Emagazine.com features an “Earth Talk” column which answers questions about the environment. A Sustainable LIFE will occasionally share some of these Q&A’s with you.
Dear EarthTalk: What’s the skinny on essential oils? I love them, but a friend told me they are no good for the environment?
Essential oils are more popular than ever for medicinal and therapeutic purposes as well as in fragrances and flavorings for food and drinks. Typically produced by harvesting and distilling large amounts of various types of plant matter, essential oils are in many cases all-natural and can take the place of synthetic chemicals in many consumer applications. But some wonder whether our fascination with essential oils is so good for the planet, now that their popularity has turned them into big business.
“It often takes hundreds of pounds of plant material to make one pound of essential oil,” reports aromatherapist and author Mindy Green of GreenScentsations.com. She adds that it takes 50-60 pounds of eucalyptus to produce one pound of eucalyptus oil, 200-250 pounds of lavender for one pound of lavender oil, 2,000 pounds of cypress for a pound of cypress oil and as many as 10,000 pounds of rose blossoms for one pound of rose oil. Production of these source crops takes place all over the world and is often organized by large multinational corporations with little regard for local economies or ecosystems.
“As global citizens we have not learned how to equitably distribute vital resources like food, and water resources are trending toward a crisis of the future,” adds Green, “so there are deep ethical concerns about devoting croplands to essential oils destined for use in candles, bath oils, perfumes, or lavish massage and spa purposes.” Green also warns that many essential oils are not produced from sustainable sources. “Some species are at risk, particularly those occupying marginal habitats such as dwindling tropical forests,” she reports, adding that the poverty-stricken in developing countries will harvest and sell whatever they can, in order to put food on their own tables.