Distilling the 'Therapy' in Aromatherapy
The word aromatherapy is often used loosely these days, though when picking oils for true therapeutic purposes it’s vital to use the highest quality available. There are a lot of companies using the term “therapeutic grade” when describing their oils – something we did until very recently – though we would rather you understand what it takes to make a high quality oil, marketing hype aside.
At Eden Botanicals we take pride in offering you 100% pure, high quality essential oils at fair and affordable prices. We source oils from around the globe, and look for those distillers that follow the protocol necessary in producing such quality oils. First, a plant needs to be grown and harvested under certain conditions in order to assure the proper therapeutic constituents are present in the end product. Then, a great deal of care goes into the production of the plants, the distillation process and the after-care of the oil. The following criteria are what we look for when sourcing our oils:
High quality aromatherapy oils are grown from crops using seeds or root stocks that are true to species, subspecies, cultivar or variety, and chemotype. The plants may be cultivated on small, independently owned farms or from larger farms and plantations. Whether or not they have been grown using organic methods, it is vital that they are grown in healthy soil and tended with care. Another way to source quality plants is from their natural habitat. It is important that when choosing those from a wildcrafted source that selective harvesting is used. This sustainability practice assures that the plants continue to propagate and thrive on their own.
Correct timing for harvesting cultivated or wildcrafted plants ensures the quality of fresh plant material, optimal yield of oil, and the desired proportions of constituents within the oil. The quality of an oil can even depend on the time of day it is harvested, especially with such delicate flowers as Jasmine and Rose. During the harvest, whether by hand or by machine, it is important that only the desired plant material is gathered without collecting other plants or weeds that may be growing in the area. Optimally, distillation takes place on the premises, or the plant material may be carefully transported to another location. Some plants or plant parts need to be distilled quickly after harvesting, while other plant material can wait, and certain plants need to be sorted or cleaned before being distilled. In any case, the process needs to be monitored by someone who is knowledgeable and performed correctly for that specific plant type.
It is necessary that the distiller be knowledgeable and experienced with essential oil production to assure that the distillation process is correctly and carefully controlled. Typically, small batches of plant material in relatively small distillation units are used to create high-quality, true essential oils. An end product may be the result of one oil distillation, or a combination of multiple oil distillations. It is important when combining the oils from multiple distillations that the quality of the oil remains consistent batch to batch.
In contrast, cheaper and lesser quality oils are produced in larger units, using higher heat to expedite the process. This compromises many of the valuable constituents naturally found in the plant and necessary for optimal therapeutic benefits. These lower quality oils are usually made in large batches from many different distillations and are combined with minimal concern during the blending process. This means that different varieties – or even related species or subspecies – may be combined together. Oils from a wide geographic range may also be combined. Once this happens, the true and authentic oil is lost.
The distillation process is a demanding job that requires a high level of experience and practical skill. A good analogy is a wine maker who uses their knowledge of science, technique and equipment to create premium vintage wine.
Care must be taken in handling the end product of the distillation. Some oils require more after care than others, such as aeration to bring out the best possible aroma. There can also be a "pot", "off", or "still" note following even a well-executed distillation for some oils. To remove the offending note and bring out the true aroma of the oil, a period of airing out is required. Some oils, such as Patchouli and Sandalwood, require aging to improve the aroma. These post-distillation processes can take days, weeks or even months, which increase the cost of the final product. It is also important that no water remains in the essential oil and that the storage containers are new, clean, and made of the right material for that particular oil.
Finally, the oil is properly labeled, dated, stored, and analyzed prior to marketing and transporting. This assures that the oil is traceable back to its origin, something that is required for good quality control. And please remember, proper storage doesn’t end there. Once we receive the oils in house they are kept in a cool, dark, climate controlled room, and if necessary, refrigerated. This is also important for you to apply when storing your oils at home or in your facility. Citrus oils, for instance, stay fresher longer if refrigerated.
So there you have it. Regardless of how you see oils presented in the marketplace, it’s important to know where they come from to assure you receive a high quality oil. If you would like to read more about why we no longer use the term “therapeutic grade” when describing our oils, please see the article, “Therapeutic Grade: A Marker for Oil Quality, or Marketing Hype?”. Thank you, and happy blending!