There is a significant difference between plant essential oils and simple plant extracts. Although both may be used in aromatherapy, it is the essential oils which carry the medicinal qualities and are used most often during massage and aromatherapy sessions. Extracts are mainly used in perfumes or even in cooking.
Although aromatherapy is often considered a new age practice in the field of alternative medicine, the use of plant extracts and essential oils dates back thousands of years. They were used for both religious and medicinal purposes in ancient Rome, Egypt, China and India. They are mentioned in the Bible and other ancient texts. Plant oils were applied topically, used in incense and even taken internally for therapeutic purposes. Today, they can be found in candles, body sprays and massage oils.
There is a distinct difference between pure essential oils and simple plant extracts. To obtain an extract, the plant parts may be cold pressed, macerated or soaked in a liquid, such as alcohol, in order to isolate, or extract, a certain quality or flavor from the plant. The process of acquiring a plant’s essential oil is a bit more complex. It must be obtained through distillation. The liquid that is distilled off is called the plant essence, and the very small amount of volatile liquid that is left behind is the essential oil. It takes a large volume of plant parts to obtain a small amount of essential oil, which is why they are typically more expensive than regular liquid extracts.