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Practical Aromatherapy: The Importance Of Essential Oil Chemistry
By: Misty Rae Cech ND, M.Ir.
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Already getting nervous? The chemistry chapters of essential oil texts are the most frequently skipped, even by natural health professionals. But it can be fun and useful...really! Knowing what essential oils are made of, and how this affects their aroma and therapeutic value can have a big impact on the efficacy of your aromatherapy practice. Understanding the basics can help you make better choices in essential oils, and better choices in their application. Plus, this can give you the foundation for further understanding of true 'medical aromatherapy', as practiced in much of the rest of the world. So here's a primer on the chemistry of essential oils, with some common examples and important tips to help you grow as a holistic medicine practitioner. So, why are essential oils called 'oils' anyway? Their texture is different, and they don't leave tell-tale stains like the more familiar edible fixed like grape seed, sunflower, flax or hemp. Essential oils and fixed oils share a similar chemical foundation: their structures are based on the linking of carbon and hydrogen atoms in various configurations. But this is really where the similarity ends. Fixed oils are made up of molecules comprised of three long chains of carbon atoms bound together at one end, called a triglyceride. Every fixed oil is made up of just a few different triglyceride arrangements - olive oil, for example, is primarily made up of oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids (the names of particular carbonhydrogen chains forming the triglycerides). Their long-chain shape holds them in a liquid state which does not easily evaporate. Essential oils are 'volatile' oils - oils that DO easily evaporate. Their chains of carbon atoms to which the hydrogens attach are not as long or heavy, and are much more complex. Many essential oil structures are not really chains, but ring, or multi-ringed shapes with diverse sub-units - called 'functional groups' - sticking out in various directions. Like their fixed oil counterparts, essential oils are lipophillic - meaning 'fat liking'. The fat-liking nature of both fixed and essential oils makes them easily absorbed

plus the time. in an exact formula. Many factors in an essential oil's production affect the total number and relative amounts of individual chemicals found in the final product. And ONE essential oil alone can be made up of HUNDREDS of these different molecular arrangements. we'll examine Lavender essential oil. There are nearly infinite possibilities of functional group and ring or chain combinations. fat friendly composition enables swift passage through mammalian cell walls. There can be over a hundred identifiable molecules in one essential oil.has a profound influence upon the properties of the molecule as a whole. some citrusy and some herbaceous. balanced. distillation equipment. So how is this synergy reflected in Lavender's aroma? Each of these chemicals has a unique smell. is a chain or ring (or multiple-ring) structure of carbon atoms linked together with hydrogen atoms bonded to them in various configurations. pinene and others are all noted for specific biologic and aromatic activity. and that ALL these molecules contribute to the oil's aroma and therapeutic action. essential oils are absorbed more rapidly than fixed oils. some are sweet. with many minor or 'trace' constituents. to produce the harmonious scent of . With a little contemplation of the implications. These include where the plant was grown. It IS helpful to know that any particularly oil is often composed of one or more primary molecular forms. one needn't know all the precise chemical details to use essential oils therapeutically. telling you that all natural components are present and in balanced amounts. These notes act in perfect concert. the linalool molecule is antiviral and antibacterial. synergistic action of these chemicals that make pure. No one chemical can be singled out and used to give the same profound results as the complete pure essential oil. lifeless aroma. some are camphorous. For example. Don't worry. high-quality lavender such a great healer.. limonene. the true complexity of essential oils becomes apparent. Because of their typically smaller structures however. though! While it sounds complex.. temperature and pressure of distillation. It is often referred to as the chemically active center of the molecule". bringing the healing potency of plants into even the tiniest spaces. This can give you an idea as to why two varieties of the same oil can smell so different: The full. Most of the therapeutic activity of an essential oil can be attributed to the functional groups of the individual chemicals that make up the oil.by our bodies. more than fifty individual molecules have been identified in pure lavender essential oil. soil and climate conditions. The aromatherapist must remember that ALL of these chemicals found in pure and natural lavender oil work together to produce a therapeutic effect. some secondary or trace componentes may not be present. the linalyl acetate is also emotionally calming. Each of these molecules. It is the combined. other major components including cineol. To best understand this. and can easily penetrate deep into the body.a functional group is defined by Salvatore Battaglia in 'The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy' as: "a single atom or group of atoms that. Every chain or ring has a functional group attached . If the starting plant material was grown in sub-optimal conditions or distillation was improperly performed. When selecting between varieties of an essential oil. time of harvest. this can result in a bland. as mentioned earlier. Their non-polar. beautiful bouquet of a fine essential oil will contain a myriad of notes.

they won't lie to you! Practice. not just their bottom line.a particular variety. find a source that is dedicated to supplying only the highest grades of oils. All essential oils are subject to similar variations in production methods or the manipulation of their molecular make-ups through the addition of synthetic chemicals. Examine their product's aromatic quality and business practices and so that you are comfortable with their dedication to your health. Listen to your intuition and your own nose. lower quality lavender plants may occasionally be sprayed with linalool before harvest to enhance the production of linalyl acetate by the flowers. To do this. With even more education and skill. While the end-product may smell sweeter. All these oils will be labeled 'Lavender' on the store shelf. it is always best to use true. For the most therapeutic benefit. which may be chemically imbalanced or missing some trace constituents. natural lavender will have a more beautiful. or in your professional practice. Lavender grown at native higher elevations will often produce a greater percentage of linalyl acetate. And your nose knows this! One can tell the difference between a wellmade. and you will continue to detect finer and finer differences in grades of the same variety. and is considered the most holistically healing variety by the world's leading aromatherapy practitioners. and make the best decisions as to which oils will have the most profound therapeutic affects for you. This of course is not true of only lavender essential oil. Further. the process actually creates an imbalance in the overall healing synergy of the primary and trace molecules. you'll start to recognize individual chemicals within an oils aroma. more relaxing oil. complex lavender oil with many notes within the aroma. yet the finer. balanced aromatic bouquet. carefully-made essential oils.com/Article/Practical-Aromatherapy--TheImportance-Of-Essential-Oil-Chemistry/270019#ixzz13cHgxShO Under Creative Commons License: Attribution No Derivatives . which will result in a sweeter. and one that is flat or plain. Final del formulario Read more: http://www.articlesnatch. your family.

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