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What Are Essential Oils?

Posted by Karen R on

Curious about essential oils? Let’s get you started with some basic information about the nature and characteristics of essential oils.

According to the US National Library of Medicine (, essential oils are “the scented liquid taken from certain plants using steam or pressure. Essential oils contain the natural chemicals that give the plant its ‘essence’ (specific odor and flavor). Essential oils are used in perfumes, food flavorings, medicine, and aromatherapy."

Depending on the type of plant, essential oils are derived from flowers, leaves, roots, rinds of citrus fruits, and from the resin of certain trees. Some are steam distilled, while others are pressed.

Pure essential oils are highly concentrated. One or two drops will go a long way, whether the oil is being used for aromatherapy, to flavor food, or for other uses. This means that one bottle of essential oil could last for quite some time.

Try a fun experiment to get an idea of how much fresh plant material goes into essential oil production. Pick up and hold any leaf in your hand. Feel its weight. Now imagine picking up more leaves until you have 16 pounds of them. That’s the amount of peppermint leaves used to produce a single ounce of peppermint oil! No wonder oils are so concentrated!

As with any natural product, you should learn about the company that you are trusting as your source for oils. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Does the company provide the common name and the Latin name of the oil?
  • Is their plant material grown in indigenous areas?
  • What growing standards and extraction processes are used to produce the oil?
  • Is the oil 100% plant material without additives, synthetics, or other man-made materials?

Essential oils are different from the fatty oils we use in the kitchen. Essential oils are volatile, meaning they will evaporate if left in an open container or if heated in water. Volatility makes using oils in a diffuser or with diffuser jewelry a popular delivery method for enjoying an oil’s scent. This evaporation is one thing that sets essential oils apart from non-volatile fixed oils such as almond oil and olive oil.   

Another difference between essential oils and fixed oils is that pure essential oils will not leave an oily residue. This is an advantage since many people enjoy using their favorite oils in place of perfumes.

A final note to help you enjoy your essential oils… Always follow the company’s recommended usage directions.  

Happy Oiling!


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