The essentials of essential oils

While many are aware of the countless benefits of essential oils, not many know how to choose one, writes Pooja Nagdev

Essential oils are expensive due to production variables. So, if you come across an essential oil that is inexpensive, one must challenge it as it might not be pure.

Have you felt alleviated at a whiff of peppermint oil? Or have felt relief during a stomachache with a few drops of some peppermint oil in water? Everyone is aware of the numerous benefits of essential oils, but while choosing these oils, one has to be very careful of right oil source and quality before we put in in our day to day routine.

From plants

It’s essential to understand and know how to select pure essential oils. Oils that we choose must be endorsed by an aromatherapist. There are certain dos that one must follow while choosing the right essential oil. Essential oils are highly volatile plant derivatives in the form of oils or resins, which have single or multi-cell pockets. Essentials oils are light-sensitive and therefore should be stored in tightly capped amber or coloured bottles. Anything being sold in a clear bottle is most likely not an essential oil.

Essential oils are expensive due to production variables. So, if you come across an essential oil that is inexpensive, one must challenge it as it might not be pure. For instance, it takes up to 2,000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of rose essential oil through distillation. Lavender flowers can produce essential oils at a ratio of 50 to 125 pounds of citrus rind make one pound of expressed citrus oils.

Due to the variables of labour, rainfall, farming costs, extraction methods, and demand on the world market, rose oil can sell for $400 or more for one ounce or orange for as little as $3. For example, jasmine is 92 times the price of grapefruit, and sandalwood is four times the price of lime.

If you see different essential oils selling for the same price, it is possible that these oils are diluted with vegetable oil to create this pricing structure. Beware of fragrances usually sold in clear glass. These are not essential oils, but are chemical compositions made in a laboratory to produce a smell which is a copy of nature. There is no such essential oil as watermelon, bubble gum or pina colada. Perfumes may contain essential oil components, but they also contain petroleum products and alcohol to increase their diffusability.

Don’t fall for the fake

For effective therapeutic use, it is crucial that only pure essential oils are used, which means natural plant essences which have been extracted any steam distillation, solvent extraction, expression, maceration or enfleurage. Unscrupulous suppliers, as well as selling those oils mentioned above, will dilute a pure essential oil in a carrier base and pass that off as pure natural essence. These fakes are easier to spot than any other because the base oil is oily, while essential oils, for the most part, are not.

For this reason, the term ‘essential oil’ is something of a misnomer. Pure essential oils, when dropped on blotting paper, will impregnate it, then evaporate and disperse, leaving no oily patch. Other vegetable oils, on the other hand, will leave an oily mark. There are some exceptions to this rule: Vertiver, patchouli, etc that are basically resin oils, for example, are more viscous and more difficult to identify when diluted in a base oil.

Storage is also important. The oils should be kept in brown and dark-coloured bottles away from light and heat. Keep the tops tightly closed when not in use. The therapeutic life of essential oils is about two years, although some would argue that they last longer than this. Unfortunately, essential oils are not yet dated when sold, so it is impossible to tell how old they are when you buy them. That’s another reason for going to a reputable supplier.

(The author is founder, Inatur)

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