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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Essential oils are a complicated mix of many different chemicals. Although essential oils have many different properties all essential oils do have some common properties too.
An essential oil is often described as the life blood of a plant. Essential oils are extracted from flowers, trees, fruits, roots and leaves and the oil is found in the glandular hairs, glands, veins or sacs of a plant, grass or tree. The aroma of a plant is used in aromatherapy to treat a number of ailments.
Essential oils are volatile, meaning that they evaporate at, or above, room temperature. Heat releases the aroma and fragrances of essential oils. True essential oils are non-oily, despite their name. They are never identical by their very nature; variations in essential oils are caused by temperature, soil conditions, the altitude a plant is grown and the country in which it is grown.
The chemical make-up of each essential oil is complex but nearly all essential oils are made up of some combination of alcohols, phenols, aldehydes, ketones, acids, esters, oxides, lactones, coumarins and furocoumarins. This means that m ost essential oils are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-fungal, detoxifying, circulatory, anti-spasmodic, analgesic and decongestant.
Common Properties Shared by Essential Oils
Common physical properties of essential oils include:
?all essential oils are capable of being absorbed by the human body; they are all non-greasy; they are only partially water soluble; they are all inflammable; they are all volatile; they are all soluble in both alcohol and carrier oil.
Common therapeutic properties of essential oils include:
- all essential oils are capable of being antiseptic
- all essential oils are balancing to the mind, emotions and various systems of the body
- all essential oils are pro biotic, that is, they help the body fight infection and disease and build up the body's natural defenses against further attacks.
Properties of Essential Oils
In addition, all essential oils:
- are prophylactic – they are all prevent disease.
- are stress relieving – they balance emotions and certain essential oils have a pronounced sedative and calming effect on the nervous system, for example, Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
- are synergistic – the different chemical components complement each other within an essential oil and when blended together their effectiveness is greater than when used on their own.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that all essential oils are quenching, meaning they 'satisfy' each individual component of an essential oil or blend of oils. For example, the high proportions of ketones in Sage (Salvia officinalis) are 'made safe' by the presence of the other components. On their own, they would be toxic; without them, the other components would not function as expected.
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils London: Element
Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook Thorsons: London, UK
This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as The Properties of Essential Oils
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