The Myth of Organic Superiority

Nov 3, 05:32 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I can't tell you how many phone calls and e-mails I get from people who want to know if Aromaceuticals sells organic essential oils. Over 90% of our stock is from organically cultivated crops or wildcrafted plants, and we are very clear about who certifies each essential oil, USDA or otherwise. However, I am continually mystified by people who insist that essential oils from conventionally grown plants are "bad" and "full of pesticides."

This reflects a basic misunderstanding about the way essential oils are produced. If an oil is properly distilled, heavy metal contaminants are simply too heavy to be borne on steam rising up out of the still. Pesticide and environmental contamination will be minimal in the finished product. However, if a distiller is going for quantity (not quality) product and wants to speed up a distillation, high pressure steam is injected into the still, causing a blowover effect that can push contaminants out of the still and into the collection apparatus along with the essential oil. Baffled stills might solve part of this problem, but don't count on it. In other words, a poorly distilled essential oil is a poor quality essential oil, whether or not it comes from organically cultivated plants.

Citrus oils usually present a different scenario. They are largely produced by expression, seldom by steam distillation, so the potential for any heavy metal contaminants showing up in the essential oil is high. Aromaceuticals stocks only organic expressed citrus oils, and this is something I am scrupulous about.

Many people assume that organic or wildcrafted essential oils do not contain any contaminants. Unfortunately, they do, theoretically in smaller numbers than oils from conventionally grown crops. Growers and wildcrafters can't control things like air pollution or runoff from neighboring properties. Organic oils can also become tainted by leaching chemicals out of large plastic storage containers, which is not uncommon in the citrus industry.

Just because an essential oil is certified organic does not mean that it is of high quality. I've sampled some very mediocre organics, and as the clamor for organic products increases, more of this junk will be dumped in the marketplace. Aromatherapy insiders have a saying, "I'd rather have a drop of high quality conventional oil than a drum of poor quality organic oil."

I certainly respect those who prefer to go "bio" because of moral grounds. Organic is my personal preference as well, but I'll always stock a conventional oil if the organic stuff isn't up to snuff.

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