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By: The Villages | Feb 10, 2023

Essential Oils 101

Whether by choice or by chance we are all impacted by the aromatic oils of plants.

While it may appear as a new trend or passing fad, botanical medicine represents the beginning of Aromatherapy and humanity’s relationship with the natural world.

In 1937, aromatherapy was coined and the resurgence of interest prompted chemists to study essential oils for their medicinal benefits. Broken down into their chemical constituents and properties, scientists began to classify the chemical patterns noting their effects on the physiological and psychological being. These properties included, among others, their ability to fight infection, reduce pain and discomfort, inhibit fungal growth, bring about warmth or coolness, and uplift one’s mental state. With the revitalization of aromatherapy in today’s market, it is necessary to understand what these oils are, how they work and how to utilize them safely. There is far more to the use of these volatile essences than one might think.

The essential oils that we find today are highly concentrated plant extractions. Curious just how concentrated? Consider Rose Absolute (rosa x damascena). This is a prized and very expensive oil requiring 10,000 roses for a single teaspoon (5ml) — 60,000 roses yield only an ounce of this precious oil! The price can be more than $850 per 5ml. Looking at just a drop of this oil, scientists are able to identify each of its chemical components. These individual molecules make up the characteristics that are unique to this type of flower essence.

In Aromatherapy, these molecules are classified by their chemical family. Each chemical family has scientifically proposed properties and attributes that aid in the understanding of their potential use and efficacy. Additionally, understanding the chemical properties provides insight into possible sensitivities and precautions of use for a given oil.

When choosing your oils there are a number of things to consider — safety being the most important. Many oils on the market today claim to be 100% pure essential oils. This may be misleading. For example, that bottle of Rose Absolute previously mentioned may have 100% pure Rose Absolute oil, but it may also have 99.9% other oils, chemicals or synthetics added to it to dilute the end product and make it more affordable.

The best way to determine if an oil is pure is through lab analysis called GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry). This testing identifies every chemical component of the sample. For the average consumer, the best way to ensure that the oil you are purchasing is pure and unadulterated, is to buy from companies that perform GC/MS testing on every batch of oil they sell. This should be indicated on the label or at the very least on the company’s website. The label should have both the common name of the oil as well as the Latin name, the country of origin of the plant material and the batch number for traceability.

Other safety concerns to note before reaching for those intriguing amber bottles is that essential oils affect people differently. For instance, use caution when diffusing oils around infants and the elderly, as some oils can have neurotoxic effects in these age demographics.

You may also reconsider before diffusing your favorite essential oils around your furry friends. The human olfactory membrane contains 10-20 million receptors in about .8 square inches and is able to identify between 2-4,000 different chemical stimuli. Dogs have an olfactory receptor surface 72 times greater than that of humans. So please, make sure to leave a door open so your fur baby can escape the space if they become overwhelmed by your diffuser.

The safest way to enjoy the amazing physical and psychological benefits of essential oils is to diffuse them or apply them topically. When using a diffuser, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, use only distilled water if called for and be sure to clean the diffuser regularly to avoid inhaling molds and bacteria. When applying essential oils to the skin, be sure they are mixed with a carrier oil or lotion such as fractionated coconut oil or shea butter. This will help reduce the likelihood of skin irritation. Do your research and determine the most appropriate oils for your particular needs and how best to enjoy their beneficial properties.

The use of essential oils is not a passing fad but rather the result of modernization and the advancements of science. If you are new to understanding the impact of plant essences, I encourage you to make yourself a bright, crisp bowl of your favorite salad greens, add in some nutrient dense microgreens, blend in some garden-fresh herbs, and then top it off with some light oil such as olive or avocado oil and a generous helping of citrus zest.

The aroma you enjoy from this wholesome meal is the essential oils from the herbs and citrus working its magic on your soul, uplifting your mood and transporting you to a deeper connection with the natural world. Bon Appetit!

Find The Villages Grown fresh produce at your local Publix and Winn Dixie stores, in your favorite Villages restaurants and at The Villages Grown at The Sawgrass Market.

Tracey Herrera is senior manager of retail and wholesale for The Villages Grown