Chemistry drives the world around us and serves as the liaison between all other branches of science—even physics, biology, physiology, and geology. In fact, all things are composed of chemicals and undergo constant chemical reactions. Even essential oils are composed of a complex blend of chemical constituents. In plants, these constituents offer many protective and reproductive benefits. In humans, these constituents are what give the oil functionality, determining their mechanism of physiologic action, and in turn, the resulting health benefit.
Each individual essential oil constituent is made up of atoms, the building blocks of all chemicals. Carbon is the most prevalent element in essential oils with approximately 70–80 percent of the whole essential oil being composed of just this single element! Hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur also play important roles in essential oil composition and chemistry; however, they are present in far lesser quantities. Covalent bonds are created between atoms to increase their stability. Although it seems as though there are endless combinations of atoms that could come together to form molecules, there are actually just a few distinct patterns found in nature. The most commonly found classes of essential oil constituents are:
The chemical profile of essential oils is very complex containing up to hundreds of individual constituents. Many studies have been conducted examining both the synergistic action of the whole oil as well as the individual action of isolated constituents. These studies have verified that there is increased benefit and safety from using the whole oil, rather than just an individual constituent. In other words, oils are best used in their whole form—with the exact composition designed by nature—nothing added, removed, or isolated.
You should have completed Module 4: Chemistry of Essential Oils, before continuing with this module.