What’s the difference between an Essential Oil, Enfleurage, Absolute & Hydrosol?
You’ll notice that we sell many types of aromatics, and may not be entirely clear on what the differences are. This is a simple overview of each type of aromatic, from essential oils to enfleurage, absolutes and hydrosols.
This is the heart of our business and the heart of natural aromatics – the pure, rare, “essential oils” that some plants (only about 1% of plants on earth!) contain. It exists in the plants as part of its immune system, to ward off disease and predators, and contains the “quintessence” – pure energy – of that plant. It’s found in various parts of plants, from the bark, to the seeds, flowers, leaves, twigs, needles, grasses, roots, resins and peels. To extract essential oils, there are a few methods but the primary one is steam distillation. During this process, the oil and water are extracted and separated, creating the essential oil and the distillate/flower water water (hydrosol). Both the flower water and essential oil contain the healing chemical constituents of the plant and are appropriate for aromatherapy.
Other extraction methods are cold expression (citrus peels), C02 extraction and water distillation. Look for more details in a future blog on distillation methods!
Therapeutic benefits: Essential oils are full of chemistry that offer aromatherapeutic benefits.
Absolutes are highly concentrated aromatic oils extracted from plants using a solvent method. After extracting the aromatic oil from the plant material with a chemical solvent (such as hexane), the solvent is removed and what is left behind is a waxy substance called a concrete. The aromatic oils are then extracted from the concrete with ethyl alcohol, and after the ethyl alcohol is removed, the remaining substance is an absolute – an oil with an aroma close to the plant from which it came. An absolute is the most concentrated form of fragrance and highly regarded in natural perfumery.
Absolute oils are thicker in consistency, stronger in scent, and have an amber-coloured appearance compared to essential oils.
Because a solvent is used to extract and the chemical structure of the plant isn’t preserved, absolutes are not for use in therapeutic aromatherapy applications, unless only for aromatic benefits. They are more so used in perfumery, crafting and body care products.
Therapeutic benefits: Absolutes go through a chemical extraction process and do not offer aromatherapeutic benefits.
Enfleurage is a technique that dates back to 1750 in France, whereby flower petals are pressed into fat – originally animal fat, now typically plant oils – and replaced repeatedly for weeks or months, until the pure fragrant essence of that flower has saturated the fat. This fat was then traditionally used in soaps and other products, while now the enfleurage oils are used mainly for aromatic pleasure, or in perfumery, due to their high cost. Some flowers have both an essential oil AND an enfleurage (and perhaps an absolute) – such as Rose – while other flowers are too delicate to steam distill an essential oil and are only available in an enfleurage oil (like honeysuckle).
Enfleurage oils are true to scent of the flower; however, they are altered slightly by any natural aromatics in the oils used (jojoba, coconut, etc) to extract the flower essences. Their high cost reflects a) the large amount of flower petals required, b) the time- and labor-intensive process of growing, picking, and changing the petals daily, and c) the rarity of their availability, as very few practice this technique today.
Therapeutic benefits: Enfleurage oils are infused carrier oils, not essential oils. They offer aromatic pleasure but not aromatherapeutic benefits.
As mentioned in the Essential Oils section above, hydrosols are distillate water that is captured, saved and sold from the essential oil extraction process. These beautiful waters contain the healing properties of the plant, and can be used on the skin as a toner, as a room spray, diffused for delicate ambient aromatics, or used in products, like lotions. However, the aroma can vary from the essential oil; Lavender can have the most pronounced difference, while others are very similar, like Rosemary. Ours are 100% natural and no preservatives are added. They can have a shelf life of many months, but to ensure freshness it’s nice to keep them refrigerated, if possible.
Therapeutic benefits: Hydrosols contain the same chemicals as essential oils, and offer gentle aromatherapeutic benefits.
We hope you enjoy exploring the hundreds of aromatic options we offer, and the creativity and healing they bring to our lives.