What is an Essential Oil?

You’ve likely heard about essential oils and maybe you’re curious about them. But if you’re wondering, what is an essential oil and what the heck do I do with it? then stay tuned – this post serves as the first in a series on essential oils for beginners.

Over the next few posts, I’ll show you how you can use essential oils safely, what you can use them for (hint: they offer so much more than a pretty smell!), how to find quality essential oils and tips for buying them on a budget. Of course, there will be plenty of fun oil recipes along the way!

I first started using essential oils hoping they would help relieve these terrible stomach aches I was getting on a daily basis. Not only did I notice pain relief when I started using them, but ultimately, they helped me feel less stressed, which seemed to be the root of the tummy aches. Needless to say, I became hooked.

Ever since, I’ve been exploring the many emotional effects of essential oils and enjoying some surprising physical benefits, like bug bite relief and even hangover relief! These oils have played a big part in helping me live more naturally and vibrantly, and I’m excited to share with you all of the wonderful ways they can enhance our lives.

But first, what is an essential oil?

Essential Oils 101

Essential oils are made up of naturally occurring, volatile aromatic compounds found in plants. They come from all parts of a plant – seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and berries. And just as they work to heal a plant – protecting it from insects and harsh environments – essential oils can also work to heal the human body.

The oils are extracted from plants through distillation, typically by steam or water. This results in beautiful and powerful fragrances of oils that are meant not only to smell pretty but can be used for health, beauty and even cooking.

What is an essential oil? Find out all about these powerful healers in this post!

These compounds in essential oils are called volatile because they change state quickly. The physical and chemical properties allow the compounds to move quickly through the air and directly interact with our olfactory senses in the nose.

Scents and compounds in the essential oils impact our brains in different ways, ultimately affecting our moods. This is why your massage therapist or yoga instructor diffuses essential oils, helping to get you in a relaxed mood and state of mind.

The different volatile aromatic compounds that make up an essential oil determines the oil’s scent and benefits it delivers. For example, Frankincense has a composition of 8% sesquiterpenes and 78% monoterpenes. Sesquiterpenes are one of the few chemical constituents that have the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and increase oxygen to the brain. This is why Frankincense is such a powerful essential oil for promoting health and cellular function, among many other things. Read the benefits and uses of Frankincense oil here.


Distillation gives us a highly concentrated portion of essential oil. When you first open a bottle of an essential oil, you notice right away that the aroma is potent and you can smell it typically even from some distance. Their potency is why just a drop or two is so effective.

Concentrating the oils is what separates the most powerful healing compounds of a plant into a single oil. For example, it takes 65 pounds of rose petals to get 1 single 15ml bottle of rose essential oil!

What is an essential oil? Find out all about these powerful healers in this post!

Essential oils are 50-70 times more powerful than herbs, which are also great natural healers. For example, 1 drop of Peppermint essential oil is the equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea. 28!! When you use Peppermint oil to help with pain relief, you can feel its effects instantly.


One single drop of an essential oil contains 40 million trillion molecules. These chemical compounds service every cell of the body in a matter of minutes, providing versatile support for our bodies.

For example, Lavender essential oil has the ability to soothe our emotions and support us in sleeping restfully, but it can also relieve burns, calm irritated skin and combat seasonal threats! And the complexity of these oils means that developing resistance to them is highly unlikely.

What is an essential oil? Find out all about these powerful healers in this post!

A Brief History of Essential Oils

Plants have actually been used for their medicinal properties for over 5,000 years. Additionally, they’ve been used in different cultures in spiritual rituals, marriage ceremonies, cosmetics and many aspects of human life.

Back in 1928, a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, healed a burn on his hand using lavender oil. He then analyzed the oil’s properties even deeper to see just what else the plant’s constituents were capable of. Thus became the science we know as aromatherapy.

What is an essential oil? Find out all about these powerful healers in this post!

The chemist started helping injured soldiers during World War I, and the use of oils began spreading throughout Europe. Massage therapists, beauticians and practitioners of alternative medicine started using aromatherapy in their practices. It wasn’t until the 1980s when aromatherapy became more popular in the United States, as essential oils were added to candles, lotions and perfumes.

Today, concerned individuals are beginning to explore more natural ways to take back their health. Scientists, physicians and researchers are discovering the amazing benefits that pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils have to offer.

What’s Next?

To sum up, a bottle of essential oil contains the most powerful chemical constituents extracted from plants that provide healing and protective benefits to our bodies. However, you can’t trust every bottle you come across in the market. In the next post, I’ll show you what to look for in the quality of essential oil products and how to find pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils (and what the heck that means). Stay tuned!

Don’t miss the next post in the Essential Oils 101 series! Subscribe to the email list to be notified when the next post is published. 

P.S. What questions do you have about essential oils? Ask your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them in an upcoming post!

For more oily topics, check out these posts:

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