Generally Regarded as Safe

Posted to Subscribers on 6 December 2010


Dear Subscribers,

This is a short note to let those who are interested know about some pages that were uploaded to over the weekend. One page covers some safety issues. I am just trying to be careful. Most people will tell you never to take an essential oil internally. If they are sincere and not just repeating something they were told to say, it means the oil is not pure enough for internal use. The fact of the matter is that many oils are used as flavoring agents and as such are safe when used appropriately, i.e., very small doses. Believe it or not, the FDA actually has a list of essential oils that are "Generally Regarded as Safe" when used in the customary manner. For instance, at our local supermarket, we find an absolutely delicious lavender ice cream and at one of the bistros in town, we sometimes find a lavender cheesecake. These are real treats but the lavender oil disperses nicely in the dairy carriers and is very dilute when ingested.

There are many other oils using as flavorings, peppermint being a common one, but most spices and many citrus fruit (peels) are also sometimes used as flavorings. Other oils are added to cleaning products, usually the ones high in linalool. Ironically, these products often contain better quality oils than those sold for aromatherapy, but sometimes they use what are sold as "fragrances" to artisan soap makers. Fragrances are quite inferior to therapeutic grade essential oils and should probably not even be inhaled much less used internally.

After a three-week trip to Europe some years ago, I came home to a house that reeked. My critter sitter said she had been using aromatherapy candles, soul food for her. My nostrils were irritated and my skin itched for 2-3 days. The same happens if I go into a shop selling candles and soaps made with these fragrances. It has never happened to me when handling essential oils of the quality used in our products. In fact, despite lots of warnings about the potential for allergic reactions or skin irritation, I can use cinnamon oil in bath water without any problem and it is one of the really intense oils.

Some companies dilute the oils before packaging. They will normally put a percent of the oil into a carrier, such as olive oil. Without naming any names, you can buy one bottle of my wild oregano oil and make about ten of the diluted ones, but I just put a single drop into a glass of warm (not hot) water and gargle a bit, then spit it out. After cleaning my mouth really well, I swallow what is left in the cup. It truly is very rare that I need a second drop but a couple of people tell me they have taken two drops per day. Honestly, that is not only enough, but more is not better nor even advisable.

Given that I so often mention internal use of the oils, I uploaded a summary of the GRAS list with a few comments:

The list is not complete since it only includes those oils I carry. When adding wintergreen last week, I suddenly started to worry about someone overdosing and debated whether to warn people or restrict sales to people with both experience using oils and common sense. The compromise was to upload this page as well as another one on dosages:

I will be adding to this as time and motivation permit. In the meantime, I have also asked my graphics designer to come up with labels of a different color to alert users to which oils are not suitable for internal use. My goal is to keep adding to our knowledge base so that people are comfortable with using oils. They are very, very potent and what I prefer about oils to antibiotics is that there is nothing viable so there are no secondary consequences when used correctly and this is always the issue.

Some people are interested in distilling their own oils. From a monetary perspective, I don't think there is much incentive to do this so long as one can actually create a very useful essential oil stash for less than the cost of the equipment needed to distill. However, if self reliance is the motivation, there are some interesting possibilities in the $200-500 price range.

In a professional situation, most equipment is dedicated, i.e., the equipment is only used for distilling one specific plant because it is too hard to remove all traces of the oil. This motivates growers who do their own distilling to focus on single crops. As you can imagine, I have some issues with highly organized agriculture because I am afraid that our desires are sometimes filled at the expense of Nature's need for diversity and freedom to seed itself where it wishes.

The concern we all ought to have with agroindustry is lack of biodiversity. The history of our planet is full of stories of various crop failures. At any time, there could be a weather issue, insect issue, fungal infection, or whatever that causes crop loss. As is brought out in the unnerving film Food, Inc., we rely much too heavily on soy and corn to supply our needs and this is, even without the concerns over the multitude of issues revolving around genetic modification of plants, an accident waiting to happen. Many GMO crops have failed and there will, of course, be more failures. It is one thing to lose a crop of an acre or ten acres, something else to lose a crop of millions of acres. The Irish potato famine in the mid-1800s was caused by blight. The crops failed several years in a row and over a million people died of hunger and another million emigrated, mostly to the U.S.

Keep in mind that the potato is a New World plant and was unknown in Europe before the Age of Discovery. One has to ask why any people anywhere would go so crazy about something that they converted their land to production of a foreign crop. Most people are very resistant to changes in their food consumption and most farmers are not big risk takers. However, the reason for NOT committing to such follies is that what is catastrophic for one crop is not necessarily equal hazardous for another. We survive better by not putting all our eggs in one basket or as someone wrote on the ticker tape the day the Dow was in a freefall, "not putting all our dregs in one casket."

The entire world should resist the pressure to convert land on the scale that has occurred and continues to occur. This includes everything from crops used for food as well as for crops with other purposes such as cotton or biofuels. We must have a safety net to catch us when the unexpected occurs.

When there is a failure, as happened to vineyards in France at more or less the same time as the potato famine in Ireland, the recovery often relies on the ability to restart using a secondary source. This is part of the wisdom of biodiversity. The French wine industry recovered by grafting American plants that were resistant to the aphid that caused the losses in Europe. If we forget these lessons, we are setting ourselves up for a crisis because sooner or later, something outside of the plans happens.

These are very strong arguments for allowing individuals and small farmers to save seeds and cultivate plants that are not part of the patent mayhem.

So, this is one issue occupying my psyche and the other is more interesting yet because I want to present more on the sentience of plants and their amazing ability to adapt and even to display awareness. Over thirty years ago, I stumbled on the work of Cleve Baxter and his experiments using plants with lie detecting equipment and then there was the fabulous film on the Secret Life of Plants in which the plants mastered the ability to open and close windows in the greenhouse and turn on water when they wanted it. They also showed a tremendous sensitivity to music and definite preferences for certain music over other music. This is where I want to go because if we don't understand the complexity of plants, we won't understand how to interact with them properly.

So, that's what occupied me over the weekend and I will post the essays when locating a couple of working links to videos. Next weekend, I don't expect to be as productive because I am going to Don Carlos in the local theater (well, in Port Townsend).

Many blessings,



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