Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Essential Oils in the Philippines

Are there essential oils in the Philippines? Yes, there are, mostly imported ones. But here, we'd be talking about the ones produced here.

The Philippines is a great country with a lot of natural resources and a huge diversity of plants and trees. Once upon a time, our country leads the world in rice research and production. There was also a time when we led the world in coffee production. Right now, we lead the world in coconuts and in calamansi. We have the potential to develop our agricultural capacity in producing crops that possesses lots of essential oils.

Essential oils are basically aromatic compounds found in plants or trees. These are used in perfumery, cosmetics, food and aromatherapy. There are also a few more uses being studied and it is being looked upon as the next frontier since the age of antibiotics is already towards its end. Reason is, most essential oils are antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral, without the side effects of bacterial resistance developing.

Not all plants that produce essential oils can grow in the Philippines, but we do have a lot that are easy to cultivate. Since we lack the attention and interest, other countries have more experience and developed better science and technology in extracting essential oils. I'm pretty sure we can catch up, but the investment needed is huge and the market is not a very solid one, especially for unknown essential oils. It is for that reason why not a lot of people venture towards this direction.

So here's a list of essential oils in the Philippines that are produced locally. Its not a very long one, but hopefully, it will be in the next few years.

Lemongrass essential oil. Locally known as tanglad, Lemongrass leaves are a popular ingredient for cooking because of the distinct flavor it imparts on stews and roasted dishes. It is a tough plant and can withstand the harsh tropical climate, thriving on limited water and full sun during summer, while adjusting really well during the rainy season. The essential oil, like the plant itself, is known to help the body's digestive function. It is also antibacterial, antiviral, and wards off a lot of insects. The sweet, lemony scent of lemongrass is great for neutralizing unwanted odors.

Citronella essential oil. The cousin of Lemongrass is also a hardy plant endemic to the Philippines. Basically, there's not much use of citronella outside of being an essential oil. It is a popular part of any nature lover's anti-mosquito arsenal. In many parts of the Philippines, citronella is being grown and harvested for the purpose of essential oil extraction. There's a huge supply of this essential oil and its basically one of the cheapest around since its usage is very limited. However, more recent studies suggest that citronella possesses excellent antibacterial and mood-enhancing qualities. Aromatherapists recommend mixing citronella with other matching essential oils to synergize effects and multiply the benefits of the essential oils, as well as making it smell more pleasant.

Calamansi essential oil. We are all familiar with calamansi. We drink its juice, we cook with it, we use it to flavor our sauces and a whole lot more. The challenge with calamansi is it's essential oil is not that plenty, although the Philippines is the world's top source of calamansi and its essential oil. Owing to its naturally thin skin where the essential oils are stored, the yield is very low. Nevertheless, it is a very pleasant product, perfect for neutralizing odors and when used in very small amounts, help lighten the skin. It's high limonene content (about 77%) makes it an ideal deodorizer that neutralizes unwanted smell.

Ylang-ylang essential oil. This flower is usually being sold strung along with the sampaguita, our national flower in the churches, on the road and on the streets. Historically, it is believed to be a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac, traditionally placed on a couple's bed at the night of their wedding. The sweet, pleasing floral aroma of Ylang-ylang is inherited by its essential oil. It is expensive, due to the difficulty in harvesting and extracting process. Only during mornings and late afternoons can the flowers be harvested for optimum yield, and it has to be processed immediately. Distillation needs to be done for a very long time, mostly beyond 20 hours before proper extracts can be achieved. In the past, our country has good supplies. However, recently, there's been a shortage of the Ylang-ylang essential oil and the producers or retailers of locally extracted ones aren't visible.

Elemi essential oil. The big perfume brands has been using elemi essential oil for decades now as part of their products. Its regal, spicy-lemony scent is an exciting one that can uplift the mood and reduce anxiety. Extracted from the gum of canarium trees (Pili tree's cousin) largely found in the Philippines, our country is the leading source of its raw materials. In the past, the gums are harvested and sent to Europe for proper extraction. Today, entrepreneurs have mastered the skills and began harvesting elemi gum from Pili trees and extracting elemi essential oil making it available locally at a more affordable price. Filipinos can now enjoy elemi essential oil's benefits as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, reduces wrinkles and aids minor respiratory ailments.

Because of the complex processes involved in extracting essential oils, they don't come cheap. Plants don't just pop out of the ground instantly, ready to be used. A farmer counts months or years before harvesting these. Imagine the time, effort and patience to let mother nature do things her way. Also, it takes a ton of plant material to produce a few liters of essential oils literally. But you know what, its worth the wait and the costs, because the benefits of essential oils are just worth it.

With the rise of modernization, we may be forgetting our roots to the environment. Essential oils are one of the things that bring us back closer to nature.