Why Essential Oils are Essential
By Joan Apter, Aromacologist

For over 5,000 years, people have worn perfumes, burnt incense and used aromatic plants with oil-bearing qualities to enhance the human experience. Although the term “aromatherapy” is new to many, the practice of using aromatic essential oils to influence the mind and the emotions, is indeed a true and ancient art.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the subtle, aromatic and volatile life-force extracted from the flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark and roots of herbs, bushes, shrubs and trees, through steam distillation under low pressure and low temperature.

Like human beings, they are alive, both chemically and electrically. They have a direct effect on the brain through the olfactory system and skin absorption. Serving the same function as human blood, essential oils are the regenerating and oxygenating properties of the plant kingdom.

Essential oils are important in bringing oxygen and nutrients to the cells and assist in the efficient disposal of carbon dioxide and other waste products.  Oils enhance brain wave function, improve spiritual awareness and bring about a beautiful balance to the body. Essential oils contain a frequency that is several times greater than the frequency of herbs and food. There is not a single part of the human body and brain that is not balanced by the action of essential oils.

Aromatherapy is the art and science of the use and application of essential oils for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance.

A short history of Essential Oils

Many writings tell us the distillation of aromatic plants was used over 5000 years ago. Some say that Aromatherapy began in China, some say India. According to papyrus found in the Temple of Edfu, dating back to 4500 BC, the Egyptians were using fragrant oils for rituals and ceremony. Three oils used in the embalming process were cedarwood, myrrh and frankincense. Well-preserved oils were found in alabaster jars in King Tut’s tomb.

According to the Bible, the three wise men brought the oils of frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. In those days, frankincense was considered more precious than gold.

There are 188 references to oils in the Bible, such as frankincense, myrrh, rosemary hyssop and spikenard.

During the 20th century, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a perfumer in Grasse, France, coined the term "aromatherapy."  In 1928, he published his first book on aromatherapy.

Another French doctor, Jean Valnet, began to use essential oils  during the Second World War. Valnet first published his book, "Aromatherapie" in 1964.

For over 40 years essential oils have been researched in Germany, Switzerland, France and England. 

Now, in the 21st Century, the rediscovery of the attributes of essential oils are being enjoyed by people all over the globe. Why do they work?

1. Properties and Characteristics

Essential oils are chemically complex mixtures that can contain hundreds to thousands of different chemical constituents.

On average, an essential oil contains one hundred chemical components such as terpenes, alcohol's, esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols. Lavender oil contains 160 components while rose oil contains 137. 

2. Frequency

The effectiveness of essential oils cannot be fully understood without some discussion of frequency. Frequency is the measurable rate of electrical energy flow that is constant between any two points. Everything has frequency. Dr. Robert O. Becker in his book, “The Body Electric,” establishes that the human body has an electrical frequency.

In 1992, Bruce Tainio of Tainio Technology, an independent division of Eastern State University in Cheny, Washington, built the first frequency monitor in the world. Tainio has determined that the average frequency of the human body during the daytime is 62 - 68 Hz. (A healthy body frequency is 62 - 72 Hz.)

Processed/canned food has a frequency of zero. Fresh produce has up to 15 Hz, dried herbs from 12 to 22 Hz and fresh herbs from 20 to 27 Hz. Essential oils start at 52 Hz and go as high as 320 Hz, which is the frequency of rose oil. Clinical research shows that essential oils have the highest frequency of any natural substance known to man.

3. Lipid-Soluble

Essential oils are soluble in lipids, or fats, which is why they are easily absorbed through the skin.  Essential oils stay in the body about 20 minutes to two hours, and leave no residuals. While oils are not accumulative in the body, their frequency and effect is cumulative. Their effects can last up to 5 months.

4. The Brain Connection

The olfactory bulb, which is just above the top of the nose, is actually a part of the brain that extends from the limbic system. The limbic system of the brain, often called the "back brain" or "reptilian brain" is the seat of memory and emotion. Essential oils connect directly into the hippocampus and amygdala areas of the limbic system. In 1989 it was discovered that the amygdala plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma. The only way to stimulate this gland is with fragrance, or the sense of smell. This is why essential oils may play a major role in our effort to release negative emotions.

How to Use Essential Oils

1. Diffuse

Essential oils are highly aromatic and therefore, many of the benefits can be obtained by simply inhaling them. You can rub the oil on the palms of your hands and inhale, or they can be diffused into the room.

Essential oils, when diffused, can be the best air filtration system in the world.

Heat is one enemy of essential oils. The “diffusers” often found in the stores with candles and lamps destroy the chemical constituents of a therapeutic essential oil. I recommend using a diffuser with an air pump and a glass nebulizer, which shatters the essential oil molecules into a micro-fine mist, leaving all of its therapeutic value intact.

2. Massage

Massage or therapeutic touch is balancing for our physical and emotional needs. When essential oils are combined with massage, the benefits are numerous. The oils create peace and tranquillity and bring about keen mental awareness. Massage with essential oils opens and increases the flow of energy, balances the body and brings relaxation. 

3. Internal Application

I would never recommend taking any essential oil internally until you have verified the absolute purity of the product from independent lab studies!!  We should never use essential oils as medicines. Always consult an experienced essential oil practitioner before taking any oil internally. 

Distillation and oil Purity

There are approximately 400 essential oils distilled today, 100 of which are used in aromatherapy.

It is of primary importance to know the quality of the essential oil you are using. High pressure, high temperatures, rapid processing and the use of solvents or any other chemical will fracture the oil molecule, destroying its value and altering the fragrance.

Before you purchase an oil, be sure that the company knows the origins of its oils and can produce gas chromatograms from an independent lab of each oil as proof of their purity. . Often a supplier will extract a particular chemical component of an oil and sell it to the perfume industry. It then replaces it with a synthetic chemical component and sells it to the more gullible American essential oil buyers, who then pass it on in the marketplace as a “pure” essential oil, which it is not. Synthetic, adulterated oils can cause allergies, rashes and burns. I cannot vouch for the purity of the oils in the health food and specialty shops.

Producing the purest of oils is very costly and may require several hundred or thousands of pounds of plants to extract one pound of oil. The preciousness of an essential oil reflects the amount of work it takes to extract the oil. To produce one pound of Peppermint, 35-40 pounds of plant are required. Lavender requires 175-250 pounds of plant, while it takes,5000 pounds of rose petals to distill one pound of oil. (Sixty thousand rose blossoms are required to produce one ounce of rose oil!) The jasmine flower must be picked by hand in the early morning of the first day they open. It takes eight million handpicked jasmine blossoms to produce 2.2 pounds of oil, being one of the most expensive oils on the market. The sandalwood tree must be thirty years old and thirty feet high before it is cut for distillation. Melissa requires three tons of plants to produce one pound of oil, which sells for $9,000 to $15,000!


The educated use of essential oils supports the burgeoning trend of individuals who want to maintain vibrant wellness. According to a recent survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly 40% of Americans utilize alternative medicine services. Visits to alternative practitioners were up 50% (689 million), nearly twice that of visits to primary care MD’s (386 million.) The natural products industry has reached 20 billion in annual sales.

Daniel Penoel, MD, in his book, ”Natural Home Health Care Using Essential Oils” states, ”Essential oils are carriers of life force, builders of vigor and strength and generators of calm and joy. They contribute powerfully to achieving and maintaining authentic and profound global health”.

I invite you to enjoy this miracle from nature’s pharmacy!


Joan Apter Aromatherapy Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved