Essential Oils 101

The history 
You may think aromatherapy is a new-age form of modern medicine however, the first recorded use of aromatherapy can be traced back over 3500 years ago.  

Ancient Egyptians first burned incense made from spices and aromatic woods, to honor their God.  They believed that as the smoke rose up to the heavens, it would carry their prayers and wishes directly to the heavens.  

Prior to that, smoke from burning aromatic woods and bark were used to drive out the 'evil spirits' from sick people.  Interestingly, the word perfume comes from the Latin word 'per fumum' which means 'through smoke'.

The term “essential oil” comes from the word “quintessential oil.” Aristotle believed that matter is composed of four elements; air, earth, water and fire. The fifth element was not tangible and was considered a spirit or life force.  The process of distilling plants was believed to remove the healing spirit from the plant and promote a passing on of a life force.  Since that time science has proven that essential oils are more than a spirit.  They are physical and comprised of complex compounds, and chemicals, that have a positive and profound effect on mankind. This knowledge is what has led to the development of aromatics as medicine.



How they are made
Essential oils are natural aromatic extracts from plant material including grasses, flowers, twigs, seeds, bark, leaves, needles, roots and peels of fruit. Plants store essential oils either in external  structures which are found on the surface of the plant, or internal  structures which are located inside the plant material. And while the essential oil lies within the plant material, they oils are constantly changing their chemical makeup to help the plant adapt to its ever-changing environment. 

Essential oils are extracted from through a variety of processes.  For an essential oil to be a "true" essential oil, it must be separated by a physical process. The physical methods most commonly used are distillation through steam or steam and water, as well as expression which is a method of cold pressing (unique to citrus peel oils).   Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.

Benefits
Throughout history the use of essential oils have been used to support and elevate our mental, physical and emotional well-being. Tiny invisible molecules trigger and strengthen our own body's natural processes.  Our bodies are able to utilize these aromatic and therapeutic components through a combination of inhalation and/or absorption.  Just at there are hundreds of essential oils, there is an exponential variety of benefits that come from each oil.  

During the inhalation process the chemical components travel through the olfactory system of the nose and "communicates" with tiny nerves. . As the molecules reach the brain, they affect limbic system, which is linked to the emotions, the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance.
Essential oils that travel through the surface of the skin are absorbed into the bloodstream by the pores and hair follicles. Once inside the bloodstream, they disperse to the specific organs and systems on which they work.

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