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Are Your Oils Therapeutic Grade?

At least once a week someone will email me asking “Are your oils therapeutic grade? You don’t state that on the website.” My instinct is to ask “What do you mean by therapeutic grade?” Asking the question tends to drive away the correspondent, though.

To answer that question, first you must define what is meant by “therapeutic grade essential oils.” What does it really mean? There is no organization that oversees therapeutic quality so the definition is really up for grabs. It can be what you make it. This is the reason that at Nature’s Gift we do not make the claim that our oils are “therapeutic grade” since, in this country, the term is meaningless, and often used as just marketing hype. Any vendor can claim that their oils are “therapeutic grade” since there is no definition of the term.

In our opinion and experience, the correct term should be “aromatherapy grade” since aromatherapy requires only the finest of essential oils. Another term that we like to use is “clinical grade.” Since many of our oils are used in hospitals, hospices, and in clinical research projects, it seems to fit.

There are many criteria that must be met for an essential oil to truly be of aromatherapy quality.

Remember that the vast number of oils sold in the US are sold for the food and flavor industry. Legally, if an oil is to be sold for internal use as flavoring it must be redistilled. Therapeutic grade oils are never redistilled, period. Any vendor advertising that his oils should be ingested is selling food grade (redistilled) oils, or is in violation of the FDA. You can not have it both ways, claiming that your oils are “therapeutic grade” and also legally claiming that they are suited for internal use. If they are redistilled, they are not truly therapeutic grade. Of the oils offered by Nature’s Gift, the only redistilled oils are our USA grown peppermint (redistilled to sweeten it) and our Eucalyptus Globulous (Australian) which is redistilled to increase the 1,8 Cineole content that some users prefer.

At Nature’s Gift we believe that essential oils should be whole distillations, not just a segment. We do make the exception with Ylangylang oil and offer the Extra as well as the Complete oil.

Some distillations are deliberately performed in fractions in order to obtain particular levels of scent for specific applications, primarily perfumery, as in the case of ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata). “Ylang-ylang” means “flower of flowers” and has an incredibly sweet floral scent. In order to capture this scent, it is distilled in four segments. The first segment is called extra, then follows I, II, and III respectively. With each successive segment the oils progress from the highest, most floral, top notes (in Ylangylang Extra) to the III where the oil takes on more masculine and less exotic notes.

In addition to the method of distillation is organic status. What organic should mean for consumer products is that there are no synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and no GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) involved in the process at any stage from the agricultural level to the finished product.

For the consumer, finding oils labeled “organic” or “certified organic” does not automatically extend to being therapeutic because 95% of all essential oils produced by “certified organic” distillers are still for the flavor and food products industry, still distilled under high pressure, and still not therapeutic-grade oils. Many of the larger “certified organic” distilleries have the flavor and food industries as their largest customers, who are not concerned about therapy. An oil may well be grown organically, but poorly distilled. This will give you a certified organic, mediocre essential oil. Not something we will knowingly put our label on.

It is very common practice in our industry for botanical matter from different countries or even different years to be blended for distilling, or the oils from different areas or different years to be blended. We believe that therapeutic grade oils should be distilled from one harvest. The oils should be offered as they come from the still, with no components increased or removed to meet an arbitrary profile.

I don’t know what other suppliers mean when they state their oils are “therapeutic grade.” I do know that a commonly agreed upon definition of “therapeutic grade” (not a legal definition, but often used by knowledgeable members of the trade) includes that the oil be from a named species, single crop, single distillation, ie, not a mixture of aromatics from various areas, perhaps even various years, hopefully (but not always) either organically grown or knowledgeably and ethically wildcrafted. And I know that our oils fit this definition. In almost every case we know the distiller personally. We don’t buy from the large commercial brokers. We give you the information you need to make informed the vendors you are referring to give you the country of origin, the specific chemotype as well as botanical species?

One point mentioned in passing by one of my French mentors seems to apply to this discussion. If we term our oils “therapeutic” or “medical” we may risk the loss of freedom to use them. I’m told that at this writing my beloved Hyssop decumbens is available only through pharmacies in France.

A quote from an emailed discussion with Kristen Leigh Bell, author of Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals. (We were discussing what makes an essential oil suitable for use in aromatherapy.)

So exactly what is an aromatherapy-grade essential oil? Oils that are produced specifically for the aromatherapy industry are typically made with the same care and attention that goes into a fine bottle of wine. Artisan distillers produce these premium quality essential oils from plants available in the wild or grown organically specifically for the distillation.

Plants grown in one location, harvested during one harvest, and distilled at the appropriate time following harvest, whether the botanical should be distilled within 4-6 hours after harvest, allowed to air dry for a set period of time, or thoroughly dry to increase the essential oil yield. Commercial oils may be produced from dried plants grown and shipped from all over the world, rather than the crop produced in one small geographic area.

Often, the distillers are owned by families in small towns, who take great pride in their work. They are paid top dollar for their work, and the therapeutic value and purity of their oils is unparalleled. Many of the oils end up being used in medical aromatherapy applications where oils are ingested. When oils are administered internally, quality could not be more important.

Essential oils produced for holistic and medical aromatherapy uses are carefully monitored through all aspects of the process. From the growth of the plants, to the distillation itself. The distillation process is treated scientifically, with utmost care being given to the temperature and time of the distillation to ensure that a complete oil is extracted from the plant material, which in turn yields the greatest therapeutic value.

At Nature’s Gift we strive to make available therapeutic grade oils, based on the definitions above.

For more information on the deliberately misleading term “therapeutic grade” please read the Cropwatch article "the Therapeutic Grade Disinformation Campaign."


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