by Jesscia North O’Connell
Aromatherapy has been a great passion of mine since I first learned about it many years ago. When I was finally able to find a teacher, I did everything in my power to make it possible to get training and I’ve never looked back. Essential oils have been a wonderful boon in my life, my wellness practice, and in the lives of my clients, family and friends.
As passionate as I am about essential oils, I am equally passionate about their safe and proper use. In my 20 years as a practicing aroma-therapist, I have often found information recommending that people ingest essential oils, a practice which was strongly discouraged by my teachers for a variety of reasons.
- Essential oils are extremely potent. Being distilled from plants, many of the constituents of the original plant, which work in concert with its essential oil, have been left behind as waste material during the extraction process. As aroma-therapists, we are always adding carrier oil when we use essential oils externally to guard against irritation, and possible damage, to the skin and mucous membranes. This is not always the case, however, when essential oils are ingested.
- Ingesting essential oils means that they then have to contend with the digestive system, and no one knows yet how essential oil components may interact with other components of the foods we eat, other medication we may be taking or even our unique physiologies.
- Although we may want to believe that our essential oils are pure, a great many are adulterated and, unless we are very sure of our suppliers, we may end up with a product that isn’t what it purports to be. Adulterants range from other essential oils to substances we may never want to put on our skin, much less ingest!
- Essential oils taken internally as a therapeutic practice are often prescribed in relatively higher dosages than is usual when they are ingested as food or food flavoring.*
- Essential oils are prone to oxidation with age and improper handling (e.g., being kept in an environment that is too warm can shorten their lifespan). Also, we have no idea how old the essential oil actually is when we purchase it. Oxidization increases the chances of overall sensitization. There is no way yet of knowing what effects oxidized essential oils may have on the internal body systems.
- Essential oils may also cause severe damage to internal organs, such as the liver which is involved in filtering everything we ingest, resulting in ailments often not evident immediately. Why should we cause ourselves and others harm through a practice meant to promote wellness?
- And, of course, it goes without saying that those who are most vulnerable, i.e., children, the elderly and pregnant and nursing women, should avoid this practice.
While I was in training, and through the subsequent years, it was usually recommended to practitioners that the layperson’s use of essential oils should be under the guidance of her healthcare professional. With the increased availability of essential oils, this has become something of a challenge.
While there may be instances when ingesting essential oils is warranted, this should never be undertaken unless overseen by a specially-trained and experienced practitioner.
Essential oils are a wonderful boon to wellness when used properly. We need to encourage our clients to be responsible while using them. I always support my clients to become educated about using essential oils safely, through the greatly increasing resources that are available. My first instruction is “if you want to eat essential oils, eat them as plants.” There are a number of other wonderful modalities we can use to support wellness and some of them include ingestion, such as Flower Essences and herbal teas, tinctures, and supplements, so there are alternatives if we feel we need to take something internally.
* For the most part, essential oils added to food are used in minute amounts (peppermint essential oil is how those after dinner mints are flavored, after all). Essential oils differ in potency when they are naturally occurring in food and when they are added judiciously for flavoring.
Jessica North-O’Connell is founding Priestess of Faerie Mound Mystery School and Great Goddess Alive! Alchemical Arts & Services. She has been a practicing aromatherapist for 20 years, a Reiki and Soul Realignment practitioner, as well as a Tarot and Rune reader. She offers classes and programs and has aspirations of opening a Retreat center for creative recovery. Find her at www.facebook.com/jessica.northoconnell and www.greatgoddessalive.com