Aromatic plants

Aromatic plants are plants capable of producing an essence. Among the 800,000 vegetable species, only approximately 10% have this ability. Depending on the species, the essence-secreting glands can be located in the flowering tops, the seeds, the fruits, the flowers, the leaves, the rhizomes, the roots, the wood, the bark or the oleoresin.

The only aromatic plants from which the essence can be directly extracted are citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits, mandarins, etc.). This extraction is carried out by cold expression of the fresh rinds. In this case, the term “essence” is used (orange essence, lemon essence, etc). For other aromatic plants, the extraction takes place through steam distillation of the essence-secreting organs. In that case, the term “essential oil” is used.

The essence can generally be found in several organs of the plant but in varying proportions. Only those parts of the plant where the essence is most concentrated are harvested, and then put through the distillation process.  The quantity of vegetable material required is often significant, which explains the exorbitant price of certain essential oils. That being said, essential oils are extremely concentrated in active ingredients and a minimal quantity of essential oil (one drop in certain cases) can be sufficient to achieve optimum efficacy.

The same aromatic plant can produce essences of completely different composition in its various organs (for example, the essence contained in the bitter orange’s rind is different from the one present in its flowers or its leaves) or depending on the geographical location or biotope (soil composition, climatic conditions, altitude, surrounding plants, etc.) in which it is cultivated. The essences produced can also vary according to the degree of sun exposure, the season or the time in the vegetative cycle.

It is therefore crucial to know precisely the exact origin of an essential oil (type of plant, geographical origin, time of harvest, part of the plant distilled, distillation technique used, etc.) before contemplating using it for any therapeutic purpose.  In addition, when designating the plant, one should refer exclusively to the Latin botanical denomination (family, class, species, subspecies, cultivated variety, etc.) so as to avoid any confusion, which could have adverse consequences.

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