The safety and therapeutic value of the essential oils largely depend on the quality of the product.
Most people tend to forget the fact that all essential oils are not created equal no matter how beautifully it is packaged, professionally advertised, and sold at a seemingly reputable store.
Inferior quality of essential oils will not only be unable to provide the desired results but may also affect your health adversely!
There are several factors that will determine the quality of essential oils. In order to know these factors, you will need to spend some time on your research and see how each of these factors affect the quality of the essential oil you wish to buy. Remember, just looking at the label or asking the supplier is not enough.
The fact that different essential oils vary in quality is because just like humans, even plants do have their preferences. Some flowers are harvested in the late flowering period, while few will need fresh distillation.
For example, you will get a higher volume of acetate-rich essential oil if you strip the leaves of Rosemary Rosmarinus Officinalis from the stem right before distillation. This will ensure that the strong, refreshing, and pleasant aroma is retained along with its beneficial properties. Similarly, all other plants will have different needs, and missing out on any will affect the quality of the end product.
What to look for when buying essential oils?
There are a few specific factors to look for while assessing the quality of essential oils. The first thing that you should consider looking into is the place where the plant is grown. This is because the effectiveness of the plant will depend on climatic and geographic conditions.
For example, Lavender Lavandula Angustifolia will have all its qualities in it if it grows at high altitude, preferably above 1,200 meters. This will ensure that it has a more significant concentration of linalyl acetate in it to come with a higher and more effective anti-inflammatory punch.
Next, you should consider the part of the plant used or should have been used for extracting and distilling the oil. This is because, in most of the plants, the active constituents are generally located at a specific part of the plant. That means if you are buying an essential oil from Clove Syzygium aromaticum make sure it is extracted from the buds and not the leaves of the plant.
You must even consider the process of growing the plant as that too will affect its quality and effectiveness. Find out whether it is grown organically and is pesticide-free. This is because all environmentally conscious aromatherapists typically certify and prefer essential oils that are extracted from plants that are grown organically.
Consider the climate of the region where the plant is grown as well. All plants have their liking for a place to grow, just like human beings. If it is grown outside the comfort zone, it will not have the chemical constituents that are expected in it or have it at the level which will make it most useful.
Also, find out how the plant or the parts of the plant used for extracting the oil is harvested. It must be harvested ethically and sustainably as that will add power and effectiveness to the essential oil. Some plants may need to be felled after fifty years like the Indian sandalwood Santalum album and others may need to be gathered as early as 4 am by women only like the jasmine Jasminum grandiflorum.
Last but not least, check out how the oil is produced because different plants will need different methods to extract the oils. For example, you will not get the aroma of jasmine J. grandiflorum if it is steamed and distilled because it will kill the aromatic molecules in it. The best process to extract oil from it is by using the solvent extraction method.
Additionally, you must check how the oil is stored after production. Since these oils are highly volatile substances, it can easily get corked like wine. Moreover, exposure to oxygen for a long time will also change the chemical profile just as will light and heat. Therefore, proper protection is the key to ensure the quality of the essential oils.
Quality vs. Purity of Essential Oils
One of the most important things to remember is that the quality and purity of the essential oils are two entirely different things and should not be mixed while making your choice. Few essential oils can be of poor quality but can still be pure in nature and vice versa. However, if you think holistically, anything that is not pure is certainly of poor quality.
Quality of the essential oil will depend on factors like the quality of the soil, amount of rainfall received, temperature and climatic conditions, geographic factors, the time gap between harvesting and extraction of oils, the type of equipment used for distillation as well as storage conditions and adulteration and tampering.
The purity of essential oils depends on the aroma, the exact percentage of the natural constituents, and several other factors. The purity of the oil also depends on factors such as the blending and combining methods, the ingredients used and the individual constituents added, synthetic or naturally derived additives used mishandling and improper packaging as well.
Methods To Test The Quality Of Essential Oils
There are different methods to test the quality and purity of essential oils. The most common one is the Refractive Index method in which the refraction of light rays is considered using a refractometer.
Optical Rotation method is another in which light rays are passed through. In addition to the refraction, the plane of polarization is also considered in this method and is determined by the degree of angle of rotation.
Specific Gravity method is also used considering water as the parameter as it has SG of 1. Gas Chromatography, Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry, Pesticide Residue Analysis are some other methods that are used to test the quality of essential oils.
In the end, it can be said that you should buy essential oils only from reputed and reliable sources to ensure you get the therapeutic value by using the product.