1. What are essential oils?

Essential oils are aromatic compounds found in many plants. In chemistry jargon, they're considered "volatile organic compounds." Volatility, in this case, meaning that they readily convert from a liquid to a vapor form at room temperature. In other words, what we're smelling are tiny molecules of vaporized oil that are lighter than air, which allows them to drift into our nose and lodge in our olfactory receptors.

It's been found that the smell of different essential oils can alter brain chemistry in ways that impacts our emotional and mental state, hence their therapeutic potential. Essential oils are also readily absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin or stomach, creating a physiological effect with potential medical applications.

NOTE: It is generally unsafe to ingest pure essential oils or apply them directly to the skin. They must first be highly diluted. Never use pure essential oils in any way other than that which is indicated on the product label. If you have any questions or concerns, it's best to discuss with your doctor prior to use.

2. CAN  I  MAKE  MY  OWN  ESSENTIAL  OILS  AT  HOME?

Yes, but you will need an essential oil "still" for distillation—similar, but not quite the same, as a still for alcohol—which are not widely available. A few manufacturers offer them online, starting at about $400, or you should try watching eBay for a deal. Many of the essential oils found in stores come from common garden plants, including lavender, oregano, peppermint, basil, clary sage, lemon balm, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, yarrow and chamomile. Depending on the species, you may need anywhere from a single plant to a quarter-acre planting in order to produce a small vial of oil. Plant material for some oils may also be foraged from nearby forests, including Eucalyptus, spruce, cedar, cypress, fir and pine.

3. WHERE  ARE  THEY  PRODUCED?

The U.S., China, France and Brazil are the world's top five essential oil producers. However, there are some individual oils that are typically produced in only a handful of countries, depending on where the species grows best and other factors, such as local labor costs.

For example, frankincense and myrrh oil, which both come from the bark of desert trees, are produced in the Middle Eastern and North African countries where the trees grow wild. Ylang ylang comes from the flowers of a tropical tree found in the islands of the South Pacific. Southern France traditionally produced much of the world's rose oil, but the high cost of land and labor in this region has shifted the majority of rose oil production to Turkey and Bulgaria. Essential oils produced on a commercial scale in the U.S. include peppermint (Pacific Northwest), cedar (Texas) and various citrus oils (Florida).

6. CAN I MAKE MY OWN ESSENTIAL OILS AT HOME?

Yes, but you will need an essential oil "still" for distillation—similar, but not quite the same, as a still for alcohol—which are not widely available. A few manufacturers offer them online, starting at about $400, or you should try watching eBay for a deal. Many of the essential oils found in stores come from common garden plants, including lavender, oregano, peppermint, basil, clary sage, lemon balm, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, yarrow and chamomile. Depending on the species, you may need anywhere from a single plant to a quarter-acre planting in order to produce a small vial of oil. Plant material for some oils may also be foraged from nearby forests, including Eucalyptus, spruce, cedar, cypress, fir and pine.