Cooking with essential oils is a smoking hot topic! Whether you choose to use essential oils in your kitchen is a personal decision. These reasons for not cooking with essential oils are simply the why to the how I season food in my farmstead kitchen.
This topic has been on my mind the last few weeks. I knew I wasn’t comfortable with seasoning our food with essential oils. But I felt like I wanted a clear reason why so if I stumble across information going forward, my resolution stayed firm.
As with all food and health advice, my standard for discernment is to follow the money trail from the source. So before we go any further I just want you to know, I’ve got no stake in the game.
I want to clarify that I’m not talking about ingesting essential oils for medical purposes. Though I do have an opinion on the topic, and deep trust issues (remember that whole money trail thing?), the efficacy and safety of the practice is a can of worms I’m not ever going to open. Ultimately, we’re all responsible for our own choices and decisions. We are all doing the best we can and need to respect that in each other.
Also, I’d like to point out that cooking with essential oils is NOT the same as using an extract like vanilla. Tincture-like extraction is a completely different process from the methods used to isolate the volatile oils in plants. (And see Reason #2 for why volatile oils aren’t the healthiest choice for our foods.)
Beyond all of the current talking points on each side, I think there are 6 very good reasons for not cooking with essential oils on the homestead you may not have heard before.
Cooking with Essential Oils: 6 Reasons to Never Do It
Essential Oils are Expensive
Not sure if you noticed that or not, but depending on where you buy them from, essential oils are expensive! Fresh herbs and spices, not so much. Especially when we’re growing them in our own backyard. Over time, they end paying for themselves many times over both in expense and pleasure.
Using Whole Herbs and Spices is Healthier
Whether you should even ingest essential oils is up in the air. However, whether essential oils lose their health benefits during the cooking process is not. Essential oils no longer add any nutritional value to your food when you cook them. They’re just there for quick (expensive) flavor. If you want your food to be your medicine, whole herbs are a healthier choice.
For the sake of argument though, let’s suppose you’re extremely careful in the cooking process and the essential oils didn’t lose their nutritional value in cooking.
Are they still the healthiest choice?
I would suggest no.
Volatile oils are simply one component of any plant. The fact is that when we use fresh herbs, flowers, citrus, etc. in our cooking there are volatile (essential) oils as one of the constituents in the plant. But there are other constituents too. All of those parts in a plant often work together to create a full, well-rounded nutritional and health profile.
I think willow bark is my favorite example. One of the key constituents in willow bark is salicin which is what aspirin is also made from. But willow bark taken as a pain reliever doesn’t come with the side effects that aspirin does. Because there are other properties in the plant acting together to be gentler on our systems, there is built-in protection. (Not to mention that willow bark is also an antiseptic, antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. But not so with only the acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin.)
Using whole herbs, flowers, and spices, whenever possible, is highly recommended by knowledgeable herbalists.
Essential Oils are Less Sustainable Than Herbs
A homesteading and “local food” lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with being sustainable.
If we want to be earth-stewards and make conscientious choices about what we purchase and consume, cooking with essential oils makes very, very little sense. When you look at the amount of fossil fuel it took to produce one little bottle of essential oils and compare that to the abundance of package-free organic herbs you could walk out your back door and harvest, it’s easy to see which choice is more sustainable.
Not to mention when you learn to cook or perfect your recipes based off of drops of essential oils, you become dependent on the oil supply (pun not intended, but in proofreading there it is-lol!) to keep trucking them to your door.
And if homesteaders are anything, we’re independent!
Cooking with Essential Oils is Antithetical to the Slow Lifestyle I’m Trying to Cultivate
We live in an age of fast and easy consumerism. Convenience foods, convenience packaging, heck, we don’t even want to chop our vegetables ourselves and the trend at farmer’s markets is for the farmer to cut the veggies for their customers. (Like they don’t have anything else to do.) Using essential oils in the kitchen as a convenience food (or ingredient) goes against the grain of one of the many reasons why I love the homesteading lifestyle so much.
I embrace the slow food movement. So after spending an hour in the kitchen preparing our meal and I’m ready to add in that last pop of bright color from the herbs, it’s invigorating, refreshing, and a joy to walk outdoors and snip a bundle of herbs to bring back indoors to finish off the meal. You couldn’t PAY me to give up that luxury!
Essential oils aren’t my backup plan for poor menu planning (which I am notorious for). Neither do I stock microwave dinners “just in case.” Instead, I have a few meals I rotate through on my menu-planning-fail nights. Even if it’s just Buttermilk Pancakes. (Which I really don’t mind if we have our own maple syrup. Talk about a slow food flavoring!)
My Herbs Give Back, Essential Oils Don’t
When I use essential oils in my cooking, they may flavor the food that feeds my family, but they will never go on to also feed my land.
Growing my own herbs allows me to create compost, helps retain soil over the winter, feeds the bees I want to bring to my garden, and create micro-climates where they are planted which nourish the soil food web.
You can’t get that from a glass bottle!
I Can Stockpile My Herbs
When you grow your own herbs there is usually more than enough to use fresh and have enough to dehydrate for use over the winter. (I put up a QUART of powdered sage this year!) With essential oils, there is no way for abundance to happen and bless us with the increase. The gratitude those full jars of homegrown preserved herbs cultivates an attitude of thankfulness that can never be bought in a bottle.
Choosing not to cook with essential oils is simply my preference and practice. As with all things, I would encourage you to do thorough research. Make the best decision for yourself and your family. (Which is easier said than done in the noise of information online, I know.) Once you’ve made that choice, then go forward confident in your decision! Neither judging others nor feeling judged by others… again, we’re all just doing the best we can!
I went somewhere where essential oils are produced and since they have already been cooked at high temperatures, I haven’t used them for cooking and medicine. I thoroughly agree with you about the synergistic value of fresh herbs. I, too, enjoy growing fresh herbs for my pollinators, including the paper wasps who have stepped up to, temporarily I hope, take the place of the beautiful bees. It makes me cry when I do see one of the golden honey bees, they have been missing for a while.