The following is an abbreviated version of a message posted in a professional aromatherapy mailing list. People often have questions about the toxicity of Wintergreen and Sweet Birch essential oils. The facts in the following are accurate, as concerns over skin application of either of these two oils have been proven time and again. Please read this if you are considering using Wintergreen or Birch Oil as a fragrance or in a massage blend. We do not offer Wintergreen or Sweet Birch essential oils at Nature’s Gift.
Ingestion can cause severe poisoning and death, lethal doses with children at 10 ml, adults at 30 ml. (Guenther, Volume II, page 640, written around 1949)
It’s interesting that Guenther doesn’t give the *dermal* toxicity for methyl salicylate. And (just as a public service) I would like to emphasize that on the way to being lethal, methyl salicylate can make a person quite unpleasantly ill. I know I keep harping on this, and I’d apologize except that… I’m not sorry! A person close to me who has bad arthritic pain was poisoned (not fatally!) by her doctors’ prescribing so many methyl-salicylate-laden medications. I had a good chance to see this toxicity for myself, and it was not funny. Since she was asking me for EO blends for the pain at the same time as she was using all these other medications, I am certainly *very* glad that the risks of Sweet Birch and Wintergreen had been pounded into my head. The blends I came up with for her that didn’t include these risky oils may *not* have been as immediately effective in reducing the joint pain, but they help some, and now are the only ones she can use until her body gets rid of the accumulated toxins.
My friend and I were very lucky in a number of ways — among other things, a doctor figured out what was making her so ill, and told her exactly which medications contained methyl salicylate. I’ve been asked for arthritis-type blends by a number of other people, and always ask whether they’re using anything that contains methyl salicylate. So very very often they don’t know — the print with the ingredients is too small to read — they think over-the-counter salves “don’t count” — they get giddy and fib — or they’re sure that normal essential oil safety guidelines somehow don’t apply to them. None of this is Ideal Client Behavior, of course, but I don’t think they deserve to be poisoned for it! If I have any doubts whatsoever — and most often I do — I leave these oils out of the blends I make, even though I know they could offer quicker pain relief if I used them.
I know these oils can be very useful in the right situations, in suitably low doses, with duly cautious frequency of application. I just feel a compelling need to make sure everyone is aware of the risks.
© 1998, by S Pociecha