Over the past few years, we have been asked countless times when we were going to start carrying essential oils. Well, it was not from a lack of trying...but finding ethically sourced, non adultered, pure essential oils was a challenge, to say the least.
The essential oil industry is full of problems: a web of middlemen, unethical distillers, shady business practices, farmers being taken advantage of, slavery, environmental issues such as driving species to the brink of extinction, fake certifications, and grades, transhipping, and lots and lots of adulteration. So finding essential oils that were free of all of those issues was a huge undertaking. In my twenty years in the supplement industry, I have not come across anything as
horrifying as what I found trying to source essential oils.
My therapist says I need to focus more on the good things in life, so rather than write an article about the depressing parts of the essential oil industry, I decided I would try to write about the good parts and some of the awesome people working to make things better.
Lloyd cutting Lemongrass in Jamaica
Here at Rooted Nutrition, we believe that it is incredibly important to know where ingredients come from. We are working towards 100% farm-to-bottle products. Essential oils should be no different. If you do not know where ingredients come from, you cannot actually know if products are ethically produced. Just saying "made in such such a country", or writing sustainably farmed on a bottle or website is not enough. We need to trace them back to the actual farms, people, and places they are harvested and grown. That is true transparency.
While searching for essential oils, we wanted to make sure every step was done right.
In order to ensure an oil is ethically sourced and produced, we need to know a lot of things, but these five are the most important:
Who grew or harvested the plants
That the plants were grown or harvested in a truly environmentally friendly and sustainable manner
That the people growing or harvesting the plants were paid a fair wage and a fair price for the materials
Who the manufacturer of the oils was
How the oil was produced
Each of those things is needed to ensure full transparency and to be able to verify that everything about the oils is done properly. We looked at over one hundred large commercial companies, from traditional brands sold in health food stores and pharmacies to well-known MLM companies. Not one of these companies met all of our standards for environmental and ethical practices. For example, there were companies that produced oils that tested well in terms of quality control, but they had awful environmental, labor, and ethical issues. To us, a product cannot be considered good quality if it ignores those issues. So, faced with the inability to find a traditional supplier of essential oils, we had to figure out another route to procuring some.
I began to research the history of essential oils and how they got started. It turned out that before large commercial factories began to make essential oils in huge quantities, that steam distilling oils used to occur on a lot of small family farms using homemade stills, and was often done by an artisan, who honed their craft over many years. Unfortunately, this has fallen out of favor because it is not as profitable and requires more time and skill.
The old-fashioned Still on Baker Creek Lavender Farm.
After reading way more than I needed to about farm distillers (In full disclosure some of my great, great grandparents were applejack bootleggers during prohibition, so I have a family history of distilling.), I started to look and see if there were any artisans still practicing this craft. It turns out there is a network of them, producing incredible oils. This network of artisan distillers is working to fix the essential oil industry from the ground up. My kind of people!
So after finding this group of distillers, we next needed to make sure that the plants used to make the oils were sustainably grown or ethically wildcrafted. Most people do not realize just how much plant material it can take to produce an ounce (30 ml) of essential oils. Here are a few examples:
Six pounds of Lavender
Nine pounds of Fraser Fir needles
Nine pounds of Ginger
As you can see it takes a lot of material just to produce a small amount of oil. So with the large amounts of material needed it is important to ensure the sustainability of the materials. To give you an example, 6,350 ounces of Fraser Fir essential oil would require roughly 1,300 medium-sized trees that are between 15 and 40 years old! In its native southern high-elevation range, that would devastate a single population and with prolonged exploitation, it would lead to the rapid extinction of wild populations. This scale of devastation can currently be seen manifesting itself with Frankincense and Sandlewood, among others.
So in order to ensure the plants were grown and harvested in an environmentally friendly manner we needed to know who was growing and harvesting them.
The head lavender farmer at Baker Creek Lavender Farm.
Making sure the farmers and harvesters are paid a fair amount for their labor and work was the next piece to ensure a sustainable product is produced. Many of the environmental, ethical, and sustainability issues surrounding essential oils come from the incredibly low pay that most farmers and harvesters receive. When you purchase the average bottle of essential oils the people who actually grew and harvested the oils make almost nothing. On an average bottle of essential oil, say costing twenty-five dollars, the farmer or harvester often gets less than twenty-five cents and at the high end a dollar, despite essential oils usually having massive profit margins for companies. Does that seem fair to you? Since they are being paid so little it leads to overharvesting of endangered species and other awful practices because they have to harvest so much just to make a living. We find this practice to be deplorable. With our essential oils, the farmer/harvester/distiller receives 60 to 70 percent of the money. This is the way it should be. By paying a fair price for their hard work it ensures that the environment will be well cared for. No one should do the incredibly hard work of farming/harvesting and be paid poverty-level amounts.
Now that we knew what we wanted, we needed to find companies that met the criteria we came up with.
First up on our list of awesome artisan distillers is Blue Ridge Aromatics. Blue Ridge is owned and founded by Ian Montgomery and their farm is located near Ashville, North Carolina in the beautiful Big Laurel Creek Valley.
Ian with their still, aka the "Tin Man".
We are so excited to partner with Blue Ridge Aromatics, especially because of their strong commitment to protecting the environment and reducing food and crop waste. Here are just a few of the incredible things they are doing:
Have you ever been to a juice bar and thought about what happens to the rinds that are leftover when they make the orange or citrus juices? Well, usually they are thrown away. Ian has partnered with juice makers in the local area near his farm and instead of the organic rinds being thrown away, he takes them back to the farm and distills the Lemon and Lime essential oils from them! This is the model that all citrus oils need to take. No fruit taken from the food supply and plant material saved from the garbage. What a great concept!
Another great partnership involves his ginger oil. He gets the leftover ginger that a Vermont juice maker uses and makes the ginger oil from that. While most ginger essential oil is produced from dried ginger, this incredible Organic Peruvian ginger oil has the most incredible smell because it is made from fresh ginger instead of dried ginger, which is what most ginger oils are made from. It has a bright citrusy aroma...I absolutely love it!
Wild Fraser Fir trees are in short supply and overharvesting them would decimate the local population quickly, so instead of putting the native plants at risk, he partners with a no-spray Christmas tree farm to harvest needles from their older trees that are too big and old to be used as Christmas trees. This protects the local environment, gives money to a local farm, and gives you an incredible oil that is potent and delightful to the senses. It is like Christmas in a bottle.
Each of their oils has a unique story and we hope to tell you more of them in the future. We are so excited to see what other things they come out with in the future!
Our next artisan distiller is Philbee Aromatics, located in Sedona, Arizona. They are a family-run business (named after their girls) that began out of love and passion for the native plant world. They wildcraft in a responsible manner, attempting to benefit the plants with their trimming techniques such as removing dying or falling plant parts. They are permitted by the US Forest Service and often work with environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy.
They produce a wide variety of oils from species harvested throughout the southwest United States.
Collecting Pinyon Pine
Just like our friends at Blue Ridge Aromatics, they too, have partnered with local juice companies to produce citrus oils from the peels that would normally be thrown away. We absolutely love their commitment to doing things the right way.
Our favorite thing to learn about them was that they also have a partnership with Yerba Beuna Farm, a Rastafarian, sustainable living farm on the north shore of Jamaica. This farm helps to train people in essential oil making and proper wild harvesting techniques. This ensures a great living for the people there and helps to protect the local environment. For example, they only harvest the cinnamon leaves, not the bark for the oil, because harvesting the bark would quickly cause the native populations of cinnamon trees to go extinct.
You can learn more about Yerba Beuna's Farm and the amazing work they do here.
Philbee’s partnership with Yerba Beuna is the perfect example of how essential oils can be a force for good in the world!.
Next up is Olive Gap Farm. This incredible farm produces Australian Tea Tree oil the old-fashioned way. The oil is distilled onsite in small batches using traditional methods where woodfire extracts the oil with slow steam distillation. They are one of the only farms in Australia still producing it this way. This gentler, low-pressure extraction method retains more of the complex compounds found in the leaves. This allows the plant’s botanical aroma to shine through and retain more of the Tea Tree goodness. Every bottle can be traced back to the exact place on the farm where it was harvested.
The oil is harvested annually, usually in late winter. This makes every year’s harvest unique with a distinct character. Some years are dry, some wet, some smokey, the story of the seasons is infused into each batch.
Tea Tree, Melaleuca Alternifolia, is a perennial crop, native to Bandjalang country, where their farm is located. It grows wild in the forested parts of the farm and in nearby Bundjalung National Park and is therefore very at home on their small plantation. Keeping native forest on their farm is an integral part of the holistic management of the land and helps to retain biodiversity, which is often lacking in large, broadacre farms. In order to support water conservation, their plantation relies on seasonal rainfall rather than large-scale irrigation, leaving more water in the environment, for the environment.
This tea tree oil is unlike any other!
Last, but certainly not least, is Baker Creek Lavender Farm. Their farm is located in Utah, near the Baker Damn Reservoir. In 2017 Scott and Mary decided to turn their love of lavender into a project of passion.
They started with a completely barren piece of dirt, no electricity, no irrigation, nothing but wild sagebrush all over. Scott is the backbone of all the hard work. From digging the electric and irrigation line ditches and laying all the pipe to turning the field over, laying the weed block, and installing the drip system.
Their first 680 baby lavenders were planted on May 5, 2018. In the second field, they planted another 650 plants on May 5, 2019. In their third field (Field 3), they planted another 500 plants on May 9, 2020, all with the help of wonderful friends and family.
The various cultivars of lavender do extremely well in the unique "micro" climate and soil along Baker Creek (Santa Clara River).
They now have Pink and white Lavender flowers along with the purples, as well as organic White Sage, Garden Sage, Clary Sage, Lemon Thyme, Sweet basil, and mint.
A lot is always happening at Baker Creek Lavender Farm!
We are so excited to see what things are still to come from this family, making what we think, is the most incredible lavender oil and doing it the old-fashioned way!
There are a number of questions that seem to pop up a lot about essential oils. So we thought we would include an FAQ section.
Are your oils “therapeutic” grade?
There is actually no regulation of the term therapeutic grade. Any oils can be labeled therapeutic grade. The term has no actual meaning.
Are your oils organic?
All of our oils are a mix of biodynamic, organic, sustainably grown, and/or ethically wildcrafted. No synthetic pesticides are used in the growing, harvesting, and distilling of the oils.
Are your oils diluted?
No, all of our oils 100% pure.
How are your oils produced?
All of our oils are steam-distilled on the farm.
Are any solvents used in the production of the oils?
No, the only ingredient used in the steam distillation process is spring water. There is never any ethylene, dichloride, hexane, acetone, or alcohol used in the production of our oils.
Do your oils smell different than oils traditionally sold in stores?
There are a number of different factors that can affect the smell of essential oils.
The area where an herb is grown can affect its smell a lot. For example, Lavender Angustifolia grown in France or Bulgaria will have different smells. So the area where it is grown will have an effect on the smell.
Another thing that can cause the smell to be different is that many plants have different cultivars. For example, we have four different cultivars of Lavender Angustifolia, all grown on the same farm, which all have slightly different aromas.
Another factor will be whether the plant was distilled from fresh or dry material.
So the oils may smell different or similar, but that is completely fine.
Can your oils be placed directly onto the skin?
No pure, non-diluted essential oils should ever be placed directly on the skin. They should be diluted in a carrier oil or lotion before being put on the skin. It does not matter how pure or high quality the oils may be, they still should not be put directly on the skin.
Can your oils be ingested?
This is one of the most dangerous pieces of advice we see given out by essential oil companies. No matter how pure or good quality the oil, you should not ingest them. They can cause serious harm to the esophagus, stomach, lungs, nasal passages, and intestines. The Western Australia Department of Health has put out a great article on this topic. Definitely check it out.
How should essential oils be diluted for topical use?
This is a general rule of thumb, but it can vary depending on your health status, needs, and age.
Generally, a two percent dilution is used. This equates to about 12 drops of EO per 1 oz ounce of carrier oil or lotion.
If you have any questions we may have missed, please feel free to email us at email@example.com and we will do our best to get an answer for you.
We want to give a huge shout-out and convey our deepest respect and admiration to the people doing the hard work to produce these oils while working to fix the essential oil industry from the ground up. So the next time you are thinking about using essential oils, make the ethical choice and support a better world for our farmers and the environment!
Use code essential to save ten percent off all essential oils this month!