The use of essential oils in the United States over the last 20 years has soared. Fragrance use in general has increased to the point that it is impossible to spend a day without the introduction of some added scent without one is in the woods away from civilization.
Essential Oils can be produced with steam distillation, solvents, or pressed. Citrus oils are generally “cold pressed” from the peels, while oils that involve roots, resins and plants that have less oil are sometimes expressed with solvents.
Essential oils are extremely concentrated. A gallon of peppermint leaves, well packed, will yield 10 or 15 drops of oil. Consider the strength of a cup of peppermint tea that only uses a teaspoon of the herb. That should give you some idea of the concentration of a single drop of oil. At one time it was considered safe to use lavender, tea tree, patchouli and a few other essential oils neat (undiluted). Now we consider it to be unsafe to use ANY essential oil neat, as over time sensitization occurs. The concentration of these materials must be respected.
Hydrosols are the re-liquefied steam that results from the distillation of plants. They contain minuscule droplets of oil suspended in water. Because of the concentration of pure essential oils, some of the hydrosols are gaining popularity for use where water is acceptable – in hydrous applications. They can be used for cooking (rosewater and orange blossom water are examples), for external applications (witch hazel is a hydrosol), and for various uses in cosmetics and toiletries.
Some useful essential oils:
Lavender – The oil of lavender thought about the birth of Aromatherapy, when (as the story goes) chemist Renee Gottefosse burned his arm in the lab, and plunged the burn into the near liquid – a beaker of lavender oil. He discovered that it caused the pain to cease immediately, and there was no blistering or scarring. This oil does indeed work well on burns. It is also a relaxing oil, flipping switches in the limbic brain, and helping some to release anxiety and stress.
Tea Tree Oil – Called “First Aid in a Bottle”, entire industries have been built on this oil. Said to be antiseptic, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, some even claim that it works on warts and skin tags with regular application. A little in a toothpaste is amazing!
Patchouli – An earthy scent that people either love or hate – few in betweens. It is sometimes worn as a bug repellant, and is a moth repellant in the closet. It is good for the skin, especially mature skin.
Eucalyptus – Clears sinuses and sinus headaches. Also can be used in a house full of sick people to clear the air and get rid of germs.
Bergamot – This essential oil is the distinct scent and flavor used in classic Earl Gray tea. Said to be an anti-depressant when diffused.
Peppermint – Energizing scent, the oil is used in teas, foods, candy, and medicines. Cooling to the skin when added to creams and lotions, peppermint is also soothing to upset stomachs, although extreme caution should be used when using essential oils internally.
Rosemary – Being studied seriously for its possible use with Alzheimer's patients, this oil is also energizing. Said to help with memory. Great for scalps that need circulation.
Chamomile – German and Roman varieties have different qualities, but both are very relaxing. They smell something like apples. German is blue, Roman is light yellow. Both are very healing on skin problems, rashes in particular. Extremely expensive.
Lemon Balm – Another oil that is incredibly expensive. A container with approx. 20 drops can cost upwards of $ 20. This oil is useful for any skin complaint, soothing the problem area, but it is especially excellent for any of the Herpes Simplex viral outbreaks, such as cold sores, shingles, chicken pox, and genital herpes.
Sages – The garden sage yields an oil that is drying, so it can be valuable for any wiping condition, or acne. Clary sage is called a “woman's oil” helping to bring about hormonal balance.
Some essential oils can be useful in diffusers – removing germs from homes or workspaces, some for emotional issues like grief or sadness, and others uplift or soothe.
Because the hydrosols are not so concentrated, yet still contain minute droplets of the essential oil, they are becoming more popular. There is less chance of becoming sensitized to the components of the oil, as some do from overuse. They are much stronger than a tea or infusion, but much more dilute than essential oils.
They have similar applications, but can be used straight without needing to be diluted with a carrier oil or liquid. They are also sometimes called “distillates”, “hydrolates” and “floral waters”.
There has not been much research or writing done on hydrosols at this point, as they have always been considered a by-product of the production of essential oils. They are revolutionizing the face of aromatherapy right now.
Some useful hydrosols:
Lemon Verbena – Revitalizing, crisp lemon flavor and scent. Good used as a toner, particularly on acne. Delicious in tea.
Peppermint – Calms the tummy, soothes itching. Uplifting and Invigorating. Refreshing green scent.
Cucumber – Anti-inflammatory with astringent properties.
Sage – Deodorizing, cleansing astringent.
Rose – Good for all skin types. Used in cooking
Comfrey – Incredibly healing to skin. Sunburn soother
Lemon Balm – Anti-depressant, anti-viral, calming and de-stressing.
St. John's Wort – Nerve support and anti-depressant.
Jewelweed – excellent for rashes caused by other plants like poison ivy, etc.
Helichrysum – Great for bruising. Remarkably healing and said to treat pain. Used internally and externally for pain and bruising.
Vitex – Well known women's herb, used for PMS and menopausal symptoms. Balancing.
Chamomile – Good for skin and used internally for relaxation.
Lavender – Contains all of the properties of the essential oil.