What are plant extracts and how are they different from essential oils?

Ekstrakty ziołowe

Plant extracts are highly concentrated extracts from leaves, fruits, flowers, roots, or seeds of plants. Compared to essential oils, they are distinguished by a much richer composition and application.

Plant Extracts and Essential Oils: What Are They and How to Distinguish Them?

Natural plant extracts are obtained through supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction. The supercritical CO2 extraction process is conducted in high-pressure equipment at low temperatures, which prevents the thermal decomposition of valuable compounds that are sensitive to high temperatures. Furthermore, the extraction takes place exclusively in an atmosphere of a non-toxic solvent (CO2), which protects substances from oxidation and contamination of the extract by the solvent. A plant extract is a mixture of both volatile and non-volatile health-promoting substances. They have a very rich composition and are a source of unsaturated fatty acids, oleoresins, polyphenols, flavonoids, phytosterols, terpenes, phenylpropane derivatives, antioxidants, active ingredients, as well as natural colors, vitamins, and many others. They are characterized by their dark color (brown, dark green, dark yellow), low volatility, and significantly higher viscosity compared to essential oils. Their rich composition and properties have led to their broad application in medicine, pharmacy, food products, cosmetics, aromatherapy, etc. Depending on the plant from which they were obtained, they possess very valuable properties: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, expectorant, antitussive, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, cleansing, soothing, etc.

Essential oils are mixtures composed solely of volatile substances—terpenes or phenylpropane derivatives. They are obtained through steam distillation. Essential oils are characterized by high volatility, and their color depends on the raw material from which they are produced. They are most commonly colorless or yellow, less frequently green or brown. Natural essential oils have found applications in cosmetics and aromatherapy. They possess many valuable properties, which depend on the type of plant from which they are derived. Specifically, they can have relaxing, antidepressant, breathing-enhancing, antibacterial properties, among others.

How do you differentiate between an extract and an essential oil, then?

Very often, however, we can encounter products that are labeled as extracts by manufacturers but have nothing to do with them.

Products that we incorrectly call extracts

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