It requires over 2 lbs. of peppermint leaves to produce just 1 oz. of peppermint essential oil, and that is on the modest end of it. Some sources say that it requires many more pounds than that. You can make a cup of peppermint tea with 2 teaspoons of peppermint leaves, or a whole jar of peppermint infused oil or a peppermint tincture with something in the neighborhood of 1 oz. of peppermint leaves. Why take more from the earth than we need?
Susun Weed always says, “Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine.” I could not agree more. One of the best things we can all do for the earth, our health, and our budgets is to learn about the plants we have growing around us and use what we have available. You likely have free food and medicine growing in your own back yard, and if you don’t, you may be able to grow some of your own. Herbal preparations are easy to make with simple things most people already have in their kitchens. Essential oils require a whole lot of plant material and steam distillation equipment, which most people do not have access to.
Essential oils do not contain whole plant synergy. They contain only the volatile oils that are light enough to be extracted via steam distillation. Some heavier molecules are left behind, so what you end up with is a bottle of isolated and highly concentrated plant constituents. We could argue that this makes essential oils more closely related to drugs than herbs. After all, 25% of pharmaceuticals are derived from plant materials, and contain highly concentrated and isolated compounds (plus synthetics). Herbs are different. With herbs, the whole plant synergy remains intact so the various constituents can work together the way they are meant to. Here’s one interesting example of scientific findings to support the use of whole plant synergy over isolated compounds.
Since essential oils are highly concentrated and more like drugs than herbs, they are not metabolized in our bodies with the same efficiency as herbs. Herbs are more closely related to food than drugs (and most of them actually are food). While there are safety considerations with herbs, generally speaking, our bodies recognize the plants as food and know what to do with them. Essential oils, on the other hand, are responsible for many adverse effects, including liver damage, because they are not recognized the same way the plant would be if it were intact as an herb. It takes more work for the body to filter essential oils, so I often prefer the gentleness of herbs. Here is just one example of someone nearly dying from ingestion of peppermint oil. Peppermint tea would never do that to us!
With all that being said, I do not wish to demonize essential oils. They certainly can be useful, and I own many of them and use them when called for. Herbs just happen to be my go to for most things for the reasons listed above. The adverse reactions people have had from essential oils are due to using them in an unsafe manner. It’s important to know how to use anything safely, even herbs. With essential oils becoming popular, largely due to multi-level marketing companies with independent sales people, many people are using them and doing so unsafely. My advice to anyone using essential oils is to do your own research from reputable sources, recognize marketing scams when you see them, and understand that people selling essential oils in an MLM company are not required to have any training whatsoever, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt. As always, listen to your body and do what feels right for you and your situation. And for the love of health, sustainability, and budget, learn a little about herbs!