Not all Oils are the Same
Before we go into Essential Oils themselves, let’s examine the differences between Oils prepared Āyurvedically and those that are not.
The way Oils (Tailams) are made in Ayurveda is very different than how they are often made commercially. So, first things first. Not all massage oils that are called “Āyurvedic Oils” are actually “Āyurvedic.” Just because they contain herbs doesn’t mean that they were made properly. Thus, they will not do what they are described to do. So do read beyond the label, please!
The process of making oils is part of a larger medicine making protocol called Bhaiṣajya Kalpana. A Bheṣaj is any product used properly to treat a condition. The term Kalpana implies the process of change that occurs when two or more substances are actively combined. This means that when two or more things are cooked together, they become a third, new thing. This is why it is important to know how your oils are made because if the process used to make them was not the one described in the Āyurvedic texts (the Samhitas), the result will not be the intended new, “third thing.”
How Are Āyurvedic Oils Generally Prepared?
Most oils are made by creating an herbal decoction – called Kaṣaym – that is prepared by adding herbs to a liquid (oil, milk, and/or water) and reduced. Usually, the reduction is by 75%. Then, this decoction is mixed with the base oil (Sesame, Mustard, Coconut etc) and reduced again. Sometimes to this decoction and oil combination, the preparer adds something called a “Kalka,” which is another combination of often different herbs mixed together into a sticky ball. All of these elements are cooked until all water is evaporated. Then, the oil is sealed and can be used. Usually, nothing else is added.
There are no essential oils added to classical Ayurvedic Massage Oils.
Additionally, all Āyurvedic Oils need to be cooked until a certain point. If all the water is not cooked off, it is called “Āma Paka.” Remember Āma from the digestive tract conversation? This is the same concept. Āma is that which is incompletely processed and can clog systems. Because there is still water in the substance, it can go bad – thus the shelf life decreases as well as the potency. Minimally, all Āyurvedic Oils need to be cooked until they are “Madhyam Paka,” which means they can safely be used on the skin and can be consumed internally.
Many modern Āyurvedic oils on the market are only cooked until they are “Āma Paka” and then essential oils are added to enhance the smell and idea of intensity. (This is due to Tikṣna guṇa (Sharp Quality) – the intensity is only external, but the immediate experience is sharp and penetrating so it feels like it is working. We’ll discuss this more below!)
Essential Oils and Tinctures…What are They Made of?
Before we can get into Essential Oils, we should talk about tinctures and anything made with alcohol because they contain similar properties.
Tinctures fall under a Kalpana sort called “Sandhānas” which means Fermented. Anything that is fermented contains Amla Rasa – the sour taste, which we discussed a few weeks ago. Thus, it is heavy and hot in qualities. It can aggravate Pitta. Rakta, and the in some cases, the heart. They should also be avoided in Summer or in places of the world where it is hot.
Things that are fermented become : light, sharp, hot, and subtle (which means they are deeply penetrating). They also share some other qualities inherent in viṣa (poisons), which are : Vyavayi, Vikaśi, and Aśukari. This means they spread everywhere and bypass digestion, break connections between cells in the body, and are very quickly spread.
i.e. maybe reconsider Apple Cider Vinegar and Kombucha drinking for “health.”
The thing about tinctures is that historically they were made with particular alcohols relative to the plant being processed. So, not all alcohols support the qualities inherent in every herb, and not all part of the plants are usable. Ayurvedic is very particular which part of the plant is usable in different situations and what should be mixed with what. (If you recall the conversation around digestion and āma, not all things mix well together.)
Also, because alcohol is vyavayi, vikaśi, aśukari, and tikṣna, it means that it will have a very quick effect, but will be ephemeral. Thus, it will work, but will not last long. This implies that if we are looking for real healing as opposed to temporary symptomatic relief, substances made from alcohol or contain substances with similar qualities to alcohol, (like tinctures and essential oils), should probably not be used.
Tinctures and Essential oils do not teach the body to behave differently. They only manage momentary symptoms. Whereas classically made Ayurvedic Oils, because of how they have been processed and because they engage with the digestive system (because they are not vyavayi, vikaśi, aśukari), have the ability to educate the body and create lasting change.
What are Essential Oils Used For?
Essential Oils should only be used to treat complaints with the mind (Manas). This is because they are extremely sharp (tikṣna) and volatile. The body has no ability to digest something like this and thus it should not be consumed internally – and really should be used sparingly on the skin.
Diffusing E.O.’s are wonderful ways to create calmness in the mind, but they will not treat any condition that is other than mental. The inhalation of E.O.’s can give a wonderful and consistent experience through the sense of smell (Gandha) which can reprogram behavior. It does this by creating routine and positive association, but expecting them to do more is actually quite dangerous for health.
When consumed orally or directly on the skin, Essential Oils immediately burn Rasa and Rakta dhatus causing complications there. This is why people who regularly use Essential Oils for everything develop strange rashes and digestive complaints. This is the aggravation of Rasa and Rakta.
Additionally, many Essential Oils are mixed with a base oil to reduce their sharpness (tikṣnatva), but because they are only mixed together, the combination does not have much potency beyond smell, but are still caustic.
Consuming E.O.’s is not only dangerous but is also wasteful.
Why consume rose essential oil when you can cook down rose petals? The amount of energy that goes into pressing something into an essential oil is not the wisest way to consume a substance. It makes it difficult and dangerous to digest and more of the product is used than necessary.
In the Samhitas, one of the important aspects of practicing any medicine is that the plants and animals used to produce it should be picked at the right time, planted/harvested properly, and only what is needed should be used. Otherwise the practice of Āyurveda is out of sync with the world, and will not work properly.
Remember, there are no shortcuts to health.
Questions? Want to discuss this more? Let’s connect!