By Jennifer Fleming, RMT
In the last article we discussed a little bit about what aromatherapy is, what essential oils are and some of the ways they have been used and why people are turning to them today.  This article I want to focus on some basic need to knows about acquiring essential oils.
Currently there are many of resources and a lot of conflicting information about what the best sources of essential oils are.  The aromatherapy community is in agreement about one thing though; we want our essential oil products to be true, plant made essential oils of high quality.
There are quite a few resources for essential oils of high quality and there are likely resources for some less quality essential oils too.  So how do you know the difference?  For the sake of this article I will try to keep it simple as this is actually a much more indepth conversation than you might think.
Where to buy?
Health food stores often carry one or all three of the following brands: Aura Cacia, Aromaforce and NOW.  These brands are fairly well regarded within the aromatherapy community and can be purchased with confidence.  The nice thing about them, other than their reputation, is they are usually readily available though in a somewhat small selection.  For the burgeoning essential oil user, though, this is a great option.  The ability to just go to the store, buy a trusted brand, free from the overwhelm of some of the very large catalogues other suppliers have, keeps things really simple for someone who just wants to add some scent to their home or make a nice bath oil.  NOW and Aura Cacia also have online stores and do carry a few other things like diffusors, carrier oils and accessories like roller bottles.
In Canada we have two large scale aromatherapy retailers (that I am aware of anyway); Rae Dunphy Aromatics (RDA) and New Directions Aromatics (NDA).  RDA is based in Alberta Canada and has been around since the late 80's. They have become an internationally recognized provider of very high quality essential oils with an incredible selection of around 200 varieties.  RDA takes care to label all the chemotypes they have (more on that another time) as well which can inform the clinical aromatherapist as to which variety of Rosemary they want for their client. Many of their EO's are organic which may or may not be important.  While we don't really want to consume pesticides, organic growers do not necessarily refrain from using pesticides and herbicides.  They may opt for “plant based” chemicals but they are still added chemicals that may not be suitable for applications in human health care.  Some of their essential oils are also wild crafted.  It is my mind (and dreamy heart) that a wild crafted essential oil would be the purest EO you could get.  More on that another time.
New Directions Aromatics is in Brampton Ontario (yay) and they too have a large selection of essential oils, approximately 200 though it may be a bit less than Rae Dunphy's roster.  NDA started also in the mid to late 80's in Australia and then expanded to Canada 10 years after that.  Their prices are extremely competitive with RDA's though they have a minimum order of $100.  Anything less than that and one must pay an additional $25.  Their labelling practices are not as clear as RDA's so if one wants a specific chemotype of a particular oil, they may be better off purchasing that oil from RDA.  On the flip side, NDA will provide you a chemical analysis report for each batch of essential oils they currently have on sale.  You do not really even need to request it as you can find it right on their website under the reports tab for any of their essential oils.
A company I have yet to try but am itching to is Aliksir, based out of Quebec.  Many of their products they make themselves and most of those appear to be wild crafted from the woods of Northern Quebec.  The notion of products being made directly from the lands in which they evolved satisfies a soft wild animal in my heart.  More than that though, it satisfies some of the wonderings regarding plant chemistry which, again, we will discuss more later.  Suffice it to say, Aliksir is quickly gaining a very good reputation among aromatherapists in Canada and the U.S.
Speaking of the U.S., there are some really great manufacturers and suppliers of essential oils in the states as well.  I'm focusing on Canadian suppliers because we are in Canada and this manages the shipping costs as well as currency conversion costs but, Stillpoint Aromatics out of Sedona Arizona is a close favourite of mine.  While I do not buy from them very often (due to currency/shipping etc) they are folks I follow online for information and I may well buy from them again as they too have some self-produced wild crafted essential oils.
What about DoTERRA and Young Living?
For the purposes of this article, I don't want to get into the DoTERRA, Young Living debate.  Maybe in a follow up.  Suffice it to say, these companies, and others, are problematic on 2 levels; 1) expertise and, 2) ethics.  Most reps have training only from the company and what they have been taught is crafted to present the company in a favourable light and has little to do with client health.  It is all structured to convert a contact into a customer and member.  Which leads to ethics; if your pursuit is to get people to buy your product exclusively, with little understanding of how it works, it is almost impossible to be ethical when you are pushing it as a tool for health care.  If a rep wants to talk about beautiful scents, and how those scents can make you feel good, that's fine, that's not up for dispute.  But claiming to offer information about how to care for sometimes very complicated health problems when the provider has had next to no training in pathology, basic human physiology nor the actions of essential oils in the body, they enter a territory that is likely well outside of their integrity with themselves.  It's one thing to offer someone a nice scent for their home; it's another altogether to offer a cure for their disease.  And that's all I'll say on it at the moment.
So how do I know if the EO's I bought are any good?
There are a few things to look for.  One can be brand availability; the brands I mentioned that can be bought in most health food stores are generally quite reliable.  If you see a brand that no one else carries, you may want to do a little research, especially if you want to buy a finer oil like Melissa officinalis, Rose otto  or Chamaemelum nobilis. As you get familiar with the scents of EO's this can be another tip, though takes a fair bit of exposure and practice.  In Canada we do have laws about what must appear on a label.  Volume, contents, company name and address, and any applicable warnings are all standard.  In addition to that, seeing the latin binomial, place of product origin and what the chemotype is are all very good signs.
Generally speaking, price can be a good indicator (though imperfect) for what you are buying.  As an example, a 5mL bottle of chamaemelum nobile, or Roman chamomile, generally costs about $25.  For reference, 5mL is usually the smallest quantity you can buy.  It is so costly because of the amount of plant material required to produce the essential oil.  Something like Rose Otto can cost almost 3 times a bottle of R. chamomile for the same quantity; a bottle of Lavandula angustifolia can be had for about $12.  These oils sold at a “bargain” are likely not worth your dollars.  Some oils, like the coniferous oils, can be gotten very cheaply.  This will have a lot to do with the ease of production and the availability of the plants.  Some suppliers have 10mL bottles of various spruce EO's for under $10 which is pretty normal.
Ultimately, experience is likely to be your best bet.  As there are no regulations about essential oils other than what goes on the label, being patient and taking the time to learn will go a long way.  Having access to others who have been working with EO's for a long time is very helpful.  Facebook has plenty of great groups for aromatheray and essential oils, and of course you can always talk to me (though I may not be able to answer all your questions right away due to limitations of my own education).
This concludes part two of our introduction, and it leaves me with a whole lot more material to cover too!  Expect to see a 3rd and 4th over the coming months and some in-office education and demonstration so you can start gaining that experience too.