What are Absolutes?
Like their essential oil counterparts, absolutes are highly aromatic liquids extracted from plants. Absolutes, however, are not distilled in a still. Absolutes are extracted in a complex manner that requires the use of a chemical solvent to extract the precious aromatics from the plant material. The solvent is then later removed during the final stages of production. A trace amount of the solvent, however, can remain in the final aromatic absolute.
Although the amount of remaining solvent is considered tiny in carefully extracted absolutes, steam distilled essential oils are preferred within the scope of holistic aromatherapy.
Having said that, absolutes do hold their place within holistic aromatherapy and natural fragrancing applications. As with steam distilled essential oils, absolutes must be used with care, respect and knowledge.
While essential oils can offer benefit when taken internally by those properly educated in the internal application of steam distilled essential oils, absolutes are avoided for internal use because of the trace solvent that they contain.
Why is the Aromatic Oil of Some Botanicals Extracted by Solvent (Absolute) Instead of by Steam or Hydro Distillation (Essential Oil)?
The composition of some botanicals includes aromatic constituents that are too heavy to be effectively distilled. Solvent extraction methods are often used in these cases.
As a rule, absolutes are more aromatically potent than their essential oil cousins. While it is true that a little essential oil goes a long way, a little absolute goes an even longer way.
Why are Absolutes and CO2s Sometimes Categorized in With Essential Oils?
AromaWeb's Essential Oil Profile Directory and Essential Oil Safety Edition 2 by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young are examples of this. To elaborate further, Chapter 13 of Essential Oil Safety, is entitled "Essential Oil Profiles." In addition to providing details for over 350 essential oils, the "Essential Oil Profiles" chapter includes the details for approximately 40 absolutes and two resinoids.
As long as an absolute is clearly designated as a solvent extracted absolute, it is generally considered acceptable for absolutes, CO2s and resins to be listed in a category that is simply named "Essential Oils" for brevity.
The cause for concern occurs when a company, salesperson, author or instructor refers to or lists a particular oil as an "essential oil" when it is actually an absolute. For example, it is not appropriate to refer to "Oakmoss Absolute" as "Oakmoss Essential Oil."