Cropwatch Newsletter 4 - Red Alert Issue 

                          §10. Critical Review of ‘Focus on Essential Oils’ Article

by Louise Summerton, in

                              Green Chemistry & the Consumer Issue 7, 4-5 (July 2006).


With a heavy heart, again we again have to point out some basic misconceptions in the writings of authors from academia on aromatic subjects. Specifically in this article we revisit some ‘old chestnuts’:


1.  Rose oil and neroli oil are not aphrodisiacs; the best that can be said is that under certain circumstances they may play a small role in establishing a conducive atmosphere to set the scene for possible romance. Many of us would not take anything in a largely unreferenced & non-refereed popular high-street book on aromatherapy as being necessarily either scientifically accurate or worthy of reproduction, as Summerton has done here with respect to this controversial citation from Patricia Davis. 

2. Essential oils are not produced from aromatic vegetable matter by solvent extraction as described by Summerton, who should consult ISO 9235 (1997) section 3.1 for the internationally accepted definition of an essential oil. It goes without saying that this also applies to the products of carbon dioxide extractions, which also are not essential oils.

3. “The therapeutic effects of leaves berries & roots may be attributed to the essential oils contained within the plants”. Depending on how you read the sentence the reader may come away with the idea that essential oils are the only therapeutic principles here, whereas of course it may be the flavonoids, tannins, alkaloids or a whole myriad of other photochemical components, which are the actives.   

3. It is generally accepted that sub-critical water extraction (Clifford 1999) is greener and less costly than carbon dioxide extraction, but this topic was not mentioned by Summerton.

4. Micro-wave extraction of aromatic material to produce essential oils is championed by Summerton, but the technique has been previously dismissed as commercially unworkable by essential oil experts such as Brian Lawrence. If this view is incorrect, or there is new evidence, that these processes can be practical & economic, then we’d like to understand why & how this has been achieved.

5. Whilst we at Cropwatch are busy trying to resist the progressive elimination of essential oils from retailed biocides and cosmetics in the EU via the action of various regulatory bodies, Summerton sees essential oils as becoming ‘increasingly prevalent in everyday consumer goods’. This observation is presumably evidenced by her personal shopping trips, but no increasing annual usage figures are presented to further support this conjecture. Cropwatch has previously provided evidence in its publications that annual production volumes for many specific essential oils are decreasing through over-exploitation of their plant sources in the wild. 

6. As a point of information it was not made clear in the article that REACH legislation is not expected to affect essential oils used as food flavourings, which represents the major application of some essential oils such as cold-pressed orange & lemon oils.

7. The idea of sustainable resources to provide essential oils is not covered; neither is the fact that the carbon footprint of traded exotic essential oils is massive. Instead there much talk of essential oils as a ‘renewable resource’. Not much longer for many overtraded species we predict…


Clifford A.A. (1999) "Extraction of Natural Products with superheated water." In : Proceedings of the GVC-Fachausschss ‘High Pressure Chemical Engineering’, Mar 3-5 1999, Karlsruhe, Germany.


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