The Chronicle -

By Yaakov Levine
Chronicle Columnist 

ABCs of safe essential oil use for humans and pets

Nutritionally Speaking

 

February 6, 2020

File photo

A popular class I offer at Natural Grocers is a beginner's guide to the use of essential oils. In this class we explore the basics about these oils, how they are produced, how and why to safely use them, how we can benefit from their use, and a bit about a few of the more commonly used oils.

Essential oils are highly concentrated constituents derived from a plant that will usually offer the aroma or flavor of that plant. The plants produce these aromatic substances to discourage herbivores (that otherwise would eat them), prevent the growth of pathogens, repel pests, encourage pollination and help the plants compete for space and water.

We use them for their scent and in our body care products for their therapeutic benefits, and as preservatives or flavorings used by the food industry.

Not all plants exude these aromatic substances, but from the plants that do offer essential oils we extract them from various parts of the plants: the leaves, stems, bark, flowers, peels, wood, needles and resins.

Some plants offer different essential oils from different parts of the plant; a popular example is bitter orange – we get neroli from the flowers, petitgrain from the leaves and orange oil from the peels.

Essential oils are most commonly extracted using steam distillation, which yields essential oils, and the water-soluble component called hydrosols, which you may know as floral or flower water.

Some oils that are too fragile for steam distillation are extracted using solvents and are called absolutes. A newer method used is supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, and these oils are also part of the absolute category.

Have you ever had a particular smell or fragrance trigger a memory? I am sure many experienced this during our recent Thanksgiving holiday – memories of mom, dad, and other family events.

While essential oils are often used because we enjoy their smell, we benefit from these oils used in aromatherapy for modulating inflammation, creating an unwelcome environment for viruses and bacteria, and to influence brain function and mood.

Aromatherapy is a general term describing our use of essential oils to support physical and emotional health.

When we inhale these essential oils from a diffuser or body care product, or as mixed in carrier oil, the aromatic molecules interact with the cells in our nose, causing changes in our brains, stimulating the production of neurotransmitters such as endorphins to help us feel better.

There are many ways to therapeutically (or just for fun) use these essential oils:

• Put them in a diffuser to gently release their constituents into the air.

• Place a drop or two on a tissue and inhale.

• Add to your favorite unscented body care products, or make your own.

• Mix with a carrier oil (such as olive, jojoba, almond or coconut) or lotion and then apply to your skin.

• Add a few drops to your bathwater, being careful not to get a drop of oil into your eyes.

• Mix them with distilled water in a spray bottle for cleaning or pest repellant.

Take care in choosing your essential oils. Look for country of origin and the botanical or Latin name of the plant used on the label.

Most reputable producers will be able to prove they test for identity and purity, and follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), as established by the FDA.

Keep in mind that companies that market their products using claims such as "therapeutic grade," "pharmaceutical grade" or "food grade" are just using marketing terms which are otherwise meaningless since there are no standards established for the grading of essential oil quality.

Many of us have pets that share our household – most commonly cats and dogs. It seems like there is a new horror story reported each day about our pets and their negative reactions to the essential oils we use in our homes.

Some of the common oils we use are not healthy choices for our pets.

Essential oils known to be problematic for cats include:

• Oil of wintergreen

• Oil of sweet birch

• Citrus oil

• Pine oils

• Ylang Ylang oil

• Peppermint oil

• Cinnamon oil

• Pennyroyal oil

• Clove oil

• Eucalyptus oil

• Tea tree oil

Essential oils known to be problematic for dogs include:

• Tea tree oil

• Pennyroyal

• Oil of wintergreen

• Pine oils

Avoid using these essential oils around your pet birds:

• Tea tree oil

• Peppermint

• Eucalyptus, Arborvitae, Pine

• Cinnamon, Clove, Oregano

• Citronella

Since essential oils contain powerful compounds, always use them with caution.

Never apply an essential oil directly to your skin; instead, dilute in a carrier oil or lotion. Always test a small patch of skin for sensitivity before applying to a large part of your body. Use sparingly and with caution with babies and very young children, and take extra care with use by pregnant or nursing women, and the elderly.

While many essential oils are considered by the FDA for food industry use to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), they are only using a very small amount (a few drops) per food batch, so take care when using them this way.

Essential oils can be a great addition to any home, added to body care products, used in a diffuser and added to our cleaning solutions.

Don't be fooled by slick marketing slogans, and enjoy their many benefits.

A few of my favorite resources about essential oils include "The Art of Aromatherapy," by Robert Tisserand; "The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy," by Valerie Ann Worwood; and "Organic Bodycare Recipes," by Stephanie Tourles.

 
 

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