What are essential oils?
EO's are volatile (meaning that it turns into vapor or gas and evaporates at room temperature) liquids that are distilled from parts of plants. Oils can be distilled from roots, flowers, bark, seeds, leaves, stems, fruit, etc.
how are the oils extracted from plants?
Essential Oils are obtained through steam distillation and expression. Steam distillation is most common, where the plant material is placed in an extraction chamber and them steam (produced by water in another chamber) is released into the bottom of the extraction chamber where the plant matter is. As the steam passes through the plant materials, both the seam and the EO rise to the top (because the oils are volatile, this is what makes that happen - they're evaporating). The EO and steam are then directed to another chamber where they're left to cool. Since EO's don't mix with water, they rise to the top of the chamber while the water from the steam stays at the bottom. Isn't that cool? I think so. Expression, or cold pressing (like you'll see on an olive oil bottle) is the most common way to extract EO's from citrus. Mechanical pressure is used to press the oils from the plant's rind or peel.
how long have essential oils been around?
They were literally mankind's first medicine so you can imagine how long that's been. Egyptian and Chinese physicians have been using oils derived from aromatic plants for thousands of years. In Egypt, we know that EO's were used for embalming and there were even blending recipes found in hieroglyphics on the walls of temples. The Bible contains 188 references to Essential Oils too, like Frankincense, Rosemary, and Myrrh.
how does the growing, harvesting, and distillation of the plant and oil affect the oil's therapeutic properties?
One of the factors determining the therapeutic value of an oil is its chemical constituents. These can be affected by many variables including what part of the plant exactly the oil came from, the condition of the soil, whether or not chemical or organic fertilizer was used, the geographical region, climate, altitude, harvest season and the way the plants were harvested, and the process of distillation. Consistency and care taking in every step of the distillation process is so key, which is one reason why Young Living's Seed to Seal process/promise is so vastly important. Take Thyme (thyme vulgaris) for example - its levels of thymol depend on the time of year it's distilled, affecting its potency and scent/flavor. (Thymol is the crystalline compound (structural constituent found in Thyme, basically what makes Thyme Thyme). And if the distillation is done in mid-summer or late fall, there can be higher levels of carvacrol, a natural chemical found in herbs like Thyme, Bergamot, and Oregano, which can cause the oil to be more caustic (burning organic tissue through a chemical reaction) and highly burning to the skin. So if distillation is not done correctly at the right time, the produced oil wouldn't be safe to use therapeutically. Making sure low temperatures are being used to distill are the key to maintaining purity, fragrance, and therapeutic value of the oil as well.
why does do therapeutic grade oils seem to be rare?
Any Essential Oil less than pure and therapeutic-grade can be extremely harmful, producing far from the desired results we're looking for when choosing to live a naturally-based lifestyle, free from harsh chemicals and additives. Producing oils with the necessary level of purity can be very expensive and may require several hundred pounds of plant material to extract a single pound of pure EO in some cases. One pound of Melissa Oil sells for between $9,000 and $15,000. This is because three tons of plant material are needed to produce that single pound. And most of the oils produced on the market today are used for perfumes so they're quickly processed at high temps and high pressure, using chemical solvents and additives to clarify it, make it smell better, stretch it, etc. They may smell good and cost less, but they're nowhere near therapeutic-grade. I wouldn't even diffuse them in my home.
what benefits do therapeutic grade essential oils give us?
EO's embody the regenerative, oxygyenating, immune-strengthening properties of the plants from which they're distilled. Their molecules are so small in size that they can penetrate our skin very quickly. They are lipid soluble which means they can dissolve in oils and fats, and capable of penetrating a cell's membrane, even cells that have hardened from oxygen deficiency (isn't that crazy?). EO's can affect every cell in the body within 20 minutes before they are metabolized like other nutrients. They also contain oxygen molecules that help transport nutrients to our starving and deficient cells, and because nutrient deficiency is an oxygen deficiency, disease begins when the cells don't have enough oxygen for proper nutrient absorption. So by giving the body oxygen along with the nutritional properties they contain, Essential Oils are highly beneficial in supporting the immune system. They're also powerful antioxidants, creating an unwelcome environment for free radicals that float around in our bodies. There is so much I can't compliantly say about what they do, but they've been shown to promote and support the restoration and balance to the body. PLEASE do your own research on this and google the heck out of all of your questions, just make sure your sources are creditable, obviously.
what kind of affect do essential oils have on the brain?
The blood-brain barrier is the barrier membrane between the circulating blood and the brain that keeps certain damaging substances from reaching the brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. It's been said by the American Medical Association that if they could find an agent that could pass this barrier, that they'd be able to cure Alzheimer's, ALS, MS, and Parkinson's. Essential oils like Frankincense and Sandalwood are known to be able to cross this blood-brain barrier. Sesquiterpenes are the chemical constituents that do this. High levels of these increase the amount of oxygen in the limbic system of the brain, particularly around the pineal and pituitary glands, leading to an increase in secretions of antibodies, endorphins, and neurotransmitters. The amygdala gland is also part of the limbic system, which is defined as a roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions, especially negative emotions and fear (learn more). The only way to stimulate this gland with fragrance. For this reason, Essential Oils can be a powerful way to unlock and release emotional trauma.
what is exactly inside the essential oils that make them so beneficial?
Some oils have anywhere from 200-800 different chemical constituents. Most of these constituents can be characterized into different distinct families and groupings being placed in different categories depending on their dominant characteristics.