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What is an essential oil?


"Essential oils can play a role in your life through many applications. Essential oils are the volatile, aromatic, non-water soluble liquids obtained by steam or hydrodistillation of botanicals. Most essential oils are primarily composed of terpenes and their oxygenated derivatives.  Different parts of the plants can be used to obtain essential oils, including the flowers, leaves, seeds, roots, stems, bark, wood, etc.

Certain cold-pressed oils, such as the oils from various citrus peels, are also considered to be essential oils for traditional reasons but the citrus oils are the only non-distilled oils considered to be essential oils.  These are not to be confused with cold-pressed fixed or carrier oils such as olive, grapeseed, coconut etc. which are non-volatile oils composed mainly of fatty acid triglycerides and should never be called essential oils.

Other aromatic, plant-derived oils, which technically aren’t essential oils because they are solvent extracted, include absolutes (hexane followed by ethanol extraction), CO2’s (liquid carbon dioxide used as the solvent) and Phytols or Florosols (fluorocarbon solvent).  Its very important to understand the fundamental difference between a solvent extraction process and a distillation process, they are not the same thing.   This is why one should absolutely NEVER say that essential oils are “extracted by steam distillation” as this is a nonsensical statement."   From :

What are carrier oils?


Carrier oils are cold pressed vegetable oils and are non-volatile and typically low odor or odorless. They are heavier oils that are usually composed of fatty acid triglycerides. Most carrier oils go rancid fairly quickly due to the presence of unsaturated fatty acid side change (presence of multiple double bonds, providing sites for oxidation). One notable exception to this is Fractionated Coconut oil (not to be confused with whole coconut oil), which consists of only saturated fatty acid side chains and thus does not oxidize and thus has an indefinite shelf life.  From :

How is Devil's Club prepared?


Made from boiling the root or stem bark in water. Tea has the least amount of medicine of the Devil's Club products.  Used internally.


Made from heating chopped root or stem bark in a carrier oil (typicallly coconut or olive oil).  This oil has a higher concentration of medicine than tea. Often used topically.


Made from mixing oil extract (above) with beeswax and other ingredients or oils.  Salves are used topically and have less medicine per oz than oil.


Made from soaking chopped root or stem bark in ethanol alchohol.  Tinctures extract a large amount of medicine from Devil's Club.  They are used internally and externally and measured in drops.

Essential Oil

This is the oil component from steam-distilling fresh root or stem bark.  Essential oil extracts the aromatic medicines and oil components from the bark and is the most potent Devil's club product.  It is used internally or topically.  Due to its resinous qualities it is not to be used in oil diffusers in large amounts.


This is the water component from steam-distilling fresh root or stem bark.  Hydrosol typically contains a tenth of 1% of the medicinal properties of the essential oil.  It is used topically as a soak or internally in water, tea, or coffee.


Because it acts upon a wide variety of systems in the body and is used for dozens of different conditions, Devil's club essential oil is considered to be a super-oil.

What are the medicinal differences between tea, an oil, a tincture, and the essential oil of Devil’s Club?

There are 7 categories of medicine in the Oplopanax Horridus plant.

Polyynes (Polyacetylenes)

Root bark (7)

Stem bark (5)​

Phenylpropanoids (Aglycones and Glycosides)

Lignan Glycosides



Volatile Compounds

Other Compounds

fatty acids
steroid glycosides

  • Tea, infused oil, decoctions, and tinctures contain a combination of any or all of the 7 categories.  The concentration and composition is unknown due to testing limitation.  It is quite possible that the strongest medicine for a given preparation is only present during specific seasons.


  • The essential oil is made from a steam distillation process which extracts all the aromatic components from the Devil’s Club bark or root.  Essential oil from branch bark as prepared by the author has been frequently tested and found to contain mostly sesquiterpenes.  The top 5 constituents remain the same (in various concentrations) throughout the year, with nerolidol as the primary constituent (48-64%).  The essential oil has repeatedly been described by Native people as the strongest version of the ancient medicine.

Why is the essential oil

so expensive to make?


Devil’s Club is not cultivated in a field, garden, or greenhouse-it must be harvested from the wild.  Processing is quite time consuming and hazardous, requiring protective equipment due to the potency of the components and spines.  The irregular shape of the branches makes automation difficult, so essential oil is produced in small batches.  Making the essential oil remains a very labor-intensive cottage industry.

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