An essential oil is an oil obtained from a plant or other source that has the characteristic fragrance of its source. The use of essential oils in healing has been around for thousands of years, and they are used very successfully in massage therapy as well as other healing modalities.
Methods of obtaining essential oils
Some procedures for extracting essential oils have been in use for thousands of year while other are relatively new:
• Enfleurage, one of the oldest procedures for extracting essential oils is costly and rarely used any more. In Enfleurage a thin layer of fat is spread on glass and the flower petals are placed on top of it. The oil of the flower petals combines with the fat, and the essential oil is then extracted from the fat via the use of alcohol.
• Expressed oils are extracted from the rinds of fruits. No solvents are involved in this process, but it is important to determine if the citrus fruits used are organically grown as citrus fruits are sprayed with pesticides which concentrate in the oil in the rind.
• Steam distillation has been around for hundreds of years and is the most common method used today. Therapeutic grade essential oils are extracted by either this method or cold expression. There are three separate steam distillation processes, but in each method the steam ruptures the plant’s oil membranes to release the oil.
The steam transports the essential oil to a condenser where the mixture becomes liquid. The oil is separated from the water and becomes the essential oil while the water portion becomes floral water. The process requires excellent equipment and knowledgeable people to produce a therapeutic grade essential oil.
• Solvent extraction is used predominantly by the perfume industry to create scents and does not create therapeutic essential oils. In solvent extraction plant materials are immersed in solvents such as hexane, acetone, and di-methylene-chloride. These oils are used in bath oils, fly spray, gels, toothpaste, candles, shampoos, and air fresheners.
• Super critical fluid extraction, a solvent extraction process, is also known as carbon dioxide extraction. A fairly new process, carbon dioxide at a high pressure is injected into a tank with plant material to act as a solvent in extracting the essential oil. The carbon dioxide can be completely removed from the essential oil after the process finishes. AT this point the equipment used in this process is very expensive, so the process is not widely used.
• The Phytonic process, also known as Floasol extraction, uses non chlorofluorocarbons to extract the oils in a process similar to the solvent process