Imagine the healing power of hundreds of plants concentrated into a single drop. That’s what you’re getting with essential oils. They’re like the modern version of a restorative walk in nature. But our lifestyles leave us little time to wander forests or relax by a lake, while shoving mountains of stress down our throats. With essential oils, you can bring some of nature’s peace and relaxation into your life, without setting a foot outside, no matter what life throws your way.
What Are Essential Oils and How Are They Made?
Essential oils are known as “essential” because they contain the essence of a plant’s distinctive and unique fragrance—all of its volatile aroma compounds, where much of a plant’s potency is locked.
There are several ways these aromatic compounds can be extracted: steam distillation, expression, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, absolute oil extraction, resin tapping and cold pressing. At ZenSense, we choose oils that have been steam distilled or cold pressed: the gentler methods of extraction.
An overview of the steam distillation process (source)
Raw plant materials (leaves, roots, seeds, peel, flowers, bark) are placed in anything ranging from an alembic to a large tank over water (think science lab: beakers and glass bottles to large tubes and coils). As the water heats, steam envelops the plant and vaporizes its aromatic compounds.
This vapor passes through a coil surrounded by cold water and condenses back to liquid form. A very tiny portion of that condensation becomes an oil which floats to the top of the chamber. It is this oil that contains the plants most potent healing properties that we use as our essential oil.
Too much heat can sometimes deteriorate oils, reducing or destroying their healing potential. For this reason, cold pressing is a great way of extracting the essence from a plant because the combination of grinding, pressing and low heat preserves its powerful properties. This works especially well with any peel-based plant such as oranges but doesn't preserve the aromatic strength of other leafy plants as well.
Calm Your Senses with Essential Oils
Our modern lives are fraught with stress. To-do lists, deadlines, coffee, stroppy colleagues, long cramped commutes, bills, more coffee, rushing from place to place, and so on. The result is a state of mind that is so chaotic that you sometimes can’t hear yourself think. This is the moment a walk in nature is called for.
Indeed, studies prove that those with access to natural settings are calmer, healthier, and happier with their overall life, than people who do not spend time in nature.[i] Unfortunately, most of us simply don’t have the luxury of being able to pop out into the countryside every day. And this is where essential oils come into their own.
When you inhale essential oils, you are inhaling the plant’s concentrated aroma compounds. A little bit like breathing in the healing essence of nature from a small bottle! You can connect with the relaxing, presence-enhancing properties of a natural environment from the comfort of your home.
Different essential oils provide different benefits. For example, lavender is unbeaten when it comes to soothing you to sleep; sage will relieve you of a cough and ease your breathing; rosemary soothes stress and stimulates focus.
How to Get the Most from Your Essential Oils
Inhalation is the best way to use your essential oils, for two main reasons. Firstly, your olfactory sense (your sense of smell) communicates directly with areas in your brain that deal with emotions, hormones and your immune system.[ii]
Secondly, the healing compounds from inhaled essential oils pass into the bronchi, then through to the finer bronchioles before ending up deep into the lungs’ microscopic sac-like alveoli where they pass into your blood stream and can easily reach your central nervous system.
You can simply waft a bottle of essential oil under your nose and breathe in gently—but the aroma may be too strong and overwhelming this way. The best way to feel the benefits, is by using a diffuser.
One of those bad boys will vaporize the essential oil into the air around you, resulting in a subtle pleasing scent that will uplift your mood and help you quieten your mind. You can also use your diffuser as a tool to purify the air of germs and bacteria.
So, if you feel like you need a little calm in your life but haven’t got the time for long nature walks, essential oils will bring the soothing, healing, calming power of nature into your home!
[i] Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S. (1989) The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York. (p. 173)