Essential oil

From ArticleWorld

An essential oil is a water-hating or hydrophobic liquid which has aromatic compounds which are concentrated when extracted from plants. There are many methods of extraction of essential oils which include distillation and solvent extraction. These compounds are necessary to the fragrant and the flavorant industries especially in the perfume and cosmetics industries. Essential oils are also widely utilized in the aromatherapy industry. A necessary feature important to these industries is the volatility of the essential oils. Essential oils are so called due to them being considered the essence of the plant from which they are derived.


The original method of extraction was by the use of plant presses. The plant material was pressed and then placed in a ceramic jar, which was covered, in a heated area to allow the water to be driven out. The water would be able to leave the jar as the water particle size is small enough to diffuse through the ceramic however the oil remains. Presently the most common method of extraction is by distillation. This uses a distillation apparatus called an alembic to heat water and allow the seam to pass through the plant materials, thereby vaporizing the volatile compounds. These are then cooled using a condenser back to liquid in a separate vessel. The vessel used is usually a flask which has spouts in the middle and at the bottom. These allow the draining off of the oils lighter than the water and those heavier than the water. The water is also collected and is called plant water essence, hydrolat or hydrosol. Other methods of extraction include cold-pressing for mainly citrus peel oils which are cheaper than other essential oils and solvent extraction for plant material that is too delicate for distillation.


One of the dangers of burning essential oils is that they may contain carcinogens. Carcinogens are substances which are believed to cause cancer. One type of potential carcinogens found in essential oils is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Another is volatile organic compounds which are found in high concentrations in essential oils. Due to the dangers involved in the use of essential oils they should not be applied on skin in their concentrated form. They may also result in skin irritation and allergies. It is also necessary to be aware of the possibility that pesticide residues are in essential oil concentrates. Ingestion of essential oils may be toxic to the body and this should never be done except under the advice of a professional licensed to prescribe this treatment.