Walking towards the wedding hall, I am greeted with a sweet smell of sandalwood and rose. Just before I step inside, a smiling woman showers a blend of essential oils and water on me. This greeting characterises major Indian celebrations.
Essential oils are blended in the history of the world. Records and evidence show that aromatic oils were being used in Egypt as early as in 4500 BCE. Closer to home, Ayurveda — the ancient Indian natural healing system has a 3000-year-old history of using essential oils in healing concoctions. More than 700 ingredients including ginger, cinnamon, sandalwood and myrrh find mention in Vedic literature. Currently, India is the number one producer of essential oils in the world!
And the global market for essential oils is expected to reach $11.19 billion by 2022!
How are essential oils made?
Distillation is the most common method used to extract oils from plants. The raw plant material like wood, leaves, roots, bark, flowers, seeds, or peel is kept in a distillation machine. When the machine is sealed, pressurised steam is passed through the plant material, hot enough for the material to release oils. This vapour consisting of oils is directed through a cooling system which condenses the steam into a liquid consisting of water and essential oil.
As essential oil is lighter than water, it will float on top and can be collected. The leftover water which is a by-product of distillation is called floral water.
When it comes to oils extracted from citrus fruits like orange and lemon, the process adopted is called expression. The natural raw material is cold-pressed to extract the fragrant oil.
(Fun fact: Essential oils are not called that because they are “essential.” Rather, essential here means the essence of!)
Are essential oils safe?
There are a few more methods to produce essential oils that make use of alcohol or harmful chemicals. It is thus necessary to understand where your product is coming from and if the method adopted is free of chemicals.
If purchased from trusted vendors, the inclusion of essential oils in our routine can easily kick out the CFC-producing aerosols.
Having said that, you need to take a few precautionary measures while using fragrant oils. For instance, since essential oils are highly-concentrated plant extracts, they should never be used directly on the skin. Always blend essential oils with carrier or vegetable oils. But once you get the hang of it, the oil can be used for multiple and diverse purposes–right from inducing deep sleep to first aid.
What are essential oils used for?
According to their medical values, there are warm ittars/ essential oils and there are cool ones. Rosemary and peppermint are examples of the former type while eucalyptus, lemongrass and lavender fall in the latter category. Essential oils are also known to reduce stress and headaches. Put a drop of a sweet smelling lavender essential oil on your pillow and see how it helps you sleep better!
So whether you are looking for chemical-free living, or just want to help your home and (yourself!) smell better, these oils are “essential” in your shopping list.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)