Essential and vegetable oil buying guide

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When looking to buy essential or vegetable (base) oils you can be quite dumfounded by the array of oils and claims regarding origins, purity, organics, chemistry and so on but it really isn't that difficult if you understand the basics of the essential oil market.
Understanding the market
Firstly, understand that the oils come from plants which are grown the world over - sometimes wild, sometimes grown on farms and sometimes cultivated commercially in vast greenhouses.
Secondly, understand that there are many methods of extracting oil from plants - sometimes the oil is distilled using steam. Some oils are extracted by "squeezing" as in the case of citrus oils. Sometimes using infusion whereby the plant is put into an oil  (usually sunflower) and its essence "infuses" into the host (as with Calendula or Carrot) or maceration when the plant is chopped up and put into a carrier (again usually Sunflower). Sometimes the plant is "pressed" as with Olive or Wheat and many of the nut oils. Sometimes, a solvent is used (as with Camelia) or a tree can be "tapped" and the oil simply exudes out of the "wound".
Thirdly, understand that good quality essential and base oils can be very expensive which gives a major opportunity to the less scrupolous to make a lot of money by selling inferior oils or blending expensive oils with cheaper oils or adding synthetic oils (made in a laboratory) to natural oils or even passing off synthetic oils as natural.
Now for some simple facts:
  • 25% more Lavender is sold than grown - Good quality Lavender is often blended with cheaper variants to make up the missing 25%.
  • Country of origin usually means the country an oil is bottled in - not necessarily where the plant was grown -a good example being the citrus fruits which are harvested for their juice and the remnants then pulped and sold on to those who extract the oil who sell on to those who store the oil which is then marked as being from the country in which the holding tanks/bottling plants are regardless of where the fruit was actually grown . Do remember that (as with wine), whatever is in the soil and air is in the plant and that weather conditions can produce good or bad years for crops therefore a grower might produce excellent oil one year and poor oil the next. 
  • "Organic" means that a farm or commercial growing operation has been certified by the soil association but the many of the best growers around the world and those that gather wild plants can never produce "organic" oils because it is only really feasible to certify commercially farmed plants as "organic" but, farmed plants are often lacking much of what only mother nature and the weather can put into a plant.
Before buying
Ask yourself what you need from the oil you want to buy. If you want to make some product using Frankincense then it's fine to buy the Indian Boswelia Thurifera but if treating chest complaints then you'll have to pay almost double to get the Somalian Boswelia Carterii (sometimes called "Sacra"). If you are making soap then it's OK to buy the East African Sandalwood Osyris (one of the cheapest variants)Tenifolia or the Australian Santalum Spicatum or, indeed, any number of other variants but, if you are treating urinary infections or want something to impact on some other physiological or psychological issue then you will have to pay more than twice as much to get Santalum Album from India (the most expensive variant).
In Britain, we have had a couple of years of bad weather and this has resulted in poor crops across the board - this means that British variants of Chamomile, Lavender, Mustard and others are cheaper now but you must remember that they are cheaper for a reason. This year we have switched our buying from English Chamomile Roman to Chilean. Our Lavender this year is Bulgarian and our Mustard from Holland because, therapeutically speaking, they have produced the best oils. 
When buying
There are many people selling oils on EBay, online and on the high street - nearly all boast "100% Pure Oils" and many offer all manner of certification and prices can vary enormously - so when you see someone selling Sandalwood at £3.99 for 10ml while someone else is selling Sandalwood at £30 for 10ml don't think that you are somehow getting a bargain if you pay the £3.99 - I promise you that the cheaper oil is not pure or undiluted or unadulterated
One more example - let's say you want to buy 10ml Thyme so you look up prices and find that the prices vary from under £1 to over £5 - should you buy the cheapest as, after all, Thyme is Thyme isn't it? Well, no it isn't. The cheapest Thyme is Trachyspermum Ammi from India then Thymus Saturoides from Morroco followed by Thymus Vulgaris from Albania and so on through dozens of variants but even then you have to consider that the Thymus Vulagaris grown in Spain is therapeutically more useful than the same species grown in Albanis which generally has a drier climate. So what should you buy? You should buy the oil that does what you need it to do and you should pay what that oil costs.
One last example: I sell Peppermint - and a quick search on EBay shows me to be more expesive than most other sellers of Peppermint - should I reduce my prices to compete? Looking a little deeper I find that some sell Peppermint Arvensis while some sell the same Mentha Pirerita but their oil comes from China whereas mine is sourced from the USA which produces the best Peppermint in the world. So, if you want to treat constant headaches or anaesthetise some pain such as toothache, don't be surprised if the oil you just paid 99p for doesn't help. If you spent 99p on Patchouli then don't be surprised that it doesn't have the rich musky fragrance or the deep red colour and body of Pogostemon Cablin that comes only from Indonesia!! 
At Katseye, our business is clinical aromatherapy and our customers are largely looking for oils that deliver to therapeutic expectation and applications. For this reason, we source all our own oils based on therapeutic criteria alone from a pool of a great many importers and wholesalers - no one wholesaler can possible carry a 100% stock of therapeutic grade oils for they are all in competition with each other to buy from the growers and the very fact that they need to maintain a full stock list means that they will invariably be forced to compromise on certain oils or not carry a full list of oils which would be commercial suicide.
So, if you need therepeutic grade oils, you will need to buy from someone who, like Katseye Blends, only supplies oils for the therapeutic market (buying from retailers or wholesalers can be very hit or miss).  
However, do you really need therepeutic grade oils?
Basil is a common plant grown the world over and has 680 varieties - at one end of the spectrum it can effectively treat referred pain whilst at at the other end of the spectrum, it is an effective digestive tonic, other species are better suited for treating colds.
English Lavender is generally best for respiratory complaints but poor weather over the past couple of years has raised the profile of Bulgarian Lavender. French Lavender is best for balancing sebum levels in the skin and has a better fragrance for perfumes etc. whilst Bulgarian is the best (in my opinion) all round Lavender.
Ylang Ylang is available in a number of levels from Ylang Ylang through Levels 1,2 to Ylang Ylang Extra (the only one we use and supply).
The best Indian Sandalwood delivers to all therepeutic expectations but is twice the price of Australian Sandalwood of the same species (Santalum Album) which, in turn, is almost twice the price of another variant (Santalum Spicatum) which also mostly comes from commercial farms in Australia - I have come across oil sold as high quality Indian Sandalwood which has been adulterated with the cheaper Australian or East African varieties (a Kilo of Indian Sandalwood Essential can cost around £2,000 whereas East African Sandalwood can be under £1,000).
Olive oil is another good example of the oil market. The best oil comes from the best olives grown around the Meditaranean. The olives are gathered in and put into a large contraption which has a large "screw" like contraption which is turned by hand and squeezes the olives till the oil runs out - this is "cold pressing" by hand or mechanical means and it produces a thick, green, cloudy oil which has all the goodness you could wish for - this is the oil I use in my kitchen. The extra virgin, cold pressed oil may sometimes be filtered to remove the "cloudiness" but it is still extra virgin, cold pressed oil. It doesn't stop there though,  the remaining pulp is then pressed again using industrial presses (usually hydraulics with heat) to get more oil (little therapeutic value), this is "Virgin Olive Oil". Lastly, even more oil is extracted using solvents giving us the cheapest Olive oil but with no therapeutic value at all.
My Avocado Oil is a rich full-bodied dark green oil which is cold-pressed and unrefined similar to Extra Virgin Olive Oil both in colour and texture - it is not the worthless light gold coloured liquid on sale at .99p for 100ml from many EBay sellers.
So the real question is, what do you need it for?
If only for fragrance then buy, for example, French Lavender blended with Lavedin as it is so much cheaper and smells pretty good. If you're making soap then buy East African Sandalwood (Osyris Tenifolia) rather than paying more than twice as much for the Indian (Santalum Album). If you just want an oil to rub on for a bit of fun then buy the cheapest by all means.
As with cooking, if you're simply frying food then use the cheapest oils rather than the hand cold-pressed oils (although I admit that I even fry my food in Extra Virgin Olive oil).
Bottomline - if you want oils that deliver to therepeutic expectations then don't think you can buy them from a market stall or find them at a cut price and understand that there are "fake" oils when you're talking about something than can cost £22 per 1ml as much as there is fools gold and fake diamonds or quatrz and cut-glass.
Lastly, look at a sellers listings - if they are selling cheap perfumes and after shaves you should not expect that their oils are truly pure therapeutic grade. If they sell trinkets and all manner of nick-nacks do not expect their oils to be up to standard whatever they say.
Remember the old adage - if something looks to good to be true the chances it is fake/diluted/adulterated or synthetic
I hope you have found this guide useful, Chris of Katseye Blends 
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