Podcast 041: Pets’ Paws & Topical EO Safety
This week, a case of histiocytoma on a dog’s paw leads Katja to talk about wound care for animal companions. What to do when a furry friend has a wound? Help it out with herbs! It’s not as hard as you might be thinking.
Ryn received a helpful email this week that made him want to dig deeper into essential oil safety, and will lead to some revisions of his liniment and muscle rub recipes. Special thanks this week to Jennifer Lombard of Earth and Aether Aromatherapy for the heads-up, and for being so generous with her time and resources. Thank you!
If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Herbalism 101 program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Katja: 00:10 Hi, I’m Katja.
Ryn: 00:12 And I’m Ryn.
Katja: 00:12 And we’re not actually at the Commonwealth Center for holistic herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ryn: 00:17 We are on the Internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.
Katja: 00:21 We’re actually in Rockport today, and hopefully you can hear that in the background. But more on that later because first we have to say: we are not doctors. We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.
Ryn: 00:33 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the US, so these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and to research further.
Katja: 00:51 We want to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility. So the final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours. Okay, shout outs this week to Casey on email and Fox and Elder on instagram and Stephanie Mycelium on Itunes who wrote us a review. Thank you! And Kelly, Bernadette, and Eileen by email. And I was looking at some statistics and I noticed that in the last seven days, 971 people have listened to our podcasts.
Ryn: 01:29 Wow.
Katja: 01:30 Right? Y’all, if each one of you took five minutes to write a review on Itunes, we would start showing up on the itunes homepage suggestion list. In less time than it takes you to order a cup of coffee, you could help us share this pod with the world.
Ryn: 01:47 The whole world?
Katja: 01:47 Yeah. And it doesn’t even cost what it costs to get the cup of coffee. It just takes the amount of time to order the cup of coffee. So write us a review you guys, please. That would be so awesome. We really appreciate it. You’re going to populate the internet with awesome herbal goodness.
Ryn: 02:10 Sounds like a plan. Alright, so here we are in Rockport, huh?
Katja: 02:15 Yeah. It turns out that mandatory vacation is hard. You might remember several episodes back– probably like 10 episodes back–we were talking about mandatory quarterly vacation. And today it’s time to do that. So we’re on a vacation day in Rockport and we totally brought all of our work and all of our plans to work. But the thing is we seriously work all the time and I don’t mean we just are saying “I work all the time”. We actually work all the time. So after we record this pod, we’re totally going to try not to work at all for the rest of the day. Instead, we’re going to walk on this rocky shore until the thunderstorms start and then we’re going to run to a dry place and eat something tasty. Also speaking of this rocky shore, we want to try something new. Actually today there’s a bunch of new things that I want to talk about. Yeah, I’m just so on fire [with] newness. Okay. We talk a lot about movement, movement in natural settings, and this idea of getting as much texture in your environment as possible or, in other words, don’t only walk on things that are flat. And also don’t only listen to things that are flat. Usually we record in our living room and our happy birds are chirping in the background and sometimes Elsie the Wonder Dog makes noises or sometimes maybe there’s cars out the windows. But then we realized we could be giving you lots of auditory texture. So today we’re recording at the beach. At least we are as long as the battery holds out and we’re going to try to find fun new places to record that will give you cool outdoor sounds. I think that it would be cool if you listened to it outdoors too and then it would be like a choir of outdoor sounds in like a performance art thing.
Ryn: 04:21 And if you have a rocky beach to walk upon, definitely give that a shot.
Katja: 04:25 Yeah. Okay, ready for my next new thing? We want to try a new experiment and it’s going to take everybody getting in on this to do it. But I really think it could be a cool thing and it’s that we want to try to make our online programs as affordable as possible, in as many creative ways to as many people as possible. So first, we work really hard to make our programs affordable. Most of our programs end up to be about five to ten dollars per core class hour and really that’s way less than many other online programs. But on top of that, all of our programs are video. It’s not just like “read this private blog and we estimate that should take you 500 hours, so this is a 500 hour program”. If we say it’s a however-many-hour program it’s because we’re actually talking on video for that many hours. Or something that says, “well I’m going to talk for some amount of time, I’m going to teach for some amount of time and then you’re going to do a bunch of homework and it’s going to total up to 500 hours”. We really are only charging for the hours on video. We’re trying really hard to make it a great value for our students and also to charge for things in a very transparent way. Which is great, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter how transparent we are or what a great value it is, dollars are dollars and sometimes it’s just too expensive. I totally understand that because I have a kid who’s going to be going to college soon and sometimes you don’t have a lot of money to do extra. Even if it’s, “oh, that’s a really great thing and I want to do it”. We want to experiment with ways to make the programs more accessible to everyone and we have some ideas. But before I share our ideas, I definitely want to say that we are open to your brainstorms and your suggestions. If you have any, just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. But one idea that we had was a group rate. So, if four people registered together, then the group would only pay for three people, which would mean that everyone in the group gets 25 percent off or maybe two people pay the full price because they can afford to, but then the other two people only pay 50 percent of the price because that is more appropriate for their budget. Or maybe three people pay the full price and that’s subsidized as a fourth person joining their group for totally free. We think this could be a way to get really creative and we really want to make this available to everyone and we’re willing to be creative to make it happen. We think that if everyone pitches in together, everyone can go further: we’ll be able to pay our bills and more people will be able to study. So I really want to try it. If you’re interested in the group idea, send us an email. If you have an idea, send us an email. If you want to sponsor someone’s scholarship, totally send us an email. We will entertain all ideas.
Ryn: 07:23 Info@commonwealthherbs.com.
Katja: 07:26 Alright. I think that’s all the announcements and all the new new new stuff.
Ryn: 07:41 Alright. So what should we talk about this week? Actually, I know what I want to talk about, but I don’t know what you want to talk about. So, what you got?
Katja: 07:48 I want to talk about pets because they love herbs. Having pets and taking care of them is actually, it’s a lot like having kids. Most of it you can do yourself. I mean sometimes you can’t; sometimes you need to go to the doctor and whatever and then we are happy that those things are available. But, you know, the normal sort of day-to-day stuff you can really take care of. I wanted to talk about things like abscesses and wounds and cysts. Eileen had written in this week to talk about her poor pup who is having a really inconvenient histiocytoma on his paw and that already sounds really scary. If it just was a cyst, you would be like, “oh, it’s just a cyst on his paw”. Or if it was a giant blister or something, but when it’s a histiocytoma that sounds really scary and disempowering completely. But a histiocytoma is really just kind of like a sebaceous cyst in a human, it’s just sort of a little growth. It’s like a little tumor, but they’re benign, they’re not threatening. Usually, they go away by themselves in two to three months. But the problem is that it’s right on his foot pad, it’s getting irritated and torn up when he runs around and plays, and that’s obviously not good. That’s going to make it much harder for this to go away on its own. She was writing to say, “Hey! Here’s the stuff that I did and it seems to be working and I’m pretty excited about it. And we went to the vet to have it checked out and they said, ‘you know, we can remove it if you want or it’ll go away’. So I tried these things”. And I was really excited at what she tried and it sounded really great and I shared what I would do as well. So, I thought, you know, I’m going to share it with you guys because you might like it. The first thing is I said feed him lots of chamomile for a while. This will really calm a pup down, which makes it a lot easier for the dog to be settled while he heals. When Elsie gets hurt or after she got spayed, we put about half a cup of dried chamomile flowers right into her food, usually with a little bit of bacon grease on top, and she just ate it right up. I think that is a lot easier than trying to get a dog to drink a substantial amount of tea. It’s absolutely still medicine if they eat the dried flowers instead of drinking it as tea. We’re so accustomed to thinking in terms of tea, but eating the dried flowers is–or powder you can get too–is totally, completely fine. So that has been so helpful just to help keep them calmer. If you have to recover from something and it means he can’t go to the park and catch the ball or catch the Frisbee for awhile, then that’s hard on a pup. And so having something that just keeps them really calm and level is very, very helpful. Then I said I would try to do a soak for his paw and Eileen had done that as well and had used yarrow, which I think is a great idea.
Katja: 11:08 Elsie is Princess Princess Prissy Paws we like to call her because she really hates to get her feet wet. It’s not always easy to get her into water unless you throw her ball into the creek, then it is very easy. But if you do lots of hugging and make sure that the water is basically body temperature or even just a little bit warmer, that can make it a lot easier. I would make a really strong infusion of chamomile, calendula, and plantain and then just see if I can get the paw itself to soak in that, in a little dish, three or four times a day. If not, then maybe it wouldn’t be comfortable or ergonomic to put his whole paw in a dish, but maybe to do a compress so that you’ve soaked a cloth and you just wrap that around his paw. That might be a little bit easier, too. Just like kids, you just have to experiment a little bit and see what they’re comfortable with. Also hug them and scratch them a lot. After that, then I would bandage him up so that he can’t damage that area anymore. I would put a little cotton pad in there–just like a makeup remover pad–that is soaked in that strong infusion, and bandage that right in, or soaked in Thayer’s Witch Hazel with Rose. Either of those are going to be really, really soothing and also stimulate healing in the area. A little apple cider vinegar mixed in would not be a bad idea either, but if you put it straight on there, it might sting. That’s okay once or twice when you have to clean something out in an emergency, but if it’s going to be something over a long period of time, then that’s going to create an aversion and that will mean not having your dog willing to go along with this whole shenanigan. I just want to make sure that whatever we do is not going to sting. Then I would put that cotton pad right up against the little abscess, or in this case the histiocytoma, and bandage it lightly with plain roller guaze and then a little bit of vet wrap, which I love. Vet wrap is the most amazing stuff ever. They also call it self occlusive wrap because it sticks to itself, but not to anything else. So it’s not like it’s sticking to the dog’s hair and is going to pull it out when you take it off later. It’s really excellent. It is water resistant; it’s not waterproof but water resistant. So if he licks it a little bit, it’s not going to be a problem, and it’s pretty tough and it will stand up to a little bit of nibbling.
Katja: 13:58 If your dog is really interested in nibbling at it, then you can spread it lightly with something he doesn’t like, like a little bit of vinegar or something that’s really bitter; you can even dust it with powdered bitter herbs. You only have to do that a couple of times for your pup to realize, “oh my goodness, that tastes terrible; I’m not going to lick that anymore”, and that should put him off biting at it pretty reliably. Every so often you get one who just wants that thing off, but usually that works pretty well. Alternately, if you didn’t want to soak tea on there (a water preparation), then you could put some salve right on the surrounding area. Probably, if it were me, I would use pine resin salve with calendula and plantain, because that’s kind of my go to for everything. I really, really love it and it’s really reliable in such a wide variety of situations, but a nice chamomile salve would do; just don’t use comfrey. Comfrey is not going to help in this situation. Sometimes if there is a wound and it might be a little bit deep, then comfrey can heal over the skin a little too much, a little too fast, and you might have some bacteria or some crud stuck in there and then you might end up with an abscess. So, I don’t like to work with comfrey until the last stages of healing or if a wound is super duper shallow, then that’s fine.
Katja: 15:41 Also, if you have a pet and you don’t have a lot of dog bandaging experience or cat bandaging experience, then just be really patient with yourself and also with your pet. There is a bit of a knack of getting a bandage comfortably on a paw–especially on a paw–but really on any part of an animal and actually really on any part of any person who isn’t you. Because if it’s on you, you can feel it and you know if it’s comfortable or not; on someone else, you have to just guess. It’s very much like shoes: if you do it too tight, it’s uncomfortable and too loose, it’ll fall off. There’s really like a Goldilocks place that’s comfortable enough that your dog will more or less put up with it and that it will be sturdy and stay on there long enough. If you have an animal who’s never had a bandage before or a dog who’s never worn shoes before–some dogs wear shoes because they go hiking, they run around in the snow a lot, or because the pavement is hot in the city, and so they’re pretty comfortable with that because they’ve learned. But if you have a dog who’s never worn shoes before (not that we think shoes are awesome, but it’s way better than hot pavement), then you may have a pet who responds to having his paw bandaged very much like a cat who gets a paw in water. It’s actually really comical to watch; they sort of flap it around everywhere and they act as if it is suddenly some completely foreign thing on their body and that’s just them getting used to it. So lots of hugs and scratches, lots of comforting behavior and some treats, and usually you can get them to go along with it. Obviously if it doesn’t work, then don’t bandage, but just do the compresses as often as you can and try to keep them as calm as you can. (Typically) With anything like this, I would give myself a month or so to work on it before I decide that it isn’t working, because things take awhile to heal. Even on your body, they don’t heal immediately. As long as whatever it is that you’re working on is not getting worse and your pet is not exhibiting any new symptoms, then I would say keep going in the direction that you’re going. You can always just run to your vet for a checkup, just to be certain that everything is going in the right direction, but it’s okay to say, “all right, this might take a couple of weeks, this might take a month”. Just keep your vet’s number handy and go with your gut, just like you would for your kids.
Katja: 18:30 Then I was thinking a few other basic pet things, like digestive problems because that happens to pet sometimes. Really I work with pets’ digestive problems the same way as human digestive problems. I love a nice gut heal tea and you can put that right in their food, and it works a treat. And of course probiotics, which is exactly the advice we would give to humans; that is something that you might even have on hand. I would also say that along with chamomile for dogs, catnip for cats is really wonderful. It’s not going to calm them down at first, so if you have a cat who needs to lay still (because they’ve just been spayed, neutered, or for whatever other reason they need to lay still), then catnip is not going to be the answer. But often catnip can help a cat who needs to find some calmness. It stimulates them at first and they run around like crazy, but then they lay down and they feel very calm. Especially with house cats who don’t get to go outside, sometimes they actually need to run around like crazy for a minute, so that can be really helpful too. Anyway, Pets!
Ryn: 19:59 Okay. What I wanted to talk about this week actually started because somebody wrote in about one of our previous podcasts. This person just wrote in to say that they had been listening and had been enjoying, but had some feedback, some things to consider that I needed to look into a little bit further. So, I got an email from somebody named Jennifer Lombard and she is an aroma therapist, somebody who works with essential oils primarily. I’m going to read some of the things that she wrote into me to set the stage here. She said, “In your podcast number 28, where you’re talking about making liniments, there were some essential oil suggestions that could be problematic. You suggested cinnamon essential oil as one of the oils you could use, but at the amount you mentioned (10 drops per ounce of total product), that could actually cause a sensitization reaction or some irritation. Robert Tisserand, who coauthored the book essential oil safety, and some other aroma therapy groups recommend the maximum dilution of cinnamon essential oil for topical purposes to be at less than 1/10th of a percent, because amounts greater than that could cause sensitization in research studies. The same would also apply to cassia essential oil.” Remember, there’s two kinds of cinnamon out there; there’s cinnamon verum and cinnamon cassia. This was just to say that that would apply to both. There was some other feedback about wintergreen, which I also mentioned that that could potentially potentiate blood thinning drugs. And then there were some other recommendations here around dilution, percentages for clove and a couple of other essential oils that I also had mentioned there. So, I went back and checked and it’s true, in our podcast and also in our book, I’ve been recommending ranges of essential oils in ligaments and salves, and such things at between 10 and 20 or even 10 to 30 drops of essential oil per ounce of product. So I appreciate Jennifer, thank you, for bringing this to my attention. You know, as we’ve commented here on the podcast before and in other venues, we do take essential oil safety seriously. A lot of times the recommendations that I make are on the low end of things that I’ve seen out there in the wild or heard from other herbalists or read in other books. So I was a bit dismayed to learn that some of my recommendations may not be safe for all purposes or for all people. I am going to continue to dig into this a little further, but, I have gotten a start on this project and I wanted to share some stuff with you guys on our podcast this week.
Ryn: 23:04 One of the first questions that occurred to me on getting this message was a to wonder a few details around what’s going on with this. For instance, when you say it is said that 10 drops per ounce of cinnamon oil could cause sensitization, I wonder what’s the kind of dose response threshold for that? You know, like does this occur in one percent of people who work with a product like that? Ten percent of people? Everybody? How common is that response? Also, what kind of dose of the product is relevant there? Like, if I take a milliliter of my liniment and I spread it over my whole back, or if I take five milliliters and spread it over a tiny spot like just one elbow, is that going to make a difference. How frequently do I apply it? Over what period of time? Like if I use it every day for a month or if I just apply it once. Then are there any other factors that are going to impact the likelihood of sensitization, like how old the person is, their gender, if they have other kinds of comorbid conditions, like they’re sick with something else at the same time, stuff like that. So, I did start to dig into these questions myself. Also, I asked Jennifer if she had any studies at hand to point me at there and she pointed me at a few. One of these goes back to 1980, and it showed that there was a cinnamaldehyde study, and they were finding there that it could cause positive reactions in patch tests at .01 percent. Now, you have to do a little bit of math there and say how much cinnamaldehyde is present in the essential oil of cinnamon because essential oils themselves are not all one compound. They’re going to be a mix of terpenes and some other like chemicals there.
Katja: 24:55 Oh, so they were putting .01 percent of just that.
Ryn: 24:59 Just straight up cinnamaldehyde. There was another study, this one even earlier actually, in 1977. Here they tested again just some cinnamaldehyde, but at different concentrations: at .1 percent, .3 percent, one percent, three percent and 10 percent. They found that it was not sensitizing at point one percent or point three percent. I find that interesting considering that the previous study we mentioned had sensitization reactions at .01 percent, which is another order of magnitude lower. So there was quite a lot of variance there.
Katja: 25:40 We don’t have information about the people that were in the study.
Ryn: 25:44 Yeah, I didn’t get the full text on this study yet. That’s something I’ll dig into a bit later I think.
Katja: 25:51 That’s really interesting.
Ryn: 25:52 They had one positive reaction at one percent concentration cinnamaldehyde, five positive reactions each at three percent and at 10 percent. So, you can just get a sense from something like that of the kind of threshold effect, right? Like, okay, we didn’t see any reactions at .1 percent or .3, we saw one reaction at one percent. We saw a big jump, right? Five reactions at three percent. So somewhere between one percent and three percent things are curving upwards substantially, right?
Katja: 26:24 Okay. Wait, but math is hard. Can I ask a question?
Ryn: 26:26 Sure.
Katja: 26:27 So, that is one percent of cinnamaldehyde?
Ryn: 26:31 Right.
Katja: 26:31 But at 10 drops per ounce of the full spectrum of essential oil, how much essential oil percent is in that one ounce?
Ryn: 26:42 Right.
Katja: 26:43 I don’t know if you know that off the top of your head.
Ryn: 26:45 I don’t actually, I don’t. It’s something that I’d like to look into. These things vary really heavily. I know that I’ve looked at things like if you have rosemary essential oil, how much pinene, how much thymol or whatever else is present in there, or if you look at wintergreen essential oil, how much of that is methyl salicylate? And it can vary a lot. Sometimes you look at one constituent and it’s in the essential oil at a 10th of a percent or a hundredth of a percent. Other times, I’ve seen it as high as 98 percent. So essential oils can vary a lot there. And again, I say all of this and we’re talking about this on this podcast this week, not to have definitive answers and say “this is the safe number”, right? I’m just saying these are the kinds of considerations you’re going to be digging into when you start to investigate these things. We’re just kind of taking a tour of the pattern of thinking that you want to start to work with. The questions I had about concentration and about frequency and so on, this is definitely a thing where the more of it you use, the more likely that is to take place. And this does have relevance to the kind of liniment that I was originally talking about in previous podcasts or like the muscle rub we have in our book. Each of these can be used in various ways. Most of the time when I’m thinking about this kind of a soft tissue injury linament or a joint linament, those are things that you’re going to work with because you got hurt. Right? And I’m not expecting that to be a thing that stays with you for, you know, seasons or years on end. We want this to be something that you use when you get injured, you apply your liniment three to five times a day, you do that for a couple of weeks, the joint heels, and now you’re fine and you can stop working with the thing. So there is kind of a time limitation that’s built into the way that I had been thinking about these, but I do recognize that sometimes people have a kind of chronic pain. Especially if you had maybe some low back pain and that was coming from the fact that you sit in chairs all day and don’t get a lot of squats, twists, bends, or other kinds of shapes with your spine and it puts pressure on the discs and so it starts to hurt. In that case, somebody might work with a liniment and use it every day and use it for a really long period of time. They’d be more apt to develop that kind of sensitization than somebody who had a sprained wrist and they work with a liniment for a week and then they stop and then pick it up again later. Myself, liniments and even muscle rubs after an intense workout, I’ll do that, but I can’t think of any three consecutive days where I’ve applied that kind of stuff except for this past weekend where I was doing the MovNat level two certification–which I passed by the way [cheers]–but I had lots of bruises, lots of sore joints, and a whole bunch of stuff going on. So I was working with liniment a lot more steadily over the past few days than I usually do.
Ryn: 29:57 Anyway. That’s just some thoughts around frequency and timing of doses. Now, it has been found that in some people they’re going to react at the first application and that I would look at almost more of being an allergic reaction or that particular substance you’re highly sensitive to. That’s going to happen with any essential oil and really any herb, right? Anytime you’re looking at safety data about plants, there’s always this little asterisk down at the bottom of something that could say, “there could always be idiopathic responses to this plant”, because people can be allergic to basically anything and we can think about how likely is that to be. It’s way more likely for people to be allergic to ragweed than to chamomile, and it’s more likely for people to be allergic to chamomile than to nettle. But those are just sort of guidelines, right?
Katja: 30:58 Certainly somebody will be listening to this thinking, “oh, I’m allergic to nettle”, because I’ve heard that it exists. I have heard of people who have that as an allergy, but things can happen in different ways, in one-off kinds of situations.
Ryn: 31:14 Right. This is usually the case with herbs and herbalism and other preparations, infants, children, elderly people, these are more susceptible to these kinds of reactions. I should also say, here we’re talking about sensitization reactions, which means you rubbed the essential oil or, in this case, the liniment on your skin, and then you get a rash. You get some irritation, some redness, maybe a little swelling; your body is reacting to that. This is not causing liver damage. This is not causing internal bleeding or something like that.
Katja: 31:54 We’ve both had that kind of situation. That happened to you once with chaparral. You had a really good quality chaparral salve and you were using it over time. I can’t remember what was going on, but there was something you were using that for over time on your ankle and eventually you had this little rash break out and you were like, “oh my goodness, it’s the chaparral”. I’ve had that happen because when I was younger and not as well trained an herbalist yet, I thought that I would just put undiluted lavender essential oil on instead of deodorant. I smelled real pretty, but over time I got really sensitized to that. That definitely was a thing.
Ryn: 32:37 Yeah. Anyway, so that’s the thing we’re considering here. People have a history of skin conditions–if they had eczema, if they have dermatitis, if they have multiple chemical sensitivity– these are all people for whom this kind of response is expected to be more common. A couple of other things that came across the table here while I was looking into this one thing that Jennifer noted for me again. Cinnamaldehyde may actually be less likely to cause adverse reactions if it’s in a mixture containing alcohol–something that it can react with–and then the cinnamaldehyde forms a different kind of an amine compound and it’s not as likely to be allergenic or not as likely to cause those reactions. So there is some potential that just because we were mixing the, in this case, liniment with cinnamon oil, that the alcohol might reduce the potentiality for sensitization response. That’s kind of intriguing. That’s something that’s difficult to figure out, but it is something that has been identified.
Ryn: 33:47 There’s another aspect to this that I thought was worth considering. For one, there are various ways that people calculate the percentage of the essential oil in the finished product. A lot of it has to do with variation in estimates on drop size and how many drops makes a milliliter of liquid, for instance. To be clear about my own recommendations, the math I’ve been using has been putting my 10 drops per ounce recommendation at about one percent of the finished products. The way I get there is to say that 10 drops is about one third of a milliliter, since generally when we work with tinctures at least, a milliliter is about 30 drops. You squeeze the dropper in a tincture bottle, you’d let it fill up, you count out the drops, it’s about 30 drops. If you measure it, it’s about one milliliter, so that’s where that comes from. There’s about 30 milliliters in an ounce, so that would make the math one third times one 30th, right? If I have a 10 drops, that’s a third of a milliliter and one milliliter is 1/30th of an ounce. One third times 1/30th is 1/90, and that’s about .01, which is one percent. Okay. Math. [laughter] Obviously that’s still pretty far off from this recommended recommendation to keep your cinnamon essential oil at .1 percent, right? It’s 10 times as much, but I do still wonder where this difference comes in. Maybe it’s in drop size because essential oil bottles and tincture droppers are a bit different. Maybe essential oils have more surface tension so that each of their drops is larger, and that would make the drops per ounce different. Maybe people just use different reference here.
Katja: 35:50 Maybe they were referencing the cinnamaldehyde number and putting that on the overall full spectrum essential oil number. Because that cinnamaldehyde number was .1 percent, right?
Ryn: 36:02 Yeah, in one of the studies that was the lowest.
Katja: 36:05 So maybe they were saying, “that’s the lowest place that we saw a reaction, so that should be our safe number”. But that wasn’t actually the full spectrum of essential oil, it was just the isolated cinnamaldehyde.
Ryn: 36:16 My correspondent Jennifer here was just saying that one of the resources that she uses, particularly from Tisserand, says a milliliter of essential oil is somewhere between 20 to 40 drops. They average that out to 30 just like I would do, but that at the school that she trained at, Aromahead, they use 20 drops per mil as their estimate. So that would lead to a different estimation in how many drops per ounce is going to lead you to a one percent, two percent, or whatever kind of concentration. If you put all this together, you’d also be looking for a chart or try to put together a list. Say you’re looking at topical use and you’re trying to avoid sensitization reactions, or to avoid some essential oils which can cause photosensitivity, like if you put bergamot essential oil into things and rub it on your skin and go right out into the sun, you’re more likely to get a sunburn on that area. That can happen with a number of others. So you’d want to get a chart that had something like: cinnamon essential oil you should use at .1 percent, clove at .5, ginger you can go as high as two percent or maybe a bit more. Something like that could be handy to put together. This does seem to be something that is to be done by type of concern, like how much can you put on before you start to worry about causing a little local irritation, how much before you worry about a photosensitivity with oils for which that’s a problem. Then separately you might have a different one that was like, how much would you start to worry that you’re absorbing it, getting into the bloodstream and causing problems in there.
Katja: 38:06 That would be really serious.
Ryn: 38:09 But it could actually be relevant. We’re going to talk about Tiger Balm in just a minute, so I’ll come back to that. Actually no, let’s go to that now. I’m also interested in comparing this kind of information to the concentrations of oils that turn up in commercial products. So, I looked at Tiger Balm because that’s the kind of commercial product with the greatest essential oil concentrations that I’m familiar with, there may be others out there that are stronger. I did find a data sheet for Tiger Balm Red, and they had camphor essential oil at 11 percent, isolated menthol at 10 percent, cajeput oil at seven percent, clove oil at five percent, and then some extra dementholised mint oil and some cinnamon oil in amounts that were not declared. So you can see that those are quite high, certainly much higher than the one percent, two percent, half a percent, 1/10th of a percent recommendations that our essential oil safety gurus [laughter] like to point us to. Certainly this is not the kind of thing where the FDA has swooped in and gotten people into trouble for that sort of situation. I did not get a chance to look into regulations around essential oil concentrations or if the FDA has a kind of guidance on that sort of thing for manufacturers; I assume that exists, but that’s one of the things I want to look into a little further. Then I also spent a minute looking into some books that we had on the shelf at home and looking at the kinds of recommendations that herbalists have been using for awhile now. In a variety of books, I’ve seen a pretty broad range here. Things like 30 drops or 150 drops of oil per four ounces. That’d be somewhere between seven and 30 or 40 drops per ounce. I saw that as a pretty common thing that people were recommending. I’ve seen things that said to use 35 drops per three ounces, that’d be like 10 drops per ounce, 12 drops per ounce, something like that. It seems like as the books get newer, the recommended amounts get smaller. It does seem like some of the newer books I’ve looked at had 10 or 20 drops per four ounces of essential oil, so you’re looking at two and a half to maybe five drops per ounce of product, things along that line. It seems that over the years, the herbalists’ recommendations for these things have shifted and have mostly declined, come down.
Ryn: 41:10 Again, if I look at my sort of standard idea of “for most of them, try it at like one percent, two percent concentrations”, it seems like I could maybe just get a little more specific about which herbs you want to put on either end of that range. Right? So next time I recommend people to work with cinnamon oil, probably drop it down to that low side or maybe two drops per ounce, something like that, just to be really safe about it. One big issue that I have with myself here is that I somehow went through our whole book and I only ever referenced cinnamon oil and peppermint oil and I somehow completely ignored ginger essential oil, chamomile, or some of the other herbs that we did include in our book that have a safer profile than cinnamon. If you do have my book at home, any place where it says cinnamon essential oil, just write “or ginger” and “prefer the ginger” in those cases because it’s going to do the same basic idea as the cinnamon, but it’s less likely to cause a problem. Especially if you’re working with children, elders, or if you have an existing skin condition, then let’s play it safe here. Switch over to ginger, keep it at one to two percent of your finished product and we ought to be in a good place. All of this said, I do want to make one quick note, which is that I’ve been recommending this liniment at about this concentration for at least three years now. We’ve had a bunch of people buy our book, a lot of people listen to our podcast and I’ve literally never had somebody come back and say that the liniment made in the way that I’ve described it has caused the sensitization. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If it happened to you, this is your chance–write in, let me know. So I don’t know what’s feeding into that, whether it’s people not reporting it or whether it’s that the alcohol combined with the cinnamaldehyde did reduce the potential for sensitization. Or maybe it’s just that in a lab environment, putting isolated cinnamaldehyde on people is a bit different than real world applications.
Katja: 43:15 Well, I think that’s definitely true, regardless of whatever else. I think that you referenced cinnamon oil and peppermint oil because that’s what you were working with a lot at the time. That was in your integrity, that was you giving advice from your personal experience and I think that’s good.
Ryn: 43:37 Also, you’ve commented to me earlier this week, especially during the time we were writing the book and I was kind of solidifying some of those recipes, I had been on a higher-than-previous use of essential oils. I think that in some of our older handouts, we had one or two drops per ounce instead of 10 to 20.
Katja: 44:02 Yeah. I think that still is my guidance. I don’t have a lasting problem with lavender essential oil, but I did develop a temporary problem in that period of time that I was using it consistently as deodorant. And having that experience made me really cautious about essential oils. I don’t not work with them, but I work with them really conservatively. But for the last little while, like the last maybe two or three years, you’ve been really working to formulate variations on Tiger Balm really specifically. Tiger Balm is a product that is intentionally very intense and intended for short-term use. So I think it’s just a matter of style and your ideas about how that would be worked with. The other thing that I was thinking a lot about as you were saying all of this is something that Paul Bergner said once. He said this about herb drug interactions, but I think it’s true in many cases, which is: things are complicated and we don’t know a lot, so just be careful. I think that’s just great advice a lot of the time.
Ryn: 45:19 Yeah. I think, considering the tiger balm example, one thing that really leaps out at me is that high percentage of camphor that they include and also menthol. People are very frequently using isolated menthol at pretty high percentages–10, 12 percent–so, what I’ll probably do next time I make a round of heating salve, muscle rub, or liniment, is look at the safety profile for some of these other plant essential oils. And it may be safe for me to use like 10 or 20 drops of camphor instead of cinnamon, or to use ginger oil. I’m really hyped about ginger oil.
Katja: 46:07 I’m so excited about ginger oil too, actually. I think this is a fantastic idea because ginger is one of my very favorite antiinflammatories. So I’m thrilled at that idea. I can’t wait to try it.
Ryn: 46:19 I’m still kind of interested in making these Tiger Balm-strength liniments, muscle rubs, heating salves, and stuff like that. I’d say more than anything else, this is just a reminder to me that not all essential oils are created equal and that I should be a little more picky about it. So, there you go folks. That was a very long and microscope-focused mea culpa there, and again, I would love to hear from you if you’ve had experiences related to these topics. Otherwise, stay safe. I can at least feel good that I’ve never advise anybody to put 10 drops of essential oil in a glass of water and drink it. [laughter] So, for expectation calibration there, just remember that there are folks out there doing that, or putting neat essential oil on folks’ spines and all kinds of other craziness.
Katja: 47:14 Or using lavender oil directly on their armpits as deodorant. [laughter] Don’t do that guys, it did not work out well.
Ryn: 47:22 Yeah, right. I think that story is good to tell and it does set expectations, right? Because lavender is one of those where people say “yeah, put it on there undiluted, it’s no problem”. I mean, I’ve burned myself with tea tree oil. That’s the other one people tell you that you can just use without diluting. And I found that threshold, you know. Anyway, there you go.
Katja: 47:44 Well, so this is just one of the things about herbalism: there’s so much. I don’t know how anybody could ever contemplate the title ‘Master Herbalist’, except maybe Phyllis Light, because there is so much to know. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I don’t know how you ever get to the point where you just know it, all of it. I think that’s actually one of the most appealing things for both of us about herbalism is that there’s always more to study.
Ryn: 48:16 Definitely.
Katja: 48:18 So, go out there and study, walk on things that aren’t flat, and listen to things that are exciting like the ocean.
Ryn: 48:28 Like the waves. I think I’m going to go get in that water.
Katja: 48:31 Yes! Let’s do it.
Ryn: 48:33 Alright folks, we’ll see you next week.
Katja: 48:34 Bye-bye.
Join our newsletter for more herby goodness
Get CommonWealth newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.