I have the pleasure to be around over 300 natural product vendors every day, receiving training and education from all of them. Scarlet Sage carries around 10,000 products which means I have a large responsibility to discern and decide what products to carry, how to use them appropriately, and how to educate our customers on the best use and safety of all herbal and health care products.
More often than not, I am concerned about the knowledge being thrown around the globe about the use and efficacy of essential oils. I asked about taking them internally, estrogen components, why organic, therapeutic-grade, etc. So, I asked the professionals at Veriditas Botanicals to decipher how to communicate fairly complicated research to every person. Here is my quick interview with Amy Pereira which I hope will enlighten you as much as me.
Conversation between Laura Ash, owner of Scarlet Sage Amy Pereira, educator at Veriditas by Pranarôm
- How are essential oils made?
While some essential oils are gathered through cold pressing, most essential oils are made by the distillation process. Plant material is harvested and then, depending on the plant, is placed into a still, in or above spring water or other pure water with low mineral content. Heat is applied, and water and steam then help open plant cells and liberate the many volatile aromatic essential oil molecules. The steam and essential oil vapors rise and eventually enter a cooler area of the equipment where plant gases condense into essential oil and steam condenses into a liquid now considered a hydrosol. The two liquids are separated, packaged and sold separately as essential oil and hydrosol. While this is a relatively simplified description of the distillation process, many additional details must be considered, and actions properly executed in order to create truly fine quality end products.
- Why is organic important?
- Essential oils are produced by plants to help ensure their survival. They serve the plant’s reproductive system by helping to attract pollinators that spread plant seeds, support fertilization and so on. Essential oils also serve a plant’s immune system by helping to combat threats like bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Scientific Medical aromatherapy involves harnessing the power of nature to support human health by using essential oils for, not only, inhalation, diffusion and topical application but for internal purposes as well.
Many pharmacists, aromatherapists and other health care professionals recommend an essential oil based on its chemical profile or because of a specific chemical constituent within. When sprayed with agricultural pesticides, plants may no longer produce essential oils in the same manner as when grown organically and in accordance with the laws of nature. Shifts away from organic farming practices can cause changes to an essential oil’s chemical makeup, resulting in subpar aromas and altered ability to safely and effectively support the body as it did for thousands of years before chemical pesticide and fertilizer applications became commonplace.
- The environmental impact of pesticides, fungicides and other chemical applications is also a significant consideration. Not all these chemicals are taken up into or remain directly on the plant. Some enter the soil & ground water and affect much more than just the “pests” they are intended to demolish. There is also great potential for pests to become resistant to chemical treatments-- not unlike the “super bugs” that resist even the most potent antibiotic treatments and leave doctors and researchers in search of new, more powerful chemicals to combat infectious diseases. As pests, grow and evolve to resist and survive these chemicals, greater amounts may be necessary to achieve the same result, which can obviously result in more chemicals on our farmlands and food and can ultimately lead to the creation of new chemical combinations.
- Lastly, it takes a vast amount of plant material to create a relatively small amount of essential oil. For example, 2,000 lbs. of fresh organic Lavender blossoms are required to produce one gallon of organic Lavender essential oil, and approximately 60 organic rose buds yield a single drop of organic rose essential oil. Imagine if the plants are not organically grown. Plant material, that is covered in chemicals and condensed into an essential oil may be labeled as pure or therapeutic but may be laden with undesirable synthetic chemical residue. While the words pure and therapeutic may indicate quality, they are not synonymous with USDA 100% Organic or ECOCERT (a highly strict organic certification program that was founded in Europe and is currently recognized in over 80 countries worldwide). For a product to be guaranteed organically-grown and guaranteed to be free from synthetic additives and other undesirable ingredients, it must say USDA 100% Organic and/or ECOCERT on the label. Veriditas by Pranarom essential oils are pure, unadulterated and of immense therapeutic value and are always certified ECOCERT and USDA 100% Organic.
- What is the difference between Therapeutic-grade and Perfume-grade essential oils?
Therapeutic grade generally refers to an essential oil that is touted as capable of supporting human health and well-being whereas perfume grade speaks to the quality of a certain aroma or presence of certain aromatic molecules. Both “therapeutic” and “perfume” grade essential oils may be chemically adulterated by chemist, manufacturer, or others along the way. Like the word “natural” has no formal legal definition or regulation, the terms therapeutic or perfume grade are not legally defined or specific guarantees. From perfume and therapeutic standpoints, an essential oil may be selected or included in a blend due to the presence and quantity of a certain chemical constituent but, again, both perfume and therapeutic grade oil products may contain substances (synthetic or natural) that were not present in the original essential oil.
Only essential oils and oil products with the USDA 100% Organic/ECOCERT seals are guaranteed to be free from adulterants or the addition of any chemical constituents that may appear desirable on a product label but that are not part of a plant’s natural chemistry and natural synergy. To identify the presence and percentages of the chemicals within an essential oil, it must undergo gas chromatography testing. Gas chromatography machines analyze and identify hundreds of naturally-occurring constituents within a sample of oil and can also detect the presence of hundreds of agricultural and other synthetic chemicals. Because Veriditas by Pranarom produces essential oils and essential oil blends suitable for Scientific Medical Aromatherapy, it’s critical that every batch of oil is tested and verified to contain only naturally occurring chemicals, in percentages the plant naturally contains when organically grown. This testing also ensures that the farmers and distillers have adhered to the stringent farming methods and practices that allow all Veridtias by Pranarom products to be certified both USDA 100% Organic and ECOCERT.
- Can I drink essential oils internally?
While some essential oils are considered safe to be used internal in very metered amounts for food flavoring therapeutic and purposes, other essential oils are entirely unsafe for internal use and may cause toxicity, organ damage or worse. Peppermint essential oil is frequently, used as a flavoring in many foods, beverages and other products sold and intended for internal use. Some brands of breath mints and cough drops contain a single drop or more of Peppermint per serving; however, Peppermint essential oil may exacerbate heartburn and, while generally considered “safe”, may not be beneficial for internal use in certain individuals. Considering the vast amount of plant material required to create each single drop of essential oil, it is important to continually reiterate that every individual adopts a mindful and cautious approach that is based upon his or her health status, established essential oil safety records, and his/her practitioner’s advice.
- How "safe" are essential oils?
Although essential oils have a long history of medical use in Europe, humans have been harnessing the essences of plants for human health benefits for millennia. In fact, the earliest recorded use of distillation pots dates to 3,500 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. When used properly, essential oils can be both safe and supportive of one’s health and well-being. Whether diffusing, applying topically, or ingesting for therapeutic or food flavoring purposes, one should always refer to the manufacturers’ directions for use and, if ever in doubt about essential oil safety, seek advice of a health care professional. One final point to recall is that no matter how one uses essential oils, organic matters- and contributes to the safety and wellbeing of our planet and all its inhabitants!
- Is it true that there are phytoestrogens in essential oils? Can I put them on my daughter?
Many plants contain phytoestrogen compounds, such as flavones and isoflavones, that may have weak estrogen-like effects in the body but these phytoestrogen compounds rarely make it through the distillation process because of their lack of volatility (the easily-evaporating/volatile components released from the plant’s cells are collected as essential oil while heavier, non-volatile components remain behind in the plant material). Although not phytoestrogens, certain essential oil constituents are believed to have weak estrogen-like effects and may weakly bind to estrogen receptors in the human body.
Some of the main essential oil constituents that are discussed in this way are citral, sclareol and trans-anthenol. Lemongrass, Lemon Verbena, Citronella, Melissa, Eucalyptus citrodoria, and May Chang tend to contain higher amounts of citral, while Clary Sage contains sclareol, and Anise and Fennel contain higher amounts of trans-anthenol. Interestingly, some essential oils which contain constituents with potential estrogen-like effects also contain constituents with anti-estrogenic effects, in a sense, helping to create a naturally-balanced overall chemical profile. Again, although the essential oil constituents are not true phytoestrogens, and although most medical studies on their estrogen-like effects involved injections and internal use of essential oils in rodents, those with or concerned about estrogen-related cancer may wish to avoid these oils and/or use only if deemed appropriate by their practitioner and perhaps used sparingly as part of a well-diluted blend.
French Medical Aromatherapy considers many essential oils safe for children when used appropriately. Considering the vast amount of plant matter in each drop and the sensitive nature of small children, it’s wise to be respectful of this concentrated phytochemistry and to always properly dilute essential oils, if using at all. A 1% dilution would call for 1 single drop of essential oil per 5 milliliters of carrier oil or 6 drops of essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil. For infants, it is often considered best to limit essential oil use to perhaps just organic Lavender and to use in a well-diluted manner or to use hydrosols instead; hydrosols contain little to no essential oils but still contain beneficial water-soluble constituents, making them a potentially safer option for kids (and pets). Above all, always remember to refer to safe dilution guidelines when making kid-friendly body care and aromatherapy products, and to keep your health care practitioner informed and involved in your family wellness plans.
- What is the best use of essential oils?
This is a very relative question, as everyone who is asked this will have his or her own unique perspective and favorite way to use essential oils. If we ask this of three different people, we’ll likely receive three (or more!) different answers and, if we ask at different times of the year or different times of one’s life cycle, we’ll likely hear still more variances. As a soap maker, I personally love to use resinous oils (like Vetiver, Patchouli and Oakmoss) with deep base notes because the aromas of these oils tend to survive the saponification process during which fats and essential oils undergo a chemical process and are transformed into a new homogenous end-product that’s so much greater than the sum of its parts! As a perfumer, I enjoy blending an even wider palette of oils than I blend for soap making, as the oils remain chemically unaltered and truer to their natural aroma. In the home, I love to use antimicrobial oils, like Lemon, Thyme, Lavender, and Tea Tree, to create non-toxic cleaning products and keep surfaces sanitary and fresh-smelling, and love to diffuse oils that support respiratory health and mental clarity, like Lavender, Eucalyptus, Clary Sage, Rosemary and Spike Lavender.
A few drops of an expertly-blended, synergistic, organic essential oil formula can also go a long way in supporting whole body wellness. Veriditas by Pranarom’s Stress Recovery blend is a beautiful addition to a warm bath and their Rose Regenerative Facial Oil is an amazing combination of essential oils for beautiful skin of all ages. For travel, the essential oils in Immunity Boost make it an excellent makeshift hand sanitizer and a few drops of Sleep Aid on my hotel pillow help to promote restful sleep and help me maintain a healthy sleep routine when away from home.
Although the list could go on and on, I hope that this reflection is food for thought for some of the nearly countless ways that organic essential oils and essential oil blends can positively impact the health of our selves, families, home environment and planet at large.