What are Essential Oils?

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Scott: Mindy, you're an expert on things like aromatherapy, essential oils. Let's talk about essential oils. Explain what those are, exactly.

Mindy Green: Well, that's a great questions. Essential oils are the fragrant fraction of plants. They contain turpenoid compounds. They're basically the perfume of the plant, and in many cases, they are why the plant is medicinal. For instance, the entire APACA family, the parsley family, is quite fragrant, the mint family, very fragrant. 

In many cases, the medicinal value is owed to the essential oils. Not every single plant that has medicinal value contains essential oils, like burdock and dandelion, but things like peppermint and rosemary and thyme and oregano and the things that we all know as cooking herbs that are great digestive aids. Many times those compounds are due to the essential oils that they contain.

Scott: Mm. We hear of essential amino acids, and they're essential for life. What makes those oils "essential?" Essential for what?

Mindy Green: Well, that's just a name. Really, the technical name would be a volatile oil, as opposed to a fatty oil, an oil that evaporates as opposed to an oil that sits there and oxidizes instead of evaporates.

Aromatherapist Mindy Green explains what essential oils are and where they come from. She also explains how they provide some health benefits.

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