Essential oil is achieved by distillation of plant materials such as grasses, leaves, flowers, needles & twigs, peel of fruit, wood and roots. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Vocabulary of Natural Materials (ISO/D1S9235.2) applies the following definition to essential oil:

"An essential oil is a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase."

When reviewing an essential oil description the method of extraction should always be provided. This vital piece of information serves to advise of the particular method by which the essential oil was achieved.

The methods of extraction to produce an essential oil, or absolute concentrate, depend on the plant part being used:

  • Expeller Pressed (usually for nuts and seeds)
  • Cold Pressed (usually for peel or rind)
  • Heat Steam Distillation (usually for bark, twigs, leaves, roots)
  • Solvent Extraction (usually for delicate flower petals)
  • CO2 or Hexane Free Solvent Extraction (usually for delicate flower petals)
  • Enfleurage (usually for delicate flower petals)

Botanical Names

Disclosure of the botanical (Latin) name of a plant is also important to distinguish the originating species of a plant used in its essential oil production. Although it's safe to say most people are familiar with the fragrance of Lavender, there are many species of Lavender each with beautiful unique aromas. With different plant origins also comes varying differences in their fragrance profile. Certain varieties of Lavender are best described as soft while others within the same genus are bold.

The variable degrees of fragrance notes are uniquely specific to individual plant species. Knowing the difference of plant species within a genus lets you know when purchasing essential oils online, and not being present to actually smell the oil, of what to expect. This is why essential oil product descriptions must include this necessary information. Using Lavender as an example from the genus Lavendula there are several species such as:

  • Lavender (France): Lavandula dentate
  • Lavender (Bulgaria) (aka English Lavender): Lavandula angustifolia
  • Lavender Spike (France/Spain): Lavandula latifolia
Due to the different species of the genus Lavandula, the addition of "country of origin" is information that should be included in the accurate presentation of an essential oil description. With more and more farmers growing plants outside of their indigenous area for essential oil production, proper disclosure of growth origin provides the exact location the plant was grown, as well as where it was processed into essential oil, both of which play an important role when determining fragrant notes and quality.

The inclusion of "organic" in an essential oil description is chiefly for aromatherapy practitioner reasons whereby an organic product is often their preferred choice. Organic recognition assures that the plant used was organically farmed 'and' organically processed. Due to the costs associated with organic growing of the originating plant coupled with the organic processing into an essential oil you will find these are priced higher. Manufacturers of commercial products who wish to have their end product certified organic should be using organic essential oil(s) in the ingredients.  This is necessary in order to meet NOP (National Organic Program) and USDA organic ingredient percentage requirements to warrant the granting of organic certification of the specific product through an audit trail.

Non organic essential oil has many uses as well, especially for those seeking general use purposes or manufacturers that are not going to create a certified organic end product, but who wish to produce a true aromatherapy product with all-natural ingredients.

Determining Quality & Authenticity

When researching for essential oil, one should first look at three specific details.  
  • Genus and Species used (botanical (Latin) name)
  • Specific plant part used
  • Method of extraction
The more information provided in an essential oil's descriptive profile the better, including but not limited to aroma, fragrant note, what other essential oils it blends harmoniously with, therapeutic properties, and contraindications, just to name a few.  Looking at the profile of pure lavender essential oil shows an excellent example of information that should be included in an essential oil description.
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