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.
Within aromatherapy circles, increasing focus has been brought to bear on the issue of safety, based on the belief that essential oils for home or personal use is a relatively new idea – and previously were seldom used except by doctors or pharmacies. This is simply not true.
The term “aromatherapy” was first coined by René-Maurice Gattefossé and did not come into common use until after his book Aromathérapie was published in 1937. However, steam distillation of essential oils has been known for at least 5000 years, and the use of a variety of plants for medicinal and natural remedies, as well as other uses, has been handed down through many cultures, including America. The practice of using plants, herbs, botanicals for home remedies, and a number of essential oils, came to America with the earliest settlers and has persisted through the years, never being entirely forgotten. The very inclusion of most essential oils on the FDA’s GRAS list is based on substantial history of common use in food prior to January 1, 1958 as provided by CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 .
One of the most interesting in the history of essential oils in the U.S. is the story of peppermint. A member of the mint family, peppermint is a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint, originating in North Africa and the Mediterranean area. It has a long history of cultivation and medicinal use, dating back to at least 1500 B.C. It was mentioned in Icelandic Pharmacopoeias as early as the 13th century, and listed in the London Pharmacopoeia by 1721. Peppermint was brought to the US by early settlers, and became common in Massachusetts where some of the earliest colonies were established.
In 1810, a peddler named Archibald Burnett from Ashfield, Massachusetts, set out by foot for New York with another peddler, each carrying a pack sack full of Yankee notions which they sold along their journey. Burnett settled upon the shores of Lake Canandaigua, the fourth largest of the Finger Lakes, and there remained until he received an urgent letter from his brother Nahum, urging him to return home as he had important news which could not be trusted to the mail. Archibald made the long walk home, a distance of some 275 miles. There he discovered that Nahum had been experimenting with distilling the peppermint that grew along the stream banks, and felt that if his brother would move back home and help him, they could make a considerable amount of money. Archibald had an even better idea. He felt sure the peppermint would grow even better on the rich flats of the Canandaigua Outlet, and there they would have no competition from other farmers distilling it, for at that time, the plant was not known outside of Massachusetts. Accordingly, Archibald set once more on the trek back to New York, this time with a pack of carefully nurtured peppermint stolons slung over his shoulder. Nahum sold his little farm and soon followed. In 1814, the brothers purchased 40 acres of land near South Lyons, where they set out the peppermint plants and erected the first crude distillery.
True to Archibald’s prediction, the peppermint plants did extremely well on the mucky flats near the lake, and so successful was their venture that many of their Ashfield neighbors also came to Lyons and began distilling peppermint, which was soon taken up by other farmers of Wayne County.
Meanwhile, Hiram G. Hotchkiss, the man destined to be America’s Peppermint King, was born on June 19, 1810 in Ontario County, New York to parents Leman and Theodosia Gilbert Hotckiss. He was just four years old when the Burnett brothers brought the first peppermint plants to Lyons, a small community of about 3500. His father, a merchant, had moved the family to Phelps, Ontario County where he opened the first General Store in town in partnership with David McNeill. Hotchkiss & McNeil became one of the most highly regarded mercantile firms in Western New York, doing brisk sales in excess of $100,000 per year, which was an enormous sum in those days. Hiram G. became a clerk in this store at 12 years of age and worked his way up. By the time he was 18, he opened his own General Store in Phelps in partnership with his brother Leman B., and cousin, William T. Hotchkiss, as well as successfully operating two mills. By 1828 he had begun buying peppermint oil from the Burnett brothers and other farmers, along with their wheat.
At that time peppermint oil was in common use as a home remedy for digestive, respiratory and other common ailments, but it was mostly imported from England. For a time, H. G., as he was known, sold the peppermint oil in his store. In 1833, he married Mary Williams Ashley, daughter of Dr. Robert Ashley of Lyons, and began to raise a family. Eventually they would have three sons and nine daughters. H. G. began to accumulate more of the peppermint oil than it was practical to sell in his store alone, and so founded his Hotchkiss Essential Oil Company in 1839. He tried to sell the peppermint oil in the New York markets. Adulteration of the oil was so common they refused to even look at his product. However, he knew his oil was pure and of excellent quality, so refusing to be discouraged, he rebottled the oil in cobalt blue bottles manufactured by the Ely Glass Company in nearby Clyde, and consigned it to London and Rotterdam Company in Hamburg, Germany. There the oil was promptly met with great favor, and tested and found to be the best and purest peppermint oil in the world. Ultimately it was sold back to the New York markets who had refused it before.
The Hotchkiss label of peppermint oil was soon widely recognized both for its purity and extreme potency. By 1844, H.G. moved his family to Lyons to be nearer the Erie Canal, which had been constructed in 1825, and was a main means of transporting the oils. Purchasing a large tract of land, he began cultivating peppermint in earnest, using horses to plow the land and harvesting the peppermint by scythe in the fall after blooming. It was said the canalers could smell the fragrance of peppermint wafting on the air as the neared the small town of Lyons. The New York Central Railroad was established in 1853, which surpassed the canal as a primary means of transport, but still the little town was favorably situated. The town of Lyons prospered and many of the local farmers who grew peppermint for Hotchkiss were able to pay their mortgages with it.
The geology of Wayne County has a curious history, being formed of parallel rows of elongated hills known as drumlins, which are said to occur in swarms. They were known to be caused by glaciation more than 12,000 years ago, when ice a mile thick had covered the area of western New York. The matter of exactly how they were formed was a topic of debate for more than a century and a half but was finally settled and explained in an article by retired geologist Fred Haynes. According to Haynes, it was found that the drumlins were islands of sediment rooted in bedrock, with the intervening regions washed out by rivers and streams from glaciers melting, and cutting deeply into the Paleozoic bedrock, making the contrast all the more dramatic. The receding glaciers were also responsible for the formation of the Finger Lakes in the region, and the rich fertile wetlands surrounding the lakes and often the areas between the drumlins. These were known as mucklands and proved to be ideal for the cultivation of peppermint.
The first year, H. G. began his peppermint oil business in only a small way, selling less than 1000 pounds of oil. After horses had plowed the land, it was carefully marked off into furrows about three feet apart. Workmen with sacks of roots began setting out the peppermint plants in sets placed thickly and then covered lightly. The plants took hold easily, and the dark green leaves contrasted handsomely with the delicate pink flowers which began appearing in late August.
When the peppermint was ready to be harvested, workmen came again to the fields, cutting the now two foot tall plants with scythes close to the root, and the harvest continued into September. The plants were piled into windrows and allowed to cure in the sun for 12 hours, so the oil would be more easily expressed. Then they were pitched off into the wooden distilling vats which consisted of heavy staves hooped with iron, where they were trodden down.
When the vats were filled with plant material, they would be covered, made steam tight with rubber packing, and fastened with screw clamps. Steam was then forced in by a pipe near the bottom of the vat, which connects to a steam boiler at thirty to forty pounds pressure. This was a method different from that used in Europe which applied fire directly to the still. The size of the vats corresponded to the amount of steam furnished by a boiler, but some of the vats described were four to five feet in diameter and twice as deep. Another pipe in the center of the vat cover connected the vat to a condensing worm, which again varied in size according to the capacity of the still, but would become progressively smaller toward the outlet.
The stills would be built so as to place the condensing worm directly in the stream so it would be cooled by a constant supply of cold running water. The volatized mint oil would mix with the steam in the condensing worm, and then was collected into the receiver where specific gravity would cause the oil to separate from the hydrosol water. The receiver would often consist of a tin vessel with a pipe running from the bottom nearly to the top of the vessel where it then turned outward, and the weight of the oil would cause the water from the lower part of the vessel to rise in this spout and drip out. Oil would then be dipped from the receiving vessel when a few pounds had accumulated.
First year crops were the best and purest. No cultivation was required in the second year, and in the third year, the ground would be plowed again, allowing the plants to spring up anew from the the broken roots.
After this, the land would be exhausted, and it was necessary to rotate with another crop, usually corn.
In 1846, H. G. discovered that the peppermint output of New York State at 44,500 pounds was triple that of competitors in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana combined. Eureopean demand, however, was only 12,000 pounds. Accordingly, H.G. paid growers in 1847 to sell him set amounts for two years and destroyed all of the surplus. This provided him with a temporary monopoly which allowed him to control the market and the quality, elevating peppermint oil prices. After he won prizes at the World’s Fair in London in 1851, and the New York World’s Fair in 1853, he bought only from New York growers to maintain quality. There were two distilleries, one near the plant and canal, and another on Pilgrimport Road. H. G. continually studied new methods to improve both the cultivation of the crops as well as distillation of the oil. He imported roots from England and developed the “Black Mint” variety, which yielded a greater quantity of oil.
H. G.’s unyielding standards for purity, honesty, and fair dealing reaped handsome returns, and by 1895, little more than half a century later, the business sold well more than 100,000 pounds of peppermint oil alone. The Hotchkiss Essential Oil Company, which by that time distilled many other oils as well as peppermint, was the most highly respected essential oil brand not only in the United States, but controlled more than 60 percent of the markets around the entire globe in the years following the Civil War.
The trademarked peppermint oil remained their most famous though, and by 1877 the Hotchkiss name was so valued that H.G. also registered a facsimile of his signature with the U.S. Patent Office. In 1878, H.G. visited Europe where he was very cordially welcomed and honored on the floor of the world renowned London Exchange for his outstanding brand of essential oils, an honor which had rarely been given to any American for any reason. H.G. won first prize medals for his brand of oils at seventeen World Fairs, including: London, 1853 and 1862; New York 1853; Paris 1856, 1867, and 1878; Hamburg, 1863; Vienna, Austria, 1873; Philadelphia, 1876; and Chicago, 1893, by which time H. G. was 83 years old.
During these years, not only was peppermint oil a common and widely used home remedy for both topical and internal use, it was valued for its use as a flavoring in many candies and other sweets, gum, toothpaste, and a variety of pharmaceutical and patented medicinal products.
Peppermint was regularly included in the early Pharmacopoeias, as well as The Dispensatory of the United States (1839). Numerous essential oils still commonly sold today, including peppermint, were listed in Merck’s 1907 Index. These generally called for actual pure distilled essential oils, and not synthetic versions. Many books of home remedies were published which attest to the fact that peppermint essential oil, the same essential oil that is widely sold today, was indeed well known and recognized for home use, and had been since the colonists first brought it to America. One such book was The Favorite Medical Receipt Book and Home Doctor, compiled by Josephus Goodenough, M.D. This book includes recipes from more than a hundred doctors and nurses for many common ailments that were often treated at home, as well as for things that could be done while waiting for a doctor. A very few others are Home Guide, Cure Without Drugs, by Dr. L.H. Kersey (1888), The Cottage Physician, for Individual and Home Use by George W. Post A.M., M.D. (1897), and Mother’s Remedies by Dr.T. J. Ritter (1910), which included more than a thousand home remedies used by mothers in the U.S. and Canada. An example from Mother’s Remedies using peppermint oil is the following: “Cramps in Stomach, Oil of Peppermint for.—Put a few drops of peppermint in a glass of warm water. Take a teaspoonful every few minutes until relieved.” This is an old time-tried remedy our grandmothers used to use and can be relied upon.”
Countless other such books were published, giving recipes for home remedies often using peppermint oil, and many other essential oils as well. This completely dispels the myth that essential oils were rarely used in America by ordinary individuals in their homes until recent years. It also shows that certain oils could be, and often were, taken by simply adding a few drops to water. Although the majority of oil produced would go to the pharmaceutical and flavor industries to be used in everything from chewing gum, toothpaste, sweets, various pharmaceutical and medicinal recipes for both topical and internal use, soaps, and more, personal use for home remedies remained a constant practice handed down through the years. Interestingly, peppermint oil was one of the active ingredients in the original formula for Listerine, developed by Joseph Lawrence in 1879. And it is still one of the active ingredients for the current reduced alcohol formula for Listerine developed by several noted scientists of the Warner Lambert Company in 1994, including Dr. Mike Buch, who is now the Chief Science Officer of Young Living Essential Oils.
Purity of the essential oils was as much a concern then as it is now. It was common at that time to adulterate peppermint with a number resinous substances, fixed oils, or alcohol. Inferior quality also was widespread due to lack of care in keeping the peppermint fields free of weeds. Sheep were often used for this purpose, as they would not touch the peppermint plants unless they were kept in these fields for years and became accustomed to the strong taste. It was H.G.’s stringent attention to these details which made the quality of his peppermint oil so much in demand. During the peak years of operation, H.G. packaged the oil in signature 21 ounce cobalt blue glass bottles, bearing the slogan he coined, ““One 21 ounce bottle of Peppermint Oil will give the correct flavor to a ton of candy.” Each bottle was hand wrapped in a facsimile of the first certificate won by H.G. at the 1851 London World Exhibition, and bearing the signature of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
In 1894, the original plant built by H.G. burned, but he continued to manage and operate his peppermint business, which had come to be called the Hotchkiss International Prize Medal Essential Oil Company, until his death October 27, 1897. The business then passed to his sons, Calvin, who died in 1925, and Hiram, who died in 1926. After H. G.’s death however, increasing numbers of farmers in Wayne County began to give up cultivating peppermint in favor of more profitable crops. Also, another Peppermint King was rising to stardom in Michigan. We shall hear more of his story later.
Nevertheless, the Hotchkiss company continued, faithfully maintaining H.G.’s standards, and the name was so well known in Europe they continued to retain many of the old customers. In 1926, upon the death of his father, the third Hiram G took over his grandfather’s business and continued till his death at 83 in 1963, when his daughter Anne Dickinson Hotchkiss became the company president. Anne continued to run the company until 1982, and having no family member to leave it to, sold it to William Leman Company, a competitor who grew and distilled peppermint in Indiana, famous for their gourmet mints first created in 1939.
The original peppermint office which H.G. rented from the Leach brothers when he came to Lyons in 1841, became the museum. This was placed on the National Historic Register in 1988, and is managed by the nonprofit Lyons Heritage Society which offers tours of the historic building during the summer months, and maintains a gift shop (where bottles of the famous peppermint oil may still be purchased) to help raise funds for its upkeep.
The Leman company continued to produce the Hotchkiss oils until 2003 when the formulation and rights were purchased by Essex Laboratories, founded in Salem, Oregon in 1992. Anne Hotchkiss continued to take pride in the history of the Hotchkiss peppermint oil until her death in 2010 at 95 years of age. Essex continues to produce Hotchkiss peppermint according to H.G.’s original specifications, making it the oldest trademarked oil in America.
Next we will look at Albert May Todd, The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo, the young chemist and politician who sought to claim that his oil was the best and purest, and his company the world leader. .
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 diseas
Meanwhile, as the U.S. Government was quietly growing and distilling essential oils to research their medicinal benefits, and the FDA was taking steps to ensure that only patentable, synthetic drugs approved by them could ever be used to treat any illness, Gattefossé’s work was not entirely forgotten in France.
Jean Valnet was born July 26, 1920 in what is now the city of Châlons-en-Champagne, France (formerly known as Châlons-sur-Marne, the name was changed in 1998). As a boy he had opportunity to observe the healing power of plants on many occasions, used by adults who seemed to be aware of the medicinal properties of many of the local plants surrounding them, and who seemed to accept them in a matter of fact way without really understanding how they worked. Jean Valnet wanted to know more, and tucked this observations away in his enquiring young mind for future reference.
He served in combat during World War II (1940-45) and began to study medicine at the Military Academy of the Arrow, at the School of the Military Department of Health, and the Medical College of Lyon. From 1944-1945 he was Assistant Chief of Surgical Services for Evacuation Hospital 412, and he earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1945, as well as Diplomas in Forensic Medicine, Psychiatry, Microbiology, Hygiene, and Colonial Medicine. As a soldier, he earned many honors. He was an OfficerCroix de Guerre 1939-1945 of the Legion of Honor and held the Croix de Guerre during the years 1939-1945. He earned six Cross TOE (Theatre of External Operations) citations and the honors he held included ” Cross of the Fighter,” “Cross Volunteer Fighter ,” “Cross of Resistance Fighter Volunteer ” and ” Medal of the Free French .”
Following his graduation in 1945, he was appointed Lieutenant and served as Assistant Surgeon for Evacuation hospitals 412 and 501 in Germany. He also served as doctor for the School of Application of the Infantry, and the prestigious Special Military School of St. Cyr, which is the foremost military academy in France.
This academy had originally been founded in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte at Fontainebleu near Paris, using the historic buildings of the Maison Royale de Saint-Louis The Maison Royale de Saint-Louis was originally founded in 1685 by Louis XIV for impoverished daughters of noblemen who had died for France. Several other moves of the school followed, and in 1808, the cadets eventually settled west of Paris in Saint-Cyr.
In 1948 he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and served as Surgeon of the Advanced Surgical Unit at Tonkin, the leading surgical unit in this location, from 1950 – 1953. In 1954, Valnet earned a Bronze medal for his scientific work. He found consistent results and great success in using many essential oils and aromatic solutions in dressing the wounds during this time. Later, he served as chief physician to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the French armed forces, including the Chief of the Secretary of State for War, Staff of the Army, and Office of the Secretary of the Army. Dr. Valnet also earned the academic decoration of being appointed Commanding Officer of the ” National Order of Academic Palms ” at the age of 36 for his exceptional scientific research and services to Higher Education. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1958 and served as commanding doctor and physician for Emergency Services. Other awards included the Golden Civic Star and Silver Medal of Physical Education. Valnet was also Officer of the Franco-British Alliance, Commander of the League for Protection of Children, and Commander for the National Order of the Ivory Coast as well as a member of numerous medical and cultural organizations.
Dr. Valnet retired from the military in 1959 and continued his medical practice at his Paris surgery in the Avenue Kléber, continuing to advise his patients that a healthy diet and phyto-aromatherapy were important in maintaining wellness. He chaired the first Symposium of Medical Aromatherapy in Paris in 1960, and his first reference work, titled “Aromatherapy : the treatment of ailments by Plant Essences” was published in 1964. This was followed by a second book, “The treatment of ailments with vegetables, fruits and cereals” in 1967. He wrote “Doctor Nature” in 1971, and “Phytotherapy : the treatment of ailments by Plants” in 1972. These works were based on Dr. Valnet’s clinical observations, and spurred him to continued research in studying the anti-infectious properties of essential oils. In collaboration with Dr. M. Girault of Dijon, he coined the term “aromatogramme” to describe a method using essential oils to test antimicrobial
susceptibility. Valnet also foresaw the dangers of overusing antibiotics.
Dr. Valnet founded the first association for the research and study of phyto‐aromatherapy in 1971, and from 1976 until his death in 1995, he organized a a major annual international phyto‐aromatherapy conference which was widely attended by medical doctors, research scientists, and academics. In 1981, Dr. Valnet also founded the college of phytoaromatherapy and field‐based medicine in the French language. As a result of Dr. Valnet’s extensive research, he is generally considered by many as the “father of modern‐day phyto‐aromatherapy”.
The forward thinking ideas of Dr. Valnet were well ahead of his time. In his book, the Practice of Aromatherapy, published in 1980 as a culmination of his research and clinical observations, he wrote, “Normal preventive medicine, which consists in giving healthy people drugs and injections of products whose future effects are unpredictable, is an aberration. Bringing about change by non-toxic means is the only efficacious course, among which aromatic plants and their essences have been, are, and will remain in the front rank.” Dr. Valnet was the first to record the specific properties, indications, and dosages of essential oils useful in medical practice. His work is credited for being the foundation of two great trends, which are the clinical and scientific approach which is regularly used by doctors in France, and more general popular trend of aromatherapy geared towards wellness and a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Valnet formulated his own line of 44 specifically recommended essential oils, and in 1985 selected Cosbionat Laboratory to produce his famous preparations. Cosbionat is located in the beautiful Loire Valley of France, on the fringes of the Vendômoise forest. The laboratory was originally founded in 1981 by Marie-Thé Tiphaigne and her late husband Jackie Tiphaigne, who had followed Dr. Valnet’s teachings for 13 years.Dr. Valnet continued to review and update his rearch until his death in 1995, after which the Tiphaigne’s continued to market his exclusive line of essential oils. Following the passing of her husband, Marie-Thé Tiphaigne still continues the work begun by Dr. Valnet. The oils are carefully sourced from long-time organic growers across five continents and steam distilled at low pressure. Citrus oils are cold pressed. Each batch is then tested against certified benchmarks for gas chromatagraphy, density, optical rotation, refractive index, and sensory testing of color, smell, and taste. Additional tests are conducted for environmental contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
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!
The question has been raised, “At what percent true essential oil can an oil still be labeled as “pure”. In other words, if an adulterated oil can still be labeled as “pure”, does it have to contain any essential oil at all?” This is a very good question. Some FDA guidelines on labeling The FDA’s guidelines for Fragrances in Cosmetics provide some general guidance, but still it is vague and doesn’t really provide definitive answers. For any essential oils intended for use as dietary supplements or food flavorings, multiple ingredients are supposed to be listed on the label, however some ingredients considered as trace are not always listed. Essential oils intended for topical use are generally considered cosmetics. However, the FDA allows the words “fragrance” or “flavor” to be used instead of specifying exactly what those are. And sometimes fragrances or flavors can be synthetic, in fact, when these words are used they most likely do contain synthetics.
As one example, NOW Foods Lavender oil which may be purchased on Amazon for as little as $21.16 for a 4 oz bottle is labeled as 100% pure lavender oil. So what does that mean? Some have used this to suggest that companies who sell oils through Multi-level marketing and charge much more for lavender sold in 15 ml bottles are overcharging their customers because NOW sells for so much less and has good reviews. But, not necessarily. Young Living’s Lavender retails for $30.92, dōTERRA’s lavender retails for $28, and AMEO’s retails for $31.67, and all have wholesale pricing for members. Original Swiss Aromatics, which is not an MLM company, sells their genuine and authentic fine lavender at $28.10 for 15 ml, so there is actually not much difference in the pricing of this oil between these companies known or claimed to have high quality oils. They also have different descriptions on their labels such as “Therapeutic Grade”, “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade”, “Clinical Grade”, etc., all of which in fact are simply terms to describe each company’s individual quality standards.
There is no independent body which certifies that oils are pure, therapeutic, or clinical grade. Any oil properly grown, harvested, and distilled without use of chemicals or pesticides, without synthetic chemicals or additives, or without being extended with cheaper oils of other species, and properly tested, will be therapeutic and able to penetrate cells, there is no difference between clinical grade or therapeutic grade if all these conditions have been met. The growing body of scientific and clinical studies clearly demonstrates this, as oils from different sources have been used for these. However, there are very few companies who actually monitor this entire process and who consistently have trained experts involved with the whole process for every single source.
Companies which post test results of their oils online may seem impressive, but the truth is, the vast majority of consumers do not know how to read these tests. Also, posting a test result for a particular batch number is really no different than any of the other claims on the label. The consumer who has purchased the oil from that batch number still has to rely on the company’s word that the test displayed really is the actual test done on the bottle of oil they are holding. The average consumer also cannot accurately judge quality or purity simply by which one smells the nicest. Unless you have a lot of experience using essential oils for years, and/or had extensive training in essential oils chemistry, your nose will only tell you what you think smells “nice”, you will not be able to break down the complexity of a fragrance or really understand the nuances. The majority of companies in the U.S. selling essential oils are simply brokers or rebottlers. They buy the oil from a distiller who tells them it is pure (and very often the distiller is not the grower and it may even have passed through several sources before reaching the company who bottles and sells it under their own label. Or they may buy the raw material and have someone distill it for them. Even plant materials which have been painstakingly kept from contamination at this stage still may have lost much of their potency by the time they reach a distillery, but are then bottled and sold as “pure”, which may be entirely truthful, but the quality is simply not the same.
Then there are many other companies with prices in between the seemingly expensive brands to low-priced ones. All these oils, as well as many others are labeled “pure”, and we will get more into different companies later on, but for the serious user of essential oils there is actually much more to consider. If you look at the NOW Foods lavender you will see it says Lavandula officinalis (spp). But it says 100% pure lavender, and the Latin name looks authentic so many people are not even going to pay any attention to that, or know what it means.
Lavender is part of the mint family and in fact there are at least 39 different known species, all of which have differences in their chemical profiles, their properties, and therapeutic uses. Then on top of that, there can be many more variations as to quality and complexity depending on where and how the lavender was grown, soil and growing conditions for that particular crop, how and when it was harvested, how long and what was done with it between harvest and distillation, how it was distilled, the quality of the equipment used, temperature, pressure, etc, and the knowledge of the persons distilling it. Then, how it is tested, bottled, sealed, and delivered to the consumer. There are also other considerations with lavender, for instance whether it is wild, whether it is grown from seed, or from cloned plants.
The name Lavandula officinalis is sometimes used interchangeably with Lavandula angustifolia, or it is occasionally referred to as Lavandula vera. However, when the latin name is followed by the letters “spp”, this means multiple species. All of which are lavender. So NOW Foods may be truthful when they say 100% pure lavender, and the Lavandula officinalis (spp) is right on the front of the bottle. But, they also sell “organic” lavender, for as low as $15.69 for 1 oz. This is still about half the price of the others but certainly far more expensive than their 4 oz bottle, although both claim to be 100% pure lavender and are labeled Lavandula officinalis (spp). So, you don’t really know what species of lavender are in these bottles, or even if they came from a single crop. They tell you it is steam distilled from the flower, and they do conduct some testing. Depending on what different people want, the NOW lavender might be adequate, but it most definitely is not the same and really does not provide evidence that the others are overpriced.
While multiple ingredients are supposed to be listed on the labels, strictly speaking, “pure” seems to be a term that has not really been standardized or defined by the FDA as yet. The FDA is currently asking for public comments on use of the term “natural”. So in short, “pure”, may not always mean “pure”, and the question of purity may not really be all you want to find out. An article by Valparaiso University Law School Assisant Law Professor Nicole Negowetti provides a good overview of the general issue.
Essential oil safety seems to be a huge topic with widely varying answers, and with a rapidly growing interest among those who seriously wish to use them for therapeutic purposes, it is a valid question. However, it does not need to be nearly so confusing, and certainly does not need to deter people from enjoying the benefits of high quality therapeutic grade oils. It is important to understand the different schools of thought in the application of essential oils. The German model relies primarily on inhalation as a way to receive the benefits of essential oils. The British model takes a very conservative approach of using very diluted oils for massage. They have a long list of oils which they believe should NEVER be used for any reason, and generally frown upon applying the oils neat (undiluted) or taken orally unless under the direction of a licensed healthcare professional. The French model, however, embraces application of essential oils through both neat (undiluted) and diluted topical application, internal use through ingestion and suppositories, and inhaling or diffusing the oils.
Most Aromatherapists in the U.S. are trained according to the British model, and the prominent National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) relies heavily on this school of thought. Generally, they do not recognize therapeutic grade oils but tend to adopt safety precautions that do not distinguish between the many classes and grades of oils available, and make the assumption that the general public is likely to come to great harm using essential oils if they do not adhere to this very conservative philosophy. Much of the fear-mongering results when these ideas are posted widely on various blogs and forums as broad generalizations and promoted as being widely accepted by leading authorities. The inherent implication is that any other school of thought is automatically wrong regardless of reasoning. Unfortunately this very narrow approach has little basis in fact and is very confusing for those who are simply and honestly trying to learn what essential oils may have to offer. One often repeated theme is advising people to purchase only from small dealers and not from MLMs or large corporations due to integrity or quality concerns.
Here is what Dr. Daniel Pénoël, M.D. one of the foremost authorities on the therapeutic use of essential oils has to say about Young Living, the world’s leading essential oils company which also happens to be MLM:
Another common theme in fearmongering is that all representatives of MLM essential oil companies recklessly recommend, advocate and prescribe unsafe practices and uses of essential oils for the sole purpose of trying to sell the oils or sign up distributors. It is interesting that many of these generalizations often come from small private aromatherapy practitioners who stand to gain customers of their own products and services by frightening them away from the MLM companies. Sadly, these kind of practices are harmful for all essential oil companies, and for everyone who wishes to enjoy essential oils.
In fact, Gary Young of Young Living was the first health company leader willing to actively work with the FDA to achieve full compliance. Young Living was audited by the FDA in January of 2015 and was the only health company in 7 years to receive a grade of 100% compliance for the company website and materials. Young Living is actively working to make its members aware of what they can and cannot say while sharing their products to remain in compliance with FDA rules.
The truth is that a wide range exists in both MLM and large and small companies of experts truly knowledgeable in the many uses of essential oils. Whether the company is large or small, MLM or not, really is not the defining factor. It is also not accurate to portray that independent distributors who practice applying certain oils undiluted or ingesting them orally are doing so out of blatant ignorance and/or greedy motive, or that all or even the majority of respected authorities frown on such practices. Such a philosophy completely ignores the French model of teaching about essential oils, which has been in existence much longer than the British model has, and is sustained by a large body of current and ongoing scientific research which has worldwide respect.
Aromatherapists aligned with NAHA and the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) continue to warn loudly about undiluted application or oral ingestion and imply that anyone advocating or daring to do this without the explicit guidance of a licensed healthcare professional is engaging in something highly dangerous. While it is true that essential oils can be very potent and powerful when properly grown and distilled for therapeutic purposes, they are not drugs. If an essential oil is on the FDA GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) List, this means they have a very long history of safe use when used as intended, going back more than 50 years.
Influential author and educator Robert Tisserand is often widely regarded as the father of modern aromatherapy, and to him we are certainly indebted for the English translations of Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy, the first aromatherapy book written by Dr. René-Maurice Gattefossé in 1937, as well as Dr. Jean Valnet’s 1964 book, The Practice of Aromatherapy, which Tisserand also translated. A native of Great Britain, Tisserand began practicing spiritual healing on his friends at the age of 17, and was fascinated the next year when his mother returned from Paris with an autographed copy of Valnet’s book. He began selling essential oils out of his bedroom apartment four years later, and founded his essential oils company in 1974. He still serves as a consultant for this company, now known as Tisserand Aromatherapy. His 1977 book, The Art of Aromatherapy, became an international best seller. Later he become increasingly concerned with essential oils safety and his most recent updated version of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide For Health Care Professionals is widely considered the go to book for answers. Although Tisserand himself is neither a physician nor a chemist, and in fact does not claim any degree on his website, his intensive research and years of personal experience with the use of essential oils have gained him a worldwide reputation. He has won many awards and presented at numerous conferences. Tisserand, who came to the U.S. in 2000, generally represents the more conservative British view, however even he notes in the first edition of his Essential Oil Safety, “We are aware that a book such as this could have the effect of presenting essential oils as generally dangerous substances – this is certainly not our intention. On the contrary, there are several instances where we have shown that supposed dangers do not in fact exist. The majority of essential oils turn out to be non-hazardous as they are used in aromatherapy.” Many aromatherapists have placed undue emphasis on Tisserand’s safety statistics without fully understand the context. He notes, for example, that the text is largely drawn from the toxicology reports from the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. In other words, the safety issues apply primarily to oils of fragrance grade. The testing was also mainly done using the LD50 levels for laboratory mice or rats. This means that the test rodents are given increasingly large doses until half of the ones tested die – that dose is considered to be LD50. These doses, incidentally, are generally much larger even than a human would use (consider a human weighing maybe 150x as much as a large laboratory rat) let alone a dose that might be appropriate for something as small as a rat or a mouse. Tisserand states, “Toxicologists increasingly acknowledge that giving excessive doses of a substance to a genetically in-bred mouse living in a laboratory may not have great relevance to the human situation.”
Yet, numerous postings from the aromatherapy community continually refer to cases of poisoning and fatality from self-dosing of essential oil, yet none of them ever cite the source where the records of all these so-called poisonings and fatalities from essential oils may be found. If one searches for these, it is very difficult to find anything. One however is a study published in the Feb 2001 Paediatrics & Child Health Journal . This simply reviewed charts of calls to the Ontario Regional Poison Information Center, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto between Dec 1995 – March 1997. Reading through the article, it is evident that virtually all of these cases referred to very young children accidentally ingesting various cold remedy products such as cough syrup or vapor-rub, composed of synthetic or lab-created ingredients or isolated chemical components of essential oils. It really does not refer to even fragrance grade aromatherapy oils, much less pure unadulterated natural oils of therapeutic quality. Most of these involved “camphorated” products or cold remedies with menthol and eucalyptus – note that all of these are synthetic, laboratory engineered products which, even if they contain any real essential oil it is combined with many other synthetic chemicals. Even so, of 244 calls made by parents and caregivers, only 29 callers reported the child actually showing any symptoms while at home, nevertheless a total of 76 children were referred to an acute care facility. None of these 76 children died and all cases resolved spontaneously. Only two children briefly experienced seizures, one a 14 month old boy from ingesting an unknown quantity of 20% camphorated oil and a 19 month old girl from ingesting 50 ml of Vick’s VaporRub (an amount comparable to more than 3 large 15 ml bottles of essential oil), but these also fully recovered without any lasting effects.
Tisserand notes that virtually all cases of serious poisoning from essential oils result from ingesting undiluted oils in quantity much higher than therapeutic doses. Of the few cases he is able to cite, most refer to over the counter preparations such as cold remedy products, yet the essential oil is invariably blamed as the culprit even though it is invariably synthetic or lab created and combined with many other synthetic chemicals. For example, Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) which contains 98% Methyl salicylate and thus is often pointed to as one of the most toxic of oils, began to be widely adulterated and created synthetically more than a hundred years ago.
Dr David Stewart, PhD, author of more than 200 publications including the excellent book, The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, is also a Registered Aromatherapist (RA) with the nationally recognized Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC), which is endorsed by the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA), of which he is a member. He has also served on advisory committees to the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). He has testified as an expert on health matters before state legislative committees, U.S. congressional committees, medical licensing boards and courts of law throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada. Dr. Stewart earned his PhD in Geophysics, which employs techniques and knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, and physics in studying nature of the earth and its environment and understanding the complexity of dynamic behaviors. He has won many awards and presented lectures around the world and has appeared on television in 44 countries. Dr. Stewart provides an excellent understanding of the chemical differences between natural and synthetically created oils, as well as explaining the important relationship of numerous minor trace components in the whole pure oil which laboratory chemists cannot duplicate. While it is true that all synthetic or laboratory manipulated forms of Wintergreen oil or Methyl Salicylate are highly toxic, the whole pure oil properly distilled for therapeutic effect, and used correctly is not. Also, as Dr. Stewart explains, the true pure oils are easily metabolized by the body and do not cause harmful cumulative effects in the way synthetic substances do.
That said, it is important to understand that blanket generalizations are almost always misleading. The British model generally states that ALL oils should ALWAYS be diluted and NO oils should EVER be ingested or applied neat. This belief is so firmly adhered to among those who follow this model that it is widely reported that MLM companies advocate blanket advice to ingest or apply neat any oil you want whenever you please just because they may have encountered a representative of an MLM has provided information on a particular instance where a particular oil might be used neat or ingested. This simply is not a fair nor accurate statement.
The Essential Oils Desk Reference (EODR) published by Life Science Publishing for instance is a massive work detailing specific information on the therapeutic oils offered by Young Living. This includes safety precautions, recommendations for dilution, and the FDA GRAS list and guidelines for when and how certain oils might be used as a dietary supplement. It is an excellent and valuable resource for anyone genuinely interested in learning about essential oils, however, followers of the British model will generally not even consider it, believing oral ingestion or neat applications should not be advocated under any circumstance. NAHA members and followers also state that Raindrop Therapy, developed by Gary Young in the 1980s and which calls for the neat application of specific oils dropped on the spine undiluted in keeping with the French model, is highly dangerous. The Raindrop practice does call for neat use of certain oils for which dilution is normally recommended in other applications, but it is necessary to view this in the context of its particular usage rather than automatically dismissing it as “wrong” or “dangerous” because it deviates from the British model.
In order to perform the Raindrop Technique on others, one must become a Certified Raindrop Technique Specialist which involves a minimum of 72 hours of intensive training including formal classes. Board Certified Raindrop Specialists must undergo 164 hours of training. Additionally, for those not already having some type of certification as a healthcare professional which would license them to legally practice massage, additional training and licensing to become a Licensed Spiritual Healer is required. Those who practice Raindrop must agree to use only Young Living essential oils for this purpose to ensure that oils adulterated with potentially harmful chemicals are not used. Young Living does more quality testing of their essential oils than any other company, conducted at both their own laboratories and confirmed by third-party labs, and they maintain a strict “Seed to Seal” quality commitment, monitoring the entire planting, growth, harvest, distillation, and bottling phases regardless whether the oils are grown at their own farms or by some of their worldwide partners.
It interesting that so much passion is stirred up by this topic among aromatherapists of the British model who insist such practices are completely unsafe, when toxicity of many commonly used cosmetics and skincare products is far more widespread. An article in The Huffington Post for example, reports over 10,000 toxic ingredients typically found in favorite beauty products, many of which are described in this Guide to Less Toxic Products. In a new study, Environmental Defense found several favorite makeup brands contain toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead which are not listed on the labeling.
It is also interesting that if consumer safety is the true and genuine concern, that such effort is being made to frighten and discourage people away from exploring therapeutic uses of essential oils. In the paper Death by Medicine by Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD, shows the number of in hospital patients having adverse reactions to prescribed drugs is 2.2 million per year, and further, the total number of deaths caused by conventional medicine is 783,936 per year – which makes the American medical system the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S.
Essential oils can be used very safely with a little care and common sense. Since different people have different levels of sensitivity, caution is always advised to learn how your body may respond to different oils. It is important to seek relevant safety and usage information specific to a particular oil and the company you are purchasing it. Even if an oil is pure, there may be different species and sometimes different chemotypes of the same species resulting in major differences of the chemical constituents. Adulterated, Extended, Synthetically derived, or “nature-identical” oils do NOT behave the same or have the same safety considerations as a genuine pure oil properly grown and distilled for maximum therapeutic benefit. And, just because an online store provides a link to download the GC/MS or other quality test for a particular oil is not necessarily any assurance that it is an actual test of the particular oil you are buying. Most quality oils are distilled in small batches and tests can differ widely according to batch, source, growing conditions, distillation parameters and a variety of other factors so these would have to be updated far more frequently than would be practical to be an authentic representation of the results for a particular oil you receive in most cases. For those who have a health condition, and/or questions about safely using an oil for a particular circumstance, consulting one’s healthcare professional is certainly recommended. Essential oils are not drugs although they are very powerful and can have many beneficial therapeutic applications when carefully produced for this purpose.
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 you like this report and would like to make a small donation to help defray the costs of time and research, you may click the donate button here:
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Many blogs, Facebook posts, and emails are currently making the rounds, warning against taking essential oils internally. One for example, provides the comparison of drinking a single drop of chamomile oil to drinking 30 cups of chamomile tea in a day, and of course you wouldn’t drink that much tea so why would you drink a drop of the oil? First of all, let’s be clear. Essential oils are very concentrated, it is true. However, even assuming you know the source, and that the oil is pure without synthetic additives, a great many factors affect their therapeutic properties and actions. Seeds must first be carefully identified and selected from the correct species. Optimal conditions for planting, soil, weather, growing and harvesting are necessary, not to mention correct distillation procedures. Oil distilled from the same plant can have very different properties depending whether it is distilled from needles or leaves, bark, stems, buds, fruits, or flowers. Wide variation may also result if you simply harvest it on a different day or different time a day, or if you use different distillation parameters.
Chamomile tea is generally made from steeping the dried flowers and leaves in hot water. Is the chamomile tea you are drinking even the same species as the essential oil in question? Did it even come from the same locality? German Chamomile essential oil is steam distilled from the flowers and Roman Chamomile from the flowering tops. If you think about this at all, you will quickly realize that steeping a few dried chamomile flowers in hot water for a few minutes is hardly the same thing as the complicated process of correctly extracting a pure therapeutic oil through steam distillation. The fact that the oil is more concentrated really has nothing to do with it – you wouldn’t drink 30 cups of water in a day either!
The FDA has a very long list of essential oils on their GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list, and/or listed as Flavoring Agents (FA), most of which were added due to a long history of safe use prior to 1958, which of course assumes it is really the pure oil. For that, you have to know who you are dealing with. But the essential oil dealers who do put synthetics in their oils are no worse than all these other companies putting the stuff on grocery shelves for you to consume, or the Pharmaceutical companies patenting these drugs. You just have to use common sense, know your supplier, and if you are serious about using essential oils, it is good to consult knowledgeable experts and try to learn everything you can.
When you begin to understand what it takes to produce some of these oils, you begin to realize there is no way some of these places offering them for extremely cheap prices can even be pure, much less therapeutic, but we have also been unfortunately conditioned to think cheaper is better. But you get what you pay for, and when it comes to your health, things like essential oils and natural supplements and healthy foods are important; you are not saving money by wasting it on cheap oils. Then there are those who, admitting the FDA has such a list of GRAS essential oils, complain that the dosages are not also listed. However, essential oils are not drugs. We are, unfortunately, very conditioned to trusting all these synthetic prescription drugs as safe, and we believe items in the grocery and drugstore are safe for human use and consumption, because we assume if they were not, the FDA or someone would not allow them to be there for sale, or would not allow doctors to prescribe these drugs. So it is funny how we trust those things but tend to be afraid of natural things.
Well, it is right to be cautious with the essential oils because you want to be sure it is what it says it is and not something adulterated with harmful synthetics or chemical additives (which is common among essential oils you may find for sale in the health food store or other online places, even though the label may claim they are “pure” or “therapeutic”). Most of these do say NOT to take them internally, and that causes people to be afraid. But often the reason for these disclaimers is because they know or suspect the oil they are selling as “pure” is not really pure but has harmful chemicals in it, and they of course don’t want to get sued. So they would like to give you the impression that the oil itself is not safe rather than admit they adulterated it, or don’t have enough confidence in the testing they are able to afford, to be sure it is not.
According to the National Capital Poison Center, there were more than 17,000 cases of poisoning reported for children under 6 during 2012. Cosmetics and personal care products topped the list with 2692 cases, followed by pain medications with 1760. Other top causes in descending order included cleaners, foreign bodies, topical medicines, vitamins, antihistamines, batteries, plants and mushrooms, antimicrobials, arts and crafts, pesticides, and finally cough and cold medications with 419 cases. For adults 20 and older there were more than 13,000 cases reported with pain relievers topping the list at 2705, and sedatives and hypnotics second with 1966 cases. Following in descending order were cleaning substances, cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, alcohols, food products/poisoning, pesticides, cosmetic and personal care products, antihistamines, stimulants and street drugs, and finally hormones and hormone agonists with 593 cases. Essential oils are not on either of these lists. Although essential oils are not drugs, it is true that they are very potent, concentrated substances and need to be treated with respect. Young children are quite capable of ingesting almost anything they can get in their mouths. This could range from anything like bugs, dirt, garden or household plants, unsecured medications, personal care products, and cleaners, to small parts of toys or other objects. A 1953 article by J.O. Craig discusses cases of toxicity in Edinburgh and Aberdeen occurring in the 20 year period between 1931-51. Of 502 cases of childhood poisoning, 74 were said to involve volatile oils, and of 454 deaths involving poisoning, 54 were said to be caused by volatile oils. The death of anyone is a tragedy, and any deaths involving children are especially heartbreaking.
Whether or not essential oils may be safe to ingest is not the real question. Virtually everyone keeps large quantities of all kinds of substances in their homes which, if accidentally ingested by a child, could be potentially very harmful, even lethal. These may include all kinds of prescription or over the counter medications, vitamins, soaps, cleaners, perfumes, cosmetics, and the child’s own toys. People need to be responsible and vigilant where children are concerned, plain and simple. One case described by Craig refers to a five-year old boy being given a teaspoon of camphor oil for a cold when the mother said she had intended to give him olive oil. It seems more likely that she was confusing camphor oil with castor oil which was a common home remedy and since the boy got sick she was afraid to name either camphor or castor and said she meant to give him olive oil. The child experienced vomiting, sleepiness and confusion, but although he was admitted, no specific therapy was given and he fully recovered without any ill effects within 24 hours. Other incidents refer to Oil of Wintergreen or Methyl Salicylate, and Oil of Turpentine. It appears that most if not all of these cases involved synthetic versions or chemicals, and all cases were accidental with large quantities consumed. As very concentrated and potent substances, essential oils have a long history of needing only a single drop to a very few drops, however they are used.
Many of the warnings being passed around seem to imply that people are recklessly drinking essential oils by the bottle and that serious illness or fatality from use of essential oils, particularly ingesting them is a common thing. Some suggest that anyone who advocates ingesting an essential oil is only trying to get you to go through bottles of essential oil faster so they can make more money. This kind of talk has no real basis in fact and only serves to scare people unnecessarily.
The FDA states there are over 2 million Adverse Drug Reactions and 100,000 deaths each year. These are drugs properly prescribed by doctors and used as intended. They are the 4th leading cause of death overall, killing more people than pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents, and automobile death. As for money, at least 11 major pharmaceutical companies brought in more than $85 million apiece during 2012. This number pales in comparison to the huge payoffs the FDA is collecting, however. The Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992 authorizes the FDA to collect fees from companies that produce certain human drug and biological products. PDUFA established three types of user fees – application fees, establishment fees, and product fees. According to the FDA 2012 PDUFA Financial Report, in FY 2012, FDA collected $699.8 million in prescription drug user fees, spent $636.9 million in user fees for the review process, and carried a cumulative balance of $178.5 million forward for future fiscal years.
A 2012 article in the Huffington Post points out many food additives that are causing a host of health problems, even numerous fatalities, which the FDA has failed to protect us from even when large bodies of evidence about harmful effects continues to mount. In fact, when the safety statistics of essential oils is compared with these food additives and prescription drugs, incidence of adverse reaction to essential oils are quite rare, and when sifted down usually prove to be caused by one of the following: 1) fragrance grade oils of questionable purity and quality 2) synthetic, adulterated, or extended oils, and 3) isolated compounds. Pure essential oils have a very long history of safe use going back thousands of years. Given these statistics, the idea that certain individuals or companies are trying to encourage a harmful practice of ingesting oils to get customers to consume a few more drops of oil each month so they can rack up large profits is rather absurd.
That said, since very few truly pure therapeutic grade essential oils exist while increasing numbers are labeled as such, it is well to be cautious. Individuals are all different and may respond to oils differently, so it is a good thing to get familiar with each new oil to try to learn how your body responds. It is also important to understand that synthetic, adulterated, or extended oils, or isolated compounds are simply not the same as a pure oil. Even when the oils are pure and properly distilled, there are often different chemotypes and there may be considerable differences in oils that were grown in different localities, or sometimes even different batches. A few companies, such as Young Living do have high quality therapeutic grade oils, many of which are on the FDA’s GRAS list and have been safely ingested by thousands for many years as a dietary supplement. I personally use several regularly for internal use and have never had any problems with internal use of these essential oils which have been listed by the FDA for dietary supplement. Young Living carefully oversees the entire Seed to Seal process at all of their nine farms around the world, as well as the many produced by partner growers in other worldwide locations. Young Living rigorously tests all oils in their own labs which have some of the most extremely sophisticated testing equipment in the entire world. In addition, all oils are further tested by highly regarded third-party labs for verification. Thus they are able to produce batches of oil year after year with a high degree of consistency. Young Living also offers a wide range of training with many books, introductory classes, and training sessions regularly held across the country so people can easily learn and direct others to appropriate materials on the safe and beneficial use of essential oils.
If you have questions about internal use of essential oils, consulting your doctor or healthcare professional is always recommended, especially for those who have health conditions and/or may be taking prescription medications. Do your research and first of all make sure you are dealing with a reputable company who has a long track record of high quality standards and has the means to personally monitor all phases of the growing and distilling process of their own or partner producers, and who conducts rigorous testing. While many feel that dealing with smaller companies is safer, be aware that a number of the smaller companies usually have far fewer resources and funding at their disposal to carry out extensive testing or personally monitor the growers and distillers who supply them.
Do your homework and be sure your supplier does have an active relationship with their growers and distillers and are not simply repackaging and selling you oils they broker simply by placing phone or online orders without any real knowledge of how the oils they are selling are grown and distilled. If you wish to use oils internally, be sure you buy from a supplier who is confident enough regarding the quality of their oils to be able to definitely tell you how their customers are using the oils, point you to supporting educational material, and not simply offer some vague response like “we cannot say, it is up to you whether you want to ingest the oils.” Be sure to carefully research any oil you may wish to use internally, and that you understand the properties of the specific oil you are using and that you follow the recommended use guidelines and are fully aware of any potential concerns that may arise, and know what to look for.
Oils taken internally should always be diluted by taking with food, such as a drop taken in at least 4 oz of liquid, a spoonful of honey, piece of bread, etc. They may also be taken by placing in clear vegetable capsules, and diluted with olive oil, for example, adding 2-4 drops of the essential oil and filling the rest of the capsule with olive oil. However, this may vary depending on the oil being used and what you are using for. Be sure you have done adequate research and know the recommendations for the specific oil you are using.
In closing, it may be said that safe use of essential oils or any other product you would consume or apply topically is always something you should pay attention to, and not just assume that it is safe because it is available for purchase. It is important to pay attention and to realize that not all oils are created equal and while oils from one company may be safe, oils from another may not. Know your source. Also make sure you have information specific to the species of oil and the supplier you are getting it from. Avoid all oils which may have synthetic additives and do not simply rely on a label that says “pure”, “organic”, or “therapeutic”. It is important to understand that synthetically manipulated oils and compounds are not the same as pure unaltered oils and they do not work in the same way. Although some Aromatherapists see no difference in the safety of synthetic vs natural compounds, the isomers (shape or arrangement of the molecules) are not the same. Synthetic versions are also lacking in many minor trace components which may seem unimportant, however they can have a huge impact on the property of the whole oil. For example, as Dr. David Stewart points out in his book, The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, sulfur compounds probably occur in most essential oils but usually in concentrations of only one part per million (ppm) to less than one part per billion (ppb). These are too low to be detected by Gas Chromatography, however they will almost always affect the fragrance of an oil. The scent of grapefruit is caused by a sulfur compound thioterpineol, a tiny amount of less than one ppb. Dr. Stewart explains that one ppb is equivalent to five drops in an olympic swimming pool – yet its presence dominates the scent of grapefruit. This is just one illustration of why these minute components can be very critical to how an oil works and while laboratories can isolate a few of the main molecules, they cannot reproduce the myriad of components that occurs in the natural oil. These minor components can govern many different properties of the whole oil, and thus safety of a synthetically altered oil or a lab created synthetic copy of one of its compounds is entirely different in safety than the natural substance.
Your supplier should be able to provide substantial information on their quality and testing standards. Organoleptic testing (touch, taste, smell) is simply not enough, there are very few people in the world who have the natural ability and added training to be an expert “Nose” in regard to essential oils.
At the same time, there is no reason to use scare tactics. Sources of pure, therapeutic grade essential oils do exist, and genuine oils of this class used within their recommended guidelines can be very safe as well as beneficial.
To learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and their properties and safe use, 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