I write a lot about the nuances and specifics of French Aromatherapy (or Aromatic Medicine) because not only is it a topic of interest, but it is also the subject of my final research paper for my French Aromatherapy certification. I completed the coursework almost a year ago and got sidetracked by business development and other certification programs so I ended up putting the final paper aside. It is still a work in progress, but I have done considerable research on the subject matter.
There is a lot of buzz and significantly misinterpreted information when in comes to the actual practice of French Aromatherapy, much of which comes from the MLM (Multi Level Marketing) side of the aromatherapy spectrum. The information passed down under the rubric of French Method/Model comes from Young Living and doTERRA and is a very loose interpretation of the actual practice of French Aromatherapy.
In this blog post, I am going to break down what the MLM companies are telling their reps and members about the "French method or French model" and counterbalance that with the actual practices of French Aromatherapy and general practices across the professional aromatherapy industry. They overlap in theory, but are extremely nuanced in approach.
The "Schools" of Aromatherapy: British, German, and French.
The Importance of Essential Oil Safety and the work of Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young within the practice of French Aromatherapy.
MLM companies use the French method/model which places a high emphasis on the quality of essential oils and encourages "aggressive" use of essential oils.
Ingestion of Essential Oils, Europeans widely practice this because they follow the French model, but everyone else follows the British model and is firmly against the practice.
Detoxing is a normal response to your body removing toxins from your body.... use more oils...
Negative effects of essential oils are extremely rare and no one has ever died from essential oils
In conclusion, and I say this a lot, the aromatherapy industry loves essential oils and we want everyone to experience their benefits and to do so safely. Do you need to be an aromatherapist to use them? Of course not, but knowledge is power. Safety precautions are not tantamount to rabid fear-mongering. The aromatherapy industry is not just a bunch of kill-joy gatekeepers, we are here to help and glad to do so. I answer countless questions on a regular basis from people who contact me personally with questions regarding safety, myths, and proper use of oils. Ask questions, learn something. This is how I became an aromatherapist.
Ever since I completed my French Aromatherapy Certification coursework last year, I have been curious about the trend of folks cooking with essential oils as a means of ingestion often touted under the tutelage of the "french method." Nowhere in the certification program was cooking with essential oils even once mentioned, nor have I seen it in any authentic French Aromatherapy articles, blog posts, or books. Cooking with essential oils seems to have come out of the MLM faction of the essential oils industry. Personally, I don't see the point of the practice as it is both expensive and wasteful, but lets delve a little deeper into the mythos surrounding the practice.
Setting aside the safety concerns about improper ingestion of essential oils, my gut feeling on cooking with essential oils is that it is nothing more than an expensive waste. I look at it the same way as cooking with alcohol -- my bourbon chicken is going to taste great, but I'm not going to get drunk on it because the heat required to cook or bake the dish burns off the alcohol content. The same would apply to essential oils, if you are using them for their therapeutic benefit, the heat is most likely taking that away and you will be left with expensive flavoring. So why not use fresh or dried herbs instead or even herbal infusions?
Essential oils do not contain any vitamins or minerals like herbs do. I have and am continuing to study herbalism extensively and one of the things I love about true French Aromatherapy is that it is a combination of herbalism and aromatherapy. They exist in harmony and balance and practitioners chose the best mode of application - would making an herbal poultice for a burn be a better application than putting an essential oil salve on it? Both are trusted methods of treatment and viable options.
Regarding the safety of ingesting essential oils in food, let us revisit the fact that essential oils are fat soluble meaning they are attracted the fats and not water. Once again, OIL AND WATER DO NOT MIX and that is just elementary science. With any mode of internal application of essential oils, the same safety principles apply, some essential oils are mucous membrane irritants meaning they could cause irritation in your mouth or digestive tract. Other essential oils can interact with certain medications when ingested. These are things to consider with the practice.
The potency of essential oils cannot be understated - you will often see the example comparing one drop of peppermint essential oil being the equivalent of twenty-six cups of peppermint tea. Would you drink that much peppermint tea a day? every day? GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) status does not necessarily indicate that there are zero safety concerns when it comes to ingestion. Things that were deemed GRAS by the FDA were done in parts per million not individual drops in a single beverage or dish. This article clearly outlines the particulars of essential oils and GRAS status.
As an experiment, I wanted to make Rose infused brownies, and I was not going to use a single drop of my precious and expensive Rose essential oil in it. However, I used a rose petal infused olive oil in addition to some powdered rose petals in the brownie mix and it was delicious. In my herbalism studies, there are so many amazing food and beverage preparations with natural materials that do not contain a single drop of essential oils. I prefer herbal infusions for flavoring. I've made infused honey, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and am eager to experiment further.
If you want to cook with essential oils, no one is stopping you, but consider that there are much better alternatives to doing so that are safer, less expensive, and more sustainable in the long run.
If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that I am keenly aware of essential oil safety issues and misinformation and love to research and write about the topic. When safety concerns come up pertaining to essential oils and aromatherapy practices, it goes beyond "listen to your body." Self-awareness is a crucial component, but not the be all end all good advice. No one will be able to tell if they are damaging their liver and kidneys by ingesting improperly diluted essential oils on a regular basis. It would take routine blood tests to ascertain that type of issue.
It takes a lot to keenly "listen to your body" because we encounter so many different things on a daily basis from what we eat, drink, breathe, allergens, pollutants, fragrances, etc. It is an obvious sign that if I put an essential oil product on my skin and I get a rash that most likely that was the cause... or was it a combination of different factors? Will it happen all the time? This can happen with anything. I realized rather shockingly that while I have never had a problem consuming anything using baking soda as an ingredient that I cannot use natural deodorants that contain baking soda as it turns my armpits into itchy, red, fiery, painful pits of agony. There is a lot of gray area when some signs might not be obvious.
Recently, I discovered that German Chamomile should be avoided all routes with the blood pressure medication that I take -- I did not notice any issues, but I do not use German Chamomile regularly, but it is something to be cognizant about. I switched out the two things that I occasionally use with German Chamomile in it with another oil with similar therapeutic properties. Knowing this, I will have to be careful when preparing blends for clients and customers so that I don't accidentally cause myself to have issues by incidental exposure.
According to Tisserand & Young: German Chamomile is to be avoid all routes (topical, internal, and inhalation) due to drug interactions with German Chamomile for drugs that are metabolized by the enzymes CYP2D6, CYP1A2, CYP2C9, and CYP3A4.
To explain what this means, a chemical component or multiple components in German Chamomile and other essential oils inhibit the way that drugs are metabolized by the aforementioned enzymes. Enzymes function works is different for everyone. Some people are ultra rapid metabolizers and others are slow metabolizers. The risk is that if a drug is metabolized too quickly, it may decrease the efficacy conversely if the drug is metabolized too slowly, toxicity could result. This is probably why there is a general precaution for drugs metabolized by this enzyme since it would be hard to know if you are an ultra rapid metabolizer or a slow metabolizer simply by listening to your body if not obvious symptoms emerge. Safety warnings are just that, they are there to provide us with the necessary information to make an informed decision about our health.
This is another case where "listen to your body" doesn't cover all bases. Some will argue that there are no documented cases of anyone having major issues. While that may be the case, everyone has a different physiology, so while 10 people on the same blood pressure medication may not have had an issue, you do have to take into account the 1 person who did have an issue. It all comes down to evaluating risks and knowing what those possible risks were. It is also important to note that not everyone reports injuries due to essential oils as it may not be obviously the culprit.
As an aromatherapist, I could not in good ethical practice, encourage someone to use a product that is contraindicated with their medications or a health issue. What if they were that one person who had a negative reaction? Their health and well being is not worth the risk. There are other essential oils that have the same therapeutic benefits that could be used in place of the problematic one. Besides which, this would be a huge liability issue. The mantra of anyone practicing in traditional Western medical fields or complementary alternative medical fields is "first, do no harm."
I urge you to read "The Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils" by Stacey Haluka and Kayla Fioravanti. It drastically changed my perspective on how safety issues are handled in the aromatherapy world especially when you have numerous people without any formal training selling essential oils and espousing dangerous myths and potentially dangerous misinformation. Stacey's story is a must read for anyone who uses essential oils personally or professionally -- even aromatherapists and other industry professionals need to read her story so they know what is at risk and how to avoid the pain and suffering Stacey had to endure.
So what's the deal with ingesting essential oils? Is it safe? A friend linked me to a post in Eden's Gardens Facebook page about this topic and I thought to share my response on the subject matter and perhaps expound upon it further. I am a certified aromatherapist and have completed my coursework in French Aromatherapy. I also completed the Essential Oil Safety Masterclass through the Tisserand Institute and we covered safety concerns with ingestion as well.
Outside of French Aromatherapy, which includes ingestion, inhalation, and dermal application of essential oils and herbs, the practice of ingesting essential oils is fraught with many differing opinions within the aromatherapy field and many are adamantly against it. In France, some essential oils for ingestion are only available by prescription only.
That said, my advice is that you should not ingest essential oils without knowing the particular safety precautions and contraindications for each oil as some like Cinnamon Bark can interact with diabetes medication and others should not be used if you are on anticoagulant medication. It is also crucial to know the daily maximum doses for each oil as some are fine to ingest, but only in very small doses. There are some oils that should never be ingested as well. In addition, the dosage should be based on body weight while also factoring age and any internal health conditions that may be present. Everyone is different, and just arbitrarily taking X drops of a combination of oils in a capsule or water (see below for more information on water and oils in particular) because someone shared a recipe that they got from somewhere is not advised.
The primary safety concern with ingestion is that you could have an internal reaction without knowing whereas in dermal application you can tell if your skin becomes irritated or inflamed. Most reactions to internal use of essential oils will probably involve nausea and vomiting, but some can have neurotoxic or hepatotoxic effects, which may be harder to ascertain.
As a matter of information sharing when it comes to interactions with prescription medication is that oils high in Citral, Methyl salicylate, and alpha-Bisabolol and Chamazulene provide the highest risk factors. This includes, for example:
The main problem I see coming from people ingesting essential oils is that a lot of people do not know the proper methodology in using excipients* to disperse the oils because essential oils by themselves are not water soluble. For instance, putting a couple drops of lemon oil in your water is pointless because it is just going to float at the top of the surface and never disperse fully throughout the water. It doesn't necessarily pose a safety concern though it could burn your throat. The same thing goes for tea, in which case, it is recommended to first blend the oils with honey or syrup and then add it to the tea. There are many substances that work as dispersants for essential oils. I have a product called Solubol which works well for this. The French also use neutral tablets moreso than gel capsules, but unfortunately the tablets aren't available in the US. Though, you could use the homeopathic blank tablets instead.
*Excipients include: solubol, honey, alcohol, gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, neutral tablets, sugar cube, honey, fatty oil capsules, charcoal, tincture/s, bread, rice flour capsules, syrups, dried powdered herb capsules.
[Source: The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, French Aromatherapy Certification Course]
I have personally experimented with making recipes suited for ingestion, but I have to tell you, some oils taste horrible, I made some herbal pastilles and geranium tastes quite awful. Another method, I have been experimenting with is making herbal tinctures which can be used with oils since the tinctures are made in vodka, which acts as a dispersant.
There are many things to take into consideration when considering ingesting essential oils, and I do not, officially, advise against it. BUT, I cannot express this enough that you really need to know and do the following:
To that end, I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young's Essential Oil Safety book for reference.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.