Essential oils and plant extracts have been used for centuries and still have relevant applications today. With the advancement of technology and improved quality, effectiveness and safety, essential oils are now more accessible and easier to use in everyday life. Although essential oils have often been used as part of cultural practices and traditions in the past, today we have increasing scientific knowledge and research to support the effectiveness and safety of essential oils in our day and age.
Where do essential oils come from?
Our earth is covered with a variety of plants of different shapes, sizes, colors and scents. Many of these plants contain compounds not normally visible to the naked eye: they hide in the roots, flowers, seeds, bark, or other parts of the plant. These compounds are called essential oils. They are highly concentrated, which makes them extremely effective. Also known as volatile aromatic compounds, essential oils give a plant its aroma, protect it from harsh environmental conditions and insects, and even play a role in plant pollination.
How are essential oils made?
First of all, it is important to know that not all essential oils are created equal. The purity of an oil can vary depending on geography, distillation methods, weather, and other factors. And no matter how carefully a plant is selected, cared for and harvested, the quality of its essential oil can either be preserved or destroyed during the distillation process. The attention to detail and precision required in distillation makes it less of a process and more of an art form. Distillers need to be precise and pay careful attention to harvesting methods, temperatures, distillation times, pressures, etc.
How do essential oils work?
Because volatile aromatic compounds move quickly through the air, you can experience the scent as the compounds interact directly with sensors in your brain. Over 3,000 types of volatile aromatic compounds have been discovered to date. Good to know, then, that these compounds greatly influence the benefits, aroma, and nature of each essential oil. Because of its unique chemical composition, each essential oil varies from species to species and even from plant to plant. The delicate ratio of the aromatic components of each essential oil makes it unique and gives it special benefits.
Essential oils are not a new trend
Although some see essential oils as a new trend, the use of plant extracts and herbal products is deeply rooted in the traditions of the past. Ancient civilizations used plants for things like aromatherapy, personal hygiene, health care, religious ceremonies, beauty treatments, and food preparation.
How were essential oils used in the past?
The use of essential oils is not a fad but has a long tradition that began centuries ago in civilizations around the world.
- Egypt: The Egyptians used herbal products for beauty treatments, to prepare their food, in burial rituals and in religious ceremonies.
- Greece: In ancient Greece, people like Homer and Hippocrates explored the aromatic uses of plants, building on the discoveries of the early Egyptians.
- Rome: The ancient Romans often used plant extracts for massages, perfumes and scented baths.
- Iran: In the Middle Ages, people in Iran often used and traded spices or resins for perfumery and health care.
- India: Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic healing art native to India, has developed over more than 5,000 years and works with aromatic and plant substances.
- China: Plant materials have also been used to promote well-being in traditional Chinese practices for centuries.
- France: René Gattefossé, a French chemist, is credited with being the first to coin the term "aromatherapy" after extensively studying and researching essential oils in the 19th century.
Where to buy essential oils in NZ?
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