How do plants make essential oils?

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Essential oils are complex mixtures of volatile compounds and isolated by physical means only (pressing and distillation) from whole plant or part of a plant. There are almost uncountable number of single substances and a tremendous variation in the composition of essential oils. Many of these volatile oils have diverse ecological (the scientific analysis and study of interactions among organisms and their environment) functions.

They can act as:

  • Internal messengers in the metabolic prossesses occurring in the plant.
  • Defensive substances against herbivores (an animal anatomically and physiologically adapted to eating plant material for the main component of its diet) or as volatiles attracting pollinating insects to their host.

All plants possess principally the ability to produce volatile compounds. In particular ” Essential oil plants” or “Aromatic plants” are those types of plants delivering essential oil of commercial interest. There are two principal circumstances that determine a plant to be used as an essential oil plant:

  • A unique blend of volatiles. Such flowers produce and immediately emit the volatiles by the surface layer of their petals.
  • Secretion and accumulation of volatiles in specialized tissue structures.

The specialized tissue structures are called secretory tissues. They are organized in unique cell structures, such as osmophores, glandular trichomes, and ducts and cavities. It’s fascinating to know that essential oils are biosynthesized by these tiny special organs.

Trichomes on a cannabis leaf


The photo shows hairy structures on a leaf of a cannabis plant which represents glandular tissue.





These glands are build up of cells with special orientation and function as you can see in the drawing.



As you may know, plants are a dynamic living organism with a complex cellular and molecular structure and a particular metabolism.  There is a tremendous amount of literature about how essential oils are biosynthesized and their function. There is, as well, a huge industry with essential oils and if you want to know more about how they are industrialized you can have a look at Why essential oils?

Essential oils can be used for a wide range of emotional and physical wellness applications. They can be used as single essential oils or in complex essential oil blends depending on the user experience and on the desired benefit. It’s important that you use high-quality oils which are grown and produced in an ecologically responsible manner. I use an eco-friendly essential oil company named doTerra. The benefits are evident in the pure grade oils they provide – as all the products they select have pleasing aromas and superior quality. If you want to try essential oils go to High quality oils!

About the Author Kjell H Kjellevold

A doctor and specialist in pathology. He has always been concerned about health and how to manage a good and healthy lifestyle. The blog will mainly be about the use of essential oils, health, and training.

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1 comment
ursula says April 18, 2017

Hello kjell! I just read few posts of you blog and I found them really interesting. This reading has been enlightening!

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