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What is an Essential Oil?

When we talk about essential oils, most people have only lavender in mind in a diffuser, or even the pronounced smell of patchouli from a questionable card printer… However, they are part of our daily life without even know it (essential oils, not questionable card drawers)!

Here is a very simplified explanation: Essential oils are basically a plant extract. Most essential oils are made by distillation, a process by which parts of the plant are exposed to heat and steam. The odorous molecules of the plant ("essence") are then transported in this vapor to tubes which are cooler than the vapor, causing condensation (return to the liquid state). As in cooking, water and oil separate in the final container: the bottom product is called "hydrosol", and the top part, essential oils. Distillation is the same process used to make many alcohols, such as whiskey and brandy.

"The simple still or the still of pharmacists, liquorists, and perfumers" Source: The wonders of industry or, Description of the main modern industries / by Louis Figuier. - Paris: Furne, Jouvet, [1873-1877]

Other processes are often used, depending on the plant concerned, such as mechanical extraction (pressure extraction of orange peels, for example), solvent extraction, C0 2 extraction as well as enfleurage ( soaking and maceration of plants in specific oils).

Ok, but why are these oils so useful?

In aromatherapy, obviously, they are used pure or diluted, and can be found in diffusers, sprays and massage oils ... But they are also found, more subtly, in cooking, in household products, in perfumes. atmosphere and in health products!

For example, in traditional holiday candy canes, the mint flavor usually comes from essential oils of peppermint or spearmint! Some well-known brand lozenges contain derivatives of mint oil and eucalyptus, just like the good old ointments used under the feet, on the throat and in the back for colds and flu.

Several room fragrance or odor eliminator sprays also contain various essential oils or derivatives thereof, most of the time floral or fruity. Some essential oils have also been used as pesticides and insect repellents for years. There are even essential oils specifically used in cooking for cookies or cakes, but also for beverages, such as carbonated drinks.

Essential oils are not used solely for their smell or flavor. Certain essential oils will be preferred for their chemical properties or for their physical effect. For example, peppermint will have a numbing effect when used on the mucous membranes (mouth, throat) and skin, and provides a feeling of freshness, making it useful for throat relieving lozenges and for toothpaste for sensitive teeth.