What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated complex aromatic compounds that are extracted from plants, usually through steam distillation. Also known as volatile oils, they’re fragrant because the molecules that make up these compounds are tiny and can easily travel up into the air, unlike fatty-acid-based “fixed” oils, such as olive or corn oil.
But what makes essential oils so attractive to the senses can also pose problems if you’re not careful. Their volatility not only makes them combustible, their bottles must be kept tightly capped or they’ll eventually evaporate.
Keep all your essential oils in dark glass bottles, not plastic or metal, and away from heat and direct sunlight. Remember too that these purified, highly concentrated compounds shouldn’t be ingested at full strength. And avoid applying any pure essential oil except for lavender directly to the skin.
What makes lavender essential oil unique?
Essential oils from plants are highly concentrated compounds. Because of this, they have the potential to be both effective natural medicines and also, if used incorrectly, dangerous toxins. For example, when applied full strength to the skin, lemon oil can cause photo-toxicity, and both cinnamon and clove essential oils can be highly irritating. And it’s been discovered that some people are allergic to members of the sunflower, or aster, family of plants, even when not in a concentrated form.
For this reason, do your homework and find out as much as you can about the plant the oil comes from, any known toxicity, and how it is best used. Don’t assume all essential oils are safe. Then dilute your essential oils in a fixed oil, like almond or olive oil, before applying to your skin or adding to your bath water.
Lavender essential oil is a wonderful exception to this rule. For almost everyone, it can be applied full-strength directly to burned skin, insect bites, minor wounds, and inflammations. At the same time, its calming fragrance will soothe you and help your body to heal.
By Toni Grove, Lavender Wind Farm