Here’s a diagram of a molecule
But do you really need to derive meaning from pictures of molecules in order to benefit from the very important understanding of essential oil chemistry?
How many essential oils are there? Honestly we don’t really know. I was recently talking to some friends from Brazil who have set up a company to research Brazilian plant species that produce essential oils. They travel in the rain forests with a mobile distillation unit mounted on the back of a truck, and they are discovering new oils all the time. (They then bring the knowledge of the oils and their uses back to the indigenous people).
Oshadhi offers about different 500 oils. This is a strength and blessing, but it can also lead to confusion: how can we possibly know the properties of every oil? Probably nobody does.
A certain degree of careful experimentation is inevitable because all the properties of the new oils are not known. All of us who use essential oils are in some sense pioneers of a new ‘plant medicine’. But our experimentation must be informed. And there is no better way to be informed than by having an understanding of essential oil chemistry. If we come across a new oil and know that it has a high concentration of, say, 1,8 cineole then we are already well on the way to having some useful background about its properties and uses (although there are always surprises).
The difficulty with understanding the chemistry of essential oils comes, in my opinion, from the way that it is often taught. This often involves discussions about functional groups, carbon-oxygen double bonds, optical isomers, etc, — and the (often dreaded) diagrams of molecular structures!
These diagrams are an important way of approaching the understanding of essential oil chemistry, and provide deep, precious and vital knowledge. But they are not the only way, and they don’t suit everyone. Maybe we can develop an ‘entry level’ approach that makes essential oil chemistry more appealing and approachable?
Consider this: the visual-intellectual qualities that are required to get an ‘A Grade’ in chemistry at school are not really the same as the qualities that a massage therapist possesses with their developed sense of touch and healing hands. (Which is not to denigrate either quality; they are just different.)
Therapists need to understand essential oil chemistry, but in a way that is comfortable and useful for their everyday practice, and this must relate to experience and intuition. Have another look at this video which gives a simple and powerful insight into the properties of ketones. And there are no molecular diagrams in sight! Just the Provence countryside.
You do also need to be able to recognise the names of the different molecules and which group they belong to, but that comes with familiarity.