A word on Essential Oil quality
While managing a stall at the Farmer’s market, a question I hear from many a patron is ‘Which essential oils are the best quality?’ or ‘Are organic essential oils better?’
This has prompted me to write about what essential oils are and a few words on quality.
Essential Oils Regulations
As an industry, essential oils are not very regulated for purity. In some cases, only a small percentage of pure essential oil is required for labelling to say essential oils.
The rest of the bottle can contain fillers, synthetics or other chemicals. When I’m using the term essential oils, I’m discounting all of these types, instead when I say essential oils, I’m referring to its definition.
If you imagine, it’s similar when I’m referring to food, I mean real food grown in the ground or on a tree rather than processed food.
So what are essential oils?
Essential Oils Defined
They are volatile chemical components found within plants. While they are in the plants they adapt and change to help the plant function.
This includes keeping it safe from predators, attracting pollinators to procreate, they serve as antifungal or antibacterial agents and warn off other competitor plants from coming on their turf. This site elaborates further.
You could say they are the immune system of the plant.
Let’s explore organic for a moment.
By definition, organic produce means farming in a way which cares for the environment, without relying upon synthetic chemicals and other unnatural interventionist approaches.
Using the organic label is a way to let consumers believe you have the best quality oils. Labels can be deceptive. Think of how the ‘natural’ label has become a bit of a farce.
Just because a brand uses organic plants to extract its oils, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t add fillers. The way they extract the oils may contain chemicals, even if the plants don’t.
When it comes to eating food, yes definitely, organic, in my opinion is king. For essential oils, it’s less important for two reasons.
ONE because of what essential oils are and TWO because of how they are tested for quality.
What are Essential Oils?
As established, essential oils are the immune system of the plant. If I want to extract the best type of immune system, it makes sense that it would come from a plant that has been left to fend for itself.
Organic farming allows the use of natural pesticides to protect the plant. This would mean its immune system doesn’t have to work as hard to protect it.
Think of it this way. If you lived in sterile environment with little to no exposure to germs, your immune system would be weak. Normal people are exposed to a daily onslaught of threats, threats boost their immune system.
If I extracted the immune system from a sterile, (as in environment) person and from a normal every day one, it goes without saying that the latter would be stronger and more beneficial.
Similarly, the immune system (essential oils) from a plant that is exposed to a daily onslaught of threats, that boost its immune system, would be better than one that uses pesticides, organic or not.
For the best therapeutic value, you are looking for the best immune system. Even if you are just interested in a nice smelling oil, without any health benefits, remember, just as you are what you eat, you are what you smell.
How the quality of essential oils is measure?
Testing of the oils is really where the concern should be or more accurately, testing what is in the oils.
I could grow a lavender bush on my patio and extract oil from it. Without testing what’s in the oil, at best it just smells nice and at worse it could contain something harmful.
Essential oils quality is tested using a range of methods including Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry Analysis (GC/MS) and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)
Gas Chromatography is the process of separating the oil into its individual components. In basic terms it’s pulling it apart to see what all is in the oil.
Mass Spectrometry ionises the individual components and passes them through a magnetic field to gain insights about the oils potency.
Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) shines infrared light at the oil in different frequencies and the amount of light absorbed is measured. Using a historical database of high quality samples, the oil being tested is compared to assess its quality.
Inferior essential oils brands either don’t test their oils, or pass on oils to their consumers that don’t meet with high quality standards. This could include oils from organic or non-organic plants.
It’s of MORE value to have an oil tested properly than it is to have an oil from an organic plant.
Something else to bear in mind is where the plants are grown. Let’s go back to my lavender plant.
Lavender is best grown where it is native, so if I grow lavender here in Australia and extract oil from it, it won’t have the same immune system as it would if it were grown natively. This is due to different soil, insects, weather conditions and temperatures.
Another factor to consider is when and how planting, harvesting and extraction takes place. Some plants, Jasmine* for example, have a peak time for harvesting and extraction to gain the best quality oil. To extract the oils, some companies use chemicals, which would end up in the bottle.
Let’s go back to the question….
‘Which essential oils are the best quality?’
- Ones that are grown natively, harvested and the oils extracted at the best time to ensure the most benefits.
- Ones that don’t use chemicals to extract the oils.
- Ones that are tested for quality.
- Ones that are free from fillers, synthetics, pesticides (all of them), chemicals and contaminants
- Ones that are sourced ethically and with sustainability (Not discussed above but still very important).
‘Are organic oils better?’
Unless they have complied with the points above then, no.
I have done my homework and feel confident that Doterra is the best quality because they comply with the points above. Regardless of what you may think of their business model for selling or their prices, to make use of the best quality plant medicine, it’s the only way I’d go.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about essential oil quality.
*Aprox 8 million Jasmine petals make around 1L of Jasmine Essential Oil. If you find cheap Jasmine oil, it is definitely not pure.