about 220 lavender flowers.
Some oils, such as Sandalwood or Jasmine oil, require special time periods for collecting plants. Jasmine should be collected as soon as the flowers bloom, and sandalwood should be at least 30 years old before it can be collected material for high-quality oil. Incredible, isn’t it? No wonder some of the most luxurious essential oils are so expensive (did you imagine buying 60,000 roses? Sure you don’t!)! You would literally need huge trucks of plant material, chase flowers that have just opened at sunrise, or wait many years before you could start producing essential oils. There are hard-to-reach and uncultivated plants found only in the wild, such as East Indian sandalwood, and this is another factor that affects the pricing and quality of essential oil. Essential oils are a gift of nature, precious, powerful allies, we strongly recommend that you start studying them, and we guarantee that you will not be disappointed! Read the second part of the article for more interesting facts.