Essential Oils

Essential Oils are a beautifully unique form of plant medicine. Perhaps the term "precious oils" would be more appropriate and help us to use this medicine sparingly and safely for our own health, as well as the health of the ecosystems and communities from which the plants are drawn. These oils are processed using large volumes of plant matter to produce a small amount of highly concentrated oil. 

Essential oils (EO's) are the concentrated volatile oils of plants, obtained by steam-distillation or cold pressing from flowers, fruits, roots, and bark. Aromatherapy is an ancient healing art using these natural plants oils for well-being. Used predominantly through inhalation, they have a balancing physical effect on the nervous system, simply from their aroma. They can also be used topically for physical ailments, like sore joints, bruises, and sciatica, and some are useful for first aid.

Essential Oil Terms
There is no governmental agency in the U.S. that certifies or grades essential oil. The terms "pure", "therapeutic grade", and "aromatherapy grade" have no legal meaning, nor is there a standard of use in the industry. Those terms are used for marketing purposes and are not reflective of quality. Additionally, if something is not labeled specifically as an "essential oil", it is not. More information about terms and some tips on buying essential oils can be found at AromaWeb.

Environmental Footprint
It takes a lot of plant matter to make a small amount of essential oil. For your own health and safety as well as that of All our Relations on this planet, please consider the environmental impact of essential oil use and purchase from a reputable supplier who lists the country of origin, processing method, and has sustainable and ethical business practices. 

Use on Skin
Essential oils need to be diluted in a base oil like olive, jojoba, or apricot kernel (to name a few) before using on the skin. These "carrier oils" safely dilute the highly concentrated plant oil so that it doesn't damage the skin. Use of undiluted essential oils can irritate the skin, causing a feeling of burning, redness, and warmth to the area on which it was applied. There is one exception to this rule that my experience has taught me: lavender essential oil may be applied "neat", or undiluted, to the skin for burns, although it is vastly better on burns when combined with aloe vera gel. Some people also state that tea tree essential oil is safe to use undiluted, but I find it very drying to the skin and use it with a carrier oil.

Women who are pregnant should consult their doctor before using any essential oils. Many are not safe during this time of growth and change for both mother and baby. Better safe than sorry!

Use on Pets 
Before using essential oils on pets, please consult a veterinarian who is trained in holistic therapy. Never use undiluted essential oils on your pets - animals clean themselves by licking. I have seen one too many reports of pets who have suffered kidney damage, skin irritations, and other injuries due to the inappropriate use of essential oils. 

The ingestion of essential oils has become a hot topic recently. There are a few companies promoting the liberal use of essential oils internally, while clinical aromatherapy leaders in the industry speak out against this use. 

This is an area where it pays to become an informed consumer and I encourage you to do your own research about this. The German Commission E, a governmental regulatory body made up of scientists, physicians, toxicologists, and pharmacists, reviewed over 300 herbs and prepared monographs citing appropriate use and safety information. Their list of essential oils that are safe for ingestion is short. The list of herb monographs can be found here

If you are considering the use of essential oils internally, you should know what you're putting in your body and if it is safe to do so. It's best to see a trained Aromatherapist (ask where they trained) before doing this. If you have done your research and believe it is appropriate to use essential oils internally, I urge you to consider the internal use of essential oils in the same way you would use prescription or over-the-counter medications: for a specific ailment and only for a short period of time. I have yet to find data that supports the safety of using essential oils internally on a regular basis. (Cigarettes used to be considered safe and even good for us. Years later, we discovered the truth. We can't always "feel" damage being done to our bodies on a cellular level). Essential oils are strong substances, so treat them with the same respect as you would medicine if you choose to ingest them. Also be thoughtful about the route of ingestion. Oil and water don't mix, so placing a drop of essential oil in a glass of water has the likelihood of leaving undiluted essential oil on the mucous membranes of your mouth and throat, and may lead to irritation and burning of those membranes. 

If you're looking for a daily health tonic, there are many herbs to use as teas or extracts that are inexpensive, safe, and readily available. Many of them even make great houseplants or are easy to grow in your garden. Dried herbs on average cost as little as $0.60-$3.00 per ounce - that's a lot of herb for your dollar, especially when compared to the cost of essential oils.

Or we can engage in the wisdom of Hippocrates who said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." How about squeezing some lemon juice into your water rather than using lemon essential oil? It's much safer and certainly has less impact in the environment. Did you know it takes about 100 lemons to produce one ounce of lemon essential oil? 

Below are some links to resources about essential oils and safety. Become an informed consumer and trust your intuition as to what's best for you and your family. If someone is selling us something, we must consider their motivation, and when it comes to my health, I also consider their level of training and knowledge. As someone who studied herbs on her own with many books and workshops for 18 years before entering a clinical herbalist program, I thought I knew a lot about herbs. After one hour of class, I found out how much I didn't know. Sufficient training from experienced professionals is as critical for plant medicine as it is for western medicine, though the practices can be quite different. Here are some links to essential oil safety and use information:

I purchase essential oils from trained Aromatherapists and have been doing so for 20 years. Safety is very important to me and I follow the number one rule of wellness practice: if you can't help, at least don't harm. I look for an essential oil supplier who lists where the oils came from and how they were processed. I also choose to work with companies who are ethical and have sustainable practices. It takes a lot of plant matter to make a little oil. It takes about 60,000 roses to make one ounce of rose essential oil. I carefully consider the environmental impact of my decisions. Do I really need rose essential oil? If so, will a diluted form do what I need or can I use a hydrosol or rose geranium as a substitute? Or will a cup of rose petal tea be what I need?

I tend to use whole plants over essential oils for as many uses as possible, especially internally. I personally do not use essential oils internally for several reasons:
  1. I believe that plants in whole form make the best medicine for us as teas, tinctures, glycerites or in capsule form. Whole plants are the form found in nature. There is something healing about making a cup of herbal tea where I can see the blossoms, leaves, and fruits and connect with the plant where my medicine came from.
  2. Environmental impact - less is more. Enough said. 
I do have a few essential oils I use regularly: lavender, tea tree, 10% dilution of rose and rose hydrosol, ravintsara, and rosemary or thyme. I don't use citrus oils in my home because my daughter is allergic to citrus, though they can be fantastic as natural cleaners. I do have other essential oils that I use for aromatherapy that help with depression and grief, enhance focus, have antibacterial and antiviral properties, and some that are used for meditation and sacred practices. Here are links to my favorite suppliers...knowledgeable, globally-respected, and ethical companies:

Essential oils are precious gifts from the plants. Respect their strength and the sacrifice they have given in order to provide some exquisite healing. Respect yourself and learn more about this beautiful form of plant medicine so you can use it appropriately and safely. Carefully choose what you need to use and use only what you need.

Herbal Blessings, 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Sue. Really appreciate the information and links. Cheers!