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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This is a very good description from Wikipedia of what essential oils are.
You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_oilAn essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the “oil of” the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils do not form a distinctive category for any medical, pharmacological, or culinary purpose. Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation. Other processes include expression, or solvent extraction. They are used in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps and other products, for flavoring food and drink, and for adding scents to incense and household cleaning products. Various essential oils have been used medicinally at different periods in history. Medical applications proposed by those who sell medicinal oils range from skin treatments to remedies for cancer, and often are based solely on historical accounts of use of essential oils for these purposes. Claims for the efficacy of medical treatments and treatment of cancers in particular, are now subject to regulation in most countries. As the use of essential oils has declined in evidence-based medicine, one must consult older textbooks for much information on their use. Modern works are less inclined to generalize; rather than refer to “essential oils” as a class at all, they prefer to discuss specific compounds, such as methyl salicylate, rather than “oil of wintergreen”. Interest in essential oils has revived in recent decades with the popularity of aromatherapy, a branch of alternative medicine that claims that essential oils and other aromatic compounds have curative effects. Oils are volatilized or diluted in a carrier oil and used in massage, diffused in the air by a nebulizer, heated over a candle flame, or burned as incense. The techniques and methods first used to produce essential oils was first mentioned by Ibn al-Baitar (1188–1248), an Andalusian physician, pharmacist and chemist.
 ExpressionMost citrus peel oils are expressed mechanically, or cold pressed (similar to olive oil extraction). Due to the relatively large quantities of oil in citrus peel and low cost to grow and harvest the raw materials, citrus-fruit oils are cheaper than most other essential oils. Lemon or sweet orange oils that are obtained as byproducts of the citrus industry are even cheaper. Prior to the discovery of distillation, all essential oils were extracted by pressing.
 Solvent extractionMost flowers contain too little volatile oil to undergo expression and their chemical components are too delicate and easily denatured by the high heat used in steam distillation. Instead, a solvent such as hexane or supercritical carbon dioxide is used to extract the oils. Extracts from hexane and other hydrophobic solvent are called concretes, which are a mixture of essential oil, waxes, resins, and other lipophilic (oil soluble) plant material. Although highly fragrant, concretes contain large quantities of nonfragrant waxes and resins. Often, another solvent, such as ethyl alcohol, which is more polar in nature, is used to extract the fragrant oil from the concrete. The alcohol is removed by evaporation, leaving behind the absolute. Supercritical carbon dioxide is used as a solvent in supercritical fluid extraction. This method has many benefits including avoiding petrochemical residues in the product and the loss of some “top notes” when steam distillation is used. It does not yield an absolute directly. The supercritical carbon dioxide will extract both the waxes and the essential oils that make up the concrete. Subsequent processing with liquid carbon dioxide, achieved in the same extractor by merely lowering the extraction temperature, will separate the waxes from the essential oils. This lower temperature process prevents the decomposition and denaturing of compounds. When the extraction is complete, the pressure is reduced to ambient and the carbon dioxide reverts to a gas, leaving no residue. An animated presentation describing the process is available for viewing. Supercritical carbon dioxide is also used for making decaffeinated coffee. Although it uses the same basic principles, it is a different process because of the difference in scale.
 Florasols extractionFlorasol (R134a) is a refrigerant and it was developed to replace Freon. Florasol is an ozone friendly product and it cause no danger to the environment. The advantage is that the extraction of essential oils occurs at or below room temperature so any degradation through temperature extremes does not occur. The only thing that is extracted from the plants are the essential oils. The essential oils are absolutely pure and contain no foreign substances at all
 Production quantitiesEstimates of total production of essential oils are difficult to obtain. One estimate, compiled from data in 1989, 1990 and 1994 from various sources, gives the following total production, in tonnes, of essential oils for which more than 1,000 tonnes were produced.
Oil Tonnes Sweet orange 12,000 Mentha arvensis 4,800 Peppermint 3,200 Cedarwood 2,600 Lemon 2,300 Eucalyptus globulus 2,070 Litsea cubeba 2,000 Clove (leaf) 2,000 Spearmint 1,300
 PharmacologyAlthough there is currently something of a dismissive attitude concerning essential oils in pharmacology, various essential oils retain considerable popular use, partly in fringe medicine and partly in popular remedies. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to obtain reliable references concerning their pharmacological merits. Taken by mouth, many essential oils can be dangerous in high concentrations. Typical effects begin with a burning feeling, followed by salivation. In the stomach, the effect is carminative, relaxing the gastric sphincter and encouraging eructation (belching). Further down the gut, the effect typically is antispasmodic. Typical ingredients for such applications include eucalyptus oils, menthol, capsaicin, anise and camphor. Other essential oils work well in these applications, but it is notable that others offer no significant benefit. This illustrates the fact that different essential oils may have drastically different pharmacology. Those that do work well for upper respiratory tract and bronchial problems act variously as mild expectorants and decongestants. Some act as locally anaesthetic counterirritants, and thereby exert an antitussive effect. Some essential oils, such as those of juniper and agathosma are valued for their diuretic effects. With relatively recent concerns about the overuse of antibacterial agents, many essential oils have seen a resurgence in off-label use for such properties and are being examined for this use clinically. Many essential oils affect the skin and mucous membranes in ways that variously are valuable or harmful. They are used in antiseptics and liniments in particular. Typically, they produce rubefacient irritation at first, and then counterirritant numbness. Turpentine oil and camphor are two typical examples of oils that cause such effects. Menthol and some others produce a feeling of cold followed by a sense of burning. This is caused by its effect on heat-sensing nerve endings. Some essential oils, such as clove oil or eugenol, were popular for many years in dentistry as antiseptics and local anaesthetics. Thymol also is well known for its antiseptic effects.
 Use in aromatherapy
Main article: AromatherapyAromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine in which healing effects are ascribed to the aromatic compounds in essential oils and other plant extracts. Many common essential oils have medicinal properties that have been applied in folk medicine since ancient times and are still widely used today. For example, many essential oils have antiseptic properties. Many are also claimed to have an uplifting effect on the mind. Such claims, if meaningful, are not necessarily false, but are difficult to quantify in the light of the sheer variability of the materials used in the practice.