How Essential Oils Work

What is the Chemistry of Essential Oils?

Distillation of essential oils began over a thousand years ago.
Distillation of essential oils began over a thousand years ago.

Essential oils are Mother Nature’s volatile aromatic compounds. They are generated within flowers, shrubs, roots, trees, bushes and seeds. They are extracted from these plants through distillation of one sort or another. The power of an essential oil is determined in the constituents and synergy of the bio-constituents in the oil. Each essential oil can be composed of 200 to 500 different bio-constituents. In fact, the same plant grown in different geographical areas can be quite different in its bio-constituents. Because essential oils are composed of potentially hundreds of different constituents, each oil can exert many different effects on the body.

Essential oils can penetrate our cell membranes and disperse throughout the blood and tissues. This is because the lipid-soluble (fat) structure of essential oils is similar to the makeup of all of the cell membranes in our bodies. This, and the small structure of its molecules, makes it relatively easy for the oils to be absorbed. This makes penetration into our cells much easier. In fact, it’s believed that essential oils can travel throughout the body in a matter of minutes when applied topically to the feet or other soft tissues.

Powerful Influence of Aromatherapy

Aromatic molecules influence the emotional center of the brain - The Limbic System
Aromatic molecules influence the emotional center of the brain – The Limbic System

Healthcare practitioners who use essential oils and aromatherapy believe that the fragrance of an essential oil directly affects everything from our emotional state to our lifespan. This makes sense since a lot of our drugs from pharmaceutical companies originally were derived from specific chemicals found in nature. Hippocrates learned to reduce fever by having people chew willow leaves (natural source of aspirin). The exact details of how essential oils and aromatherapy interact with our sense of smell is not known, but scientists feel that these bio-constituents react with specific receptor sites.

What we know is this – when a fragrance is inhaled, the airborne odor molecules travel from our nostrils to the olfactory epithelium (center of our smell). From there, an impulse is sent from the olfactory bulb to other parts of the brain through the limbic system. Because our limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control our heart rate, breathing, memory, hormone balance, and stress levels, essential oils and aromatherapy can have a profound affect on our bodies, both physiologically and psychologically.

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