Essential oils: A value-added product farmers can consider producing


Yvette Tan

Farmed herbs and flowers have uses beyond the culinary and the decorative. Some farmers are slowly learning that they can be turned into essential oils and hydrosols for use in aromatherapy as well.

I interviewed certified aromatherapists Jirbie Go and Lourdes Caballero from the Alliance of the Philippine Aromatherapists, an organization that aims to educate consumers on the benefits and proper use of aromatherapy and reach out to local farmers and producers of essential oils and hydrosols.

An essential oil is a concentrated compound extracted from plants that contain their scent and essences. Hydrosol is the liquid byproduct from the essential oil distillation process. It’s very diluted, which makes it safer to use in aromatherapy, especially for children. Rosewater is a well known example of a hydrosol.

Both women received their certification in aromatherapy around 2018, just before the “oilbularyo” boom hit the Philippines. When they started, most aromatherapy kits had to be imported. But they both knew that this wasn’t enough.

The duo has been meeting growers who have been or have been wanting to turn their crops into essential oils.

From experience, the women have seen tremendous support for local producers from the Philippine essential oil community. But there is still a long way to go.

The Philippines currently doesn’t have the laboratory tests needed for essential oils to be certified by international standards. Testing has to be done overseas, and is expensive, especially for small farmers. This is why knowing who the farmer and producer of an essential oil or hydrosol is important, as one can be sure of their farming and distilling processes.

While certification isn’t needed, it’s important if a producer wants to work with aromatherapists overseas. It can also be a useful tool for determining what products one’s essential oil or hydrosol can be used for. Oils with proven antimicrobial properties, for example, can be used for soaps or hand sanitizers.

There are many ways to turn harvested crops into value-added products, and as the increasing demand shows, essential oils and hydrosols are two more products that can be added to this list.

Three myths about essential oils
Essential oils are all the rage, with people using them for different things, from making a room smell fresh to mild pain relief. Unfortunately, the world of essential oils also contains a lot of misconceptions that need to be addressed. Go and Caballero put three of the most common myths to rest:

Essential oils are totally safe. “One of the biggest myths using essential oils is that essential oils are totally safe. That’s not true. They have to be properly diluted, especially for kids, and that’s why we advocate using hydrosols versus oils because oils can be very potent to the point that they can give you allergies,” Go says.

“So many people don’t look into it because they think it’s “natural,” (so it’s safe. We try to educate people to be very, very careful when using essential oils. Don’t use essential oils neat. You have to dilute it in carrier oil — that’s VCO or any vegetable oil so the skin absorbs it better.”

One size fits all. “Each essential oil will have its own potency. Some are better used in a blend, some have to be used sparingly or else it will cause a reaction,” Caballero says. “Age is also a factor. What’s used on a baby can’t be used on someone in acute pain.”

Essential oils can replace your doctor. “We are not doctors. This is not a replacement for anything. It’s against our ethics to claim that,” Caballero says. “It’s irresponsible. We’re always complementary to promote wellness. Some people think there’s an oil for everything and we tell them that that’s not the way to think about it.”