What exactly are essential oils anyway?

What are essential oils? Are they safe? What do we do with them? Who can use essential oils? 
These are just some of the questions that came up for us when we first began researching natural solutions for people and animals. 

We are going to start you on the journey of learning more about essential oils and how they can benefit your life and the life of your horse. First we are going to take a close look at what exactly is an essential oil and how essential oils have become part of a wellness lifestyle. 

What is an essential oil?

The term essential oil has been given to the aromatic compounds of plants
They are hydrophobic (does not dissolve in water) and lipophilic (dissolves in lipids or fats). This is how they classified as an oil. They are liquids that easily evaporate at normal temperatures, which in chemistry makes them volatile. Essential oils are aromatic in quality. 

The 'essential' part of the name came from the idea that it is the “essence” of the plant. 

Not all plants are aromatic and not all aromatic plants are used to make essential oils as we use them. Some plants make more than one essential oil, depending on if you collect from the flowers, seeds, leaves, roots, sap, resin or other part. For example cilantro essential oil comes from the actual plant and coriander essential oil comes from the seed. 

 “So far, 17,500 aromatic plants have been investigated to see whether they can produce essential oils. Of those plants, 2,000 are used to produce 3,000 different essential oils….Of these 3,000 essential oils, only 300 are commonly produced. (p2, dōTERRA Essential Oil Specialist) 
Of the 300 commonly produced essential oils, only a few are used routinely in the care of horses.

An essential oil is made by the plant through several processes. Biosynthetic pathways in plants are used to create the end product and we humans and horses share one of these pathways, which is called the Mavalonate Pathway. This makes essential oils useful to both our bodies and our horses! 

How essential oils help plants thrive and survive

Essential oils are involved in many parts of the life of a plant. They can attract and also deter insects and they are seen to be helpful in the healing process.  Another vital function is defence against bacteria, fungi and other pathogens.
“Plants have the wonderful ability to create a slightly different essential oil based on environmental conditions and stressors.” (p20 ADRII) 

Daniela loves to tell the story of tea tree essential oil to her human clients. Tea trees grow in a hot and humid area of Australia, where mold and bugs abound. In order for the tea tree to defend itself against these predators, it has developed certain aromatic chemical compounds. Not only does the smell deter pests but the actual chemical components in this aromatic essence have anti-fungal, anti-septic and anti-bacterial properties. Since plants and people (and horses) share certain biosynthetic pathways, we can all benefit from the anti-septic properties of tea tree essential oil. 

The amount of essential oil a plant produces varies greatly from species to species and also somewhat from harvest to harvest. 
Rose is “a low-yield essential oil. It can take around 10,000 blossoms to produce a 5 millilitre bottle of rose oil.” (p3, dōTERRA Essential Oil Specialist) 

The history of essential oils

The history of the discovery of essential oils is long and a little difficult to follow. Many cultures have evidence of using oils about the same time so it is difficult to decide who discovered it. It may have been a natural progression, making it inevitable that the healing properties of plants would be used by our curious ancestors. 

Egyptians used aromatic extracts as early as 3000-2500BC for beauty, culinary, spiritual and physical wellbeing. China and India did the same with oil like extracts and there is also evidence that Ayurvedic practices in India used oils much earlier than this. Many cultures are part of the rich history that makes up the discovery and development of essential oils to what we know today. 
From that rich history to the skilled modern sciences we have a wealth of information about how these amazing plant products can assist us today. 

The father of modern day essential oil use as 'aromatherapy' is Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French cosmetic chemist who severely burnt his hands and subsequently submerged them into a vat of lavender oil. He reported that he did it only once and that the next day the healing had already begun. He started treating soldiers in WWI with essential oils and coined the name 'Aromatherapie', to describe his method of using essential oils to combat disease and injury. Jean Valnet, his colleague, took the art further still and published a book in 1964 titled The Practice of Aromatherapy, which brought even more interest to the study of using essential oils therapeutically. Many many others have since furthered our knowledge of the various constituents of the individual oils and how to apply them in our lives and the lives of our horses. 
Thousands of peer reviewed studies as well as clinical experience from veterinarians make the science of essential oil use accessible to us so that we can use this powerful natural product confidently and safely.  

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about essential oils! Please share something with us that is new to you - which you have learned today. Simply reply in the comment section below or emails us at

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You will also enjoy reading our blog article on purity and why it is so important to use pure therapeutic grade essential oils on and around your horse. Click here to read it! 

Ready to find out more on how essential oils can benefit your horse? Download our Free E-Book 'Uncap the Dream' to get started. 
We work with all our clients individually to help them find the exact solutions they need for their horse. Join us!

With love, 
Amanda and Daniela
Oils for Horses 

Melissa Shelton DVM, The Animal Desk Reference II Essential Oils for Animals (Melissa Shelton, September 2018)
dōTERRA, Essential Oil Specialist course 2020

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