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.
I am a certified aromatherapist and I rarely diffuse essential oils anymore. I think the last time I did so was for some ambiance during my housewarming party in December. I got away from passive diffusion last year, but never really thought about why I was no longer diffusing all the time. Occasionally, I will make wax melts because they wax absorbs the aroma and it lasts much longer than any standard water diffuser.
There are so many ways to reap the benefits of aromatherapy and we all have our preferences. Diffusion is a good starting point when you are first getting comfortable with essential oils and the benefits of aromatherapy. After studying aromatherapy, I found better ways to incorporate aromatherapy into my daily self-care practices.
How do you know if the company you are purchasing your essential oils from practices ethical and sustainable harvesting of plant material? - especially when it comes from critically endangered or protected plant species such as Rosewood, Spikenard, Sandalwood, Palo Santo, Agarwood, and even one of the most commonly used essential oils, Frankincense. These plant species are critically endangered due to having been drastically over-harvested or harvested illegally for many years.
Let's talk about each of these essential oils and how they should be harvested. Always look for this information provided on the essential oil company that you are purchasing from. If this information is not present, I would either do research on the brand to ensure their practices are ethical or avoid them altogether if you cannot verify such information. This is a known issue in the aromatherapy world so this information should be easy to come by.
Rosewood trees are native to Brazil and are critically endangered due to developmental clear cutting and other unethical harvesting methods. The wood should be harvested sustainably from trees that are intentionally planted in forests. The tree tops should be trimmed similarly to the way in which you would prune an overgrown bush or tree in your garden. This will ensure that the trees are kept alive and healthy.
Palo Santo is protected by the government of Ecuador and a permit is required to harvest the oil from dead trees or fallen branches from dead trees, that have been lying on the ground for at least two years. It is important that when you purchase this precious oil that the company whom you are purchasing from is educated in sustainable and ethical practices and deals with brokers and distributors who harvest the plant material legally and ethically.
Spikenard is hard to cultivate since it grows naturally in rocky soil at very high elevations in Nepal. It has been critically endangered since the mid-1990s. Permits are needed to buy and trade spikenard root for essential oils and is heavily regulated by the Nepalese government.
Agarwood should be sustainably produced from the heartwood of two different species of evergreen trees. The essential oils is usually produced from a wild, private tropical forest plantation in Thailand. They ensure that their agarwood is sustainably and ethically produced and follows local government regulations.
Sandalwood is endangered because of illegal smuggling and over-harvesting of wild-growing trees in India. The depopulation has occurred over many decades causing the industry to collapse in India. It is primarily cultivated in Australia these days.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii -- as opposed to other types of Frankincense) has been over-harvested in Somalia and other parts of North Africa. Due to the popularity of this essential oil, it will inevitably be moving up the list of endangered species.
When critically endangered plants or ones that are teetering on the edge of being over-harvested without regard for ethics and sustainability, the supplies will either run low or cease to exist. Additionally, governmental regulations may be mandated to protect these plant species from extinctions. This will also drive market prices through the roof. Today, a 5ml bottle of Sandalwood can run upwards of $100 and Agarwood runs closer to $200 for a 5ml bottle. The others remain reasonably priced considering their scarcity.
This is where using your essential oils in a sustainable manner and not overusing them comes in to play. Don't just assume to throw 10-15 drops of 3-5 different essential oils in a roller and call it day. Understand proper dilution ratios, you will only need 1-2 drops of Rose oil as opposed to 20, which would be an expensive waste. If you are using these particular essential oils on a regular basis please do so with intention knowing that every drop is precious and not to be wasted.
As I have been moving towards making my household as chemical free as possible, I decided to ditch my standard dryer sheets in favor of using wool dryer balls as pictured above. They used to be available on the Young Living website, but I found mine on Amazon.
The wool dryer balls last up to a year or longer depending on the size of your household and how much laundry you do in a years time. I put up to 10 drops of essential oils on each ball, I love Ylang Ylang and Tangerine, but you can pretty much use any essential oil that you love. I also put a safety pin on each ball, which helps combat static cling. Depending on the size of the load, you can use all six in the dryer or a few if it is a smaller load.
I've been using them for about a month now and have had no static cling problems and the oils do not stain the clothing and give them a fresh scent. You can throw them in the laundry at the beginning of the dryer cycle or toss them in towards the end of the cycle for a stronger scent because the wetness of the wash can absorb the scent and you won't smell it as much on your clothing.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.