My Problem With Essential Oils...

I am willing to bet many people who read this post are going to take it personally, or get angered by it, or think it’s a bunch of New Agey nonsense and ignore it all together. Essential Oils seem to invoke large feelings and I ask people to read this with an open mind. 


Now, I want to start by saying that I don’t hate essential oils. I love them, which is why I feel that this post is important. I have Holy Basil and Rosemary sprinkled on some diffuser stones next to me right now as I type. I believe they have a special place in our lives, once we change our perspective on them. This is my first problem...we view them as dead...as a tool to be used as we like. They are not a tool, they are allies. They are a plant medicine, produced from a living being. According to the traditional Alchemists, the essential oil is the soul of the plant...the SOUL...we are using the soul of a living being to clean out our toilets...It shifts your perspective a bit when you think of it that way. 


No, my problem is not with the essential oils themselves, my problem is with the industry, and how they are perceived, and how we are taught to perceive, not only them, but nature as a whole. 


For those of you who do not know what an essential oil is, I will give a very simple, brief explanation. An essential oil is made by placing a large amount of plant material into a stil, and pumping steam through it. The volatile molecules in the plant are carried up and out through the steam, and then condensed down again into our beautiful oils. Oils are also produced through solvent extraction (eg, Jasmine), enfleurage, and mechanical expression (eg.citrus oils).  Not all plants produce essential oils that we can extract. Plants need to have enough volatile molecules in them to make it worth our time to extract them and condense them again. Some plants have lots, like peppermint, and some have very little, like Rose. This is reflected in their prices. The more plant material needed to produce an oil, the higher the cost. It takes about 4 tons (tons!) of rose petals to make 1 kg of essential oil. That’s like turning an elephant into a pineapple. Just think of all the land it takes to grow that many roses...and the labour and resources needed as well. We get up in arms about our factory-farm agricultural system destroying ecosystems, but what about the massive amount of land base needed to cultivate those lemons to make that lemon oil we like to scrub our toilet bowls with, or those endangered Rosewood trees who are literally being poached out of their forests, because we are glutinous for the smell of them.


I would like to say again that an essential oil is ONLY the volatile molecules. A lot of  molecules are left behind in the plant material. This is why it bothers me when people use essential oils and their whole herb counterparts interchangeably...they are not the same thing anymore.  Essential oils are only the molecules small enough to be carried up by steam, leaving behind the larger, heavier molecules. These larger molecules are the vitamins, minerals, polysaccharides, acids etc that make up a large portion of a plant’s chemistry. They are NOT the same as the whole herb. They are a plant extract, just like an infusion or tincture, which opens up to my second problem for this post...they are not taught alongside herbs. 


When you study herbalism, you are taught all about the different types of plant extracts and the different ways they are used to support health and healing. An herbalist is taught to make and safely administer tinctures, syrups, oxymels, fomentations, poultices, compresses, decoctions, and infusions, but essential oils are hardly mentioned, and when they are it is as an afterthought or as a warning to be careful with them. No depth is gone into at all, unless you want to study them separately and become an Aromatherapist, which luckily for you all, I have done both.


Becoming a properly trained Aromatherapist is A LOT of work. There is a lot to learn. Anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, chemistry, biology...SAFETY(that’s another post)….these are all involved in great detail. I learned all about mitosis again! It is that in depth...but so is training to be an Herbalist! All those same sciences are involved as well as Botany and math. I’ve always wondered why there is such a divide between Aromatherapy and Herbalism, when they are clearly stronger used together. 


I use Essential Oils as helpers, as ad-ins, as boosters and partners for whole herbs, or when they are clearly the best choice for a job (it’s hard to scent a candle with whole herbs), but not as a catch all. Essential Oils are NOT a panacea, and these days, with the way they are used, we are doing much more harm than good with them...but that is also for another post…


My advice is to get your essential oils from a company who cares about the plants, just as much as they care about the final, sellable product. Artisan distillers are harder to find, but they have a superior product because they are made with love from beginning to end.... 

Also, do not get your essential oil training from someone whose sole purpose is to make sure you also buy their essential oils. That sort of training is biased, and does not take into consideration the whole of what an essential oil is and can do.  


And, to put it frankly, I don’t think we deserve to use another creature’s soul for anything, until we can do it with the respect and reverence it deserves. Think of where our beautiful Earth would be if more people thought like that....