Core Class 2: The Creation and History of Essential Oils

How are essential oils made?

Distilling Essential Oils for AromatherapyEssential oils can be created in various methods involving distillation, chemical extraction, heat application, and boiling of plant materials. The highest quality, therapeutic grade essential oils are created primarily through low-pressure, low-heat distillation methods that have not changed for thousands of years. Though these methods are slow and costly compared to modernized manufacturing techniques, they produce the highest quality, most potent essential oils.

There are several low-pressure distillation methods used that are optimized for specific plants. All methods involve the same basic actions to extract the essential oils from the plant materials:

  1. Steam passes through plant materials
  2. Steam ruptures oil membranes within the plant
  3. Steam and oil vapor are carried out of the material
  4. Steam and oil vapors are turned into a liquid in a cooler/condenser
  5. Combined oil and water runoff is collected
  6. The essential oil rises to the top of the water and is skimmed off

Creating essential oil requires an incredible amount of plant material distilled for a substantial amount of time. This table exemplifies this for some common oils:

Essential Oil Starting Material Resulting Oil Distilling Time
Pine 1000lb 1lb 8hrs
Cinnamon 1300lb 5oz 9-24hrs
Eucalyptus Globulus 250lb 1lb 3-18hrs

Young Living DistilleryThe large amount of plant material required to generate small amounts of some essential oils is the reason that pure essential oil is so valuable. Unfortunately this also has resulted in the common practice of diluting essential oil with cheap vegetable oils, synthetic oils, and solvents. This is one of the main reasons that we only use and recommend Young Living Essential Oils because they are pure, natural and unadulterated. These oils have been cultivated and prepared to maintain the optimal naturally occurring blend of constituents to maximize the desired effect.

Brief History of Essential Oils

Aromatics including barks, resins, vinegars, and spices have been documented in religious rituals as early as 4500BCE. The Egyptians were pioneers in the integration of aroma into rituals. Over time, they created and honed methods to concentrate the essences of these aromatics. These were the first essential oils.

Once developed, essential oils were used for years in Egypt for embalming and in religious ceremonies. In 2780BCE, Imhotep is credited as the first to utilize essential oils as medicine. With their true value realized, essential oils became more valuable than gold. This is exemplified by instances in which grave robbers chose to steal essential oils rather than gold from Egyptian tombs.

Section of Ebers Papyrus 1500BCE

Many hieroglyphics describe different blends of oils and their applications. Early texts similarly describe the uses of essential oil blends in medicine. In 1817, the discovery of the Ebers Papyrus (dated circa 1500BCE) revealed an 870ft. scroll containing 800 different remedies, including essential oils, for various ailments.

With the discovery of essential oils, Egypt became the center of medical knowledge in the Mediterranean around 500BCE. The establishment of the Hippocratic School in Cos around 430BC, and subsequent medical studies, is commonly regarded as the beginning of modern medicine.


Surprisingly, the popularity of essential oils has only recently seen a resurgence in western medicine. In the early 20th century, essential oils began their reintegration with western medical practice in WWI where their effectiveness in healing and their antiseptic properties were used extensively in both civilian and military applications. This resurgence prompted widespread clinical research on the applications of essential oils. Research done by the Cosmetic Chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, PhD, beginning in 1907, resulted in the creation of modern day aromatherapy.

Over the next century, the privatization of health care in the U.S. resulted in pharmaceutical companies that focused on the most profitable (patentable) drugs and treatments. Plant constituents and essential oils are very rarely patentable, so they do Clove Oilnot appear often in modernized western medicine. You may have seen clove oil, or its active ingredient eugenol, applied for numbing purposes in the dentist office or topical creams with peppermint oil for soothing and relaxing muscles. These essential oils are used in the same application today as they were thousands of years ago, and are only a small sample of the hundreds of oils and thousands of applications available.

The science of essential oils is the aggregate knowledge of thousands of years of trials enhanced by modern quality control and chemical analysis. Essential oils themselves now represent a natural alternative or complement to modern medicine by providing natural support to the systems of the body and controlling bacterial populations in the home. At concentrations exceeding 1000x those found in plants, essential oils can exhibit powerful therapeutic properties. With the proper knowledge and with high quality, therapeutic grade essential oils, anyone can harness the profound power of essential oils for themselves and for their family.

To get started using tested therapeutic grade essential oils in your life, sign up to purchase Young Living products today. Joining as an Independent Distributor will allow you to purchase directly from the company at wholesale prices with no monthly minimums or annual fees. If you have questions or would like to sample the products before joining, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

The next lesson will discuss the chemistry of essential oils and what makes them so chemically unique from synthetic compounds and other plant materials. Until next time, be well! And thanks for joining us!