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The Basics

Let’s start at the beginning, just what exactly IS an essential oil??

Essential oils are highly concentrated natural plant extracts; a drop or two can produce significant results. An entire plant, when distilled, might produce only a single drop of essential oil. That is why their potency is far greater than dried herbs. Pressing or distillation extracts the subtle, volatile liquids (meaning they evaporate quickly) from plants, shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes, and seeds, that make up essential oils.

Essential oils are the life-blood of the plant, protecting it from bacterial and viral infections, cleansing breaks in its tissue and delivering oxygen and nutrients into the cells. In essence, they act as the immune system of the plant. That is why they are so essential to the plant — without them, plants could not survive.

In the human body, they have a similar action — such as transporting valuable nutrients to the cells; increasing oxygen intake, and digesting toxic waste in the blood. This is because the three primary elements – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen-are common to both human beings and essential oils. This shared chemistry makes essential oils one of the most compatible of all plant substances with human biochemistry.

Not only that, but the lipid-soluble structure of essential oils and the fact that they have a protein-like structure similar to human cells and tissues makes them even more compatible with human tissue.

Essential oils are very different from vegetable oils (also called fatty oils), such as corn oil, olive oil, peanut oil, etc. Fatty oils are produced by pressing nuts or seeds. They are quite greasy, are not antimicrobial nor help transport oxygen, and will go rancid over time. Essential oils, however, are not greasy nor do they clog the pores like vegetable oils can.

Essential oils are highly complex substances. They are mosaics of hundreds – even thousands – of different natural chemicals. The average essential oil may contain anywhere from 80 to 400 known chemical constituents. Many oils contain even more, occurring in minute quantities – but all contributing to the oil’s therapeutic effects. It requires years of study to understand these constituents, their activity and functions.

Different varieties of the same oil can have widely different therapeutic actions, depending on their chemistry. For example, basil high in linalool or fenchol is primarily used for its antiseptic properties. However, basil high in methyl chavicol is more anti-inflammatory than antiseptic. A third type, basil high in eugenol, has both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects.

In addition, essential oils can be processed in different ways, which dramatically effects their chemistry and medicinal action. Oils that have been redistilled two or three times are obviously not as potent as oils that have been distilled only once. Also, oils that are subjected to high heat and pressure in processing have an inferior profile of chemical constituents, since excessive heat and temperature fractures and breaks down many of the delicate aromatic compounds within the oil — compounds that are responsible for much of the therapeutic action of the oil.

Of even greater importance is the fact that some oils are thinned or cut (i.e. adulterated) with synthetic chemicals.  This by far, in my opinion, is one of the most important resaons that I only use Young Living Essential Oils on my horses or any horse I work with.