An essential oil is 'called essential' because it contains the ‘essence’ of a plant’s fragrance. Essential oils are typically collected by steam distillation or cold pressing. These methods extract the essence of a plant’s fragrance – otherwise known as the volatile compounds that give each plant, flower or tree its unique scent. It's the exact same scent as the actual flower or tree, only much more concentrated.
Essential oils are used in aromatherapy to promote health and wellness with the help of these volatile aroma compounds extracted from plants. Countless scientific studies indicate that essential oils have many physiological health benefits. We now know that many oils have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and stimulant properties, for example.
Physiological healing properties aside, essential oils are known for the ability to affect the mind. Interestingly, the sense of smell is directly linked to the limbic brain through the olfactory bulb. This direct link to what could be described as the brain's 'emotional control centre' may explain the ability of scents to evoke strong feelings. Scientific studies have proven that oils such as lavender have the ability to induce a calming effect, among many others.
The research into essential oils is ongoing and new beneficial effects are being discovered. The healing power of fragrant plants has been known for thousands of years, but the modern revival dates back to 1910 when French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé experimented with lavender oil after suffering a bad burn while distilling perfume. Lavender oil's ability to dramatically accelerate the healing of the burn was the starting point of Gattefossé's research into essential oils.
The pharmaceutical industry has extracted ingredients from plants all along, of course. However, in their natural state, essential oils can not be patented because the exact constituents vary by crop, depending on external factor such as the weather or farming practices. Many now believe that the synergistic effect of essential oils in their all-natural form has the power to promote wellness organically.