A Guide to Botanical Oils and Extracts

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    With the push for holistic health, it’s no surprise that the market for botanical oils is booming and only expected to keep growing. However, with the ever-increasing popularity of botanicals, there will naturally be some confusion about the essential facts related to them. To eliminate confusion, a guide to botanical oils and extracts is in order.

    Botanical Oils

    Botanical oils, also known as essential oils, are what users typically think of when they think of botanical products. These liquids are highly concentrated and volatile, and they have more potent aromas than extracts.

    Extraction Methods

    Creating oils is far more complicated than creating extracts. Several methods are available for extracting essential oils. Some of the major methods include:

    • Steam distillation: Extractors place plants in a sill and use hot steam to extract the oils.
    • Cold-pressing: Extractors peel fruits and press them to release oils from the rinds.
    • Solvent extraction: Extractors use solvents such as ethanol or supercritical CO2 to dissolve plant matter and remove oils.

    Each method has its own benefits. Cold-pressing is best for extracting oils from fruits. Steam distillation is popular because it can be done with relative ease. However, in some instances, this method is too harsh on the plants themselves, in which case solvent extraction is the best choice.

    A Note on Dilution

    Because of the potency of essential oils, users should exercise some caution before putting them directly on the skin or ingesting them. Most oils come with a recommendation for how much the user should dilute them before use.

    Botanical Extracts

    The key differences between botanical oils and extracts are that extracts are far less concentrated and that they include plant matter as well. Although some of their properties are subdued, extracts still contain health benefits, only in milder liquids.

    Extraction Methods

    As we mentioned, creating extracts is simpler than creating oils. For reference, it’s useful to imagine making tea. In this method, the plant matter is steeped in a liquid for an extended time. The plant’s essence seeps into the liquid, filling it with desirable compounds. This liquid is known as an infusion. If a 50% alcohol-based solution is used as the liquid, then the extract produced is considered a tincture.

    Uses of Botanicals

    Aromatherapy

    The most common use of botanicals is aromatherapy. Simply put, aromatherapy capitalizes on the effects that scent has on mood by using scent to bring calm or focus to an individual. Typically, one accomplishes this by placing the botanicals in a diffuser.

    Topical Application

    Both oils and extracts are known for providing a number of benefits for the skin, such as moisturization, clearing acne, and anti-aging properties. Because extracts are gentler on skin, it’s often recommended to use them for this purpose. Oils can be used for skin, too, but in diluted amounts.