General information about essential oils
General definition of an essential oil
An essential oil is a volatile, fragrant substance secreted by aromatic plants. The secretory pockets can be found both in the aerial parts (flowers, uillae, stems and branches) and in the underground organs (roots, rhizomes).
According to AFNOR (the French standards association), an essential oil is a product obtained from a raw material (whose name it bears) by simple distillation or mechanical expression.
How an essential oil is made
A genuine essential oil is a natural product extracted from aromatic plants. It can be extracted from flowers, leaves, roots or seeds.
Two main manufacturing processes are used:
- 1- Cold extraction :
Reserved for various citrus fruits (grapefruit, mandarin, etc.), cold extraction involves subjecting the plant substance to high pressure using a hydraulic press.
- 2- Steam training :
A heat source (1) heats a still containing water (2) and plants placed on one or more trays (3). The heat causes steam to form, which passes through the plants and carries the aromatic molecules with it. This vapour enters the 'Tête de Maure' (4) and then the neck (5). The aroma-laden vapour then condenses as it passes through a cooling tank (6). The liquid that comes out of this tank (7) is a mixture of water and essential oil. This liquid is collected in an essencier where, in general, the essential oil (8), which is lighter, separates from the water (9). This water, called hydrolat or floral water, contains less than 5% EO. Loaded with soluble aromas and mineral elements present in the plant, this floral water is a remarkable natural cosmetic product. Its subtle properties give it a gentle, reassuring approach to aromatherapy for babies.
The essential oil obtained by distillation is a plant essence modified by oxidation and hydrolysis. Controlled temperature and low pressure are essential to maintain an aromatic quality and chemical composition as close as possible to the plant essence that is to be extracted.
Solvent extraction is also used for certain essential oils, to obtain concepts or absolutes (alcohol).
The yield is the quantity of essential oil obtained from an initial quantity of plant material.
It is expressed in % and varies according to the species and the parts distilled. This explains the differences in price and packaging of essential oils. For example :
- Eucalyptus, leaves: 1 -3 %.
- Geranium, aerial parts: 0.10-0.15
- Rose, petals: 0.015- - 0.020 %.
But what is an essential oil ?
The essential oil is the plant's natural secretion. It is produced by its secretory organs, which are located in the various parts of aromatic plants and trees: seed, root, wood, leaf, fruit and flower.
When you press an orange peel over a candle, hundreds of little stars light up on the flame. This is orange oil. It's this precious product that perfumes the whole fruit.
How does the essential oil work ?
However you use it, the essential oil will be transported through the bloodstream. The fineness of the molecules will allow it to cross the epidermis as well as the pulmonary alveoli.
Unlike drugs, the essential oil does not stay in the body. It will be expelled through urine, stool, sweat and exhalation.
Do not confuse essential oil and essence
Essence is a natural aromatic substance secreted by the plant. For citrus fruits, the essence is mainly extracted by expressing the zest. We should say lemon essence and not lemon HE.
During its transformation by distillation, gasoline undergoes a biochemical modification and becomes HE. The essential oil is therefore the essence of the distilled plant.
It is made up of volatile molecules. A pure and natural essential oil does not contain any fatty substance.
"pure and natural" essential oil ?
The designation "pure and natural" guarantees that the essential oil comes only from the plant indicated on the label. It is neither mixed nor cut with molecules of other essential oils or synthetic molecules. Because the essential oil is expensive, falsifications are indeed numerous. Certain production practices indeed use additives to improve the yield, which considerably alters the quality of the essential oil thus obtained. But the oils available are of uneven quality and some manufacturers observe stricter criteria than others. Many parameters can modify the quality of an essential oil: the conditions and place of harvest, the fertilizers and pesticides used.
Preferably, require an organic essential oil, which, having to respect specifications, guarantees you a minimum of quality.
Why are they so expensive ?
The high price of certain essential oils is linked to the quantity of plants necessary for its production.
Thus, to obtain 1 kg of lemon balm essential oil, you need between 4 and 12 tons of lemon balm depending on the process chosen. Be careful, unscrupulous people can sell you lemongrass for lemon balm. If the smell is close, their properties are totally different.
So beware of cheap essential oils ! There are real producers in France, in love with their profession, who market essential oils of excellent quality, but this requires a lot of work (picking the plants by hand, long distillation, etc.) and the price goes with it !
The essential oils that we offer on our site are neither the best nor the cheapest, but they have an excellent quality/price ratio.
Use of essential oils
For several years, essential oils have invaded many everyday products. There are of course perfumes but they are increasingly being replaced by much cheaper synthetic products.
On the other hand, they are found more and more as food flavorings as flavor enhancers (coffee, tea, tobacco, wine, yoghurt, ready meals, etc.).
Cosmetics, and mainly organic cosmetics, is also a sector that uses more and more essential oils. They are found in many products such as: soaps, shampoos, shower gels, creams, etc.
In an era where everything must be beautiful and smell good, essential oils have largely invaded the household products sector as perfumes. In particular, they make it possible to mask the odors of pure products, which are often unpleasant !
There is of course another area where essential oils are used. This is the realm of aromatherapy.
See our specific file on the use of essential oils in aromatherapy