Essential Oils: From Seed to Bottle
Determining which company has the highest quality of essential oils can be a very daunting task. Many companies say they offer “Organic Essential Oils”, “100% Pure Essential Oils”, or “100% Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils”. What does all of this mean though? Are different producers really that different and does the quality of the essential oils really matter?
Essential oils can be life-changing when used properly. Their uses range from mood enhancement to reducing seizures, and everything in between. For those who have found pure essential oils they will tell you that quality definitely matters and that all companies are in fact not the same. These amazing bottles have changed the way we look at ailments and how we treat them. Gone are the days of cancer-causing, stomach-eating, liver-damaging OTC products that mask symptoms. We now use the best quality, safest, and most pure essential oils to address the health concerns of our families.
The United States does not have a regulatory committee that oversees the production of essential oils. To which, you’re probably asking yourself this question, “How do I know which company offers the best essential oils then?” The answer is…Research.
It takes a lot of time to personally research all of this though…and is probably the last thing you want to spend your precious time doing. So we’ve done it for you. We have taken the time to find out the different methods of growing, extracting, testing, and bottling, as well as learning how to use them safely. Below is what we have found to be the most important factors in determining what company really does offer the purest essential oils.
It’s important to note that in our research, we found that most companies that offer essential oils do try to produce what they consider to be a high quality product. Sadly, many of them fall short of actually accomplishing that though.
Here is what we determined to be the most important aspects of producing essential oils and what you should look for.
Sourcing refers to the location of which the plant is harvested prior to extracting the oil. Many think that lavender oil is lavender oil no matter where it is grown, but as we studied we discovered that the active aromatic compounds of a plant actually changed based on the environment it is grown in.
What to look for:
Each plant should be sourced from a location that promotes the growth of the plants natural concentrations of active aromatic compounds (basically the plant should be sourced from where it grows naturally to keep its original and intended compounds intact).
- No pesticides or chemicals are used to protect or enhance the growth of the plants.
- The grower harvests the plant at a specific time of day when all the aromatic components are present.
- The grower harvests the correct part of the plant that produces the best quality essential oils… eg. the bark, seeds, or the flower.
Extracting essential oils from plants is a delicate and complex process that not all companies pay close attention to. The composition of essential oils makes them very vulnerable during extraction because they evaporate easily and can be compromised. Essential oils are most often extracted from plants through distillation, a process in which steam is circulated under pressure through plant material, thus liberating the plant’s aromatic compounds into the steam. As the steam cools, the mixture condenses and the essential oils are collected in their pure form.
What to look for:
- Strict monitoring of heat and pressure during distillation. Too little heat and pressure will not release the aromatic compounds of a plant, while too much can alter the delicate chemical composition and potency of the extract.
- Ensure that the plants are not treated with chemicals or alcohol. Not only can the chemicals be damaging to the plant, but it also leaves a residue in the oil which you then apply to your body or inhale aromatically.
This step can be one of the most confusing of all because of the wide variety of testing standards…or lack thereof. Two of the basic tests that some companies will promote are the Gas Chromatography (GC) and Mass Spectrometry (MS) tests. Essentially what these tests do is separate the compounds within the oil, verify that there are no foreign contaminants, and make sure that the oil has it’s normal number of elements.
While two essential oil extracts may be pure, they can differ dramatically in their active constituents depending on plant selection, growing and harvesting methods, and distillation. Ensuring correct composition of an essential oil requires both precise testing and accurate interpretation of results by credentialed chemists with expertise in essential oils.
What to look for:
- Credentialed independent third party testing.
- Every batch of oil needs to be tested with both the GC and MS tests. We were surprised to find many companies who only test once or twice a year or only when they found a new supplier. This allows for a great deal of fluctuation in potency and purity. Also, to pass the GC test by itself only 3% of the essential oil needs to be present. The MS test is what verifies if it is all essential oil or if it has been diluted. As Beth mentioned earlier this week, some companies don’t even conduct the MS test at all.
- Total Plate Count – the TPC is designed to test the essential oils against bacteria, viruses, and mold. This test is not conducted by most companies but is an extremely important test because it determines if the oil is potent and can be used to aid in fighting illness and other ailments.
- FT-IR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectophotometer) test makes sure the oil is of organic origins. It also identifies the species of plant the oil comes from and whether or not it comes from one source. Here’s why this test is ran. Some oil producers will isolate a particular element found in, lets say Geranium, which is also found in Frankincense. They will take that element along with other frankincense elements that are found in other oils and make a cocktail of sorts and call it “frankincense oil” when in fact it isn’t at all. The FT-IR can determine if it is actually all from the same organic origin or not.
- Organoleptic Testing – designed to test for the right color, viscosity, feel, odor, and taste. One thing we found in our research was that synthetic oils can smell the exact same as pure oils. While it is important to make sure that the oils have all of these things it’s also important that this is not the only test that is conducted because many synthetic oils will pass this test.
- Shelf Life Test – With everything having expiration dates these days, it’s in the forefront of our minds when we look at products. How long will this stay good? When treated and processed with care, most essential oils can outlive you. Citrus oils are different since they are processed differently but they can still last for several years.
While this step does not sound very important, it is in fact one of the most important steps. We discovered that when it comes to bottling the essential oils, some companies would use filler oils to dilute and make their resources go further. These companies label their bottles “100% pure essential oils” because that was all that was needed to pass the Gas Chromatography testing and make it to your home or health food store as a “safe and natural” product for you and your family.
What to look for:
Again, because synthetic oils can pass the “smell” test it’s important to make sure that the FT-IR & MS tests have been conducted. They determine whether or not the oil has been diluted and if it is a cocktail or the real thing. Some companies will use synthetic oils because they feel it is no different than the real thing, or they will dilute the oil so that it stretches further. This is why there can be a huge difference between the potency and benefits from different brands of oils. The proof is in the actual user-experience. We have found people that use large amounts of Oregano or Peppermint daily and when we offer to try our oils they are blown away by the difference.
Also, an easy test that you can perform is to put a drop of your existing oil onto a piece of paper. Allow it time to dry completely (an hour or so). If it leaves behind a residue or watermark, that is a good indicator that your oils have been diluted with a carrier oil.
While application refers to the user experience of the oil, we include it here in our research as a critical piece of the essential oil puzzle. Many companies simply place their oil on a shelf and expect potential customers to understand what each one can do and how to use it safely. Finding a company that recognizes the importance of education and safe practice of their oils is key to a safe and user friendly application of the oil.
What to look for:
- The company teaches and facilitates the responsible use of essential oils in health applications.
- The company works closely with healthcare professionals of traditional and alternative medicine.
- The company collaborates with universities and other research institutions to encourage continued study and application of essential oils in modern healthcare practices.
6. Now what?
Now that you know the “ins and outs” of producing the purest essential oils, where do you find them? After all the research that we conducted the only company that we have found that does all of the above is dōTERRA. We encourage you to conduct your own research and determine what you feel is best for your family but dōTERRA is the company we felt we could trust and that we could stand behind. Their products have empowered us to be in control of our family’s health.
While this post is not intended to sell you anything we recognize that there are going to be people who want more information about these products and how to get them in their homes.
The Modern Wellness team is also happy to help you on an individualized basis to answer any questions you may have. We can be reached on Facebook, via email firstname.lastname@example.org, and by phone (801) 448-6531.
We also have several recorded webinars that you can watch to get an idea of how to address the health concerns within your family by using essential oils. Click the links below for each webinar.