Getting started with essential oils is easy. You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment. You don’t need a whole pantry full of essential oils. You don’t even need any special expertise. If you can shake a bottle, you can create a blend. But, like any craft, the more you know about what you’re doing, the more you enjoy the results. Here are some things you need to know.

 What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds and volatile liquids extracted from the seeds, roots, bark, stems, leaves, flowers, resins, and other parts of plants. They come from a group of chemical molecules in plants called terpenes (or hydrocarbons), the cellular level compounds that create a plant’s scent. Each plant species has a unique combination of 100 or more terpenes, which make the scent of that species different from the scent of any other.



Essential oils are extracted using one of several basic methods. The two most common are steam distillation and CO2 extraction.

STEAM DISTILLATION is the most common method for extracting essential oils. Vast quantities of aromatic plants are loaded into a machine and tightly compacted. Steam is then forced through the plant “filter,” heating it up and releasing the oils as a gas. As the gas cools, it liquefies into oil and water, which is then separated. The fragrant water that’s left behind by this process is a hydrosol and is valued in its own right.

CO2 EXTRACTION is a process similar to steam distillation, but it uses carbon dioxide instead of water to extract the essential oil from the raw plant material. In this method, carbon dioxide is chilled to between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit before being blasted through the plant material. What results is a pure essential oil that has not been even slightly altered by exposure to heat.

Other extraction methods include:

ENFLEURAGE , an ancient French technique that involves extracting the fragrance of flowers by exposing them to the sun until the essential oils leach into a fixed oil or fat. At that point, a separation process ensues that purifies the oil to make it ready for sale.

EXPRESSION (aka “cold pressing”) is used mostly for extracting the essential oil from the peels of citrus fruit. In this method the fruit peels are pressed and then the oil is separated from the juice and pulp in a centrifuge. Expression is also the process used in winemaking and creating olive oil.


Plants are soaked in hot oil, which breaks down their cell walls to release the essential oils. The result is then filtered and bottled. The Egyptians used this method extensively in their perfume making.


It is used when flowers have too little volatile oil for other extraction methods. The essential oils are extracted with the help of chemical solvents such as methylene chloride, hexane, or benzene, and are called “absolutes.” Solvent extraction is an expensive, labor intensive process that often involves several solvent treatments.

Purists do not consider absolutes to be true essential oils due to the solvent that is left behind. The end result of these processes is a bottle of essential oil that can be used alone or in combination as part of a DIY medicine chest, cosmetic case, and home-care cabinet.

In order to create a safe and effective collection of essential oils, choose the purest and best essential oils. Price isn’t always a determiner of quality. Research the various essential oil manufacturers to determine the processes they use to create the essential oils, as well as the purity of their oils, before purchasing the essential oils you want to include in your personal aroma-therapy kit.


Purchasing Essential Oils

Essential Oils are usually sold for individual use in very small bottles and can vary greatly in price and quality. The rarity of the plant used, the plant's country of origin, growing & climate conditions, distiller quality standards, and, of course, how much oil the plant produces, can all affect the quality and price.

You can also purchase essential oil blends. The advantage of buying blends of pure, quality essential oils is that in most cases you will save money by not having to buy each essential oil individually to make a mixture. The disadvantage is that you have no real control over the ratio of the blend and since you don’t know the exact composition, you will not be able to reliably mix your blend with other oils.


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