“The Essential Oil Element” is a new series on Bridle & Bone. There is a lot of interest globally regarding the use of natural therapies for all manner of species- human, horse, and dog alike. But there are still a lot of questions about the safe use of aromatherapy. Good. The more questions you ask the more you know.
As a result of this thirst for knowledge, and to help our clients, I will periodically feature a single essential oil on the blog. What it is, what the benefits are, and how it may be used on our animals.
But first, an overview of aromatherapy.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and hydrosols derived from plants to provide physical and psychological benefits to humans and animals. Until the advent of modern, chemical medicine in the 19th century aromatherapy and herbs were the primary manner in which illnesses and symptoms were treated. In fact, most “modern” medicines are based on the use of natural plants and compounded to increase their effectiveness.
The active ingredient in aspirin is salicylic acid, which was originally found in willow bark. Hippocrates, generally considered the “Father of Modern Medicine” referred to the use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers and inflammation around 400 BC. It was not uncommon as the centuries progressed to visit the Apothecary for your needs.
In the mid-19th century with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and technology, pharmacists began experimenting with natural remedies. Eventually they made a compound that resulted in aspirin, among many others that we see today.
I am not a doctor nor a chemist, but this is a general overview.
Several medicines derived from plants:
- Penicillin (penicillin mold)
- Codeine (Poppy)
- Caffeine (yes, this is considered a drug when used as in a chemical stimulant). Tea, coffee, cocoa
- Curcumin (Turmeric plant)
- Digitoxin (Purple Foxglove)
Turning Back Time
The pendulum swings back and forth, and the amazing technological progress has benefited us in many ways. That being said, it has also inspired a movement back to our earthy roots.
Whole Foods in 1980 but it wasn’t until decades later they became popular and are now a household name with competitors vying for their niche.
So it seems that natural health and wellness is making the same journey.
How are Essential Oils Made?
Steam Distillation: Fresh, harvested plants are suspended over boiling water, and the steam pulls the oils out of the plant.
Expression (cold pressing): the mechanical separation of the oils from the peels. This is used only with citrus fruits such as orange, lemon, bergamot, etc.
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy:
In older times, expression was done in the form of sponge pressing, which was literally accomplished by hand. The zest or rind of the citrus would first be soaked in warm water to make the rind more receptive to the pressing process. A sponge would then be used to press the rind, thus breaking the essential oil cavities, and absorb the essential oil. Once the sponge was filled with the extraction, it would then be pressed over a collecting container, and there it would stand to allow for the separation of the essential oil and water/juice. The essential oil would finally be siphoned off.
A more modern method of extraction, and less labor-intensive, has been termed the Écuelle à piquer process that involves a prodding, pricking, sticking action to release the essential oil. During this process, the rind of the fruit is placed in a container having spikes that will puncture the peel while the device is rotated. The puncturing of the rind will release the essential oil that is then collected in a small area below the container. The end process is the same as above. The majority of modern expression techniques are accomplished by using machines using centrifugal force. The spinning in a centrifuge separates the majority of essential oil from the fruit juice.
How are Hydrosols Made?
Hydrosols are the byproduct of steam distillation. Hydrosols are the water-based “leftovers” from the steam. They are less concentrated and are very particularly beneficial for sensitive animals.
Our bodies naturally absorb the compounds in essential oils and hydrosols. High in benefits and low in side effects with proper use, aromatherapy can provide any number of benefits. I delve into benefits, uses, and popular oils for horses and dogs in The Beginner’s Guide to Using Essential Oils with Animals.
- Anti inflammatory
- Analgesic (pain relieving)
The argument has been made that pharmacists take the naturally- ocurring properties in many plant species, isolate them, and make them stronger. No doubt about it. But there are many people who feel, whether it is true or not, that these chemicals are causing an increase in diseases such as cancer or autoimmune disorders.
There is a rather large movement to return to what is naturally healthy and readily absorbed by our bodies. And many of us want the same for our animals.
The rub is this- it takes a lot of plant material to result in a small amount of essential oil. This can be rather expensive and we need to consider renewable resources. This is why it is important to know what the brand quality and sourcing of your essential oils brand is.
Aromatherapy should not be a replacement for veterinary medicine. Increasingly veterinarians are taking integrative approaches to health and wellness, using all methods available to them and searching for a root cause instead of treating the symptoms. Always seek advice from your veterinarian before using a new product with your animal.
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*Heather Wallace is not a veterinarian. I do not prescribe medication or provide diagnoses. Aromatherapy is a complement to veterinary care and should not be a replacement. If you have questions about your health or that of your animals, always seek the guidance of a doctor or veterinarian.
- “History of Aspirin”
- “Drugs and Medicine Made from Plants“
- “Modern Natural Products Drug Discovery and its Relevance to Biodiversity Conservation”
- “8 Drugs that Exist in Nature”
- “How are Essential Oils Extracted?”