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Cooking with Organic Aromatherapy Essential Oils

by Kolinka Zinovieff(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 67 - August 2001


Using organic essential oils internally for cooking i.e. digesting them, is a very controversial idea for many people. It is the UK Aromatherapy policy to NOT use essential oils internally under any circumstances. For this reason if in doubt always consult a professional practitioner for advice. And be aware that some essential oils are extremely strong, potent and dangerous and to be used with great caution internally and of course externally too. We strongly advise you use the guidance in The Essential Oil Cookbook by Menkit Prince, available from NHR Organic Oils to familiarize yourself with any cautions and knowledge about safe and unsafe essential oils in cooking.

Kolinka Zinovieff


The Essential Oil Cookbook cover


Important Note:

Before using organic essential oils in cooking we recommend you read The Essential Oil Cookbook by Menkit Prince,1 which takes a comprehensive look at using essential oils in cooking and contains 182 healthy recipes and full safety data, or contact NHR Organic Oils' free advice line.


There are many ways to use organic essential oils. Most people are familiar with using essential oils on the skin through massage or steam inhalations or in the bath, which is the main use for our organic essential oils. Recently we have also been exploring the new area of cooking with organic essential oils, a new and largely undiscovered way of creating vital, fresh-flavoured dishes with the ability to create food for health or simply delicious tasting food (or even both) depending on your need or interest. Most people have not even come across the concept before, and when presented with the idea of using organic essential oils in food are often at a complete loss as to how to proceed. Hopefully we will answer most of your questions and reassure any doubts you may have about the internal ingestion of organic essential oils.

Firstly, essential oils have a huge variety of delicious flavours, which, due to the concentration of the oils, are much more potent and vital in oil form than compared with the dried or fresh herb. For example, when using organic basil essential oil, one 10ml bottle would be equivalent to hundreds of actual fresh plants. This concentration creates an incredible potency in flavour that is simply incomparable to the original plant herb, enabling one to create far more exciting and vital tasting food.

Another great bonus is that one can have a store of 20 or 30 different essential oils in one's kitchen, but it is much more difficult to have the same amount of fresh herbs readily available. Organic essential oils have the added bonus of keeping fresh in their bottle for up to two years. And, as we all know, dried herbs are sadly disappointing compared with fresh herbs, and the same can often be said when comparing fresh herbs with essential oils. The important thing is to experiment because of the often-different flavours between fresh herbs and the essential oils.

The Safety and Internal Use of Essential Oils in Cooking

A renaissance in the arena of food preparation is about to emerge. It is the exciting and innovative art of combining essential oils with food. The art of distilling essential oils from plants began 6,000 years ago with the ancient Egyptians. For those of you who are not quite sure what essential oils are, let us give you a brief explanation.

Essential oils are the chemical constituents found in aromatic plants that exist to protect the plant from invading organisms and microbes; to help it heal from wounds; to carry nutrients to the plant cells (as the blood of humans does); to attract certain insects and repel others; and so on. When plants are distilled (or cold-pressed in the case of citrus oils), the resulting essential oil is far more potent than when they are dried as herbs.

Research Findings

Many physicians, especially in France, are treating patients with essential oils and getting excellent results without the side effects of orthodox medicine. One such doctor and author is Daniel Pénoël MD. Dr Pénoël also recommends using therapeutic-grade essential oils in food preparation as they purify the body, enhance the immune system and generate endorphins (mood-elevators). In the USA Dr Phillip Minton claims that eating pure essential oils can improve circulation and oxygenation and protect against heart disease, dementia and cancer. Not to mention their fantastic taste!


Essential oils can come from many different parts of the plants, e.g. flowers, blossoms, fruit (skins), seeds, stems, leaves, roots, bark. Their tastes encompass tangy (citrus such as lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, mandarin, lime), spicy (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, cumin), floral (geranium, rose, lavender), herbaceous (oregano, basil, dill, rosemary, sage, tarragon, savoury) and minty (peppermint, spearmint), to name just a few. Because they are so concentrated, only tiny amounts (a drop or two) are required.

Unlike fatty oils such as olive oil, flax oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, soybean oil, etc., essential oils contain no glycerol molecules that give a characteristic slippery texture and leave a greasy residue. Fatty oils and essential oils are different. Distilled essential oils contain no fat, whereas fatty oils are 100% fat. Instead, as we discussed above, essential oils are composed of hundreds of different molecules that are antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and immune- stimulating.

Taste Categories from The Essential Oil Cookbook by Menkit Prince

Sweet Savoury Citrus Spice
Organic Fennel Organic Basil Organic Grapefruit Organic Black Pepper
Organic Geranium Organic Dill Organic Lemon Organic Cinnamon
Organic Lemongrass Organic M. Savoury Organic Lime Organic Clove
Organic Peppermint Organic Oregano Organic Mandarin Organic Ginger
Organic Rose Organic Rosemary Organic Orange Organic Nutmeg
Organic Rosewood Organic Sage Organic Tangerine Organic Black Cumin
Organic Spearmint Organic Tarragon

Are They Toxic?

Since this is such a new field, many readers may be wondering whether or not ingesting essential oils is safe. Some oils have toxic components; for instance, nutmeg oil contains myristicin and elemicin which are psychotropic. However, taken in moderate amounts (a few drops per person) there is no toxic effect. In fact the LD50 (lethal dose for half the population) for an average adult would be 100ml of nutmeg oil. For flavouring purposes, no one in their right mind would use so much! Also, nutmeg oil is safer than whole nutmeg because the most toxic components in nutmeg are non-volatile. In the process of distillation, most of these components are evaporated off. Even though there have been cases of narcosis and collapse with just one whole nutmeg, people universally use nutmeg as a food seasoning. Other oils contain toxic compounds (e.g. parsley, cinnamon, clove, basil, anise, fennel and tarragon oils), but used in moderation they are safe. Commonly used cooking ingredients similarly hold potential for harm when administered in high dosages, e.g. table salt. But it would be an over-reaction to say that salt should not be used in food.

Can these toxic compounds accumulate in the body? The majority of oil molecules are terpines and terpenoids, which are multiples of five carbon fragments. Since the body can only use food that can be broken down into two carbon fragments, oils must be excreted by the body. Since they are not water-soluble, they are made more water-soluble by various enzymes found in the liver. From there they are excreted by the kidney via urine. However, if an essential oil component is introduced to the body at a faster rate than the liver can convert it into a water-soluble form, liver toxicity can result. This could happen even if the mode of entry were not ingestion. (There have been reported cases of serious liver damage resulting from excessive skin application of eucalyptus oil). Again moderation is the key.

Some oils can be irritating if used directly on mucous membranes (cinnamon, lemongrass) but mixed evenly with food will pose no problem.

Choosing High Quality Oils

Using cheap, adulterated oils is not recommended. I cannot overstress the importance of procuring only the highest-grade essential oil with no toxic, synthetic chemicals, SD40 alcohol, propylene glycol (carcinogenic). How can you be sure? Contact the company and ask for GCMS (gas chromotography mass spectrometry) analysis. Avoid oils extracted with carbon dioxide, solvents or fabricated in a laboratory ('nature identical' oils). If possible, oils should be organic (especially citrus oils, since citrus fruit may be sprayed with pesticides) and distilled at low temperatures with low pressure so that the oil is not fractured or burned and so that all the chemical constituents are extracted, giving a full-bodied, authentic taste. When using essential oils in food preparation it is better to stir them in at the end or when food has cooled because heat evaporates oils. Some oils, however, are too strong and it is better to simmer them a little (e.g. oregano, rosemary, basil).

Saving Money

Another interesting consideration is that using essential oils in your kitchen can actually save money. Instead of buying a whole lemon, orange or bouquet of fresh herbs, a single drop of essential oil will yield as much flavour. Kept in a cool, dark place essential oils should last many years. (The oils found in the tomb of King Tutenkhamen were in immaculate condition even after thousands of years.)

For the Sceptics

If you are still sceptical consider this: you are already eating essential oils. Every time you chew gum, eat confectionary, chocolates and even brush your teeth, essential oils were the flavouring agent. Every time you eat dishes simmered with dried or fresh oregano, basil etc. the characteristic flavour from the essential oil contained in the plant lingers on. So don't be afraid – jump in with abandon. A whole new gustatory experience awaits you.


Taj Mahal Curry
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup onion
1 teaspoon garlic
1 apple 2 tablespoons raisons
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups water
2 tablespoons soya sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon agar powder
2 drops lemongrass essential oil
2 drops black cumin essential oil
Chop onion and apple, and mince garlic. Blend all ingredients together except lemongrass and black cumin oil. Transfer to a pot and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes, then shut off heat. For a subtle flavour, add lemongrass essential oil and black cumin essential oil while the mixture is steaming hot. For a stronger flavour, wait 20 minutes then add essential oils.
Meanwhile, steam the following vegetables (peas don't take as long to steam as carrots and potatoes):
1 cup green peas
2 cups chopped carrots
2 chopped potatoes
Stir steamed vegetables into curry sauce and pour whole mixture over brown rice and serve.

Creamy Mexican Guacamole
1 avocado
1 cup tofu
1½ teaspoons soya (or tamari)
¼ cup sage dressing – ½ cup lemon. 1 teaspoon garlic, 2 teaspoons soya (or tamari), 1 drop each basil, oregano and dill (or sage) essential oils.
2/3 cup of water
Blend ingredients until smooth and creamy. Use as a dip for raw vegetables or parboiled dark leafy greens.

Zanzibar Cinnamon Milk (Serves 4)
2/3 cup raw almonds
4 soft dates
4 cups water
1 drop cinnamon oil
4 drops orange oil
Remove pits from dates. Soak almonds and dates in 2 cups water overnight. Blend with remaining water until homogenized. Add cinnamon and orange oils, then sieve in a mesh strainer. Chill. Wonderfully refreshing.

Nutmeg Vitality Juice (Serves 2)
2 cups fresh carrot juice
¼ cup ground flax seeds
2 drops nutmeg oil
Grind flax seeds in a coffee grinder. Stir into carrot juice. Lastly add nutmeg oil. Superb!

Ruby Apple Dressing (Serves 3)
½ cup cashew butter
4 apples
1 beet (half the size of an apple)
3-4 drops mandarin oil
Juice the apples and beet together. Blend juice and cashew butter until creamy. Lastly stir in mandarin oil. Its intense hot pink colour looks outrageous on green leaf salads.

Heavenly Banana-Fig Ice Cream (Serves 2)
2 bananas
6-8 figs (fresh or dried)
4 drops lemon essential oil
Chop figs and bananas. (If dried figs, soak overnight in minimum water to cover, then drain.) Mash bananas and figs together. Freeze in an airtight container overnight. Thaw for 10 minutes, then chop and put through food processor. Stir in lemon oil. Eat immediately.
(For a liquorice taste, add 1 teaspoon aniseed and 1 drop fennel and omit figs.)

The Importance of Using High Quality Organic

Essential Oils in Cooking

It is important to use the purest oils one can buy, which are usually organically grown oils. The reason for this is if using oils internally, the oils are absorbed into the bloodstream more readily or more easily than through the skin. Therefore any impurities in the oils have the potential to irritate or cause an unknown effect on the body; whereas if the oil is known to be of pure organic quality one is assured of no adverse or negative effects when ingesting it.

Therefore it is vital when choosing an essential oil to know that it is organically grown, which helps to ensure its purity and vitality. The majority of essential oils on the market are very low-grade oils and their therapeutic properties reflect this. This sadly confirms many people's suspicions that aromatherapy does not work. The simple truth is they have not used good quality organic oils. There are fortunately some exceptions, and it is possible to buy very high quality organic oils if one is discerning. To ensure the essential oils you are buying are of the highest organic quality you need to find a trustworthy supplier who follows certain stringent rules:

1. They should have a close relationship with the source, i.e. farm and distillers;

2. Each oil should be tested using gas liquid chromatography (GLC), ensuring that there are no adulterants or impurities, and that the many individual components are in the correct proportions. For example, 'clinical' grade lavender oil should have 35-50% linalyl acetate (depending on type);

3. Tests for aroma, colour and age of the oils and organic certification are needed.
When buying from a shop, you should trust your own sense of smell and the therapeutic effect of the oils you are using. Here it should be added that one of the primary advantages in buying only organic essential oils is that these oils do not contain any pesticides, chemical fertilizers, artificial preservatives, adulterants or – especially now – do not come from genetically altered plants. It is true that such pure oils might cost twice as much as impure oils, but they are at least one hundred times more effective.

Essential oils contain an enormous range of components. This explains their extraordinary variety of therapeutic effects. All these naturally contained components are only found in high-grade organic 'clinical oils'. If the natural balance of the oil is upset only slightly, through additives and adulterants, then not only will the oil's therapeutic properties be weakened, but the oil could be potentially harmful to the individual user.

It is far more expensive to produce pure organic 'clinical' grade oil, due to the expense of organic farming and a more thorough distillation process, etc. For example, during the distillation process of lavender oil, 75% of the essential oil is extracted after 25 minutes; however, it takes a further 1 hour and 45 minutes for the remaining 25% of the oil to be extracted. This may tempt less scrupulous distillers to save time and money by reducing the time of distillation, but the result is a low-grade oil.

Quality Checking When Using Organic

Essential Oils in Cooking

Our testing facilities now include the use of the most up-to-date GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) laboratories in the UK and in France, which can detect down to 0.001% trace substances.

• Each oil is individually tested and analysed to detect the exact proportion and quantities of correct components. For example, when choosing an organic lavender we would check that the oil contains a proportion of esters 'exprimes' in linalyl acetate varying between 35 and 55 per 100 on the GC-MS chart, verifying a clinical grade oil;

• We also check that there are no adulterants present or chemical residues of any sort, guaranteeing that the source of growing is from a certified organic farm. We have reports of extraction methods and farming techniques, keeping a close check on the crop quality and harvest over the whole season; When we finally select an organic essential oil from numerous samples and reports, we then meticulously examine them for:

• Colour consistency: highly important as it indicates just how pure and balanced the oil is – a lost art in the aromatherapy world, due to the use of brown glass bottles, which hide the oil's colour;

• Viscosity: how the oils feels on the skin – texture and consistency indicate the quality of the extraction method and therefore quality of the oil;

• Aroma: we carefully evaluate the aroma for its full note range, using our professional experience to select the purest and most balanced oils amongst the batch being tested.


1. Prince Menkit. The Essential Oil Cookbook. (Price £19.95 Earth Love Enterprises. 1999. Available from NHR Organic Oils – see contact details below.)

In the foreword to this book, Dr Daniel Pénoël MD says:
"This book is a global contribution! It will create a revolutionary breakthrough in North America by demonstrating that essential oils can be ingested safely and beneficially in food. ...adding essential oils purifies the body, generates endorphins ...and enhances the immune system."

Further Information

Please contact NHR Organic Oils for advice or a brochure of their full range of organic essential oils and organic aromatherapy shampoos, moisturizers, floral waters, massage oils, chocolate and many other organic aromatherapy products. Their contact details are: NHR Organic Oils, 10 Bamborough Gardens, London W12 8QN. Tel: 0845 310 8066 (local call rate); International Tel: +44 20 8746 0890;;
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2000 edition of Aromatherapy and is reprinted here with kind permission.


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About Kolinka Zinovieff

Kolinka Zinovieff qualified as an aromatherapist at the Institute of Clinical Aromatherapy and studied a postgraduate course in 'Molecular activity and the therapeutics of organic essential oils', based on the work of Pierre Franchomme, at the Institut des Sciences Phytomédicales (Body Treats). He also trained as a craniosacral therapist with the Cranial Osteopathic Association (CrOA) and the Upledger Institute. He set up a company called NHR Organic Oils, the main purpose of which is to sell pure, high quality, organic essential oils at affordable prices and may be contacted on Tel: 0845 310 8066;




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