‘I’m into oils.’ OK? What does that mean? Individuals not experienced may often say this not knowing what they really mean. If an individual does not say they are into essential oils, fixed oils, or infused oils they are not yet someone you should take advice from because they are a beginner and information can be dangerous if you do not know how to wield it properly. Get a level up and learn the difference for yourself.
Fixed oils are the ones you have probably been exposed to the most. It is not surprising if you have not heard the term before. Technically when you say ‘oil’ by itself it should be referring to a fixed oil but most individuals no longer use it this way. A fixed oil is an oil that has been pressed out of a fruit, nut, seed, or similar. It is the fat components of a plant. Some popular examples of fixed oils are olive oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, apricot kernel oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and most of the oils you would consider adding to your cooking.
An infused oil is the most fun and is great to make at home. An infused oil is basically an infusion of herbs in a fixed oil. In this process, as long as you do not use heat, you capture both the fat based molecules and the essential oil components of the herbs. They can be used topically for a variety of uses depending on the herbs. Be sure if you are following the uses of the herb topically you are using the fat based molecule uses not the water based molecules-as the uses can be quite different. These are all generally considered safe for topical use. For some stronger hot herbs you may want to dilute them to prevent a burning like sensation but you should have no troubles at making a 1:10 extract and getting a lovely product. The Dancing Herbalist offers a variety of therapeutic strength infused oils that you can experiment with at home.
When I hear someone say ‘I’m into oils’ or similar and they are referring to essential oils I immediately get worried about their safety. While essential oils can be great they are not for the inexperienced individual to be playing around with (And if you are just calling them oils you are inexperienced).
Essential oils are made up of the aromatic components of a plant, generally the terpene and triterpene molecules. All molecules in these classes are antimicrobial just by the nature of the molecules. How they do this is by breaking the bonds between molecules, in essence, killing the microbes. These molecules also do this to our own body tissues as well, potentially causing serious damage if used inappropriately. I often hear people using essential oils on their skin and getting rashes with consistent use. This is due to that damage. The same thing happens internally with essential oil usage and is generally leading to an upswing in the numbers of digestive issues that my fellow herbalists and nutritionists are currently seeing.
Using essential oils at a safe and effective level is not hard to do at all. A safe level is generally the level that is found when making a tea of the same herb. To capture the essential oils when brewing a cup of tea just be sure to cover your tea when steeping. This traps the aromatic compounds in the water and you are then able to ingest a safe dosage. No need to go buy anything expensive or concentrated and figure out how to dilute it. Stick to the inexpensive tea and you will get all the benefits you really need at a safe and effective level.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.