essential oils . . . the death of hands on herbalism
article written by April Graham of Wild Wood Apothecary
(posted with permission)
So let’s start off 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 multi-level 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 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 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: The Function of Essential Oils in Plants by Jeanne Rose
Nobody truly knows the exact function of essential oils. 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 reason 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
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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 constantly dosing yourself and those around you with antibiotics
The damage goes further than the original user in this way
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
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
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 summary of the scientific paper: Essential Oils are NOT Essential by Ian Cull
This article 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: Volatile Chemical Emissions from Essential Oils
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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 that if I only put a tiny amount of arsenic in my tea, it would be safer because it’s diluted?
If you subscribe to the heroic alchemy belief that the poison is in the dose, you would, but if that’s not you (or if 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
One single drop of EO is more than you could EVER naturally encounter no matter how much tea/infusions you drink. Not to mention there’s no way to make EOs on a large scale that doesn’t ravage our natural resources
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So let’s talk about how EOs are killing Hands on Herbalism
Take a moment to go look on Etsy, go look at your favorite *herbalists* accounts on Instagram, Facebook etc. Pick up their 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 you trading for this instant gratification mindset?
Oh well, why mess with the actual plant when you can just put a few drops of it’s volatile oil in a thing?
No more infusing oils, no more compresses, no more nourishing infusions, no more waiting the 6+ weeks it takes to properly infuse an oil or tincture
I am in 100% agreement with Susun S Weed when she says “Essential oils are the white sugar of herbalism”
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?
The death of knowledge and health go hand in hand and both die under the heel of one thing and one thing alone
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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
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So what can you do if you want that beautiful scent without hurting yourself and others?
Well, that takes us to the root of the thing. EOs are a byproduct of hydrosol production. Hydrosol is the water created by distillation. Flower essence, flower waters etc. They more often than not smell truer than the EO anyhow!
So here’s the deal: ANY EO you think you can’t live without has a hydrosol water that you can buy. They even hold their scent in soap making!
The beauty and safe gentle nature of distilling hydrosol pre-dates the use of the essential oil byproduct by nearly a thousand years!
Why is this important to me and many others who do not condone the over zealous use of essential oils?
Quite simply, we know hydrosols, when made with safe plants, are safe. They have been in use long enough to see their entire effect on a human’s lifespan
So why aren’t people ranting and raving and offering you the awesome chance to become a DoTerra sales rep or the like for hydrosol?
Ha, well that’s simple. I have 1 gallon of water in my still with the lilacs in the pic above. I will get 1/2 gallon of hydrosol (if I go further I get a plantie-stalk smell), and about one-fourth teaspoon of essential oil
You can’t justifiably charge exorbitant rates on the hydrosol like you can on the EOs, because quite simply, you can produce it abundantly and easily!
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Why does whole plant matter mean that much?
Because refined volatile oils carry a minimal amount of a plant’s healing ability. 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
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
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When using any form of herbalism it is crucial that you do your own research. Seek out articles & studies that are non-bias and not those coming from companies who promote or sell EOs
So with all of this I truly urge you, beg you, implore you to demand true herbalism whenever you can!
April Graham | Wild Wood Apothecary | May 13, 2016
Research Articles & Studies
An’ May It Harm None by Lisa Marie Layman
On Horseback in Provence by Susan S. Weed
Hydrosols for Skin Care by Marge Clark
Herbal Oils: Infused vs. Essential by Susan S. Weed
Essential Oils by Cathy Skipper
How to Use Essential Oils Safely by Mountain Rose Herbs
Resources for the Safe Use of Essential Oils by Tina Sams
Integrating Aroma: Cautions and Considerations by Mary Kathleen Rose
My Last Words on the Essential Oil Fiasco by Tina Sams
The Disappearing Frankincense Forests by Irene Banos Ruiz
A Survivor’s Guide to the Essential Oil Craze by Madhupa Maypop
Essential & Carrier Oil-Bearing Plants: Conservation Consiousness by United Plant Savers