Monday, March 24, 2014

Essential Oils: Keep Some of These Nature Wonders at Home for Some Pleasing Advantage!

When I was a graduate student of chemical engineering way back in the Nineteen Seventies I heard about essential oils for the first time. I did not understand much about it at that time. But what struck me most was the technology of extracting the natural chemicals from some of the well known plants and the commercial value that one could gain by selling those extracted natural chemicals generally known as essential oils.

In fact many of us with the able support of some of our faculty members used to make our mock study project reports giving the techno-economic feasibility of setting up of small scale and medium scale chemical plants for the production of various kinds of essential oils from raw materials abundantly available in our home state, Kerala.

Production of essential oils from lemon grass, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, etc used to be discussed those days not only because of the availability of the raw materials in our state, but also due to the technical enthusiasm of budding chemical engineers to make use of some of the new learning that they have acquired during the course of their studies.

Essential oils are not some thing essential for our life. They are called essential oils because people thought that the chemical extracts that are derived from some of the pleasant smelling plants are the essential ingredients contained in those plants that give the aroma or taste qualities to those plants. In other words, they are the essential substances of such aromatic plants. Again, the essential substances are not essentially oils, but people considered those as similar to oils as these substances did not mix with water well just as oils. 

Essential oils contain a mixture of naturally occurring organic chemical substances. They give the characteristic odor or flavor to the leaves, flowers, barks, roots, etc of their respective mother plants. The plants from which the essential oils are obtained are considered as exotic plants with many useful benefits to humans in medicine, food flavoring, perfumery, insect control, etc. A wide spread application is in aroma therapy where certain essential oils are used for creating various soothing odors that are beneficial in the treatment of certain human illnesses. 

Essential oils are expensive and rare. They are considered as privileged substances affordable only to the rich and the aristocrats. This is some what true, because for the production of few kilograms of these oils several tonnes of the original plant stock would be required. Many times the plants themselves are in short supply or are considered as endangered species making the availability of the raw materials much restricted.

There are many essential oils produced from many plants. Wikipedia has a comprehensive compilation of the list of most of the essential oils.  

Though many of the essential oils used for food flavoring are produced in India, they are not commonly used by the Indian public. Such flavoring essential oils are black pepper oil, red chilly oil, clove oil, turmeric oil, garlic oil,  nutmeg oil, cardamom oil, etc.

Some of these oils are very good for immediate relief to pain, especially tooth pain. Clove oil is an example.

Many of these oils are very good natural agents for insect control. For example, eucalyptus oil, citronella oil, neem oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil etc could be effectively used as natural mosquito repellents.

Many of these oils have very good medicinal properties and could be effectively used as house hold first aids for the management of many common ailments. Many of them are also good natural perfumes and could be used for aroma therapy and sleep inducers without much side effects.

It is a good idea to get a few vials of these natural wonders from reliable sources and keep them at home. It is also a good idea to learn more about their uses and applications. Use the wiki list above and the hyperlinks there in to learn more.

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