The Role of Essential Oils in the Natural Medicine Cabinet

With the use of essential oils rising significantly in the last decade, there seems to have become a cult like following, especially when it comes to brands like Young Living and doTerra. While I am happy to see such a rise in people wanting to take control of their own health, this has quickly become an unsafe and unsustainable path.

So lets talk about the role essential oils should have in the natural medicine cabinet. 

First off, there is ZERO need to have a collection of 50+ oils. ZERO need. Well, okay clinical aromatherapists but 99% of those using essential oils aren't CAs. A lot of people believe that because you can use the herb for something, that you can just use the essential oil in them. 

WRONG.

Whole herbs actually containing more constituents than the essential oils because VOLATILE OILS (which essential oils actually are) are just 1 part of the whole plant...and even then, plants vary on how much volatile oil they contain. The beauty of all these constituents is that they balance each other. This is why you can ingest Fennel seed but not Fennel essential oil.

During the distillation process, only the volatile oil is extracted throwing off the natural balance in the herb. The volatile oil (and its including constituents such as terpenes) are EXTREMELY concentrated. It increases the risk of irritation, sensitization...and straight up burns to sensitive areas (like your mucous membranes....digestive tract, nostrils, mouth, vagina etc). 

They are natural, yes, but that doesn't mean completely safe.

A good collection of essentials oil could be about 5-10.

  • Peppermint or Spearmint (the latter always should be used when you have children under 6)
  • Lavender
  • Citrus (Mandarin, Sweet orange, Lemon, Lime etc but be aware of phototoxicity)
  • Eucalyptus or Fir Needle (use the latter if you have children under 10)
  • Tea tree 
  • 1-2 that you enjoy (For me I enjoy Patchouli)
  • 1-2 for specific issues (Geranium and Clary sage for menstrual woes for example)

The beauty of this list is that it keeps the amount you need down (which means you aren't spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for essential oils you rarely, if ever, use), while still allowing a variety of ailments that essential oils work for. You can create a variety of blends as well.

Now, what do I mean "that essential oils work for".  Well, that brings us to the second part of this post.

Essential oils are not the best choice for everything you will come across. *Shock!*

Remember earlier when I mentioned the different between whole herbs and essential oils? Well, since not all of the whole herb constituents are carried over to the essential oil, you are missing some of the constituents that are the workhorses for that recommendation.

Essential oils are great for inhalation purposes...so air cleansing, respiratory support, mood etc. They are also a great addition to your natural medicine cabinet for topical issues such as burns (Lavender), itches, and even some fungal issues. While there are many herbs available that treat these as well, essential oils are a really nice option for these. They can be slightly faster acting than some herbs for some ailments but they don't have the full capacity of the herb.

For example, if you are cramping during your menses, Clary sage might help relieve some of that pain BUT if the reason you are cramping is due to stagnation in the pelvis...Clary sage isn't going to fix that...I mean really fix it.

See what I am getting at here?

Now the sustainability issue....for Lavender essential oil (an aromatic) is requires 3 pounds of buds to make 15mL (1/2 oz of essential oil).  That is about 27 square feet of Lavender bushes. 15mL is the average size bottle of Lavender....and some people go through multiple bottles of that a month. 

The issues with that is that distillers are creating massive (albeit beautiful) fields of Lavender JUST Lavender. That wipes out biodiversity in that area. 

The problem with wiping out biodiversity is that we are stripping that areas ability to adapt to changes. There is a natural ebb and flow of a given bioregion that is designed for survival. If one type of plant is destroyed by pests, there are still many plants around to survive and keep the area thriving.

For example, in my garden my cabbage was destroyed was Japanese beetles but they left my tomatoes alone. If I had only planted cabbage my garden would become a Japanese beetle hotspot allowing them to feast and rest to their hearts content. 

This isn't just a problem with fields designed for essential oils but with monocropping in general. 

Monocropping, for any reason, is NOT sustainable agriculture. 

BUT there is such a high demand for essential oils that these monocrops have to pop up.

Now, some believe that we shouldn't use essential oils at all and I definitely see that. In fact we have switched over to zero essential oils in our products (tins are still sterilized with tea tree essential oil prior to filling them).

I would also rather see more use of hydrosols, which require much less plant material to create. This means they are more affordable and they are safer...even safe for the youngest babies. They are lovely and extremely beneficial. Our facial toner (the last product we have that still contains an essential oil, until it sells out) contains Rose hydrosol. Soon it will contain Neroli hydrosol in place of Carrot seed essential oil.

Almost done, I swear.

Essential oils should be stored in a dark cool place. Citrus oils should be stored in the fridge. To keep it simple, I store all of mine in a wooden box in the fridge (with the exception of Patchouli which is because it becomes thick when cold).

Light, air, and temperature can cause the essential oils to go rancid. Rancidity increased the risk of irritation and sensitization. Even if your bottles are amber, you still should store them away from light. Buy the smallest size you need because as you use more, more air is introduced into the bottle. 

Lastly, common courtesy.  Do not douse yourself in essential oils before leaving the house. Not everyone will enjoy the scent and it can actually cause problems. Someone might be allergic to certain essential oils or can actually trigger emotional issues for people.

To wear essential oils for yourself, make a small roller and apply your essential oils behind your ear or on your wrist. If you are using them daily, you dilution rate should be no more than 3% (3 drops in 5ml...so in a 10mL roller, 6 drops). You can also enjoy them on an aromatherapy necklace, but then only 1-2 drops at a time.

While this post could go on and on, mainly because I have quite a lot of opinions on essential oils (thanks to my attending American College of Healthcare Sciences in their certificate of aromatherapy program), I will end here.

Almost....for those of you wondering where I buy my essential oils...my favorites are from Mountain Rose Herbs or Plant Therapy. I do not buy any MLM oils as I find them unethical in their practices and their business.

If you would like to see a list of the injuries reported from essential oils from 2016 visit Aromatherapy United's Injury Report Page (I would like to point out here that the majority of these injuries came from MLMs...)