Last week, I was discussing essential oils with a friend. To be clear, I believe that essential oils have a place, I just think that, like most things, they need to be used in moderation. And yes, I am talking about them again. I promise this will be the last essential oil post for awhile. Probably.
I came up with the following analogy of why & how something that starts out good may turn out to have some not-so-good qualities:
Let’s start with the apple. I think we can all agree that an organic apple is good for you. Right? Although perhaps, if you’re diabetic then you may want to limit your intake of apples.
I asked Google and learned that, according to the USDA, an apple has 19 grams of sugar. It also has 4.4 grams of fiber, 1.6 grams of other carbohydrates, 0.3 grams of fat, as well as sodium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. In reality, the list of what’s in an apple is longer than a nutrition label. All of it works together. The fiber works to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Unsweetened apple juice has 24 grams of sugar and only 0.5 grams of fiber per 8 ounce glass.
Apple juice from concentrate has has a whopping 88 grams of sugar per 8 ounce glass and absolutely NO fiber!
My point? We started with something good – an apple. And when concentrating it we lost all of the fiber and who knows what else? So that apple with natural sugar turned into a glass of apple-flavored sugar water by the time we got to the apple juice from concentrate. In other words, we got something potentially harmful when taken regularly.
The same can apply to an essential oil. Let’s take oregano essential oil. No real reason to choose oregano, it was the first one that came to mind. Besides, I love oregano and use it a lot when I am cooking.
It is possible to make your own oregano essential oil although it sounds like a lot of work. I include the link because in step 12 it hints at how much plant material you will need to make just over an ounce of EO. If you have a 10 liter (equals 2.6 gallon or 333 ounce) kettle filled with water and plants, you’ll get about 1 1/4 ounces of essential oil. That is a lot of concentrated plant material.
So what’s in that oregano essential oil that is said to be beneficial? According to the Aromatherapy Bible, it is the phenols that provide anti-bacterial action. And oregano essential oil appears to have a high concentration of phenols. You can read about the composition of oregano oil in this article on oregano oil.
So this is where I perked up. I recall phenols from the days that I worked in research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. We used a lot of chemicals in the lab that were dangerous. And one of these was a phenol solution. I once knocked a bottle containing phenol out of the refrigerator in the lab. Of course it broke. And it spilled on my feet. I had on knee high hose that day and it ATE through those hose. We were quick to rinse my feet, but I did sustain some minor burns. My point? Phenols can be toxic!
And, in fact, these phenols are classified as semi-volatile organic compounds, according to the EPA:
A semivolatile organic compound is an organic compound which has a boiling point higher than water and which may vaporize when exposed to temperatures above room temperature. Semivolatile organic compounds include phenols and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
Perhaps I have side-tracked my analogy. Or perhaps not. We started with oregano plants and concentrated it. Highly concentrated – extracting only the oil. And the type of compounds – the phenols – illustrate that, while the essential oil can be beneficial, it should be used with caution.
Proceed with caution when using essential oils. Follow the guidelines in this post – Essential Oils – Friend or Foe.