The rampant BS in essential oil marketing

…because I always come away from a Pinterest trip with something I have to write a PSA about! I’m sure this will piss off at least some of my readership, but this stuff has been ridiculous for a while now.

Y’all, there is no such thing as “therapeutic grade” essential oil. There is no governing body that grades essential oils and there is no standard definition of “therapeutic grade” or any other grade. Any company can decide to put “therapeutic grade” on their bottles. It’s totally freakin’ meaningless, and in fact, just speaking for myself, when I see a bottle of essential oil labeled “therapeutic grade,” my trust of the company goes down several notches, because it’s bullshit and they either know it, or they don’t know enough about what they’re selling to take their word on anything.

And if you see a blog telling you there are four grades of essential oils, I will bet you cash money that they are shilling for one of the big multilevel marketing setups that typically price their oils at least four times higher than typical quality retail brands. They use language like “therapeutic grade” to try to justify the markup, but I promise you, this is just marketing crap. Those oils are not some kind of ultra-elite anything, and they aren’t worth what they want you to pay for them. And the claim that “grade A” is organic and therapeutic grade, and “grade B” is food grade and could contain synthetics and contaminants… just click out when you see that bullshit. That’s garbage. People are just making shit up.

Now I believe those bloggers probably believe what they’re saying. There’s a lot of psychology going on here. I’m not saying it’s the bloggers necessarily who are lying to you – at least not on purpose. They have faith in this company or else they wouldn’t go to all the trouble. But that doesn’t mean they have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. The rhetoric that floats around, too often with bad advice, is dangerous. And if you believe these companies are angelic entities with humanity’s best interest, and not their corporate bottom line, at the heart of what they do, well, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid, and I suggest you put it down.

I also took a tour through the first 25 Amazon reviews of an essential oil set from a reputable and recognizable essential oil retailer. Absolutely zero percent of those 25 reviews were written by someone who knew enough to justly evaluate an essential oil. The criteria by which they judged the oil were nearly universally stupid and all over the map. Reviews like this are worse than useless as real data or any kind of yardstick of quality.

Also, don’t consume essential oils because some random website told you to. (Or at all.) No, that is not how your ancestors overcame illness. Your ancestors used the *whole plant* – not necessarily the whole thing from root to flower in every case for every blend, but the point is they did not use isolated compounds or massively concentrated distillations of only part of the plant’s constituent profile. They used the actual plants with their actual phytochemicals to make teas and salves and liniments and baths and such so that the infusion, decoction, etc. contained numerous active components that *worked together synergistically* in ways we still only barely understand. That is so far away from taking an aromatherapy essential oil internally that my head just about explodes when I see people recommending you ingest essential oils. That can kill you.

(I’m going to save for later the rant about how the trendiness of essential oils has contributed to some massive sustainability problems and ecological crises and exploitation, because that rant needs to come along with specific and practical discussion of alternatives as well as some historical, agricultural, and *chemical* context, and that’s gonna require significant time and research. But for now I’ll just say that the essential oil craze has actually been devastating to the environment, and I think everybody interested in rootwork needs to spend some time thinking about things like ethical sourcing as well as whole-plant infusion as an alternative to all-essential-oils-all-the-time, and choosing native/regionally available herbs and roots. Your great-great grandparents most certainly were not using essential oils to make up their medicines or condition oils or baths, and it’s unlikely that were they importing expensive, rare resins and spices from other countries. They were using what they could go out and gather. We’ve really developed a kind of perverse concept of essential oils as some “pure essence” of a plant, and this related idea that one plant is the Ideal for a certain thing and there’s nothing better anywhere, so we should get it by any means necessary and totally ignore what’s growing right under our noses in our regions. Nothing could be further from the truth.)

Bottom line: there’s a lot of freakin’ garbage out there. Some of it is just common obfuscation for the sake of marketing, but some of it is straight up dangerous. Some of the BS being circulated comes from well-meaning but gullible people who have believed a bunch of hype and overestimated the ethical character of the companies they shill for. You shouldn’t take their advice and you probably shouldn’t follow their recipes without doing some of your own research with reputable sources, either (esp. if they talk about “toxins” and “chemicals” a lot in really vague, sweeping terms, think you should put essential oil in your kid’s pancakes, and don’t think body products need preservatives).

And don’t just take my word for it, either. After all, I’m not a an aromatherapist or herbalist or a botanist or a scientist of any stripe at all. Go see what credentialed experts have to say about this stuff – not “momwithablog74” who wants you to buy a certain brand of incredibly expensive essential oil. Go see what trained aromatherapists think and how naturopaths feel about all this and what medicinal plant conservationists recommend, and while you’re at it, what the FDA and the Better Business Bureau have had to say.

If you’re going to use essential oils, you should know what the deal is, both in terms of the quality and ethics of the company whose product you use and in terms of the global status of the plant the oil comes from. Don’t contribute to ecological crises (or cultural theft) and don’t give your money to dishonest companies who use misleading marketing techniques. They are trying to swindle you.

recent reading roundup: Mithridates’ Universal Antidote and St. John’s Wort

Adrienne Mayor, “Mithridates of Pontus and His Universal Antidote,” in Toxicology in Antiquity (2nd ed.), 2019, 161-174.

Mithridates hypothesized that tiny doses of poisons could be ingested over time in carefully increasing amounts and thus ultimately make the body capable of tolerating larger doses that would normally be fatal – a dose-dependent protective mechanism, akin to modern vaccines. (He was right, about some chemicals at least – we call it hormesis, if you’re keen to learn more.)

Mithridates’ recipe for his inoculating toxin brew reportedly contained tons of things, from herbs to toxic skink skin to blood from a breed of poisonous ducks. It most likely also contained St. John’s Wort (hypericum). Mayor writes:

“Molecular scientists have recently discovered hypericum’s remarkable antidote effect, not yet completely understood. The herb activates the liver to produce a potent enzyme that is capable of neutralizing a great many potentially dangerous chemicals—as well as prescribed drugs for various conditions.”

Well, Mithridates lived into his 70s in an age when the life expectancy was around 45, surviving numerous assassination attempts, taking his toxin brew daily, and thriving, by all accounts — at least until he commited suicide in 63 BCE.

Oh ffs – Jezebel root PSA/rant + crash course in rhizomes

Iris fulva, one of the species whose rhizome is called Jezebel root. Public domain. [1]

This post represents stages of my research today to figure out where the hell something crazy came from. Watch the crazy unfold.

You keep using that word…

Jezebel root is not this…whatever this crap is. Pro tip – the stuff in that picture isn’t a root at all.


Jezebel root is not “reportedly related to the Iris flower.” It IS the root of an iris flower. But the stuff in that picture? Is not the root of an iris flower. Matter of fact, it looks like that same crap in the first picture. I’m beginning to think an entire segment of the “occult world” has been using tree bark for Jezebel root for a whole generation now.

Pro tip: don’t buy herbs from places where nobody knows what a root looks like.

Least they got the genus right:

But Jezebel root is not orris root.


The plot thickens:

Abies means this comes from a fir tree. This makes so little freakin’ sense it just blows my mind.

Let’s consider this Curse of Jezebel, in which one is supposed to hold the root – not a piece of the root, the root – in one’s hand for an extended period of time. The root of a big old honkin’ fir tree. Come on, now. Pro tip: don’t buy herbs from people who obviously don’t research and perform the spells they’re writing about.

But yeah – there’s a whole segment of the population who apparently accepts that some part of a fir tree that doesn’t look like a root is legit a “version” of Jezebel root. Never mind that I have never, ever heard of any tradition associating the fir with cursing or with attracting a man who’ll spend money on you or any of things that Jezebel root is used for. Have any of y’all?

Where are people’s brains?

Oh, now this is some convoluted stupid.

Ah, the plot thickens some more. According to these folks, it’s not just any of a number of possible abies – it’s Pinus abies, aka Norway spruce, and it’s “commonly used” when real Jezebel root is “out of season.”

Okay, just stop. The audience here is people who buy dried herbs from online suppliers, presumably because they can’t get them locally in season or at all. Drying an herb removes considerations of season from the freakin’ table, ffs. Also, that passive construction “is commonly used” is weaselly as hell. Commonly used by whom, exactly? (Answer: by people who don’t use their brains.) Most herbs are freakin’ seasonal, ffs. That’s why we freakin’ dry them.

And anyway, this rationale makes absolutely no sense. We’re talking about roots – or actually, we’re talking about rhizomes, and that’s important. We call it a root, but it’s really not. A rhizome is an underground stem that can produce the root and stem of a new plant and that stores nutrients to help the plant survive in case the growing conditions are unfavorable one year. That’s right, one year – only perennials have rhizomes (plants that live for at least two years). And irises can live for up to about 20 years if they’re well taken care of. That means you can dig up the root any old time.

This is what you’re looking for – you should see little ridged scaly-looking segments on an unpeeled rhizome (right), and whether peeled or unpeeled, you will probably be able to see little stringy looking roots, or at least holes where those roots used to be (left).

And mind you, these folks claim true Jezebel root is one of the Louisiana irises, which is kinda half true (but not every Louisiana iris species is Jezebel root, and Jezebel root is not only Louisiana iris species).

Well, in places like Louisiana, it doesn’t always get cold enough for the plant to even die back completely for winter.

So somebody please explain to me in exactly what way, in exactly what sense, Jezebel root can be said to be “out of season” and therefore “commonly” need substitution?

This is some absolutely bugshit crazy rationalization.

Y’all – use your brains. And don’t buy herbs from idiots.

(OMG, I’m gonna have to do one of these on corms and Adam and Eve root I think, too…)

Part of A Bayou Hoodoo Herbal.

[1] Annales de Flore et de Pomone ou Journal des jardins et des champs, October 1834. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Sciences et techniques, S-16469.

What’s the big deal about native plants, anyway?

By Osnat Amir – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Lesser Celandine is non-native to the U.S. and is now classified as a nasty invasive. Urban Ecology Center takes it as its case study in this blog post to illustrate why we should care about growing native plants and why we need to be so careful about growing non-native ones.

I’ll just quote a bit of a summary paragraph, but you should read the whole post.

They write:

So, we’ve got an aggressive plant with no natural predators to keep its population in check. This plant emerges sooner than native spring ephemerals, and therefore has the advantage of size when competing for space and resources with native plants. It crowds out native plants, leaving them with no room or resources. The native plants (that support our wildlife populations) begin to die off because they have nowhere to grow. The native wildlife that only eat the native plants are now suddenly left with very little food on the table. Fewer native plants to eat translates into fewer native animals who can survive. The diversity and size of wildlife populations quickly declines. The situation starts to look pretty grim, doesn’t it? And (in Cleveland, at least) it all started with a pretty garden plot in two homes.

Invasive Plant to Watch: Lesser Celandine, Urban Ecology Center

All I have to do is look out my window to see uncountable stands of extremely invasive and aggressive Chinese privet, which is taking over my land and crowding out beneficial natives and which doesn’t respond to *anything* except *digging the damned roots up,* to be reminded of how bad it can suck when someone unthinkingly or unknowingly introduces a non-native species to a region and that species escapes their backyard and starts running unchecked.

The consequences can be *disastrous* and *hideously expensive.* Please, folks, do your research.

ETA: Interesting discussion in the comments of the Facebook snippet of this post.

New single-herb sampler packs, herb blends with price breaks for bundles

I think I finally, finally found a way to be able to afford to sell small packets of powder and small packets of herbs. I had to try out five different potential solutions, but I think the one I’ve got now will work. You’ll see a little widget on the page telling you about price breaks you get at certain tiers, like so:

The issue:

Listing, site, and processing/transaction fees are breathtaking, and many of them are a flat fee per transaction plus a percentage. 50 cents plus 3.5% plus 2% off the top of every transaction is maybe not such a big deal if everything you stock starts at $20 or something, but if you want to offer an array of things under $5, you cannot actually afford to do it sometimes (and this isn’t even considering what it costs per item to list something, or per month to have the shop to list things in). But most people do not want or need 3 ounces of Cut & Clear powder, and they want to be able to get just one candle or just one pinch of something without having to buy a whole box or a whole ounce or whatever.

The amount you have to charge for a single item in this scenario is a little painful. But then if somebody orders multiples in a single transaction, they really get screwed paying the single-packet price for all of them.

So hopefully this allows me to offer sub-$5 items — without losing money in doing so — while also passing on the savings to folks who place orders with a variety of items in them.

This is currently turned on for hoodoo powders and herb sampler packs, so you can mix and match. I will probably be trying to come up with a way to make this work for at least some curios, too. Please feel free to make suggestions if you think I should tweak anything about this setup, and let me know if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to be doing!

Newly listed:

Herb blends:

Currently available herb sampler packets:

  • Agrimony
  • Althaea leaves
  • Bayberry berries, leaves, bark
  • Blackberry leaves
  • Black walnut shells, hulls, bark
  • Blueberry leaves
  • Butterfly weed
  • Calendula
  • Camphor bark, leaves
  • Cedar chips
  • Clover, red
  • Clover, white
  • Dittany of Crete
  • Elder berries, leaves, roots
  • Fern
  • Fig leaves
  • Grains of Paradise
  • Grape vine, leaves (muscadine)
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hydrangea leaves, flowers, root
  • Joe Pye Weed leaves, flowers
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon bark, thorns, fruit peel
  • Magnolia leaves
  • Manglier
  • Marjoram
  • Master of the Woods
  • Mint
  • Mojo Beans
  • Mustard seed, black
  • Mustard seed, white
  • Oak bark
  • Orange bark, thorns, fruit peel
  • Oregano
  • Passionflower
  • Pine needles, bark
  • Poke leaves, root
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Rosemary
  • Rose petals
  • Rue
  • Sage, lyreleaf
  • Sage, pineapple
  • Sage, scarlet
  • Sampson Snake Root
  • Smilax
  • Sweetgum bark, leaves, seedpods
  • Vetiver
  • Violet leaves
  • Wintergreen leaves
  • Yarrow

About Our Herbs

While this is far too small of an operation to be certified organic or any of that stuff, we do not engage in large-scale, resource-heavy, monoculture farming practices here. So we try not to deplete the soil, use water irresponsibly, encourage lack of genome and biome diversity, deprive animals and insects of their habitations or migration paths, or generally act like assholes and bad stewards.

That means we do not spray our herbs or fertilize them with industrial chemicals – we use only organic fertilizers and natural biological pesticides on our land (stuff like natural neem oil or insecticidal soap that I also put on my food crops and that pose no risk for human contact). 

However, these are not prepared in a commercial kitchen and are not packaged/sold as food items. My herbs are intended for spiritual use in incenses, oils, altar work, etc., not for human consumption.