Many of you (via my instagram @she_is_of_the_woods) see me stand firmly against the use of essential oils. I find myself being asked “why” hundreds of times a week so I have dedicated page here explaining my beliefs!
So let's start of with why “essential oils” have become the newest wave. Well, that's simple. They are a billion dollar industry and a driving force behind a vast majority of multilevel marketing scams. DoTerra anyone? I mean, for just x amount of $$ you too can start pretending you know the first thing about these volatile chemical compounds of plants that often take hundreds of pounds to produce tiny amounts of oil.
So what exactly are “essential oils”?
They are volatile compounds that are found in minuscule amounts of every plant in existence and their function is still debated. However, amongst that debate there are three common scientific beliefs, all in my opinion likely hold merit.
The most disturbing of the three when you consider the fact that humans are slathering these on their skin and feeding them to their children is that these compounds are being produced by plants to act as a defense mechanism against insects. In other words, poison. The idea is these oils injure the rasping mechanism of insects mouths as well as tell other animals and such with their scent "DANGER!" don’t eat me! You get the picture.
The second is the belief that they are waste products produced by the plant. Plants have no way of removing waste from their system, so the volatile oils simply build up in them. This has a lot of merit based on the fact that plants that have a short life span produce much higher levels of volatile oils in comparison to those who have a hundred year life span. They simply can't afford to produce such toxins and store them within.
The third scientific opinion, which I also believe rings true to an extent, is that in certain plants volatile oils are produced to attract pollinators with scent. Especially those that have sweeter smell, like the rose.
While this absolutely makes sense, understand that the vast amount of plant material required to produce a single drop of “essential oil” is more than you could ever naturally encounter.
Here is a good neutral article that talks about all three options
So to be clear: nobody truly knows the exact function of essential oils.
(Yes the article referenced above is written by someone who is “pro use” of these refined oils. It is important however to tap into critical thinking skills and let go of our emotional reactions when it comes to information or we will forever be clouded by our own bias. In other words as adults we must agree to disagree and not throw the baby out with the bathwater because someone does not hold our exact beliefs.)
However, we do know how they can affect us for the negative.
Their “scent” alone is strong enough to kill your gut flora. People think EOs are only dangerous when taken internally, but hear me out: Do smokers ingest their tobacco? Do you, when you smell it by proxy? When you breathe in EOs, smoke, whatever, it is absorbed into your blood via your lungs.
Second hand smoke...second hand EOs..same principal.
Think of it this way “scent” is made up of real tangible particles that your olfactory nerves pick up on (your nose and how you smell things) so when you “smell” these refined volatile oils you are in fact using them internally.
This is the same reasons EO diffusers should not be used in homes with birds (canary in the coal mine anyone?) dogs, etc.
So breathing in these refined volatile oils kills your gut health just as much as ingestion does.
But why? Because they are so strong in their refined state they are indeed powerful antibacterials. So ingesting them in any manner is not much different than ingesting antibiotics that kill off all of your gut flora.
Now imagine yourself using a diffuser with kids in your home or when you smell heavily of it in the grocery store line. You are essentially and constantly dosing yourself and those around you with antibiotics.
The damage goes further than the original user in this way.
Here’s a visual way to consider it:
Imagine you drop your kid off at a day care center and you say “oh what is the lovey scent?” and the person said “oh that’s just lavender scented antibiotics floating around in the air!” How would you at that point feel about allowing your child to be breathing that in 24/7?
On that note some refined volatile oils such as lavender and tea tree are hormone disruptors. This is bad. Like linked to breast cancer and injured babes in mother's wombs bad.
The issues with their use keep popping up, such as they can cause seizures in children and people with pre-existing conditions. Yes, even just the scent. Actually primarily from the scent, especially in people who live with neuro diversity and have easy reactions to smells.
Not to mention the uptick in migraines amongst the adult population that is likely linked to incessant exposure to these refined volatile compounds on a 24/7 basis.
How about the damage they can do to your liver or kidneys?
It’s important to understand refined volatile oils have not been in constant public and private use the way they are now for very long despite what many sales reps will tell you and the effects of each refined volatile oil on top of the already known issues is are a very long ways out from being understood.
However the dangers of volatile organic compounds are well documented and “essential oils” do not get a pass on this, especially considering that’s quite factually what they are. Volatile compounds. So honestly the research has been done. It’s just that billion dollar companies and zealous MLM reps work hard to hide that from you.
This article is a quick summery of the scientific paper linked below it.
This one is the whole breakdown of what extremely hazardous VOCs are emitted from “essential oils” that the FDA/EPA actually have regulations against, BUT since “essential oils” are not regulated by the FDA in ANY WAY they don’t have to disclose this information to you in ANY WAY.
“But the Egyptians used them” is what soooooo many people will claim and guess what? They are not wrong, they did indeed make refined compounds.
But if you look past the million and one blog posts that give no real information to how they used them and into the scientific archaeological based papers who are not trying to sell you something you will see a few things these blogs and such wont tell you or honestly what they probably don’t know.
Such as a majority of what they were used for was mummifying royalty because they are such powerful antimicrobials they in the dry conditions helped to prevent the flesh from rotting. Not daily use.
They used them for spiritual practices that again usually revolved around royalty. Not daily use.
Finally when they were used as medicines (keep in mind they also liked mercury and owning slaves) it was reserved for the elite classes of citizens. Not daily use.
This ancient use of refined oils is nothing like the rampant use of these oils today for basically anything and everything you can think of.
Because of our societies compulsive use in response to great sales pitches by multi billion yes billion dollar industries In the next 30-50 years we will likely begin seeing the extreme long term effects play out on the human body that has undergone constant long term exposure from a very young age.
Another huge misconception is that these refined volatile compounds have the same medicinal properties as the whole herbs they are produced from. A lot of injury occurs because of this. The truth is many of these refined compounds behave nothing like the whole safe simple plant matter when used.
So your saying to yourself right now, "But I cut it with oil so it’s not as potent?"
Ask yourself this:
Do you think if I only put a tiny amount of arsenic in my tea it would be safer because it's diluted?
I suppose if you subscribe to the heroic alchemy belief that the poison is in the dose mindset you would.
But if that’s not you (or it is) hear me out.
Cutting a volatile chemical into a “less” harmful amount and deeming it safe is the definition of willful denial. Sure it probably won't kill me instantly, but that doesn't mean it's helping either.
it’s just that we as a now heavy pharmaceutical based culture have learned to associate reaction with health. We have been conditioned to accept small amounts of poison over and over again in the shape of a pill. Just because a substance makes a change in the body does not mean that change is health.
So a perfect example of this is pharmaceutical blood thinners that are basically small doses of what most of us consider rat poison. Does it thin the blood and possibly prevent a stroke in the user? Sure does! Does this mean it’s making us healthy and doing no harm? Sure doesn’t!
Let’s re-frame this into another view point because we all learn in different ways!
Would you set down and willfully consume 63 pounds of peppermint leaf? What that’s crazy to think about right? Now consider the fact that it takes 63 pounds of peppermint leaf to make ONLY 5ML bottle of “essential oils”.
Now I know math is a pain in the ass but I am gana break this down for you!
There are 20 drops in a milliliter so 20 x 5ml = 100 drops, so just for fun lets see how much peppermint you would have to consume in one individual setting to match up to one singular drop of peppermint “essential oil”.
63 pounds divided by 100.= 0.63 pounds.
How does setting down and eating over half a pound of fresh peppermint sound? Still crazy? Because that’s how much you would have to consume in a signal setting to EVER naturally encounter one drops worth of peppermint “essential oil”.
And just because i’m on a roll lets see how many cups of tea you would have to drink to match that amount!
The average peppermint tea bag has 2 grams of dried plant matter in it. You use one tea bag per cup of water.
Are you ready for this?
There are 285.76 grams in 0.63 pounds.
285.76 divided by 2 = 142.88
So ONE DROP of peppermint “essential oil” is equivalent to 142 cups of peppermint tea drank in a single setting.
To really drive this home if you’re the one random person that’s thinking “that’s not very much”
There are 16 cups in a gallon of water… 142 cups divided by 16 = 8.87
That damn near NINE GALLONS OF TEA DRANK TO EQUAL ONE DROP OF PEPPERMINT ESSENTIAL OIL.
Think I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass? Here’s a link to Doterra page where they TELL YOU how much of what goes into 5ml of oil made: https://www.doterra.com/US/en/essential-oil-safety-and-application-plant-perspective This does not change per company no matter how “ethical” or “small” the company is, the amounts needed to make these oils are concrete.
So tell me again how “cutting” down refined volatile oil in a small amount of a carrier oil somehow makes it less refined? Unless of course you’re using nine gallons of oil!
So lets talk about how are EOs killing hands on herbalism shall we?
If you’re not already sending me hate mail (That I don’t read so don’t waste your time.) this will probably be the section that get’s some defensive shackles up!
Take a moment to go look on etsy, go look at your favorite *herbalists* accounts on Instagram, Facebook etc. Pick up there recently published books.
Now tell me how many of their products are made with essential oils? How many of their recipes call for them?
In the current “herbalism” trend yes trend there are thousands and thousands of people putting a drop of this, a drop of that, into some oil and beeswax or what have you and Ta Da, a cure all for xyz has been made and it smells great!!
So right now you might be thinking this is a great thing! More herbal medicine to go around!
But can I ask you something?
Where are the herbs in your herbalism?
What are your trading for this instant gratification mindset? I mean I get it, it sucks to have to wait entire weeks shit even months for a properly infused oil or even tincture to be ready!
But at what cost does this convenience come?
I suspect the price is a rampant loss of connection to the land, respect for the plant nations, respect for our environment, the further loss of ancestral knowledge of plant based healing, the loss of honing a craft and the beautiful time it takes to become truly capable.
I mean why mess with the actual plant and having to step foot upon the land when you can just order it’s most toxic compounds online and put a few drops of it in a thing and call yourself an herbalist?
I have seen this happen before. I see the ramifications of this type of convenience disconnect daily.
As a young girl I loved thumbing through my grandmothers and even my mothers cook books. Seeing all of the intricate and whole ingredient recipes, all of the notes. To me it was magic that simple whole things could be arranged in such a way to make this beautiful and delicious meal. That simply moving the flavors and ingredients in one way or another created a whole new experience of nourishment!
Now in my mid 30’s when I pick up a cook book or click on a blog recipe 90% of the time the ingredients listed are “A box of”, “A can of”, “A packet of”. Very rarely are the ingredients whole let alone anything that our grandmothers would recognize.
Now ask yourself how well that shift has treated our bodies? Our cultures? Our lands?
Because this is what essential oils are to herbalism.
The death of knowledge and health go hand in hand and both die under the heal of one thing and one thing alone.
This is why I will never use them in any of my offerings, do not allow them in my home, and rarely call medicines home from other makers.
Why should I, when I can infuse an oil of my choice with the herbs I am wanting to use?
When I can make a safe simple and easy tincture?
When I can drink a nourishing herbal infusion or have a nice relaxing cup of tea made from whole plant matter?
What is the difference really? Why does whole plant matter mean that much?
Because refined volatile oils carry a minimal amount of a plant's healing abilities. So when we choose to infuse whole plant matter into oil and make this into salves, lotions, creams, balms etc. we are actually creating a well rounded offering that has ALL of the plants healing properties, not only her most refined ones.
So many will say that they don’t have access to whole plant matter, that these oils are great for people who live in the city, everyone assumes you need access to great untouched swaths of land to work with whole real plant matter.
This is absurd. If you are reading this and thinking that It’s important that you understand you have the ability to order whole plant matter online.
The next thing people will say is essential oils gives them a way to comfortably begin working with herbs. What I am about to say next is important. I need you to hear this. To deeply consider it. To allow this message through past your emotions and defensiveness.
If you don’t feel confident in working with the plant as a whole you have no business working with the plants most toxic aspects, not only are they the plants most toxic aspect they have been refined greatly.
You will hurt yourself. You will hurt others. But it does not have to be this way.
If you are still reading I want you to hear another message that is just as important.
You are smart enough to work with these plants in their whole state.
You are worth enough to work with these plants in their whole state.
You are capable of making beautiful healing creations in the slow and whole way in which your ancestors did.
The last words I have to say may very well be the most important.
These plants deserve our respect, you see it is they who are the real healers, not the humans who wield them. Yet when thousands of pounds of plant matter are boiled and cast aside having only deemed the most volatile compound of any worth, well what message does that send to the land? What volume does that speak of our lack of reverence?
I’d say it’s pretty deafening.