understanding therapeutic grade essential oils and their benefits

Essential Oil ingestion debate – is Frankincense oil the same as turpentine?

Recently, a discussion was posted on a social media page comparing the GCMS for a high quality frankincense oil with a GCMS for turpentine paint thinner from Home Depot as a chemist’s perspective on whether or not essential oils should be ingested. It was stated that while the point is not that turpentine is exactly the same thing as frankincense, but rather that they are the same class of molecules (terpenes) with many of the same molecules in common, a-pinene being the dominant component of both, and both distilled from tree resin and therefore have solvent properties. This example was given to caution people against putting 10 drops of an essential oil with a dietary supplement label in your water and drinking it down multiple times per day.

The information which follows is not intended to be an argument about whether you should or should not ingest essential oils, but about sifting the information out there which might influence your choices.

Ok, first of all, there are no essential oils with dietary supplement labels sold by any company which the suggested use on the label directs one to add 10 drops to water multiple times per day. In fact there are none which give a suggested dosage on the label of 10 drops at all, much less added to water multiple times per day, so this is an exaggeration to say the least. It may be true there are some individuals who recommend adding 10 drops of an essential oil to your drinking water and doing this multiple times per day. The unspoken implication here is that typical recommendations for water consumption are 8-10 8 oz glasses per day so that could be 80-100 drops of essential oil per day. There are 100 drops of oil in a 5 ml bottle. One company which offers Frankincense oil as a dietary supplement is priced at $29.75 for 5 ml wholesale and $39.14 retail. The suggested use is 1-2 drops, up to three times per day, not 10 drops multiple times per day equaling possibly an entire 5 ml bottle a day.

Secondly, it needs to be understood that there are a whole range of dietary supplements out there, and different people take them for different reasons. However, no one takes the maximum dose of every single dietary supplement they might decide to try, every single day for the rest of their life.  Much less some highly inflated dose that is drastically different from what the label recommends. Especially when the cost of this ridiculously inflated dose could be $30 or more per day. No one is doing that, and even if they wanted to, it would be cost prohibitive. Besides the very obvious fact that 100 drops a day would be a toxic dose for almost any oil, especially if continued for multiple days indefinitely.

Now lets examine the logic that ingesting frankincense oil is equivalent to ingesting turpentine because both happen to be high in terpene molecules. Following a similar logic we could argue that house cats are potentially as dangerous as lions and cougars because they are all members of the family Felidae and share many characteristics. They are all carnivores with fur, four paws and a tail, and they all have sharp teeth and claws. They all growl when they are mad. Neither is it just size that makes one potentially more dangerous, as there are many species of wild cats similar in size and appearance to house cats which are quite vicious.

Ok, so how about the argument that you should not ingest solvents? That sounds like a bad idea, right? However, a solvent is merely the liquid in which a solute is dissolved to form a solution. WATER is a solvent and we all drink that and need to.

Now lets consider a seemingly harmless substance regularly consumed by most Americans. Did you know that according to the USDA, the average American consumes 150-170 POUNDS of sugar per year? Just imagine if you took 30 or more 5 lb bags of sugar and stack them in the corner of your kitchen on New Year’s Day and declare to yourself that you are going to eat all of that by the end of the year. Sugar causes many more health issues than essential oils and these issues are well documented.

In many social media groups and blog posts you hear horror stories of people having holes burned in their esophagus, kidney and liver destroyed etc etc. Often people “know” this so and it is “proven” that essential oils caused these issues because they heard it from their best friend whose aunt’s doctor had a patient who suffered these consequences of essential oil ingestion. In some cases people say it is their own first hand story of what happened to them and they know it was the oils and their doctor agreed it was the oils that caused their issues.

However, it is nearly impossible to find documentation of medical reports or published peer-reviewed studies to confirm these reports, while at the same time, such information abounds for many prescription drugs, foods, and other products. Key information such as age and previous health history such as being a cancer survivor (no one is cured from cancer, they are only said to be in remission if the cancer goes away); family history of kidney or liver disease, medication history, or a host of other issues are often not taken into consideration when someone posts a claim stating they know their issue was caused by essential oils. Also missing is key information on which oil or oils were used, brand, quality, dosage, duration, and other factors which might be pertinent. Instead you see statements like “”lemon oil will dissolve a styrofoam cup! Imagine what it would do to your insides!”” (Never mind that our intestines are not made of styrofoam).

According to analysis conducted by Transparency Market Research, the global essential oil market is expected to reach $24.79 billion by 2022. According to Grandview Research, the essential oil market in the US is expected to reach $7.34 billion by 2024 while the US population is projected to reach 334.5 million by 2020. Although current and projected essential oil use includes a wide range of quality and purity, it is not difficult to see that use is certainly widespread enough that if essential oils really were causing a fraction of the health issues claimed in these Facebook groups and blog posts, real proof and documentation that these adverse events were occurring would not be so difficult to find.

A lot of very misleading information is posted on these threads, particularly when understanding what it means to say essential oils are concentrated, and unfortunately, people are drawn in by it. One blog proclaims that a single drop of lemon essential oil is the equivalent of eating 20 lemons! This is incorrect. Dr. Jean Valnet, a medical doctor who practiced aromatherapy for more than 30 years and who was considered one of the leading authorities in the world on essential oils and their therapeutic use, stated that about 3000 lemons were required to distil one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of essential oil. This works out to about 50 lemons per 15 ml bottle, or per 300 drops; 5 lemons per 30 drops, or 1 lemon per 6 drops. In other words consuming a drop of lemon oil is nothing like eating 20 whole lemons, it is like adding one small slice of lemon to your water or tea, a fairly common practice.

And while some may argue that essential oils added to foods are trace amounts measured in parts per million, the truth is most are proprietary formulas and don’t really state how much is in them. Many essential oils have been ingested in foods and home remedies for hundreds of years, well before the term “aromatherapy” was coined. That is not to say that one should ingest essential oils without investing in the training and/or research to learn about the oils you are using and why you might ingest them. What is right for one person may not be right for another.  However, exaggerated safety claims promote drama, not education.


Essential Oil History and the Safety Debate – Part 2, The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo


Albert May Todd, from:The Todd Family in America by John Edwards Todd, 1920


Albert May Todd was born on June 3, 1850 in Joseph County, Michigan, near Nottawa.  He was the youngest of ten children born to  Alfred and Mary Ann Hovey Todd, who were farmers of Scotch ancestry.  The name Todd is derived from the Scottih word tod, meaning fox. This is represented by historic Todd famly crest which bears three fox heads and a fox running away with a goose and the motto “Oportet Vivere”, meaning “one must live (even if he has to steal for it)”.


Todd Family Crest from: The Todd Family in America by John Edwards Todd, 1920

Later family members chose not to display this somewhat questionable motto and modified it to show  in addition to the three fox heads, simply a fox sitting rather than stealing a goose.

Albert’s father Alfred, was born in Marcellius, New York in 1799, and had moved his family to Michigan in 1835 when he purchased an 80 acre farm near the village of Nottawa.  At that time, the land was still thick, primeval forest which had to be cleared, and only about about 45 acres were suitable for growing crops.  However, the Todds were staunch Presbyterians and industrious farmers and supported their large family entirely with the produce of this little farm, which had to be drawn by horse and wagon sixty miles to the nearest railroad.

During his first few years of school, Albert walked a mile and a half every day to the little red schoolhouse near Nottawa.  Later a school was built on the Todd farm and he attended classes there in between the many chores and farm work that needed to be done.  He attended and graduated from high school in the little town of Sturgis, seven miles from his home.

After this, he joined with his next older brother Oliver, in cultivating and distilling peppermint oil. Peppermint had first been  introduced to St. Joseph County, Michigan by a Mr. Sawyer, who brought roots from Ohio in 1835.  He planted them on the White Pigeon Prairie, selling his operation to Glover & Earle the next year.  They continued for a time but the soil in this area proved not to be well suited for the peppermint crops.


A.M. Todd Company Advertisement, from: Prices Current, Fuller & Fuller Co., Chicago, 1906-07

Another pair of brothers, Marshall and Orrin Craw, obtained peppermint roots about 1840 and introduced them to the oak openings in the northern part of the Florence township, where they grew quite well.  The peppermint business was then taken to a commercial level by John Smith and Harrison Ranney, two farmers who had gained experience in peppermint growing and distilling in  Wayne County, New York. H.G. Hotchkiss of Lyons, in Wayne County, New York  had taken steps in 1844 to establish a monopoly by paying farmers in New York and Michigan to limit their crops for several years.  After about three years, he had gained such a large fortune, he ceased to enforce it, and bought only from New York farmers.  This encouraged the Michigan farmers to expand production to the extent that by 1850, 100,000 to 150,000 pounds of peppermint were being produced win St. Joseph County alone, which more than all the rest of the crops in the world combined. Mr. Henry Hall of Three Rivers was the largest dealer at that time, with a 900 acre farm and four distilleries.


Peppermint farm, St. Joseph County. From The Pharmaceuitcal Era, Vol IV, 1890

Young Albert Todd was fascinated by all of this and felt sure he could make a prosperous living.  He borrowed $100, and rented five acres from his father,  in partnership with his brother and established the A.M. Todd Company in 1869 when he was just 19 years old. The Todd brothers made enough money that by 1873, Albert was able to attend Northwestern University in Illinois for a time, where he studied chemistry. However, due to illness he was obliged to discontinue his studies and traveled to Europe to recuperate.

Evidently, the trip served Albert well, and he took advantage of the time to study Eureopean methods of peppermint cultivation and distillation.  Meanwhile, Oliver decided he did not wish to continue in the peppermint business and asked his brother to take it over, so Albert bought him out.  With the knowledge of chemistry he had learned while studying at college, and his observations while traveling in Europe, he set about planning to improve upon these crude methods and develop superior methods for cultivating and distilling the crop.  Albert went heavily in debt, and many laughed as he purchased 1400 acres of black, mucky swamp land for $25,000 to develop his new peppermint enterprise. Extensive work had to be done clearing the land of tangled wood-growth, stumps and roots, and miles of deep drainage ditches had to be dug.  And after all that, the land was still so boggy that the horses had to be fitted with strange, cumbersome, “bog shoes” in order to avoid sinking deeply into the mire.  These round, wooden contraptions about a foot in diameter, resembled snowshoes and were held on with straps.


A.M. Todd Campania Peppermint Farm, Allegan County Michigan, 1640 acres.                    From Michigan Bureau of Labor Annual Report, 1903

Nevertheless, up to that time, the reputation of Michigan peppermint was not the best, so Albert had his work cut out for him, despite the large production.  Many farmers were not careful about weeding their crops which reduced the quality of the oil.  Adulteration was often practiced by diluting the peppermint oil with one third rectified spirits. Turpentine or pennyroyal was also sometimes used by unscrupulous dealers to extend the oils and increase their profits. The Hotchkiss brand continued to be the gold standard of purity in peppermint oil, and Albert set out to compete with this.

Over the next several years, Albert continued to add to his holdings.  He called his farm Campania, building it to 1640 acres, and keeping about half of it planted in peppermint.  He added huge barns, comfortable houses for himself and his employees with libraries and reading rooms, distilleries, warehouses, ice houses, windmills, and more, turning it into a small village.  Albert treated his employees kindly and fairly, feeling they would do better service, and this practice served him well. He then added a second farm, which he called Mentha, consisting of 2000 acres, and finally a 7000 acre farm farther north which was called the Sylvania Range.  Being thrifty, he made the land work for him, and raised a herd of 500 shorthorn cattle, letting them graze in summer, and feeding them mint hay during the winter months, a diet which they thrived upon.

Altogether, these farms totalled 10,640 acres, making the peppermint farms of A.M. Todd the largest in the world.  Like H.G. Hotchkiss had done, Albert obtained Black Mitcham peppermint root stock from England in 1883, and developed the black peppermint variety which yielded more oil.   Albert also developed refining and redistilling techniques.  His brand of Crystal White double distilled peppermint, which he patented in 1875, became well known and won many prizes.  These included a Gold Medals and diplomas at the United States Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876; the Chicago World’s Fair Exposition, 1893; the Paris World’s Fair Exposition, 1900; the Pan American World’s Fair Exposition in Buffalo, New York, 1901; and the St. Louis World’s Fair Exposition, 1904.


From The Chemist and Druggist, July 1894

Albert was among the first to develop tests and standards to maintain the quality of his oils.  He also tested and exposed fraudulent oils, including some who attempted to forge his Crystal White peppermint oil. His Mentha farm developed into an entire small community of its own with school, store, and post office.  This rare video from the Kalamazoo Public Library  shows actual footage of the Mentha farm, and the planting, harvesting, and distilling of peppermint oil there.


From American Druggist, December 1889


From The Druggist’s Ready Reference, 1887

Meanwhile, Albert ran for Governor of Michigan in 1894 under the Prohibition Party, but was unsuccessful.  He tried in 1895 to fill a vacant seat in Congress during a special election, which was also unsuccessful, but finally won a Congressional seat on the Democratic ticket in 1896, serving until 1898, but failing to win reelection.  Over the years, he made  several trips to Europe, and in addition to carrying out details of his peppermint business, he also collected fine art, rare books, and other artifacts, collecting more than 10,000 pieces of memorabilia.


Albert M. Todd for Congress. From Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Public Domain

By the time H.G. Hotchkiss died in 1897, Albert was poised to take the lead in the peppermint industry, and he came to be known as “The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo”.   The Hotchkiss brand maintained its stellar reputation and many of the European buyers, as well as pharmaceutical companies and other longstanding customers, chose to stay with it.  However, new  markets for peppermint oil in the flavor industry were expanding rapidly.  William Wrigley Jr. began marketing his famous DoubleMint gum, flavored with peppermint oil, and soon BeechNut, American Chicle, and other companies began selling widely popular gums and candies flavored with peppermint oil.

In 1924, verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus was discovered in Michigan crops.  This was followed by a severe frost in late May of 1925 which decimated the peppermint crops.  As production of peppermint oil suffered, prices rose, and by 1925 the price of peppermint oil had gone up from  $4.50 to $32 a pound.  The A. M. Todd company went to work developing disease resistant strains.  Albert died in 1931 at the age of 81, but the A.M. Todd company continued to thrive, passing down through generations of his family until it was sold in 2011 to the Swiss Company, Wild Flavors.   The company continues to operate as a subsidiary of Wild Flavors at its location in Kalamazoo, Michigan, although it no longer grows any peppermint. Most peppermint production has moved west to Oregon and Washington, with Oregon currently the leading producer of peppermint oil, representing 34% of the nation’s crop.




Essential Oils – Forgotten Wisdom or Simply a Fad? An Overview of Essential Oils During the Past Century Part I

On the surface, this question is easy to answer. Essential oils are here to stay. Their history goes back thousands of years and they are still here because they have never been quite forgotten.

According to a recent study published by Zion Research, the global essential oils market is poised for rapid growth and expected to reach $9.8 billion during the next four years (by 2020), increased from an estimated $5.5 billion in 2014. Another study conducted by Grand View Research confirms the trend, projecting the market to reach $11.67 billion by 2022.

Essential oils have been used to support health and wellness around the world for thousands of years, and were also an important part of Biblical tradition. The high demand of essential oils for the flavor and fragrance industries during the last century resulted in many companies marketing a wide range of oils.  With no standardization, many inexpensive oils claiming to be pure are actually extended or adulterated with synthetic chemicals or cheap substitutes. Consumers have been confused by different marketing terms such as pure, organic, therapeutic grade, certified pure therapeutic grade, or even clinical grade.  In the United States there is no authoritative independent body at this time which grades or certifies the quality of essential oils.  These are all marketing terms, defined by the companies who sell them.  Oils from one company labeled as therapeutic grade are not necessarily the same as oils labeled therapeutic grade by a different company.  Oils labeled “certified” therapeutic grade simply means that company certifies (attests, assures, states it is true) that their oils are therapeutic grade. Clinical grade is yet another marketing term which implies these oils are superior because they have clinical studies, doctors use them, etc.  But again, there is no grading system. Other oils labeled as pure, organic or therapeutic may have just as many or more clinical studies, used by doctors, etc.  For anyone seriously interested in using essential oils, especially for therapeutic purposes, it is important to learn as much as you can about essential oils, and the suppliers from which you obtain them.  Increasing concerns about essential oil quality have led to higher standards and more testing.

In this series, we will attempt to focus on the history of essential oils during the past century, the various pioneers, researchers, doctors, scientists, and some of the top essential oils companies leading up to the present.  As essential oils continue to grow in popularity, it is certain they are here to stay.  Coming next, The Real Story of René-Maurice Gattefossé.

To  learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may help support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.

For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.

If this information has been helpful, you may make a small donation to help defray the costs of research.  Thank you!

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.