Essential Oils

“In Chinese terms, essential oils are medicines for the Shen, the spiritual essence that resides in the heart and governs consciousness. In Ayurvedic terms, they enhance the flow of prana (life force), nourish ojas (nutritional/immunological essence), and brighten tejas (mental luminosity).” – David Crow

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Vocabulary of Natural Materials (ISO/D1S9235.2) defines an essential oil as a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.

According to Dr. Brian Lawrence (2000) “for an essential oil to be a true essential oil, it must be isolated by physical means only. The physical methods used are distillation (steam, steam/water and water) or expression (also known as cold pressing, a unique feature for citrus peel oils). There is one other method of oil isolation specific to a very limited number of essential oil plants. This is a maceration/distillation. In the process, the plant material is macerated in warm water to release the enzyme-bound essential oil. Examples of oils produced by maceration are onion, garlic, wintergreen, bitter almond, etc.” (p. 8).

For our purposes, we shall summarize the above within the context of aromatherapy and therefore define essential oils as highly concentrated aromatic extracts that are distilled or expressed from a variety of aromatic plant material, including flowers, flowering tops, fruits/zests, grasses, leaves, needles and twigs, resins, roots, seeds, and woods. Robert Tisserand once wrote that ‘a pure essential oil is a vibrant dynamic which almost seems to have a life quality of its own’.

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