Ask The Expert

Fragrant Facts
Q: What is the difference between essential oils and flower essences?

A: People often confuse the two. Both help heal emotional conditions, such as anxiety or insomnia. Essential oils—the pure ones used by aromatherapists—are extracts of fragrant plants. They contain volatile chemicals that impact the brain. Some oils alter brain waves, acting as stimulants or relaxants. Essential oils can also be therapeutic for the body. Flower essences are made by floating flowers on water. The water is then diluted several times so the final product contains no physical trace of the flower.

I have made and used flower essences for years with good results. The recommended dose is only a few drops; because they don't contain the actual plant, almost all are safe and nontoxic. Essential oils, on the other hand, should be diluted (in a carrier oil, for example), with an average of just 10 drops of essential oil recommended per ounce. Several essential oils are even too toxic to use on the skin, so be sure to read the label.

Some practitioners believe essential oils counteract the properties of flower essences, but others combine them in the same bottle. To decide which one to use, consult a practitioner. Essential oils tend to have general functions, such as calming anger or relieving depression. Flower essences address specific types of anger or causes of depression. Flower essences are also the best choice when all essential oils cause a negative reaction in an individual.

This month, "Ask The Expert" is written by Kathi Keville of Nevada City, California. She has written 12 herb and aromatherapy books and is director of the American Herb Association (