Essential Oil Science Archives

Gary Young is today regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on essential oils and their distillation. Aromatherapy: the essential beginning is one of his earliest books published. Although, not the encyclopedia of essential oils (that was to come later 🙂 ), this book is nonetheless an excellent and lucid introduction to essential oils. You don’t need to be a scientist to read this book.

The book covers the history of essential oils up to the modern period, how they work, how they’re distilled and a number of techniques for administering them. It covers areas not normally covered by books on essential oils; areas such as the frequency of essential oils, in which Gary has been personally involved in the research. In addition you get a reference guide at the back of the book detailing the constituents that make up essential oils, essential oils for emotional applications and a description of various single oils and oil blends and their uses.

One of my favourite sections in the book is where Gary describes a trip to the Temple of Isis, on the island of Philae in Egypt in 1994. Having visited Egypt myself, this brought up lots of fond memories for me. But more than that Gary’s story brings up all the mysteries that one encounters in this ancient land.

Gary describes how a mysterious man convinces him to follow him into a secluded and closed off section of the temple. Three times, one of the guards of the temple approached him in the crowd and told Gary he would show him “that for which he was searching”.  He indicated that there was a special room that was forbidden for people to see, in which his ancestors once practiced very sacred rituals. Gary, thinking that the guard was just after baksheesh (a tip/money) ignored him. On the third time, Gary relented and the guard took him to a secluded and locked room in the temple. There, Gary was shown a carved relief on the wall detailing an ancient Egyptian ritual known as “cleansing the flesh and blood of evil deities” (there are photos of the relief in the book). This was basically a 3 day ritual using essential oils to cleanse people of negative emotional issues; what we would nowadays call “baggage” or “hang-ups” – those things which can hold us back from fulfilling our potential.

Was Gary’s finding serendipity or synchronicity? I would tend to believe the latter. Over the years, Gary Young has shown incredible intuition and creativity in the oil blends he has  produced. I would not be surprised if the universe was ‘lending him a hand’.

Buy the book

Till next time


On the Frankincense Trail in Oman, Part Two

A NASA photo of Salalah, its port and the Jabal Qar'a mountains in Dhofar Oman. Conditions in this region are just right for Frankincense trees to grow.

Last week, we looked at how Young Living used their Seed to Seal process to bring an essential oil on to the market – specifically the Frankincense from Oman. This week, we’ll check out the Sacred Frankincense (Boswellia Sacra), the kind of environment it grows in, the country that Young Living will be harvesting it from – Oman – and the uses and benefits of using this essential oil.

About the Frankincense Tree

The photo from NASA shows the region of Dhofar. This is the only region in Oman, that Frankincense trees will grow and thrive in.

Frankincense loves limestone and they’ll often be found growing in rock. When near water, it will grow like a tree, but when the area is dry it will resemble more of a bush.

In actual fact, frankincense trees don’t like too much water, as the tree is susceptible to mildew. For that reason you will often find the trees growing high up (as in the Jabal Qar’a mountains in Dhofar) or in the dry wadis (or valleys) at low altitude.

The mountains in Dhofar are also close to the sea, and June to August is the summer monsoon period (known as the Khareef). The trees thrive on the moist air, that comes up in mountain mists.

Frankincense trees have to be at least 6 years old before they can be harvested for their resin. The tree flowers in May (which I’m told is the best time to visit this region and see the trees) with harvesting taking place in the  following months.

The green tree bark is cut down to the red cambrium layer, to release the resin from the tree. In under a minute, a white resin (known as Luban) starts to ooze out from the tree. This first cutting is not collected. The resin from the second and third cuttings is collected, with each tree producing up to a kilo of resin each year. It will take each tree about a year for its scars to heal.

The white resin, Luban, after cutting back the green tree bark. Courtesy of C Woolley

Once the resin has been exposed to the air, it dries. This allows the tree to begin healing. Courtesy of C Woolley

After the resin has dried, it’s cut of from the tree, de-barked, sorted and graded. The very best grade is reserved for the Sultan Qaboos and most of the rest of it will end up being sold to other Arabian princes, sultans and kings.

The dried resin is cut from tree only after the second and third cuttings. Courtesy of C Woolley

Sorting and grading of Frankincense. Courtesy of C Woolley.

Sultan Qaboos and his two treasures

Sultan Qaboos’ two treasures are: his people and his frankincense. Only Omanis are allowed to harvest the resin, with rights to the respective trees being owned by tribes or families. At the top of the season, a kilo of resin will sell for $300-$400 and in the low season, about $100 a kilo. About 99% of all frankincense resin will be used by Omanis to burn in clay burners. To obtain the essential oil of frankincense, we need to steam distill (hydrodistilled) the resin. It takes about 16 hours to process each batch of resin.

Frankincense resin. To obtain the essential oil, this resin is distilled with steam. Courtesy of C Woolley

The Young Living Distillery

In early 2010, Young Living Essential Oils partnered up with Dr Mahmoud Suhail, M.D., and obtained commercial and industrial licences for frankincense oil research and production. Dr Suhail was able to assist Young Living to find local sources of consistent high quality Boswellia Sacra resin and in February 2010, the first batch of Sacred Frankincense essential oil was produced.

Differences in Frankincense.

There are several species of frankincense and they are definitely not the same.

Boswellia Carterii which grows in East Africa (Somalia and Ethiopia) is high in Incensol and Incensol Acetate, and has been found to be beneficial against cancer, depression and anxiety.

Sacred Frankincense from Oman, is very high in boswellic acids, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes (more on why this is important later).

Boswellia Frereana, the other species that grows in East Africa contains no Boswellic acids, Incensol and Incensol Acetate. It has little to no therapeutic value, being mostly used to burn in churches and for use in perfumes.

Benefits of Sacred Frankincense

Being high in boswellic acids, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes, this essential oil is very psycho-active. Sesquiterpenes are molecules which have the capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier, and so assist in more oxygen and nutrients reaching the human brain.

Sacred Frankincense is great for meditation, spiritual healing and emotional healing. It helps:

  • Dissolve negativity, insecurity and fear
  • Helps to ease feelings of bereavement
  • Reduces re-occurring nightmares
  • Guards your feelings of self-worth and purpose.
  • It fights against feelings of depression and assists with moments of anxiety.

How to use it

  • Breathe it in a handkerchief
  • Diffuse it in your environment
  • Spritz it on cloth in the clothes dryer
  • Add it to your massage oil
  • Add it to a foot bath or your bath-water
  • Add a drop to your personal care products, such as skin care creams.

That concludes our report on Dr Cole Woolley’s visit to Australia

Till Next time,



About Dr Cole Woolley:

Dr Cole Woolley obtained his doctorate in chemistry from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He has spent 20 years working and consulting with Fortune 500 companies to develop products in the areas of foods, pharmaceuticals, flavours, petrochemicals, beverages, and analytical equipment. While living in Pennsylvania, he developed more than 150 devices and inventions in addition to giving hundreds of technical presentations in many different countries. Dr Woolley’s most recent endeavours have involved the development of nutritional products and subsequently marketing these health and wellness products around the world. He has helped formulate over 50 nutritional products, and has created strong product recognition by way of his expert writing skills.

On the Frankincense Trail in Oman Part One

Last week, I outlined the 3 steps to nutritional balance, as put forward by Dr Cole Woolley. This week and next, I’ll share with you Dr Woolley’s experiences with the harvesting and distillation of Sacred Frankincense (Boswellia Sacra) in Oman. Frankincense resin CANNOT be legally shipped out of Oman, therefore Gary Young of Young Living Essential Oils, decided to build a distillery in Oman itself. The Frankincense oil, distilled from the resin, can legally be shipped out. Most of the photos came to me courtesy of Cole Woolley (Thank you Cole.  🙂 ).

Sacred Frankincense (Boswellia Sacra) grows in Yemen, Oman and the island of Socotra. The other species of Frankincense, Boswellia Carterii, grows in East Africa. Picture courtesy of C Woolley

Seed to Seal

Dr Woolley explained to us that Young Living Essential Oils (YLEO) utilise a 5-step Seed to Seal process to ensure its essential oils are potent and  therapeutic grade in quality. Throughout his presentation he used Frankincense as an example of this process. The five steps are:

1.  Seed. Plant species are authenticated by YLEO utilising scientific research, field studies and university partnerships
2.  Cultivation. Plants are cultivated on YLEO farms or on partner/co-op farms where these farms meet YLEO’s strict quality standards. If YLEO have to buy from other farms/producers, the guiding principle is that they want them AS IS, nothing added and nothing subtracted – Pure and unadulterated.
3.  Distillation. Essential oils are distilled in the correct manner, utilising a proprietary low-temperature, low-pressure steam distillation process. This ensures beneficial compounds in the plant’s oil remain uncompromised.
4.  Testing. Oils extracted have to go through stringent testing – at least 7 major tests before they are ready for shipping. This ensures that the optimal natural compounds are present in the oil. YLEO uses its own labs, in addition to third-party audits, to check that international purity and potency standards are met and surpassed.
5.  Seal. Each bottle is carefully sealed. Research and testing continue on the finished product to add to the growing knowledge bank on essential oils.

With that explained, let’s see how the process worked with Sacred Frankincense in Oman.

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Essential Oils vs Herbs

I’ve been asked a number of times, what’s the most potent,  essential oils or herbs? Without a doubt, herbs have been used for thousands of years, and still are, with great effect; whether this be through the drying of the herb, the creation of salves or steeped as a kind of tea.

However, when you distill an essential oil from the plant, you are getting the concentrate of all the plant’s nutrients, molecules, trace minerals, enzymes, hormones, vitamins and lots more. And it’s the essential oil in a plant or herb that has the impact on us.

A dried herb can lose as much as 90% of its oxygenating molecules and nutrients.  Essential oils are volatile subtle liquids. When you dry something like a rose, you might lose as much as 95% of this extract through vaporization. How many people like peppermint tea? I love it. However, as a healing remedy it’s benefits are slight. To get the same benefit from peppermint tea that you would get from a drop of peppermint essential oil, you would need to drink over 20 cups of peppermint tea! I love my peppermint tea, but not that much, Thanks.

Through the benefits of distillation, we are able to get the plant’s concentrated life energy ( its blood if you like) and do some ‘serious’ healing work on people ( and animals).  When an essential oil is applied to the skin, it will penetrate every cell in your body within minutes. A number of essential oils can even penetrate the blood/brain barrier, carrying vital oxygen and nutrients into the brain. Research has shown such oils to be beneficial to the treatment of such ailments as dementia, alzheimer’s disease and even depression.

And another thing…

Many of the herbs that are grown for the purpose of creating supplements aren’t necessarily grown organically. They’re mass produced and harvested to be able to create as much of the supplement as possible. Have they been sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides? Maybe.  How much of the plant’s essential life energy is left by the time it’s harvested, dried, chopped up, bottled up and put on the shelves? Very little I suspect.

For that reason, when it comes to my health, I put my trust in pure therapeutic grade, unadulterated essential oils. And drink the peppermint tea just for enjoyment.  😉

Till next time



Discovery of the ultimate superfood

I began using Ningxia Red, the beverage which is made up from the Ningxia Wolfberry, some 7 years ago. And I credit it not just with the improvement in my health and eyesight, but that of my family. When Gary Young first began investigating the Ningxia wolfberry in the early 90s there were claims that people in the Ningxia region were living healthy lives of more than 100 years. Further research has shown this berry to be one of the most potent foods known to Man – in fact, of all foods it has the highest antioxidant capacity. This book presents some pretty impressive evidence and information concerning the Ningxia Wolfberry and other foods such as the pomegranate. If you’re interested in not just a long life, but a healthy one, I highly recommend this book.  You can read more about Ningxia Red here.

Buy the Book


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Chemistry of Essential Oils made simple


Chemistry of essential oils made simple


This is a great book if you wish to understand how and why essential oils work. Don’t be put off by the title. I attended Dr Stewart’s talk in Sydney, April 2010 and I’m wishing I had someone like that to teach me chemistry at school all those years ago. It’s not easy to find someone who can explain complex subjects in an ‘easy to understand’ laymen’s terms. This book and this author definitely do.

Buy the book


Can Essential oils be toxic? Part two

In my last post I discussed how many aromatherapists (largely from the Anglo-Saxon world) avoided numerous essential oils on the basis that many essential oils contain compounds which are toxic to humans. I went on to point out that these compounds are toxic when in ISOLATION. Put together with other constituents which make up an essential oil, it’s a different kettle of fish all together.

I also pointed out that aromatherapy in the English speaking world relies heavily on research which uses perfume-grade essential oils and NOT therapeutic grade essential oils. Numerous perfume makers today (and I might add, so do many manufacturers of essential oils) utilise synthetic substitutes for many of the compounds found in essential oils. Perfume manufacturers aren’t alone in the use of synthetics. The pharmaceutical corporations are well known for taking something useful found in nature and developing a synthetic for it.


Bengay is an ointment that has been used for over 100 years. It originally contained camphor, menthol and methyl salicylate, derived from essential oils. Camphor is found in Rosemary, Juniper and Sage oils, while Menthol is the main ingredient in Peppermint oil. Methyl Salicylate is the main ingredient in Wintergreen and Birch oils. The patent for Bengay is now owned by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

When in April 13th 2006, an athlete by the name of Arielle Neuman died, the medical examiner found that her body contained a lethal amount of methyl salicylate. Arielle had been applying Ultra Strength Bengay to her arms and legs. The Bengay packaging states that Methyl Salicylate forms 30% of the product. An open and shut case against Methyl Salicylate, and by extension any natural remedy using this compound, it would seem.

Except that the Methyl Salicylate found in Pfizer’s Bengay is SYNTHETIC. Dr David Stewart points out:  “Natural methyl salicylate, as found in wintergreen and birch oils, is of a specific isomer (molecular shape) and is easily metabolized by the human body. Its chemical formula and energy template harmonize with human tissue. It does not accumulate. It is not toxic like its synthetic counterpart. …Furthermore, the laboratory produced compound does not have the right energy template to harmonize with the human body. When taken into the body … the body does not recognize the compound, cannot easily metabolize it, and allows it to accumulate. Given enough over a length of time, lethal doses can accumulate…” [1]

Synthetic substances – “dead with the intelligence of a robot”

Wintergreen essential oil contains many other compounds besides methyl salicylate. These additional constituents work in a way that mitigate the natural methyl salicylate and render it safe. This effect is known as “quenching”; when the compounds in an oil help to tame the damaging effect of another compound in the oil. Dr Stewart also points out that “the molecules of methyl salicylate from a natural source are of a specific isomeric shape while the formula of laboratory-produced methyl salicylate can actually have up to nineteen different shapes. Since the shape of a molecule determines which locks (receptor sites) on cell membranes can be opened, the organs affected by the synthetic version are not all the same as those addressed by the natural version.” [2]


Dr Stewart described synthetic substances as being “dead with the intelligence of a robot”. What Dr Stewart is saying is that when a compound has been created through a living process (as in a plant and its essential oil), its energy field is like a life force with an intelligence. If a plant and its associated essential oils has been grown, then harvested and distilled with healing intent, then the constituents in that oil will contain vibrations in their subtle field (vibrations which a synthetic can’t hope to mimic) that cause them to work in harmony with the human body. This area carries us into the field of quantum physics, body/mind medicine and the subject of intent. Readers will also no doubt see parallels with Dr Masaru Emoto’s work with water. This is an important subject we will return to on this site, but for now suffice it to say that compounds found in nature, cannot be dissected, their particular constituents pulled out and copied without losing the ‘essential’ vibration of the original product. The whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts. The attempt to synthesize Nature’s efforts has had (and continues to have) significant consequences for us all.

This brings us back to our original question, can essential oils be toxic? And the best answer one can give to this, is that if you are using essential oils that are not pure, unadulterated and of a therapeutic grade, then YES, they can be very toxic.

In the next post, we’ll examine what you should be looking for in a therapeutic grade essential oil.

Till next time



Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not
constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.

[1] The Raindrop Messenger, Official newsletter of C.A.R.E. (Center for Aromatherapy Research and Education) Vol 6, No 1 Jan-Feb 2008. To subscribe

[2] Ibid

Can Essential oils be toxic? Part One

Some of you may have been told by an aromatherapist or naturopath, that certain essential oils may be toxic. Well some essential oils may be.  The question is which ones.  In order to answer this, we first need to understand our aromatherapist’s mind-set a little.

Three Schools of Thinking.

You may be surprised to know that there are 3 schools of thought in the field of aromatherapy.

The German school of aromatherapy teaches the use of essential oils via inhalation. The French school teaches the use of essential oils in anyway that’s appropriate – orally, rectally, through the skin and through inhalation. Gary Young has added a number of other ways to this school, including intravenously and hypodermically.

The British school of thought, which has largely influenced the American and Australian aromatherapist community, focuses more on the burning of oils (inhalation) and the dilution of oils.

Therapeutic Grade vs. Perfume Grade

At his recent visit to Sydney, Dr David Stewart (an aromatherapist and prominent researcher in the field of essential oils) [1] made reference to a number of British aromatherapy text books, such as Essential Oil Safety and Clinical Aromatherapy for Pregnancy and Childbirth. In page 45 of the latter book, a number of oils were listed as forbidden: cinnamon, calamus, cassia, fennel, clove, oregano, wintergreen, tansy and yes, Vanilla (incidentally, the bible makes reference to people being anointed with calamus and cassia thousands of years ago).

Dr Stewart made the following points about much of the British research in aromatherapy, much of which has a long impressive list of citations:

  • The research was conducted on animals (They’re far more sensitive to oils than humans.)
  • They will take one compound in the essential oil, which in isolation is toxic (but which in combination with other compounds in the oil, render it safe) and label the entire oil as toxic and to be avoided.
  • Much of the research utilizes perfume grade essential oils and NOT therapeutic grade essential oils (we’ll come back to this point later).

The Sum of the parts…

Let’s elaborate on the second point that Dr Stewart made, as it’s an important one. We’ll use a couple of examples.

The compounds Scatole and Indole are not very nice ones. Scatole in fact can be found in animal droppings. Yet the essential oil Jasmine has both of these. In fact perfume companies deliberately put Indole in their perfumes, as it intensifies the fragrance.

Another compound, Xylene (found in hazardous waste), can be found in Myrrh, another oil referred to in the scriptures. It was given to the Christ child by the 3 Wise Men. The point is many compounds are dangerous on their own, but when placed in combination with other compounds, have a totally different effect.

As Dr Stewart puts it, “one cannot deduce the properties of an essential oil by knowing the properties of its individual compounds as isolates… a compound that is highly toxic alone can be safe, non-toxic, and therapeutic when occurring as an ingredient in an essential oil. Many aromatherapists who fear certain oils have been trained in a school that teaches the fallacy that properties of isolated compounds studied in laboratories apply to the natural oils in which they are found. Thus, many aromatherapists avoid perfectly safe and therapeutically effective oils because a laboratory has found one or more compounds in the oil that, by themselves, are harmful.”(My emphasis) [2]

Synthetic vs. Natural

We now come back to Dr Stewart’s third point, that many lab tests are conducted on perfume-grade essential oils and not therapeutic grade essential oils.


The first perfume oils in the world were basically essential oils. Two thousand years later, there is very little in our perfumes that are natural or essential oil. Advances in chemistry over the last 100 years, have meant that the perfume industry relies largely on synthetics that attempt to mimic the best that nature has to offer. And it’s not just the perfume industry that relies on the synthetics.

To be continued…

Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not
constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.


[1] About David Stewart, Ph.D.

[2] The Raindrop Messenger, Official newsletter of C.A.R.E. (Center for Aromatherapy Research and Education) Vol 8, No 1 Jan-Feb 2010. To subscribe