Can You Ingest Essential Oils?

Taking essential oils orally can cause health problems. Learn the safety requirements of ingesting these concentrated plant extracts.

By Amy Kreydin
March/April 2016

Essential oils are so concentrated; it can take up to 2,000 pounds of plant material to yield a single pound of essential oil.


I see it frequently in social media images: Just add X drops of Y essential oil to a tall glass of water and drink. I see it on advice columns with lines such as “boost your health” or “prevent cancer.” Unfortunately, taking this kind of advice could potentially make you quite ill.

Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile compounds extracted from whole or parts of plants—tree resins, flowering shrubs, peels of citrus fruits, seeds, grasses and so forth. A distiller may use hundreds of pounds of plant material and get only a pound of essential oil in return. For example, in the case of rose essential oil, it takes approximately 50 roses to make a single drop of essential oil. It can take 2,000 pounds of plant material from the cypress tree to get a single pound of the essential oil.

At these levels of concentration, a single drop in a glass of water could be the equivalent of drinking boxes of tea made from the same herb. Would you casually drink 50 bags of an herbal tea in a day? Of course you wouldn’t. So, why would you drink a drop of the essential oil without express direction from a medical professional?

Water and Essential Oils Don’t Mix

Another problem with the advice to drink a drop of essential oil diluted in a glass of water is that this is a bad way to deliver essential oils to the body. It can be harmful to the tissues of the mouth and throat. Essential oils don’t mix in water; they need a dispersant. When I’m using them in the bath, I mix them in a dispersant such as milk, sea salt or a carrier oil first so they aren’t floating on the top of the water and irritating that oh-so-sensitive skin when I sit down. I might use a shot glass of milk, or a few tablespoons of sea salts, but I don’t climb into the bath without dispersing the oils first.

When you add a drop to a glass of water, that droplet doesn’t mingle with the water like a drop of an herbal tincture would. It sits there, and you sling that glass back and take a big gulp. The first signs of distress from this method are irritations to the mouth and throat. They can be damaged by this concentrated plant oil, and repeated exposure exacerbates the situation. After a while other foods that don’t normally bother you may start to sting or burn in the mouth or throat. If you keep it up long enough, you risk becoming sensitized to the chemical components in the essential oil—then when you come into contact with ingredients that share one of those components you might break out in hives or trigger a migraine.

Is there any safe way to take essential oils by mouth?

You may be wondering if it is ever safe to ingest essential oils. And the answer is that yes, it can be advisable, but only under the care of a trained medical professional. The trick is to have a digestible transport to get it from the mouth and into the digestive system so it can be taken up into the bloodstream. Some clinical aroma therapists as well as a few nurses and doctors have received this advanced training. Factors that come into play include metabolism, contraindications, known allergens, medications and the nature of the illness in question. Essential oils aren’t to be consumed as a kind of daily multivitamin. Instead, these powerful plant oils are used internally to rid the body of parasites or worms, or in cases of bacterial and viral infections. They’re also called upon when antibiotic-resistant infections can’t be controlled.

Resist Marketing Schemes

Knowing that essential oils should only be ingested for specific maladies on the advice of a trained medical professional, you might be wondering how people can so easily become confused about whether to drink essential oils diluted in a glass of water. Some laypeople who sell essential oils advise taking essential oils internally, and their suggestions can get a lot of traction on social media sites such as Pinterest and Facebook.

Let’s say you have an unopened 1⁄2-ounce bottle of lavender essential oil in your home right now. That bottle contains about 300 drops of essential oil. If you store it in a cool, dark space you can anticipate that this bottle will have a shelf life of around five years: 60 drops per year. With those 60 drops you could have a monthly aromatic bath all year long, or make four 1-ounce massage oil blends.

But if you’re putting one drop in a glass of water every day, my thinking is that you’re a cash cow client. You might be told to ramp up your routine and do two drops, or three. You could go through two bottles of lavender essential oil before a year is up at that rate. That spells big money.