Essential Oils 101: Difference Between Essential Oils and Tinctures and Extracts

When I was in my early 20's, I started making bath and body products with a friend. We would experiment in her country kitchen like cooks concocting an old folk recipe. Her kitchen counter would be covered with funnels, tubes, bottles, essential oils, droppers, and dried herbs. Her knowledge of herbs and oils was far beyond anything I had learned thus far, and as an unofficial apprentice, she reignited my passion for learning more about natural remedies. Over time, I started taking at home and online classes on herbs and essential oils, growing my own herbs, and adding dozens of books to my home library.

What essential oils are and how they are used can be a source of conflicting information. They are also confused many times with herbal extracts/tinctures. Here is a 101 guide to help you better understand the difference.

What is an extract/tincture and how is it different from essential oils?

In a nut shell, tinctures and extracts are herbal remedies that are made for internal use. Fresh or dried herbs are placed in a liquid (alcohol for tinctures, and glycerin, for example, for extracts). After a certain period of time, the herb is removed, leaving a liquid containing the functional properties of the plant in the liquid, ready for internal use. Extracts and tinctures are used internally and generally not used externally (i.e. skin application).

Essential oils, on the other hand, capture the natural oil present in a plant through a distillation process (sometimes also through expression and extraction). Essential oils are part of the internal structure of a fragrant plants and can be found on the peel, petals, hair on upper surface of leaves, bark, and roots, depending on the plant. This sticky oil is actually there to protect the plant from tiny invaders.

(For the sake of this blog, we will use the term "plants" in reference to the wide array of plants, herbs, shrubs, roots and trees where essential oils are found.)

Are essential oils made the same way as extracts/tinctures?

No. The most common process, distillation, (using water, water and steam, or steam, to name a few), creates heat to separate the oil from the plant. The water and oil are sent through a cooling system, and in the end, the oil has separated from the water, easy to skim off the top (or in some cases, the bottom). The remaining water is sometimes sold as floral water (like Rose Water).

Interested in learning more about Essential Oils? Check out our Essential Oils 102 blog.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products and statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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