Essential oils are getting more popular by the year as more and more people discover their pleasant aromas and fabulous benefits. So...you’ve probably seen them in all kinds of stores and places where you wouldn’t have found them even five years ago. (I’m even beginning to see them in dollar and discount stores.) This of course brings up the issue of quality, which I’ll save for another article.
However, something that may not cross your mind (as it didn’t occur to me when I was first getting into essential oils) is the issue of endangered plant species and — for that matter — long-term sustainability of some of your favorite oils.
After all, to make one bottle of essential oil takes anywhere from dozens to hundreds of plants. It takes three pounds of lavender flowers to make one 15 ml bottle of lavender essential oil. While lavender is on the more affordable side, the sheer quantity of plant matter required to produce essential oils is one reason why some oils are so expensive. Other reasons include how easy or difficult plants are to cultivate (or find in the wild) and how much labor, transportation, and handling is involved. For something like lemon oil, which is affordable due to its ubiquity and the relative ease to grow, about 50 lemons are required to make one 15 ml bottle of essential oil. Rose oil on the other hand, known as an expensive oil, requires almost 50,000 rose petals to make just one ounce of essential oil.
If you stop and think about how many plants are required to make a bottle of your favorite essential oil…and then think about how many of those bottles are produced and sold per year…the question of long-term sustainability comes up. For production of an essential oil to be sustainable over the long term, annual harvest of the plant or part of the plant from which the oil is taken should not exceed the rate of replacement. That means when entire plants are required, for each plant taken other seedlings should be planted to replace it. (More than one seedling or sapling should be planted to replace each plant taken to account for unknowns like disease, drought, poor soil conditions, etc.) When sap is taken, the quantity taken should not kill the plant unless another individual can be replanted. The tree should be able to regenerate and recover before more is taken. When whole fruit is used, sustainability becomes less of an issue except when using the fruit for essential oils causes significant decrease in the amount of available for food. (For some oils derived from fruit — this prevents production at high levels if not entirely.)
For many essential oils, sustainability is not currently a major concern, though it should be monitored over time. However, a few essential oils come from known threatened or endangered species. It is absolutely essential that essential oil enthusiasts and aromatherapists familiarize themselves with and monitor the key issues associated with these species. Some oils should not be used at all for now and others should be purchased only when the source can be reliably traced to a non-endangered plant population. Further, endangered plant species are protected by U.S. laws such as the Lacey Actand international agreement, such as CITES, and are subject to laws and regulations in other countries.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy lists four essential oils that come from endangered plants in its aromatherapy education standards. These are Agarwood (Aquilaria sp.), Frankincense (Boswellia carteri), Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), and Sandalwood (Santalum album). Essential oils expert Robert Tisserand adds Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) to this list. The issues for each oil are slightly different, so let’s explore each separately.
Agarwood (Aquilaria sp.)
Agarwood has a unique scent that has been prized all over the world for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that trade of Agarwood trees has negatively impacted many natural populations of the tree. Members of Aquilaria sp. can be found in numerous Asian countries, and as of 2004 all known varieties are listed as “potentially threatened” by CITES. Agarwood essential oil is extracted from heartwood, meaning trees must be cut down to extract the oil. As with many other trees that we use for essential oils, Agarwood trees can be cultivated on tree farms/plantations. If you want to use Agarwood essential oil, it’s a good idea to make sure that the company selling it sources responsibly (preferably from cultivated varieties).
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
This famous oil often comes from Somalian Boswellia trees, which are notoriously over-harvested. Fortunately, these trees can be cultivated on farms/plantations. (You can order Boswellia saplings online if you so desire.) I have found that essential oil companies do not always disclose whether their frankincense is wild or cultivated. I tend to assume that if the bottle is not specifically marked farmed/cultivated that the frankincense is wild sourced. While the Frankincense problem is not as dire as some of the others listed here, sustainability is a growing concern and should be watched in coming years.
Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
The tree that is used to produce rosewood essential oil is native to the rainforest areas of South America. Once abundant, rosewood trees are now rare in many parts of the Amazon rainforest. Harvesting the essential oil from rosewood requires cutting down entire trees. New trees do not easily grow to replace those cut, especially with the historical rate of trees cut far exceeding the number of new saplings. While extremely rare, it is possible to cultivate rosewood trees (presumably sustainably) on farms/plantations, though I do not know of any such producers. Illegally imported rosewood was at the heart of a major international trafficking case last year involving a large and well-known essential oil company. To the company’s credit, they fully complied with the federal investigation. Yet this case sheds doubt on so-called sustainable/legal/ethical import of rosewood oil at this time. Due to the endangered status of rosewood trees, this oil should be avoided.
Sandalwood (Santalum album)
This sandalwood species refers to what you may know as “Indian sandalwood” not to be confused with Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), which is not endangered. Indian sandalwood was over-harvested to the point of near-extinction for decades from India and a few other countries. The problem is somewhat allayed now with the advent of cultivated sandalwood trees. As such, sourcing is everything with Indian sandalwood. Indian sandalwood can now be sourced from plantations, such as the one in Australia that Plant Therapy uses to source its sandalwood. Of course, Australian sandalwood is also an option which offers similar benefits but has a softer and sweeter aroma than its Indian cousin.
Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)
Robert Tisserand cites spikenard, native to Nepal, as one of the biggest essential oil sustainability concerns. In an effort to make harvest more sustainable, the Nepalese government currently requires permits for international trade of spikenard. Inevitably as with many endangered species, some is smuggled. The oil is on the more expensive side, but available from several popular essential oil companies. A large part of the spikenard problem is over-harvesting of wild plants, as the plant cannot be easily cultivated (at least not easily, cost-effectively, and on a large scale). This means that new spikenard cannot be easily and reliably planted to replace harvested plants. Further, entire spikenard plants must be harvested to create spikenard essential oil. Unfortunately, these are problems that trade permits may not be able to solve. While spikenard is prized for its benefits and aroma, there are many other essential oils that provide comparable benefits.
We have explored several endangered/threatened essential oil plant species in this post. Even for essential oil-bearing plants that are not endangered, we need to pay attention to how we create, process, and use these oils to ensure future sustainability. It is always good practice to use only the amount of essential oils that you need to avoid wasting these precious (and pricey) resources. Mother Earth (Gaia) provides the plants from which we get these wonderfully aromatic and therapeutic oils. It is up to us to be good stewards of these precious gifts.
If you choose to purchase any of these oils, check the company’s trade and sourcing practices before you buy. When buying essential oil blends, check which oils are included in the blend to avoid accidentally buying something endangered.
Sources / More Information
"Aromatherapy is a caring, hands-on therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, to increase energy, to reduce the effects of stress and to restore lost balance to mind, body and soul." -- Robert Tisserand
The term "aromatherapy" has been around for a little under 100 years, yet essential oils have been used for centuries. While essential oils are prized for their aromatic character, they are appreciated even more for their healing benefits. In the past, essential oils and aromatherapy focused on using individual essential oils (or "blends" of one or more oils) to treat specific ailments.
Today, aromatherapy focuses more so on bringing "balance" to the bodies (physical-mental-emotional-spiritual) than on "curing" specific maladies. A progressive aromatherapist recognizes the negative effects that imbalances have on the body and seeks to remedy those imbalances with the appropriate essential oil(s).
So, while essential oils may be pleasing to diffuse or to enjoy in other products, you'll get the most benefit from them when using specific oils matched to your exact needs. The oils you need -- and the oils that you are drawn to -- will change over time as your needs shift. A certified aromatherapist can help you navigate the many essential oils and blend possibilities to ensure that you have the best results possible.
What is the difference between products scented with essential oils versus fragrances?This is a common misunderstanding...but the answer is too important not to know! In the United States and around the world, most products that contain a scent get that scent from a fragrance. I'm talking about all kinds of fragrance products, from the obvious ones like perfume, to candles, lotions, bath products, toys, scratch 'n sniff stickers, and almost anything else you can think of.
In the United States, fragrances are protected by law as "trade secrets." That means manufacturers don't have to tell you or anyone what their fragrances contain. This is concerning for a number of reasons, not the least of which -- for many folks -- is the potential for allergic reactions or skin irritations. Some fragrances may be relatively harmless while others may contain a toxic soup of chemicals that you wouldn't dream of using...if you in fact knew that you were using them.
Just to name a few, some commercial fragrances (particularly those used in perfume and cologne) include ambergris (from the stomachs of sperm whales), musk (from the groin of male musk deers), civet "paste" (from cat-like civets), castoreum (from beavers), and hyrax (literal poop from guinea pig-like animals). Grossed out yet? It doesn't end there. Research studies have uncovered thousands of toxic chemicals that are used to create that "perfect scent" and confirm that packaging almost never discloses these ingredients.
While in the United States we recognize the rights of people and companies to protect their intellectual property -- should we allow such protections in light of such serious health and animal welfare concerns? I'll let you mull that over -- in the meantime, let's talk about essential oils!
Essential oils from reputable companies are derived 100% from plants (they can be made without animal products of any kind)! When you buy essential oils from respectable companies, you always know exactly what you're getting. Oils are extracted from plants through a number of methods, usually including cold pressing, distilling, expressing, CO2 extraction, or solvent extraction (least preferable -- as leftover chemical constituents may remain behind in the final product). Hardcore aromatherapists sometimes extract their own oils. When completed correctly, the result of this process is a very pure essential oil with many wonderful properties often including fabulous natural scents.
How can you tell if a company is reputable? There is a lot of incorrect information out there, so here are the guidelines I use when choosing companies that I want to work with.
Pure essential oils should not contain any fillers, carrier oils, or synthetic chemicals. This can be verified with independent lab testing (generally with a GC-MS) and should be completed for each batch of essential oils. Testing the first batch and then never testing again is not helpful, as variations may (and probably will) occur from batch to batch. By having their oils tested by independent laboratories (and sharing the results with you -- the consumer), essential oil companies provide a meaningful and evidence-backed guarantee that their product is exactly what they claim. Be wary of large companies that claim to test but do not share their laboratory results. What are they hiding?
Some companies (do your own research here) claim that they do not use synthetic chemicals, yet independent reports suggest otherwise. You can put the puzzle pieces together when you check the company's claims against the evidence that they provide. I have yet to see an essential oil company that does not claim their oils to be "pure" or "therapeutic." These words are not regulated -- anyone can use them and no one is checking in on them. Do your homework to make sure that you are indeed buying pure lavender oil, for example, and not artificially fragranced lavender oil.
Part of being an ethical human being is being conscientious of your carbon footprint. Essential oils require a lot of plant matter to create one tiny bottle, so at the very least don't use more than you need (don't waste them). Also pay attention to how companies source their plants. Where do the plants come from? How are they cultivated? How are their workers treated?
Finally, while using products made with pure essential oils can be safer than using "fragranced" products, you are still at the mercy of any given company's honesty and competence. Using the same legal loophole that applies to fragrances, companies producing products that are made with essential oils don't have to tell you where the oils came from or how much the oils are diluted. (Some companies may not even be aware if they are using "pure" essential oils -- or not.)
Caution: A common misconception is that since essential oils are natural, they must be safe to use "as is." Remember that essential oils are very highly concentrated forms of the natural oils that occur in plants. As such you should never use undiluted essential oils on the skin (and for heaven's sakes, don't eat them unless you are working with a certified aromatherapist who specifically tells you to do so). Essential oils are powerful, so you want to use them the right way to get the most benefit without any harm. It is best to work with trusted companies and certified aromatherapists to get it right.
*The content in this article is presented for informational and educational use only and should not be considered medical advice. Our blends should not be considered medications and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Our products and their accompanying statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information on this website does not replace the advice of a qualified physician or other health care professional.*
Maybe you've heard of "energy work" previously -- or perhaps this is your first experience. Despite our human tendency to simply define and concisely categorize...energy work encompasses manyâ€‹ modalities and theories. There are many approaches. Energy work practitioners, predictably, have differing perspectives. Some approach their work from a very scientific perspective. Others incorporate religious or spiritual traditions to their work. Despite such broad diversity, there are some aspects of energy work that allâ€‹ modalities have in common.
Everything is energy.
Yes, everything is energy. Even that which seems physical is, when broken into its smallest components, pure energy. Our physical human bodies, for example, are really just physical manifestations of applied chemistry and physics, animated by a form of energy we call a spirit or soul. Yes, the human body is a biological miracle and a beautiful example of "emergent properties," yet when characterized by its individual "physical" components it is composed of the same -- albeit less dense -- energies that compose a wooden table or a metal lamppost. (Each of our bodies is just a soup of subatomic particles -- such as protons, electrons, and neutrons -- vibrating at different frequencies.)
That upon which we focus tends to expand.
Beyond the purely physical, even that which we consider intangible is just energy. Our thoughts are energy. Our spoken words are energy. Our emotions are energy. Thoughts and emotions are a great example of the effect of the intangible on the physical. Ask yourself: what happens to your body when you feel stress? With enough stress, you feel physical manifestations of stress. Stomach pain is common in young children and intestinal discomfort is a common stress response in adults. These very physical alterations are caused by intangible energy: in this case, thoughts and emotions. If negative thought energy can cause a negative physical response what can positive thought energy do?â€‹ This is a basic premise of energy work.
Energy flows where attention goes.
You may also have heard this phrased another way: "energy follows thought." Have you ever noticed that the more you obsess about something the more obsessed you become with it? Have you ever worried yourself sick over something that, the more you thought about it, the worse your scenario seemed to be. But did the world end? No -- we're still here. You may feel as though your world ended (or was about to end), but it didn't -- not really. Even though some aspects of our lives come to a close, we're still here. And we're OK.
"A belief is just a thought you keep on thinking."
Everything is energy.
Energy flows where attention goes. (Or "energy follows thought.")
Energy/attention can be directed to initiate natural healing.
A common question that folks have when first learning about energy work (Reiki, dowsing, etc.) is..."how does it all work?" Distance energy work especially seems to be a matter of interest.
Let me be the first to say that the exact mechanisms are not understood. However, we do know (and have a wealth of evidence and research to support) that it does work!
There are a few concepts that may help you develop an understanding of what's really "going on" with energy healing and distance energy work. Gregg Braden and Pam Grout, among other authors, expertly discuss some of these in their work. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
The power of "intention" is the power of our focused thoughts to affect reality. The power of intention has been demonstrated to cause healing in person and via distance. Medical examples and meditation experiments are particularly interesting.
Universal Consciousness ("Collective Unconscious" / "Unity Consciousness")
Whatever you call it, Universal Consciousness refers to a shared pool of knowledge and understanding that we are all connected to (or that we possibly create and maintain through thought). This force is one example of our innerconnectedness. Though we may "feel" and believe that we are separate beings, concepts such as the Universal Consciousness suggest otherwise.
Examples and Ideas for Further Reading
Quantum Healing Experiments
The Research behind Reiki
Experiments regarding the Vibration of Water
Again, these are just a few ideas to get you started on this fascinating topic.
Once referred to as "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" (CAM), integrative health modalities are intended to work hand-in-hand with allopathic or osteopathic medicine. The emphasis is not replacing one symphony with the other, but rather utilizing both to harmonize one's health.
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