Essential oils, also referred to as "essences", are the volatile fraction (at room temperature) of natural extracts of aromatic plants, medicinal plants and parts of flowers.
In aromatherapy, the essences are used to generate physical, mental and emotional well-being in the individual by fully exploiting all the therapeutic characteristics of plants.
Essential oils are used in the fragrance of closed environments as they generate a suggestive atmosphere, immediately perceptible to our senses.
Furthermore, they are combined with creams and other oily substances to enhance the effects of relaxing and healing massages.
The distillation process
The essences are extracted from the plants using various methods (squeezing, flowering, by means of organic solvents, etc.) depending on the type of plant and the type of essential oil to be made.
The most natural and most widely used extraction process is the "steam distillation" carried out inside a still.
This technique allows the release of the essences from the vegetable walls softened by the high temperature steam obtained from boiling water.
The essences, as they are volatile, are vaporized and transported together with the vapor in a refrigerating coil which condenses the essence-vapor compound to a liquid state, separating it into oil and aromatic water.
The separation takes place by decantation and is made possible as oil and water are immiscible liquids with different densities; in fact the essential oil layer (lighter) is arranged on the surface floating on the aromatic water layer (heavier).
The essential oil collected can subsequently undergo a further purification process aimed at removing any impurities still present.
The separated aromatic water contains traces of dissolved essential oil resulting therefore extremely fragrant. It is not thrown away, but is instead used in various fields such as the culinary or cosmetic one.
Properties and use of various types of essential oils
The various fragrances of essential oils have different properties and the choice of one or the other varies according to the benefit to be obtained:
- Lavender essential oil has calming, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, pain relieving and healing properties. It is indicated to combat insomnia, for insect bites, for inflammation, for limited burns and to counteract nervousness due to stress;
- Chamomile essential oil has calming, soothing, antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is useful to counteract insomnia, stress and panic attacks, to relieve burns and to relieve muscle pain;
- The essential oil with bergamot, rose and geranium flowers have antidepressant properties and are recommended during the days of the menstrual cycle to relieve the feeling of melancholy and sadness. In general they are used to regulate mood swings;
- Basil essential oil has digestive, analgesic, sedative and repellent properties. It is suggested for mental fatigue, to aid digestion, to relieve menstrual pains and muscle cramps, to counteract nervousness and for insect bites;
- Citrus essential oils (lemon, sweet and bitter orange, bergamot and mandarin) have digestive, antibacterial, antiviral, slightly sedative and energizing properties. They are used, among other things, to enhance the ability to focus and mental concentration;
- Eucalyptus essential oil has balsamic, fluidifying, decongestant, antiseptic, energizing and purifying properties. It is indicated for relieving cold symptoms (nasal congestion, cough and sinusitis), purifying the air in closed environments, promoting mental concentration and as a repellent for insects;
- Rosemary essential oil has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, antioxidant functions and is used to disinfect wounds, for mild circulatory disorders, for rheumatism and also to fight intestinal infections;
- Thyme essential oil has balsamic, analgesic, pain relieving and antimicrobial properties. It is used to increase the immune defenses, relieve rheumatic and arthritic pains and counteract colds, coughs, bronchitis and sinusitis;
- Sandalwood essential oil has antiseptic, decongestant, aphrodisiac and relaxing properties. It is used to neutralize bacteria in closed environments, calm the mind and promote concentration, to reinvigorate sexual energy and to fight insomnia.