The Science Behind Organic Essential Oils
Table of Contents
The Science Behind the Scents: How does Aromatherapy Work?
With the advent of Integrative Medicine into western culture, an ever increasing amount of scientific research is proving that the use of Plant Essential Oils, which have been around since 4500 BC, have legitimate uses for alternative medicinal purposes. Ancient Egyptians utilized aromatic oils to make mixtures of different sources of herbal preparations such as Aniseed, Cedarwood, Pine, Fir, Frankincense, Myrrh, Peppermint, Lavender and Rose for aromatic use and medicinal ointments. The first recorded use of Essential Oils (EO) for therapeutic use was between 3000 and 2000 BC for traditional Chinese and Indian medicines (1). “In particular, the recorded history about China and India listed more than 700 substances as being effective for healing”. (a) Closer to home, the process of distillation spread to Europe during the Middle Ages, and isolation of essential oils by distillation was described during the 11th to 13th centuries. By approximately 1500, the following products had been introduced as medicinal treatments: oils of Cedarwood, Calamus, Costus, Rose, Rosemary, Spikenard, Frankincense, Turpentine, Sage, Cinnamon, Benzoin, and Myrrh. Europeans continued experimenting and distilling oils such as Lavender, Juniper, Laurel, and Eucalyptus using them widely for combating illness.
Around the mid-sixteenth century, the alchemical theories of the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (who established the role of chemistry in medicine and published Der grossen Wundartzney (Great Surgery Book) in 1536
and a clinical description of syphilis in 1530) played a role in stimulating physicians and pharmacists to seek essential oils from aromatic leaves, woods, and roots. These distilled products quickly became a specialty of the European pharmacies. It pretty much boils down to the Biomedical culture and the resources for funding research not supporting the thorough study of non-pharma or holistic alternatives. Nor are they interested in providing evidentiary resources that can offer healing through lifestyle, personalized nutrition, alternative & holistic medicines and the incorporation of such therapies as acupuncture and essential oils. With that said, there is research out there - and as a fresh generation of scientists arise in the world of Integrative Medicine, we will see more and more evidence of the healing properties of many of Earth’s treasures.
Since all of us here at Ravenscroft Escentials are huge advocates of all things holistic, and meticulously create our blends with healing in mind, we felt sharing some of the science behind the scents and evidence-based essential oil therapies would be helpful.
To put it simply, Essential Oils (called ‘essential’ because they carry the ‘essence’ or ‘life force’ of the plant) are the pure extracts of botanicals. According to Britannica, “Out of the vast number of plant species, essential oils have been well characterized and identified from only a few thousand plants.” The oils are stored as microdroplets in the glands of plants and then extracted by various methods. The constituents of an essential oil are created by specialized plant cells, which secrete them into very tiny sacs or glands, either on the surface of a leaf or flower, or deeper inside the plant tissue.
The methods of essential oil extraction are Steam Distillation, Solvent Extraction, CO2 Extraction, Maceration, Enfleurage, Cold Press Extraction, and Water Distillation.
The aim of distillation – or extraction – is to cause the glands containing the essential oils to release their contents. (b) Extraction describes the general process of separating essential oils from plant matter. Various parts of a plant (flowers, bark, leaves, resin or fruit) are extracted by several different methods to capture the compounds that produce the scents and concentrated liquid forms of each plant's medicinal qualities.
Let’s cover the two most widely used methods:
Steam distillation is the most common extraction technique for essential oils. The plant materials are placed in a still, where pressurized steam is passed through the biomass; the heat from the steam ruptures the plant structures that hold the essential oils, releasing constituent compounds.
Cold Press Extraction (or Expression), which is usually used for the extraction of citrus fruits such as Bergamot, involving the entire fruit. After being thoroughly washed, the fruit is placed in a container where the surface (or rind) is agitated or pierced so the oil sacs on the underside of the rind rupture, bringing the oils to the surface - the botanical material is then sprayed with water, and finally, the solids of the fruit are put through a centrifuge & the essential oil is separated from the water.
Only using organic botanical species when extracting essential oils is vital to avoid any contaminants or pesticide residue being left behind in the extraction process - especially in CO2 Extractions.
Ravenscroft Escentials meticulously sources
the highest quality organic oils from
ethically & organically grown botanicals
The Science Behind the Scents: How does Aromatherapy Work?
Most reading this do not need a scientific research study to know that certain smells create both psychological and physiological responses within us. Walking down a scented candle aisle can calm your nerves & make you smile, driving by an outdoor BBQ can make you salivate & the scent of your lover’s skin can… well, get your juices flowing so to speak. :)
The fourth of our senses, the sense of smell (our olfactory system), plays a much more important & magnificent role in our daily lives than most could fathom.. The sense of smell is a powerful and glorious gift and can most certainly be a tool for holistic healing.
Your ability to smell also plays a crucial role in your health. If your ability to smell diminishes, it can affect your diet and nutrition, physical well-being, and everyday safety.
“It’s estimated that the number of odors that people can detect is somewhere between 10,000 and 100 billion, or even more,” says Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a taste and smell researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. (c)
Because the regions of our brain that process smells, emotions and memories are so intimately connected, scent has the ability to trigger very powerful emotions. According to Omar Danoun, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health, “the power lies in the architecture of the brain.” Our other senses travel through the Thalamus (the communication hub of the brain), but smell goes directly to the brain’s emotional center, including the areas responsible for processing emotion and memory. A scent in the form of molecular particles travels through the nose and into the olfactory bulb in the brain where they are processed. From there, brain cells carry information about the smell to the almond-shaped region of the brain that processes emotions (the Amygdala), and then to the learning and memory center of the brain (the Hippocampus).
A 2008 study found that the mothers in the bath with Essential Oil of Lavender were much more relaxed and touched their infants more than the mothers in the
control group (plain water), & that the infants cried less and slept better with the lavender oil, and saliva cortisol (stress hormone) levels in mothers and infants were significantly decreased. (2) The National Library of Medicine (NIH) published a 2017 study on The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms which states “essential oils are lipophilic, they can easily be carried to all organs in the body. In inhalation aromatherapy, the inhaled air containing essential oils can not only reach the circulation system via the blood capillary network in the nose and the bronchi in the lungs but also stimulate brain areas directly via the olfactory epithelium”(d) According to Dr. Alan R. Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago, "The quickest way to change a mood state -- quicker than with any other sensual modality -- is with smell." With well over 15 years of scientific study of aromatherapies, Hirsch and his colleagues have concluded that specific odors can change your mood and behavior. (e) For example, essential oils such as Rose Otto, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine and Geranium have been shown to relieve depression. (f) Lavender, Sandalwood & Frankincense have been successful in helping with anxiety and PTSD. While Rosemary, Vetiver, & Sage are used for mental clarity and focus, insomnia has been resolved without the need of prescription medications with essential oils such as Lavender. Studies have shown lavender significantly increases blood melatonin levels naturally & not only increases SWS (Short Wave Sleep), but also stage two sleep, or “light sleep”. This is where our bodies heal and memories are cataloged. (g) If you’ve ever used Vapor Rubs on yourself or your children, you know essential oils such as Menthol (peppermint & spearmint oils) are wonderful for clearing up respiratory issues, but did you know peppermint is also a top choice for relieving headaches and migraines? So are Roman Chamomile and Essential Oil of Basil. The Earth has been filled with an abundance of plants, flowers, herbs, roots and resins, which when extracted and used in combination with other healthy lifestyle choices, are capable of a plethora of healing modalities in a natural and non-addictive way, all through simply taking a long …deep… inhalation.
- Baser K. H. C., Buchbauer G. Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology and Applications. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press; 2010. [Google Scholar]
- Jane Buckle PhD, RN, in Clinical Aromatherapy (Third Edition), 2016
Written by Lisa Dechavan