Essential Oils: Protestor to Proponent – An Educational Journey

Patricia (Trish) ThompsonEssential Oils

by Tommy Thompson

“What in the heck are essential oils?” was my reply to my wife’s declaration that we were going to start using essential oils in our home.  So began our journey down that road leading to our enlightenment about these wonderful products.  I guess I really did not know enough to actually protest at that time.  They say ignorance is bliss, and I was in an extremely blissful state regarding essential oils-let’s call them EO’s from now on.  I had no idea what they were, where they came from, what they were used for, or where to get them.  Her knowledge was only slightly better than mine, because she had at least heard of them.  That was four years ago.  The funny thing is, when we began researching and using EO’s, our intent was to prove to ourselves that there was nothing to these things, except, wishful thinking and false expectations with a little voodoo mixed in.  Well, I hate to admit being wrong, but education can be a very humbling experience.  With that being said, let me share with you some of what we have learned. This will be old hat to some you, but to those who are where we were, you may find it interesting at the least, if not totally challenging to your way of thinking about EO’s.

What are Essential Oils?

Let’s start with a definition of EO’s.  They are the portion of the fluids of most plants that are responsible for the characteristic fragrance and flavor of that plant.  They are important for the protection and propagation of the plants; they are natural herbicides and pesticides for the plant, as well as, attractors of the pollinating insects that make reproduction possible.  They are often referred to as the “lifeblood” of the plant and are of no less importance to the plant than your blood is to you.  EO’s contain many dozens, if not hundreds, of naturally occurring chemical compounds that perform a complex symphony of effects that no human chemist could ever duplicate in a laboratory, even if all the components in an oil could be identified–which they can’t.  Someone way smarter than humankind put these components together so that their effects are beneficial to both plant and man alike.  These oils are most commonly steam distilled from various parts of a plant like roots, stems, leaves, seeds, fruits, or bark. A smaller number of oils are obtained by cold-pressing, resin-tapping  or through solvent extraction, although solvent extraction invariably produces an impure oil, as some solvent residue will remain in the oil   A properly distilled oil is highly concentrated and potent.  It is aromatic, lipid (fat) soluble, and volatile (evaporates quickly).  These last three characteristics make EO’s very attractive for our use.

We learned that these oils are not something new, but instead have been around since Creation. Yes, since there were plants in the Garden of Eden, there were also essential oils, though not the highly distilled oils we have today.  The Egyptians used them as early as 4500 BC, but steam distillation in its crudest form did not exist until many centuries later.  Essential oils, or at least the plants that many are derived from, are mentioned in the Bible several hundred times.  They were used for ritual cleansing, spiritual grounding and enhancement, as well as, physical healing.  I guess there really is nothing new under the sun–that’s in the Bible, too.  Aromatherapy and topical application to the skin was commonplace at that time.  Can you say “anointing with oil”?

Frankincense Trail

How are Essential Oils Made?

We learned that in modern times, distillation techniques improved, thereby allowing the procurement of many different oils that had many varied benefits to us.  And we have only scratched the surface with only 500 or so oils distilled from the 400,000 species of plants.  But with this increased availability of EO’s comes increased demand on the part of the public, as well as, industry.  Make no mistake about it, the essential oil industry is huge now.  Because it has grown so large, there are many more uses for and providers of these oils.  You should know that all EO’s are not equal.  Roughly 95-98% of the oils produced are used by the fragrance and food industries.  The vast majority of, if not all, of the EO’s used by these industries are totally synthetic, produced by very capable chemists in laboratories from artificial chemicals that mimic the natural chemical components occurring oils.  Or, the oils may start as pure essential oils from the plants, but in the interest of economics–read that profit–the pure oil is adulterated with chemicals in order to enhance fragrance or flavor, to extend the shelf-life, or to produce more product by using fillers and extenders.  You get a few drops of oil and a lot of other stuff.  This is one time that just because it quacks like a duck does not make it a duck!  When you consider the volume of plant material distilled in order to procure just a few ounces of pure oil, you can see how this would hardly be cost effective for that company.  As an example, it takes at least 5000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of rose oil, arguably the most expensive EO produced.  But only a pure, unadulterated EO has the therapeutic benefits that help us to enhance, balance and maintain our body systems so that we can move towards a state wellness and abundance in our lives.

There are a vast number of EO suppliers these days, so it is very important that you research the supplier of the oils that you intend to use.  I am sure that most are well meaning, but they are somewhat at the mercy of their growers and distillers.  It is vitally important that the plants are either wild crafted or grown on farms that use truly organic, sustainable practices.  That means using non-GMO seeds and no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.  These plants must be harvested at the proper time of year, day, and time of day in order to insure the highest quality oil, which means checking these plants hourly as the harvest day arrives.  Once harvested, and depending on the plant, it must be decided whether this particular plant should be dried first or distilled immediately.  This means the grower should also have their own distillery, or at least have one in the immediate vicinity.  The distiller must know the proper temperature, pressure, and amount of time needed to distill the oil, which varies with the species of plant.  These stills should be constructed from some non-reactive material like stainless steel, so that no oxidation takes place that might taint the oil.  The oil should be collected in a similar vessel of stainless steel or glass.  Your rusty 55 gallon barrel will not produce a good oil, nor probably good moonshine either.  This process is both a science and an art.  Once collected, the oil must be analyzed using several different lab tests to insure purity and quality.  Testing in-house and using an independent lab should be done, and if there is any question, a third party lab, like an AFNOR certified lab should also be used.  AFNOR is the organization that certifies the standards for oils produced in Europe.  The US has no comparable certifying organization.  A seasoned expert with a good nose is of great help, also.  Only then should the oil be considered worthy to be bottled and sold to the consumer.  There are, as you can see, many areas where quality can be compromised, even if inadvertently.  There is only one company that has its own farms, distilleries, labs, and bottling facility, and that is Young Living.  It has thirteen farms and distilleries world-wide, as well as, partner farms that must conform to their proprietary Seed-To-Seal  guarantee, or face having their product rejected.

Tea Tree Fields

How Do I Know How to Choose an Essential Oil Brand?

Part of our education has included learning the characteristics, both physical and chemical, of EO’s that gives them their inherent ability to affect us spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  These include their very small molecular size (less than 500 AMU), their vibrational frequency, their lipid solubility, and their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, something that not many pharmaceutical drugs can do.  EO’s are not “one size fits all”, however, as they have the unique ability to work with our personal body chemistry.  So, an oil that works for me for a particular issue may not work for you, while a different oil may.  Many of these oils are adaptogenic in that the oil may be invigorating or relaxing, depending upon your individual need.  They also seem to accomplish things for you depending on your intent.  If you are familiar with the Law of Attraction, you know that much, if not all, of what we receive into our lives has a great deal to do with what we send out vibrationally (energetically) and what we expect to receive.  Our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and prayers greatly influence what these oils can do for us.  With positive intent, believing we have already received the desired result, a pure, unadulterated EO can help deliver amazing benefits.  Intent is powerful, and oils are powerful.  Together they are limitless in their powers to bring the desired result.

We have experienced using pure, unadulterated EO’s in three different ways.  One can either use the aromatic route where we inhale the aroma and allow the molecules to reach the brain more quickly and exert its influence there.  This is great where emotions are the issue or should you want to affect the area of the brain that controls the autonomic functions of the body, like heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and the like. You can use them topically, diluted with a vegetable carrier oil, or neat, our preferred way.  The skin is our largest organ and is a primary route for absorption of oil molecules and a secondary route for excretion of toxins.  The oils are absorbed quickly and enter the bloodstream to eventually reach every cell in the body, which by the way, is where the oils do their work. A high quality EO will leave no greasy residue on the skin after a minute or so.  Health and sickness begins at the cellular level.  How interesting it is that EO’s exert their influence at that microscopic level.  Finally, we can ingest them in either food, drink, or dissolvable vegetable capsules.  Now, I know that there are those out there trained in a particular philosophy of aromatherapy that view this as blasphemy.  I hear you, and I respect your opinion although, I don’t necessarily have the same view.  To those who say that you don’t know that ingestion of EO’s is causing a problem until it shows up, I will issue the same opinion regarding the pharmaceutical drugs that you probably take.  We will have to just agree to disagree on this matter.  The one caveat that I will give regarding how to use EO’s safely is that the oils must be pure, unadulterated by any sort of chemical.  If your oil bottle says do not apply to skin or take internally, I would heed the warning.  I probably would not inhale it either.  Chemicals are chemicals no matter how they enter your body.  The warning probably has more to do with contents than with aromatherapy philosophy.  Safe use of EO’s is of paramount importance to all of us, regardless of philosophical differences.  Perhaps, another article could more completely deal with other safety issues regarding EO use.

Lavender Fields

How are Essential Oils Different than Traditional Medicine?

Finally, let us touch on EO’s, pharmaceutical drugs, and the FDA.  The short and sweet of it is EO’s direct their influence on the problem, pharmaceuticals target the symptom, but  not the source of the problem, as a general rule.  EO’s are virtually free of side effects with the exception of a slight stinging sensation with the “hot” oils, like some citrus oils and those oils that are derived from plants that we would consider “spicy”.  Those with sensitive skin are more affected by this.  Also, a slight redness of the skin is sometimes experienced by some as a result of sensitive skin or detoxification effects, as EO’s are potent detoxifiers.  A carrier oil that dilutes the EO will generally solve those issues.   Allergic reactions are usually not an issue as those molecules that precipitate allergic reactions are usually large molecules like proteins, peptides, and amino acids, whereas EO’s are extremely small molecules as mentioned previously.  All I will say about pharmaceuticals is read the package insert or watch the TV commercials.  Side effects and allergies are commonplace, and the longer a new drug is on the market, the more of these untoward reactions show up.  Approximately 100,000 people die in the US each year as a result of properly prescribed, properly administered pharmaceutical drugs.  Scary, huh?  I am not aware of a documented case of death from the use of EO’s assuming common sense practices were followed.  Please understand that I am not suggesting all pharmaceuticals are bad and that you shouldn’t use them.  You should consult with your personal physician, but also understand that what you do regarding your health is ultimately your responsibility and your choice.  Unfortunately, pharmaceuticals are a big business here, both to the pharmaceutical company and to the government.  Enter the FDA.  They have begun to look more at the EO’s industry and the nutritional supplement industry.  As soon as someone discovers a way to patent a natural product, scrutiny will surely increase on those industries.  The FDA does mandate how the products are labeled for use, but so far, they do not require the same standards that apply to Big Pharma.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.  We in the EO industry need to watch what we say and how we say it.  No claims that we make are intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, nor cure any medical condition.

That is a very small portion of what my wife and I have learned in our journey.  Education is the key, and we continue to learn every day.  A wise man once said that there is no teaching, only learning.  My education has led to a significant breakthrough in my opinion regarding EO’s, and I do not intend to stop learning  I hope this article will spur you on to satiate your curiosity about EO’s.  They are truly wonderful, natural products, if you do your homework and choose the best oils that you can find.  While they may not be miracles, they really are God’s love manifest in molecules.  Enjoy your journey!    

Disclaimer:  Tommy and his wife, Patricia, are Independent Distributors for Young Living Essential Oils