Part 2 ~ Quiet Listening and Discernment - A Fundamental Teaching from the Plant Realm

“The healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit is the same process.” — Masanobu Fukuoka

In my last post I touched into the delicate subject around the overuse of white sage and palo santo. In this article I would like to bring some awareness into another aspect of the plant world, that is calling to be seen and heard in a more aligned way; the world of essential oils in the modern context.

My wish is to pass forward awareness, to enlighten a deeper inner dialogue, cultivating the act of quiet listening and discernment from the plant realm and the plant human coevolution. I hope to weave some alternative ways to empower oneself and our botanical allies in a different way, that bypasses using plant wisdom in mass production and extraction methods.

The mass production of essential oils is a billion dollar industry that has many potential ecological impacts, and raises many ethical questions.

Essential oils are in basic terms the extraction of the volatile chemical compounds via a process called distillation. They are termed “essential” oil not because they are essential to our health, but because they contain the plant’s fragrance, or essence. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be considered potentially hazardous in certain circumstances. The catch is often that these compounds are why the essential oil’s smell is so enticing.

Volatile oils are found in such small quantities in a plant, that it takes hundreds of kilos of plant material to produce a tiny amount of oil. To put this in perspective, it takes around 8,000 whole rose flowers to make one 5ml bottle of rose essential oil. This is so much more than you would ever be able to naturally find in nature. And just one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 26-28 cups of peppermint tea. We naturally wouldn’t sit down and commune that amount of peppermint in one sitting.

The only way for us to be able to extract such a vast amount of volatile oil is through mono-style farming and the mass production of plant material.
This highlights humanity’s need for dominance over nature.
It shows neglectful approaches that are not in accordance or interacting with the biodiversity of nature’s offerings, or softly listening to the natural laws of plant sovereignty.

There are also issues with the push for overuse of these oils, both internally and externally, without fully understanding the role these volatile oils play in the plant and how they react in and on the human body.

Another huge misconception is that these refined volatile compounds have the same medicinal properties as the whole herbs or plants they are produced from. A lot of issues can occur because of this. The truth is many of these refined compounds behave nothing like the whole safe simple plant matter, when they are used mindfully.

There is scientific evidence to suggest the overuse of essential oils can sometimes cause injury or disruption with people’s endocrine, digestive and hormonal systems. Because of the misconception that essential oils have the same medicinal properties as the plants they are produced from, many of these refined concentrated compounds don’t act the same as the whole plant, which holds an intricate balance of all its’ compounds and alkaloids. In nature, these volatile compounds are used by plants as a defence mechanism against invading insects, or to attack certain pollinators.

There is research to suggest that oils are a byproduct of the plants’ metabolic processes, and that some have toxic effects on humans and animals. It is a defence mechanism of the plants’ primordial instincts.

This links us into a similar principle, how western medicine isolates and synthesizes specific compounds of a plant to create a synthetic medicine (for example, willow bark which is the original aspirin) rather the allowing the plant offerings in its totality, with all its’ parts to do the healing.

My understanding is that the vital role of the volatile oil is an aspect of the plant’s overall function. When we work with a plant in it’s totality, we are indeed honouring the “essential oil” in the way the plants and nature always intended. Some of these volatile oils are actually so microscopic and light that they literally float in the air. So when you smell a rose for example, you are actually smelling or “absorbing” the volatile oils of that plant. These “essential oils” are actually leaving the rose and entering the olfactory system of your body in a safe and effective way.

Essential oils have been used by ancient cultures, but not in the way that is being pushed by huge industry, They were used sparingly, alongside spiritual practices, or as medicines, not as an every day practice and certainly not added to smoothies, to flavour water, food or a cup of sacred cacao.

The plants are asking us to quietly listen to the old ways, to use this aspect of them sparingly, in a conscious and considerate manner.

“So now that I’m aware, how can I still use plant wisdom in an oily form?”

There are many well-meaning untrained “wellness advocates” from a few known unnamed MLM’s, If you would like to include essential oils into your lifestyle, it’s worth seeking out a trained aromatherapist who understands each oil’s constituents and individual unique prescription. There’s a reason aromatherapists are so quick to talk about safety. Essential oils are often highly potent and, as a result, risky. Bottled oils are 50 to 100 times more concentrated than the oils in the plant itself. To put this into perspective, a bottle of Lemon essential oil would contain the equivalent of 50 lemons. So 1 drop of lemon essential oil is equal to 3 whole lemons. A question to ask oneself would be whether or not one would put 3 entire lemons, including the skin, into your glass of water. Please also consider that oil and water don’t mix.

If you're not extracting the oil yourself through the processes of distillation, or know of someone who can, then look for a local producer or at least a small nationally-based business. Enquire about their methods and ways. Seek out companies who are dealing with plants that have an abundance of offerings with their plant material, not plants or trees that are endangered. Only use what you need in small quantities, with reverence and gratitude to the plants. Another alternative is look into integrating whole plant infused oils into your lifestyle. They are a more gentle way of working with the plants in their totality.

I offer many wild harvested whole plant oils made in small batches. You are welcome to follow up with me if this is of interest to you.

I would like to acknowledgement the work of April Graham of Wild Wood Apothecary for her insights into why she's EO free, along with the other linked articles.

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