Essential Oils: What Are They, Anyway?

The aromatic foundation of aromatherapy

You’ve heard about aromatherapy and that it can play an important roll in supporting your natural health and wellness goals.  And, you know that aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils.  But, just exactly what are essential oils, anyway?

What essential oils are not

To understand this, you first have to understand what they are not.

→ Essential oils are not merely a scented oil

First of all, it’s very important that you understand that essential oils are not merely scented oils — like what you get with Glade® PlugIns® Scented Oil.  Real essential oils are not made by mixing chemicals into an oil base to create a specific fragrance.  They’re natural substances, carefully distilled from organic plant materials, and are naturally both lipid and fragrant. Unfortunately, most oils sold on the market today don’t match that definition.  They’re either synthetically fabricated, poorly distilled, cut or chemically adulterated.  They’re essentially toxic substances, with no therapeutic value. If your goal is a natural health and wellness solution that will help you to feel a greater sense of well-being and improve the quality of your life, these will not do.  They may be fragrant — they may even smell great (to an untrained, chemically-oriented nose) — but they lack the therapeutic properties of a quality oil.  No chemist has ever been able to duplicate the therapeutic potential of a therapeutic-grade essential oil.

→ Essential oils are not a vegetable oil or essential fatty acid

You also need to understand that essential oils are not the same as essential fatty acids (EFAs).  They are not fish or vegetable oils — such as flax seed oil, corn oil, peanut oil or olive oil — and are not a source of the omega fatty acids.

Essential oils have significant differences from vegetable oils:

    • First of all, they are not greasy, and do not clog the pores like vegetable oils can.
    • Secondly, they have a much more complex chemical structure, giving them many therapeutic properties not found in vegetable oils.

→ Essential oils are not the same as flower essences

Nor should essential oils be confused with flower essences — such as the Bach Flower Remedies.  Flower essences are extremely dilute, and work mainly through the flower’s essential energy, on an emotional level.  Essential oils, on the other hand, are extremely concentrated and, while working partly through the energy of the plant material, they have the added benefits of a complex chemistry, a deep and complex aroma, and a potent frequency, all of which powerfully support your health at every level: mentally, emotionally and physically.

→ Essential oils are not drugs

And lastly, essential oils are not drugs.  They don’t have FDA approval, and health claims can’t be made about them.

It is also important to bear in mind that, unlike drugs, there is no one-to-one connection between a health issue and an oil.  Aromatherapy is part of a holistic approach to health and wellness, functioning as a support to your health and wellness goals, promoting healthy function of different body systems; but it may require changes over the totality of your life to achieve those wellness goals.

Essential oils work to bring the body into balance, so things work as they should.

Concentration of essential oils

Unlike flower essences, which are measured in parts per million, essential oils are actually many times more potent than dried herbs.  The distillation of the entire plant may produce only a single drop of oil.  For example, it takes:

  • 5,000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of rose oil;
  • 6,000 pounds of melissa flowers and leaves to produce one pound of melissa oil.  (This is why melissa oil sells for between $9,000 and $15,000 per kilo.)

But, since essential oils are so concentrated, you use only a few drops of an oil to obtain the desired effect.


So, just what are essential oils?

Most basically, essential oils are natural substances, carefully distilled from organic plant materials.  They are sometimes called “essences”, because they represent the essence of the plant.  More specifically, essential oils are subtle, volatile, aromatic liquids distilled from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes and seeds.  They’re what give flowers their scent, and herbs and spices their flavor and aroma.

If you take the rind of an orange and squeeze it, a fine mist will spray out.  That’s the essential oil of the orange.

Basic characteristics of essential oils

There are a few basic characteristics that all essential oils have in common.  These include:

  • The ability to penetrate cell membranes, and diffuse throughout the blood and tissues.  The unique, lipid-soluble structure of essential oils is very similar to the makeup of our cell membranes, allowing them to travel trans-cellularly (that is: directly through the cells) into the interstitial fluids of the body.
  • Molecules that are also relatively small, enhancing their ability to easily penetrate into the cells.  When topically applied to the feet, or elsewhere, essential oils can travel throughout the body, reaching every cell in the body within 20 minutes, often producing their effect within three seconds of application.

When distilled and used in aromatherapy, essential oils provide the user with many health-enhancing benefits.

What is the make-up of an essential oil?

Essential oils are far from simple substances.  In fact, very few people appreciate how chemically complex they really are.  An essential oil might contain hundreds — even thousands — of chemical constituents, each acting synergistically to provide important pieces to the therapeutic properties of the oil.

And, being aromatic, essential oils also contain oxygenating molecules, which act as catalysts, transporting oxygen and nutrients to the cells.  However, they do more than merely transport these substances to the cell.  Without oxygen, nutrients cannot penetrate the cell membrane, and therefore, cannot be assimilated.  But, the oxygenating molecules in the oils actually increase the delivery of nutrients into the cells, and can help the body receive and assimilate nutrients, to maintain optimum health and wellness.

Essential Oils and Frequency

However, one of the most interesting aspects of essential oils is their frequency.  The connection of the essential oils in the plant to chi — as in acupuncture and tai chi chuan — is significant.  The tai chi masters and acupuncturists often speak of the chi in plants, selecting herbs and foods on the basis of the electro-energy contained in them.  It’s this electro-frequency in the herbs and foods that make them beneficial in the support of the various body systems.

The same is true of essential oils.

Gary Young, a naturopathic doctor, and the man who has done more than anyone else to bring the therapeutic benefits of essential oils to the attention of Americans, first became interested in essential oils as a way to raise the frequency in his patients’ systems, without the use of unnatural means — like electrical stimulation, used by many chiropractors who do acupuncture in their practices.  He saw a report on some research being done by another doctor, and was intrigued by the implications of what he read.  He started working with the oils, and found that essential oils really do have the ability to raise the frequency — or chi — of a person, helping him/her to regain and/or maintain a greater measure of wellness.  I have found this to be true in my personal use of the oils, as well.  Applying the oils topically has the same capacity to raise my energy levels as doing a round of tai chi.

However, the idea of frequency in essential oils is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Rather than thinking of this frequency as an electrical buzz — as one might assume from using the oils as an alternative to electrical stimulation therapies — it would be better to think of it as a “fundamental harmonic”.  It is something like a guitar string: plucking the string will give you a base note; but above that note, there are many harmonic tones that are also stirred.  Combine the guitar string with the resonant qualities of the guitar, and you create sympathetic vibrations, or vibrational energy transfer.  Essential oils work in something like this manner to restore harmony and balance to body systems, the mind and the emotions.


And so, from this we see that essential oils are chemically complex, subtle aromatic liquids distilled from plant sources that bring benefits to the human body through the actions of their fragrance, their individual chemical constituents, their aromatic, oxygenating molecules and by the enhancement of our body frequencies.  Their actions are normalizing and balancing to the whole person: physically, mentally and emotionally.

Although not approved by the FDA, the potential of essential oils to enhance every aspect of life are impossible to imagine, if you’ve never tried them.  They are life-transforming.  I can’t imagine life without them.

A word about frequencies of essential oils

Some experts believe that essential oils have the highest frequency of any known natural substance.  This frequency, it is stated, is several times greater than those of herbs and foods.

It has been claimed that essential oils have frequencies that start at about 52 Hz and go as high as 320 Hz — the general frequency of rose oil.  (For purposes of comparison, fresh produce has up to 15 Hz, dry herbs from 12 to 22 Hz, and fresh herbs from 20 to 27 Hz.)  However, the studies that were the basis for these claims have not been duplicable, and the credentials of the person conducting them have come into question.

So, while the general premise of essential oils having a frequency that can be beneficial as a therapeutic tool may have some validity, trying to work out the specific frequencies of specific oils is not worth the trouble.  It would be much more beneficial to work from the perspective of the essential oils’ chemistry, and their therapeutic benefits for your health.