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Essential Oils and Chemistry - Organic? Natural?
By Diane Vanas on September 11th, 2008(viewed 1564 times).







Essential Oils and Chemistry
 
When is Organic Organic? And Natural Natural? by David Stewart, Ph.D., R.A.
 
The science of essential oils falls within the realm of organic chemistry, a specialty of the broader field of general chemistry. While organic chemistry was originally supposed to be the study of the compounds of life, it was not long before scientists came to realize that carbon was the basis of all compounds created by living processes. Hence, today organic chemistry is defined as "the study of carbon compounds." This puts a whole new twist on the field, since today we have thousands of carbon compounds created in laboratories, synthesized outside of the natural processes of living organisms—yet they are called "organic."
 
Now that scientists call all carbon compounds "organic" regardless of their origin, this poses a terminology problem for the public. For example, all petrochemicals (substances derived from petroleum) are carbon compounds. This means that pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, motor fuels, industrial solvents, pharmaceuticals, paints, disinfectants, cleaning fluids, plastics, styrofoam, antifreeze, and thousands of other toxic products that define modern living can be called "organic" since virtually all of them are composed of carbon-based molecules.
 
Carbon is the most versatile of all the elements and the only one capable of forming long chains and complex ring structures with itself. Its versatility makes it not only ideal as a building material for innumerable living forms, as well as essential oils, it is also ideal for creating innumerable industrial products.
 
However, this is not what you are thinking when you see the word organic on a package label. As a member of the consuming public, you would normally assume that the designation organic means the product (or its ingredients) were produced free of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antiobiotics, etc. But to an organic chemist, the term means only that the product contains carbon compounds, most or all of which could be synthetic. To a chemist, the term does not necessarily mean that no petrochemicals or pharmaceuticals were absent from their production. Fortunatly, some states have laws about the misuse of the term and have legally defined the phrase Certified Organic to mean what most consumers think it should mean.
 
When Does Natural Mean Natural?
 
To the public, the term "organic" also implies that the product was grown in healthy soil under sunlight with access to a clean atmosphere—not synthesized indoors in a lab. In other words, a product labeled as organic is also assumed to be natural, which is to say that it was grown in some fashion, not engineered in a factory on a chemical assembly line. However, in today’s competitive market, even the word "natural" is abused.
 
The U.S. Federal government permits the word "natural" to be used on a label if the product consists of compounds that can be produced by nature even though the content of that particular product may have been produced entirely in a chemical factory. They equate the product of a natural living plant with that of a human manufacturing plant. (They both come from plants. Right?)
 
If chemistry completely described the therapeutic and/or nutritional properties of a substance, this might be valid. But it doesn’t. There is a vitality and a life force in the compounds produced by living processes that are absent from those produced in a dead environment like a drug lab or a pharmaceutical plant. This is crucially important when it comes to essential oils that are intended to be used for healing.
 
There are thousands of examples of products labeled as containing natural ingredients when, in fact, their tastes are totally manufactured in a lab. One of the most common examples has to do with fruit flavors in drinks, candies, chewable vitamins, and other products. Most fruit flavors are formed from combinations of esters, a class of chemical compounds found in most essential oils and discussed in Chapter Ten of this book. Thus, the taste of bananas, watermelon, cantelope, peach, blueberry, raspberry, apple, orange, lime, papaya, kiwi, and just about any fruit can be imitated by assembling the right esters. Methyl anthranilate is an ester found in minor amounts in many essential oils which is also a natural compound in grapes and cherries. Synthetic methyl anthranilate is frequently used to produce beverages and confections, combined with a little color, and labeled as a grape or cherry product containing natural flavorings.
 
Now you know what the terms organic and natural mean on most product labels and it probably isn't what you thought they meant or hoped they meant. Knowledge is power. Use it.
 
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NOTE: The extract above is from Dr. Stewart's new book released in the
Late Fall of 2004. It is entitled The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made
Simple and its subtitle is God's Love Manifest in Molecules. 625 pages.

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