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The chemotype of an EO is defined by the level of the molecule most present in the EO
For example, thymol thyme EO contains 50% thymol, which defines its chemotype. A molecule is generally taken into account within an EO only if it exceeds 10%. All EOs for which the percentage of molecules is not mentioned are only present in trace amounts.
The chemotype used in aromatherapy makes it possible to identify within the same species chemical variations of secondary metabolites which are due to environmental factors (altitude, sunshine, temperature, humidity, etc.). Thus the essence produced by two plants of the same species, despite their very similar genotype and morphology, may exhibit large variations in chemical composition. It is therefore a very important concept in aromatherapy.
We can extract an essence from any organ as soon as it has the structures to produce it. Thus many EO come from flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits, rhizomes, etc. The same plant from the same biotope (living environment characterized by a certain number of characteristics such as temperature, humidity, etc.) can synthesize essences with very different compositions and odors depending on the producing organ. considered. The best known example is that of the bitter orange tree from which we can extract 3 distinct EO. The leaves will give the EO of petit grain bigarade , the flowers will give the EO of neroli , while the peel of the fruit gives the essence of bitter orange peel.
The plant that will give the vegetable raw material can be cultivated or harvested in the wild. The conditions of cultivation, harvesting, drying, storage, etc. determine the quality of the plant and therefore that of the essence produced. If the plant is obtained by cultivation, it must at least be ecological and therefore do without chemicals (pesticides, weedkillers, etc.) likely to pollute the soil. The plant will also have to grow in its natural biotope or a very neighboring biotope.
There are different methods of extracting the essence produced by aromatic plants. Among these methods, the European pharmacopoeia retains only three to obtain a product which could be called essential oil: training with water vapor , dry distillation for the stems and bark in an appropriate device, or by a adapted mechanical process without heating for citrus trees.
- Steam entrainment : The aromatic plants are placed in a still where they will be crossed by water vapor formed in a separate generator. The water vapor passing through the plant, entrains the aromatic molecules which will form the essential oil. The vapors then pass through a refrigerant circulating cold water to condense and be collected in the gasoline where the EO will be separated from the water. The duration of distillation is essential to obtain a quality essential oil, and this duration varies according to the plant. The quality is also dependent on the size of the installation. Production on an industrial scale will thus be of lower quality than what a producer working with small stills (<1500 liters) could obtain.
- Dry distillation is heating at high temperature without the use of water (unlike hydrodistillation or steam-driven distillation), rods or bark. A viscous and blackish distillate having the appearance of a tar is thus obtained. Nowadays, this method is used to obtain the EO of Cade and that of birch bark.
- Mechanical expression : Also called cold expression, it consists of breaking the pockets of essences contained in the pericarp of citrus fruits of the citrus genus (oranges, lemons, mandarins, bergamot, etc.), either in a press or manually by scraping the pericarp with a spoon (this last technique makes it possible to obtain a high quality product). We then obtain an essence and not an EO because there is no modification of the plant product.
Other techniques : There are other methods of extracting essences, however the product obtained cannot be defined as an essential oil.
- Percolation : This process consists of making the water vapor pass from top to bottom. This technique is faster and therefore less source of modification of the aromatic molecules, but the extract obtained contains non-volatile substances. We are talking about percolating essences here.
- Supercritical CO2 extraction : The plant material is crossed by a high pressure CO2 stream which thus dissolves the gasoline to be then very easily separated. The technique uses a temperature of 40 ° C maximum ensuring minimum degradation of gasoline. This modern but expensive method ensures that a product very close to the original gasoline is obtained.
- The enfleurage : It is used for the flowers which are then put in contact with fats which soak up the essence to give an ointment. This can be used as it is for the manufacture of cosmetics, or exhausted by absolute alcohol to obtain alcoholic extracts of flowers.
- Extraction by volatile solvent (mainly ether and benzene) : Giving concretes of flowers or leaves, transformed into absolutes by exhaustion with ethanol then into concrete essences by evaporation of ethanol.
Unlike vegetable oils, EOs are volatile, which allows them to be extracted with water vapor. With rare exceptions (cinnamon bark, cloves), their density is lower than that of water. They are immiscible in an aqueous medium but soluble in the usual organic solvents. HE are also active on polarized light and this property is used to control their quality. The rotatory power of an EO also makes it possible to highlight a pure and natural oil. Finally, their refractive index “ n ” is high. Of more or less pronounced colors, the whole spectrum is represented: from the blood red of certain savory, to the blue of Chamomilla recutita, passing through the pale green of Citrus bergamia. We can even observe the ultraviolet of mandarin under UV lamp.
EOs are complex substances, they can contain :
- Terpene derivatives: 10-carbon hydrocarbon monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes.
- Amino acid derivatives: Isobutanol from valine, iso-amyl alcohol from leucine, angelic acid and tiglic acid from isoleucine. And derivatives of sulfur amino acids.
- Fatty acid derivatives: For example linoleic acid gives jasmone, methyl jasmonate as well as macrocyclic lactones.
- Other very diverse molecules.
However, the composition may vary greatly depending on the plant producing the essence, its geographical origin, the climate, the altitude, the method of extraction, the know-how of the operator, etc.