The price of an essential oil depends on many things: How large the yield is, how easily (or not) harvested a plant is and how much essential oil it yields. Another thing to keep in mind is how the essential oil is stored in a plant: The plant contains “capsules” where the essential oil is stored, when the “capsule” is broken the oil is released into the atmosphere. Essential oils are volatile, that means they fly. This is what happens when you rub, for example, a mint-leaf between your fingers; you break the “capsules”, thereby releasing the essential oil which you can smell on your fingers. When harvesting plants for essential oil you need to be very careful not to crush the plant, since the essential oil is then gone.
Jasmine, jasminum officinale is always harvested at night as the amount of essential oils present are then at its peak. The flowers need to be hand-picked – there is no other way. Since the essential oils are volatile, the oil will readily leave the flowers if they are crushed. An absolute of jasmine is always expensive, about €25 for 5ml.
Lemon-balm, melissa officinalis has its highest peak of essential oils during 2-4 hours/day and only for a couple of weeks. The scent of the plant is almost overwhelming, yet the essential oil yield is rather low and difficult to access. One grower in France that I met have a small destillator that he brings into the field where he distills the plant-matter as it is harvested. The oil is, of course, magnificent….and expensive; about €100 for 5ml.
Rose, rosa centifolia/rosa damascena is another flower that needs to be handpicked. Only the petals contain essential oils. It takes around 2 000kg to get 1kg of essential oil. How much does a rose-petal weigh? The price will reflect this; about €120 for 5ml.
The purer an essential oil is, the more expensive it will be.
What to look for:
- Price: All essential oils have different prices. If all the essential oils have the same price, or they are very cheap, the oils are rubbish; don’t buy them.
- Storage: Essential oils should be kept in a cool dark place, preferably in brown bottles – though sometimes you see blue or green as well. If, in the shop, the essential oils are sitting on a warm shelf in full light they will not be so essential anymore. Ask for an oil that has been stored properly, if you can’t get it – don’t buy!
- Label: The label shall state the common name and the latin name of the plant from which the essential oil comes. Preferably also country of origin.
- Age: A newly distilled essential oil has a harsh green smell to it that is a far cry from the perfumes we expect. By oxidation the aroma gets rounder and softer. The older the essential oil is, the more the aroma “softens”. To people this is often pleasing – scent-wise. But it also means that the essential oil has lost much of its energy and properties. Oxidation changes the molecular composition of an essential oil. Some oils, such as citrus oils, have a shorter life-span and they tend to become skin-irritants with age. Most oils get a bit more viscous and/or cloudy with age. Don’t buy these.
There are discussions concerning the issue of dating the oils; best before or when bottled. But it doesn’t much matter, since the “life-span” of an essential oil depends on storage, which makes such markings pointless; badly stored essential oils will age faster. Usually the bottles are marked with batch number, this way you can always find out when the oil was distilled. For quality only your nose can guide you.
Always be prepared to pay a higher price for a good quality oil. You will need smaller amounts of the oil to get better results. Remember that an essential oil is a messenger from nature and that it will interact with us on a molecular, cellular level. For this we want only the best. It is better to have only a few great essential oils than a drawerful of rubbish. “You get what you pay for”