Organic Essential Oils: TH Interviews an Expert
Anita Boen (pictured above) is the manager and resident herbal expert at Rancho Tres Estrellas, a small organic farm that provides herbs, fruits and vegetables for the world-renown destination spa, Rancho La Puerta. The spa has a fascinating history, and was a leader in the introduction of organic vegetarian cuisine to North American health resorts. Now, with Anita's help, the spa is developing its own line of organic body care products. TreeHugger talks with Anita about her craft and the growing popularity of organic beauty.TH: The word "organic" seems to be popping all over the place these days. Is there any way to be sure that body care products are truly "organic"?
AB: Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous suppliers that use the percentages of certified organic ingredients required by current USDA Organic standards to justify the use of the word "organic" on the label, i.e. there must be more than 95% certified organic ingredients in a formula to use the term "organic." Companies that wish to achieve the label, but that may not be committed to producing truly organic products will use a high percentage of a certified organic ingredient, such as a floral water, as the primary ingredient in the formula. Then they add ingredients that in my opinion don't belong in a product labeled organic. Rather misleading, but legal. There is currently a lot of controversy in the organic body care community about such practices.
Organic essential oils are produced from plants that are grown in accordance with organic agricultural standards. In addition, there are oils distilled from wild-crafted plants and oils from plants grown in areas where there might not be a certification agency but the plants are grown in accordance with traditional agricultural practices.
Whenever possible buy oils that are labeled certified organic. There are very few suppliers bold enough to intentionally mislabel non-organic oils as organic.
Reputable essential oil suppliers label their products for common as well as botanical name, country of origin, part of the plant used, method of agriculture, method of extraction, i.e. steam distilled, CO2 or solvent extracted, pressed, etc. If an essential oil package does not contain this information don't buy it if you're using the oil for therapeutic purposes. Of course, if you're using pine oil to clean a floor you might not be as concerned with purity as you would if you're using the oils for medicinal or internal use.
TH: Why are organic oils superior to non-organic options?
AB: Essential oils are highly concentrated plant medicines. As such, they are subject to retaining high concentrations of contaminants if the plants they are derived from are grown with chemical agricultural methods. When you think about residues in this way, the benefits for those using organic oils vs. non organic oils is fairly obvious; however I like to point out another benefit of producing organic oils
Essential oil production requires a huge amount of plant material to yield a small quantity of oil. For example, in the case of rose essential oil it takes 1000 kilos of rose petals to produce one liter of rose essential oil. Think about how many people it takes to grow and harvest 1000 kilos of rose petals. If those roses were grown organically think about how many people (and their unborn children) would benefit from NOT being exposed to toxic agricultural chemicals.
TH: You are in the process of developing a line of spa products for Rancho La Puerta, what special qualities can products created "on site" offer that you couldn't get from a distributor or major producer?
AB: FRESHNESS! By creating body care products from the herbs and flowers that we grow ourselves, we assure the vital energies of the plants haven't been compromised from sitting in a warehouse for months or years. It also allows us to follow the admonition, "don't put anything on your body you wouldn't put in your body."
TH: What drew you to the discovery and practice of essential oils?
AB: A dear friend (to whom I will always be grateful) introduced me to "genuine and authentic" essential oils about 15 years ago. At her suggestion I attended a conference conceived and sponsored by Kurt Schnaubelt. That conference opened up a whole new dimension of medicinal and therapeutic uses for the highly concentrated plant medicines we refer to as essential oils. Dr. Schnaubelt is the founder of The Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy and Original Swiss Aromatics. Anyone interested in serious study of essential oils should investigate the educational opportunities offered by PIA.
TH: What is your favorite essential oil? Why?
AB: Lavender! It's a virtual first aid kit in a bottle. It's antiseptic, analgesic, soothing, aids digestion, smells and tastes delightful. It's also safe and gentle enough to use directly on the skin undiluted. Because they are so highly concentrated nearly ALL essential oils must be diluted before using. Lavender is one of the few exceptions. It's generally safe for kids and there aren't too many people who don't enjoy the fragrance. My suggestion to anyone interested in learning about essential oils is to investigate lavender first.
TH: Thank you for participating in this interview, and thank you for the wonderful work you are doing at Tres Estrellas!