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Essential vs. Fragrance Oils. Part 1: What is a Pure Essential Oil?


This article was authored by Klaus Ferlow, HMH (Honorary Master Herbalist), innovator, lecturer, researcher, writer, founder Ferlow Botanical Enterprises Ltd, Vancouver, B.C. manufacturing/distributing organic toxin-free medicinal herbal and personal care products to professional health & wellness practitioners in Canada and parts of USA since 1993.

Essential vs. Fragrance Oils. Part 1: What is a Pure Essential Oil?

While Canadians are familiar with synthetic fragrance oils, by and large, they have little or no knowledge about therapeutic health benefits of genuine, pure essential oils. Unlike North America, in Europe, high quality botanical plant derived essential oils are prescribed for internal use by medical doctors in hospitals. In the last decade essential oils have become a popular item, sold everywhere, which raises the question, "Does the consumer really know what they are getting?"

What is A Genuine Pure Essential Oil?

Essential oils are more then merely plant secretions. The evaporation of essences from plant surface is a defence mechanism against infection by bacteria, fungi and pests. Aromatic plants have a protective aura of scent, just as all living things have an aura light. This aromatic aura also protects plants from excesses of heat and cold.

To qualify as an essential oil, it must be 100% natural, preferable harvested from certified organic plants or wild crafted, and free of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizer. A description of the biochemical compounds (using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry) will confirm if an oil is 100% authentic and contaminant-free. There are five different processes for making essential oils:

  • Steam distillation (this method produces the highest quality oil, but it must be slow and prolonged
  • Solvent extraction
  • Expression
  • Maceration
  • Enfleurage

Assessing Quality

To assess quality, the label and/or therapeutic fact sheet should have these items listed:

  • Complete Latin name, genus and species
  • The distilled part: it is vital to know which of the plant (flower, leaf, bark etc.) has been distilled
  • The chemotype: recognized internationally, and widely used in scientific publications, chemotypes, are associated with the Latin scientific denomination, allows the perfect comprehension of the mode of action of an essential oil, so an oil can be used correctly. The type of soil, altitude, sunlight, climate, and surrounding plant population are all elements that influence the essence manufactured by the plant.

The Price

All essential oils are not created equal. The price reflects many factors, such as the number of kilos of plant materials needed to make an essential oil, which is why they are sold in bottles of 5, 10 or 15 ml only. Some oils are even sold by the drop. I.E. a 1 kilo (approx. 1 litre) requires:

6 to 7 kg of clove flower buds, 50 kg of lavendin, 150 kg of true lavender, or 3500 - 4000 kg of Damask flower rose (1 hectare of roses)!

Professional Advise Advised

Going to a professional, certified Aromatherapist is advised. To find a practitioner in your area please contact the following Associations:

Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists, #103 - 1200 Centre Street, Thornhill, ON, L4J 3M9, Tel. 519-746-1594 www.cfacanada.com

Alberta Association of Professional Aromatherapists, 21 Martingrove Way NE, Calgary, AB, T3J 2T5, www.albertaaromatherapy.org

Saskatchewan Association of Professional Aromatherapy (SAPA), 207 Nelson Ave., Kipling, SK S0G 2S0, s.hassler@sasktel.net

British Columbia Association of Practising Aromatherapists, 511 Gourlay Place, Ladysmith, B.C., V9G 1W7, Tel. 250-245-7370, www.bcapa.org

British Columbia Alliance of Aromatherapy, #206- 1554 George Street, White Rock, V4B 4A5, Tel. 604-515-2226, www.bcaoag.org

Words of Wisdom

For every disease we know, Mother Earth provides a herb to grow.


The Art of Aromatherapy: The Healing and Beautifying Properties of the Essential Oils of Flowers and Herbs, Robert Tisserand, ISBN 0-89281-001-7

A Guide To Essential Oils, Jennie Harding, ISBN 0-75257-783-2

Essential Oils, Sara Rose, ISBN 1-84273-441-5

Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils, Gabriel Mojay, ISBN 0-89281-887-5

This information is offered for its educational value only and should not be used in the diagnose, treatment, or prevention of disease. Any attempt to diagnose and treat illness should come under the direction of your health care practitioner.

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