Thursday, 4 March 2010
An essential oil contains volatile odiferous elements produced by the plant. essential oils are produced by steam or hydro-distillation of aromatic vegetable plant matter. Organic carbon based components arise via the secondary metabolism of plants and are stored within specialised plant structures which are penetrated by steam. Citrus oils, produced by the mechanical pressing of citrus peels, are also called essential oils.
The farming of the plant matter is described and certified as organic if a minimum of synthetic chemicals are used in the process. Many valuable essential oils can only be farmed with herbicides because the soil used is so rich in life to do otherwise would be uneconomic. For example Sp's roman chamomile is locally farmed in the UK and though conventional is highly valued by aromatherapists.
In a sense most Shirley Price oils have been organic in all but name. The policy of the company has been to buy oils as supplied to health professionals. These carry the ceritification of the country in which they are distilled. These days even the very smallest of european distillers achieve organic certification. Mediterranean soils are not so rich as to require herbicides and oils grown at altitude are less subject to pests in fact they have to work hard to attract insects for pollination which is why they are so valuable. The costs have come way down so organic certification is more the norm and suppliers demand and receive a modest premium (often only 10%) to cover those costs.
Some 83 of 130 oils carry ecocert Organic certification. Sp can only describe those oils as organic on the label if Sp are members of the Soil Association and our purchases and supplies are subject to inspection and audit. Compliance with the letter of all legal standards is a key business practice.
So Sp havent 'gone organic' we already were. Sp is also noted for the quality of its conventional essential oils which are packaged in light green labels.
Whether organic or conventional what matters is the 'wholeness' of the oil, that it is the originally distilled oil with nothing added or taken away (to meet the needs of the fragrance and preservatives industry which requires 95% of essential oils to be standardised or folded). Source Valnet. Rationale: the observed properties of essential oils may depend on components present in tiny quantities in the mix of plant chemicals in each essential oil. It can for example take as few as 20 molecules to effect the olfactory system and affect mood. Some of these molecules are very tiny and unstable.
Most oils lose much of their utility for aromatherapy after 18 months from the date of distillation. Again organic certification helps us buy fresh season oil.
The aromatherapy profession has available to it only three oils not in use by the flavourings and fragrance industry. Ravensara, Rosemary Verbenone and Helichrysum. Cheaper oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and the citrus oils are not worth adulterating. Some practicioners prefer to work with these oils above others for this reason.
Oils, particularly the more valuable oils, are at risk of adulteration in the following ways
The addition of single raw materials
The addition of cheaper oils
The addition of cheap synthetics to oils which naturally contain these components
The addition of natural constituents
The addition of synthetic oils particularly to absolutes
The addition of unnatural components particularly to absolutes
GLC traces are a useful after the event check however there is no substitute for direct contact with the distillers and dealing with reputable commission agents. The advantage of organic certification is that it offers greater traceability back to the source distillery.
With 139 oils on offer it is not practical for Sp to get around all the suppliers every season but with a program of visits in place, dealing with agents who are able to provide biochemists certificates of purity, supplemented by a policy of buying organic where possible much assurance can be given to the consumer.
Key reasons for buying organic oils is to minimise the risk of adulteration and assure that purchases are of current season production.