Essential oils – how they are made, what they contain and why solid expertise in their use is important

Aromatherapy is a sub-area of phytotherapy (herbal medicine) in which the fragrances of the plant, the essential oils, are used. It is a complementary medicine and sees itself as a supplement to other forms of therapy. It does not replace a visit to the doctor or alternative practitioner.

The term “aromatherapy” is only almost 100 years old, but there is evidence that this form of therapy was used thousands of years ago. Resins and woods were used to pay homage to the gods as early as the Stone Age.

Incenses with dried grass, fruits, wood and resins as well as fragrant ointments made from flowers and herbal candles were made by priests and wise women in many cultures and epochs. The Egyptians were already familiar with distillation processes and produced essential oils.
In the 16th century Paracelsus first associated the effects of essential oils with individual ingredients.

There are over 300,000 plant species worldwide, only 2300 of which form essential oils. Most fragrant plants only contain one to two percent essential oils, many even a lot less (up to such low concentrations that commercial exploitation is no longer worthwhile). Here you can see how valuable and precious the plant essences are and that it is worthwhile to use them carefully.

Essential oils are produced by the plant in special oil glands. Depending on the type of plant, these are found on leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit peels and roots, but also in the resins, bark or wood. Different parts of the plant are needed to produce an essential oil.
We need 7000 kg of herb from lemon balm to make 1 kg of essential oil
approx. 4000kg rose petals result in 1kg essential rose oil,
We also press 1kg of essential oil out of 200kg of orange peel.
120kg of lavender flowers produce 1kg of essential lavender oil when steam distilled

The plant makes the essential oils for different purposes:

1. They attract insects and butterflies to pollinate with their scent
2. The germicidal properties of essential oils can cause diseases
be averted
3. With some plants they serve as a means of communication
4. Plants protect their territory with essential oils, they make it more difficult for other plants,
to settle in their vicinity
5. They serve as protection against too much UV radiation or water evaporation; a gaseous one
A veil of protection wraps around their leaves or needles
6. You protect yourself from predators

Essential oils are highly volatile (this is where the term “essential” – ether comes from), fat-soluble (although they do not contain fats and leave no grease marks on paper), organic mixtures of substances.

From a pharmacological point of view, essential oils are mixtures of many substances. Rose oil, for example, contains up to 400 different molecules. This also explains why this complex fragrance can only be approximated synthetically and often smells a bit flat or soapy.

Essential oils consist of a large number of different ingredients. For some of them there are already scientifically founded areas of application. The versatility of the herbal essences, however, is revealed by the interplay of the individual ingredients. Properties of essential oils cannot only be derived from the individual substances. Strong synergetic effects make every oil something in its own right.

Chemically speaking, most of the active ingredients consist of terpenes. Terpenes are hydrocarbon compounds. (C atoms combine with H atoms)

Monoterpenes consist of 10 carbon atoms (C atoms). They are very small molecules and volatile. They penetrate the skin particularly quickly. They can easily be obtained by steam distillation and are therefore found in many of our essential oils and often in larger quantities. Depending on the arrangement of the C and H atoms, there are other properties, specific fragrance characters and other areas of application.

In the case of oils with a high monoterpene content, it is particularly important to ensure that they are stored properly. Oxygen, light and heat quickly clog them and cause them to oxidize. The resulting breakdown products can cause skin irritation. That is why we use citrus oils such as orange and grapefruit only when they are fresh on the skin and never undiluted. If the bottle has been open for a few months, the oil is still used as a room fragrance.
Essential oils with a high monoterpene content have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, warming and stimulating effects. They have a positive effect on the vegetative nervous system and have a modulating effect on adrenal activity, which explains their cortisone-like effect. Monoterpenes have an antibacterial and antiviral effect and strengthen our immune system. We are happy to use them in room sprays during the cooler season.
On the psychological level, essential oils with a high monoterpene content promote concentration, mentally stimulate and mildly relieve anxiety.

Monoterpenes occur in high concentrations in the above-mentioned citrus scents (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot) and in softwood oils (red spruce, silver fir, pine, cypress, cedar, Douglas fir).

Sesquiterpenes have 5 more carbon atoms and the corresponding hydrogen atoms than monoterpenes and are accordingly larger, less reactive and less volatile. This also means that they are not that easy to distill from the plant. They are often found in smaller concentrations or only in traces in our essential oils.
In contrast to the monoterpenes, they are extremely skin-friendly and true soul comforters. Essential oils with a high sesquiterpene content belong in every skin cream. They soothe and care for sensitive, irritated, reddened or allergy-prone skin. Some sesquiterpenes can have a regulating effect on the release of histamine and thus provide relief from hay fever.
Sesquiterpenes give our psyche power, strength and self-confidence. They regulate various hormones and messenger substances in our brain and body and are specialists in psychosomatic complaints.
They occur in high concentrations, for example in the essential oils of ginger, cedar, blue chamomile and lemon balm.

The carbon atoms can form further bonds. If, for example, an oxygen atom docks onto a carbon atom instead of a hydrogen atom, further groups of active substances result:

Name of active ingredient group:Effect, area of application:Examples äth. Oils:
Monoterpene and sesquiterpene alcohols)
Very skin- friendly and caring, immune -stimulating, have an effect on the hormonal system, promote mental equilibriumLavender fine rose geranium thyme linalool carrot seeds patchouli
(Occur almost exclusively as monoterpene aldehydes)
Lemon-like scent Sensitive to light and air , pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal, stimulates the circulationEucalyptus citriodora Lemongrass Litsea Lemon Balm
Monoterpene and sesquiterpene ketones
Supports the scarring process and wound healing , liquefies mucus on the respiratory tract . Spasmolytic (anti-spasmodic) effectNano mint peppermint
Rosemary CT Camphor
(Occur almost exclusively as monoterpene oxides, the most important representative of this group is 1.8 cineol)
Cleansing and removal function for the upper respiratory tract , anti-inflammatory on the mucous membrane and bronchial tubes Awaken the spirits , mentally stimulatingCajeput
Eucalyptus radiata Ravintsara Niaouli
Rosemary cineole
(Monoterpene and sesquiterpene esters)
Holistically relaxing, sleep-promoting, hormone-modulating and regulating, relaxing, balancing and regulating serotonin levelsBergamot, spruce, Siberian, red clary sage

The tiny molecules of the fragrant helpers reach the oldest part of our brain, called the limbic system, via the sense of smell. Feelings, emotions, instincts and drives are processed in this area of the brain. This is how we use essential oils to influence our psyche and our emotional wellbeing.

The essential oils are also absorbed directly through the skin. The individual molecules are detected in the blood just 15-20 minutes after being rubbed in. There they can increase our well-being in different ways. Some ingredients have a calming effect, others stimulate, many relieve pain or relax muscles, they can influence complex processes such as our immune system or hormones.