Essential Oils-The Basics: Uses, Cautions and Breastfeeding

As an Herbalist and Lactation Consultant, I get, read and hear some great and even some unusual and even disturbing things about Essential Oils. There is confusion on what an essential oil is, how it is supposed to work and how many treat themselves and even consume these things called in short EO’s. Sometimes I just shudder. 

Essential oils are made to work through the limbic and olfactory systems in the brain. Smells can recall memories both good and bad. These smell can also trigger healing functions in the body. Think of smells that can calm, alarm and even make you sick. Just think of the smell of cookies, vanilla, skunk, coffee, lavender, heather, burning wood and a fresh rose or rosemary. Each of these can bring back memories both good and bad.

Essential oils are made in two ways. Most are distilled from the plant or flower and are the consistency of water or very light oil. They are not thick or what we would feel is greasy. Some Essential oils are heavier and more viscous if they come from a resinous plant such as Frankinsence, Copal Resin, or Myrrh. Some EO’s are cold pressed, but few are. To get essential oil it takes a lot of the plant material to make even one ounce. It takes 1,000 pounds of rose petals to get one (1) ounce of rose essential oil. These oils can be and are expensive depending on the plant material used.

Essential oils are not Tinctures, those are the flower or plant material placed in consumable alcohol (vodka, wine, or other grain alcohol)  and allowed to extract medicinal properties of the plant.

Fragrance oils are not Essential oils. These are oils that can be made in a laboratory, and may or may not include the actual EO or the plant material. These are used in perfumes, soaps and other items. The cost is much cheaper than essential oils. Their consistency is more oily,  and these are more likely to contain adulterants.

Infused oils are not EO’s. Infused oils are plant materials placed in carrier oil and are usually used for fragrance, cooking and flavoring foods. The herbs are placed in olive, shea, cocoa, jojoba, almond or coconut oils and allowed to sit for weeks to extract flavors and smell of things like rosemary, garlic, peppers. These types are edible. Plain of these olive, and other oils are called Carrier Oils. These are what you are to dilute essential oils in before application.

Gas Chromatography is the standard test of excellence for each oil as to smell, weight and viscosity. If a company cannot supply a copy of this test for you, i would not use them. Look for bottles that say “therapeutic grade” on them. This action is what most massage and other therapists look for when selecting oils. Make sure they are kept in dark bottles, brown, blue or green, and away from sunlight or extremes of temperatures. Never store in a refrigerator.

Cautions with essential oils. Essential oils, no matter what some sales people tell you, ARE NOT for Oral consumption. Even when diluted into lots of water, or other beverages. True example, a friend of mine who is a singer, had sore throat so she used a lemon and myrrh in her water to drink for a sore throat. even 1 drop of each in 8 ounces of water, burned her throat so bad, she had to wait for 8 months to get her voice back, She wasn”t able to talk well for weeks, and yes it too that long to heal her throat and vocal cords to be able to sing. Very rare are the ones that can be used orally.

Oils should not be applied “neat”. There are oils that can be applied neat,or undiluted, like lavender, and tea tree for certain issues. However, take into consideration where you are applying them! Sore nipples, lips, genitalia, burns, can cause further damage and irritation. Before application, take a good amount of a carrier oil and place a drop or two of essential oils in and shake. Then apply that to the skin. Do not place on an infant or child’s face. feet are acceptable and small amounts of oil can be used in a diffuser for a room. Some essential oils can dry up a supply and use caution. I will get to those in a later blog. Again if applying to breasts, use a carrier oil and not directly on nipples. Do not get in or around the eye area. Always wash you hands after handling essential oils.



Drying up your Milk Supply Quickly and Comfortably.

This is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to cure, treat or diagnose any illness or disease. See a qualified Health Practitioner or IBCLC for your specific issues. 

Drying up a milk supply is done for many reasons. Weaning should be done gradually over time, but for some who are nursing this may not be the case. For most this is a delicate time and can be frustrating, sad and even painful physically and emotionally. For those this Simply Herbal empathizes with you and your family. It is completely fine to cry, mourn and be angry. There is no shame in these feelings.

Some parents chose not to breastfeed for whatever their reasons. This Blog is not about those various reasons. Remember a child can be bottle-fed skin to skin, wear baby and do other things as if you were breastfeeding.

Things to remember: Do drink fluids. Unless there is a valid medical reason, fluid restriction is not recommended.

Do Not, Bind your breasts. It is uncomfortable, can contribute to plugged ducts, mastitis that is more painful and milk may leak anyway. Do wear a good fitting well supportive bra free of underwires, and extra tight bands. You may need a little cup room for some cabbage leaves or a breast pad.

Most folks do well drying up a milk supply. You only pump or express enough milk off for comfort to relieve pressure and minimize any tissue damage. They drink 2-4 cups of sage tea a day or using tincture 1-3 droppersful per day. Homeopathic Lac Caninum 30 c also helps.  The majority place cold/ cool cabbage leaves in their bra and change the leaves as they wilt and put fresh ones in for 24-48 hours. For most this works well.

Herbs that are known to dry up a milk supply are Parsley (cilantro), Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Mints, Cabbage. Some commercial brands of antihistamines are also dry up milk. Hormonal birth control is also known to dry or minimize supply as well.

The parents I usually see have waited until milk has come in and they are bursting and in pain and may not have or been able to reach out for help. In these cases I have used a somewhat unconventional way of drying up the supply while being able to safely save some early colostrum or milk to feed to infant in case of illness or formula intolerance. ( We freeze it)  This is my route and always asking the patients permission to assess and touch breast area, I will take a bit of olive or jojoba oil and rub into my hands. I massage the breast using a reverse pressure softening, massage. I make sure that I show mom how to do this and to get under the breast and up into the underarm area. I try to express a little off the nipple and areola into a cup. I then use a hospital grade or other good breast pump and allow the mom to pump both sides until the breast is very soft, almost dry. I then do the cabbage leaves in the bra for about 30 minutes, until wilted. I also have mom take my dry up formula or sage tea every 4-6 hours during day.  Usually we have to pump off only 1 or two more times, replacing the cabbage leaves as they wilt. After the 3rd a partial pumping we do not pump or express any more. Basically the first pump or two is to get the breast empty and dry as possible. and allow the cabbage to do its magic with less interference.  Does this consultation take a bit longer? Yes, but many are grateful. I usually pick up the pump in 24 hours as after that it is not needed.

Interesting story. I had a mom who about accidentally dried up her supply over a day or two of eating several servings of Tabouli. A dish made with cilantro and parsley.  She did recover her supply by using the Milk In formula and her pump she had for work. She continued to nurse for several months.

These are just suggestions to aid families that choose to or cannot breastfeed. Hope this helps.


Herbal Breastfeeding Supplements and Epilepsy

Again this is for educational purposes only and not a substitute for a doctor or health care providers professional advice.

A couple of months ago a fellow lactation consultant called me about a client taking two specific medications for epilepsy carbamazepine and lorazapam. The parent was having issues with a low milk supply and wondering what galactagogues and herbs she could take with these medications for her issues. She and the LC brought this information to her health care providers to make a plan. I just gave them information. I caution always go the safest route and if that includes supplementation do so. I also found an interesting information in Herb books and link to the Epilepsy Society of Southern New York Inc.  It gives a more comprehensive list of herbs, supplements and alternative medications for avoidance in other than just lactation.  I did not include CBD oil as that is another blog completely.

These were the findings for this situation.

No’s for reasons stated.

Ashwanganda,  not drug compatible

Black Cohosh, 1 seizure reported use with caution. Homoepathic use is probably ok. Blue Cohosh no as well. Both have been used in herbal anti-seizure protocols, but does by dose interfere with and counteract medications and can increase seizure activity as well.

Borage, Evening Primrose oil, Black (cumin) Seed oil,  It is the GLA (gamma lenoleic acid) interferes with the receptors and reactions with medications. No essential oils for these either.

The following herbs lower the threshold for convulsant activity and you must avoid the essential oils of these as well.

Hops, Valerian, Skullcap, Passionflower, also increases sleepiness.

Dong Qui, Sassafras,, St. Johns Wort, Kava, Mate’, Kola nut, Gingko, Grapefruit juice, Ephedra, Ginseng, Hawthorn,. Kava, Mate, Kola are high in caffeine and increases the chance for seizure activity, these also interfere with medications and medication responses.

Star Anise, Especially the Essential oil. It is a known abortificient. We also never know if it is Japanese or Chinese origin and can be contaminated. The Essential oil is known to cause seizures.

Saw Palmetto is a caution as there is a report of convulsant activity noted.

Avoid Dill and Fennel Essential oils. As a food in small doses it is usually fine.

Lemon Balm interferes with the medications and is in the mint family and may dry or lower supply as well. Avoid overuse of the tea.

Wild Lettuce or Lactuca Virosa interferes with the medication. Homeopathic form should be fine for lactation.

Cautionary use: Goat’s Rue (galega officinalis) is known at high doses to cause seizure activity especially in animals. Overgrazed sheep, goats, Interrupted small dose or homeopathic use should be fine.  This is different from Rue (ruta graveolens) or herb of grace. It should not be used in pregnancy, but is used and known to have anti-convulsant activity and is used for such. Homeopathic use is fine.

Now for better news. These are herbs a breastfeeding parent can use with these medications and others for this specific disorder.

Moringa in food amounts is safe and medical research is showing anticonvulsant activity and may be considered useful in epilepsy. no more than 2-3 grams a day.

Oat Straw lifts depression, great for nerves hot flashes and is used in epilepsy treatments.

Shatavari (asparagus root) is fine.

Vitex also called Chaste Tree berry is known to increase the seizure threshold.

Sesame Seeds are known to increase milk supply and is used in Tradition Chinese Medicine.

Cumin (regular) and black cumin seeds in moderation. See the note above on GLA.

Alfalfa is fine and is safe during pregnancy and nursing. Caution too much alfalfa can cause gas and diarrhea. Cut back on dose if you find this to be of concern.

Red Raspberry leaf safe during pregnancy and is known to build supply. These are also part of the rose family and includes blackberry leaf as well. So these teas are safe as well.

Milk Thistle is a great liver cleanser, hormone modulator and safe with these medications.

Dandelion is safe, it helps the liver, moderates thyroid levels, and is a great potassium sparing diuretic.

Fenugreek in moderation is fine as well. Some folks just don’t like to smell of syrup.

Tinctures in vinegar base are fine. If alcohol based place tincture dose in hot water to steam off the alcohol.

I strive to help parents nurse their children successfully and happily as long as they wish.  M. T.

Some resources i used.  PDR for herbal medicines, Commission e monographs, Green Pharmacy by Dr. James Duke, Herbs for women Dr. Aviva Romm, Mosby;s Handbook of Herbs and Natural supplements, Epilepsy society of Southern New York Inc, Chinese Materia Medica,, professionals, The Clinician’s handbook of Natural Medicine, Mosby’s drug guide. Many other resource guides as well.



Food and Safety

Using herbs in food can add many health benefits provided it is done the right way. Whether you use fresh herbs or store-bought, using herbs cans surely enhance any meal.  They not only flavor food and bring a great aroma to any home, but herbs also contains antioxidants that may help protect you against such diseases as cancer and heart disease.


It is said that Basil can be used to aid in digestion, and can also ease stomach cramps and constipation. Basil is a  member of the mint family, basil is also said to have a slightly sedative effect and has been recommended by some herbalists for use in anxiety. Others also claim that basil is a helpful in memory enhancement. Although these uses has not be proven many people swear by it.


How wonderful is the smell of Rosemary!  Did you know that this herb often used to flavor meat dishes? It is also used in cosmetics and soaps.

Other uses for rosemary include infusions being used to enhance memory, and as a mild analgesic to relieve headaches and other minor body aches and pains. This aromatic herb often used to flavor meat dishes, also lends its zesty aroma to cosmetics and soaps. Traditionally, rosemary infusions have been used to enhance memory, and as a mild analgesic to relieve headaches and other minor body aches and pains.

Planting Herbs

If you if want to plant an herb garden Horticulturists recommend planting herbs after the last day of frost in the spring to avoid losing plants to a late freeze.

Substituting Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs

If you are going to use fresh herbs in a recipe use 3 times as much of the fresh herb as you’d use a dried herb. It’s better to substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs, rather than dried for fresh.

When to Pick or Purchase Herbs

Try to purchase the herbs as close as possible to the time you plan on using them. If you are growing herbs in your own garden the best time to pick the herbs is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets too hot. This helps ensure you get the best flavor and it will last a little longer when you store it.

Storing Herbs

Store fresh herbs in an open or a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you can’t find those commercial perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.

If you want to extend the freshness of your herbs, be sure to snip off the ends of the stems on a diagonal. Place the herbs in a tall glass with an inch of water, like you would cut flowers. Don’t forget to cover them loosely with a plastic bag to allow for proper air circulation. Place them in the refrigerator and change the water daily. Herbs may last  you a week or more if stored in this way. Try not to store the herbs too long as they will tend to lose their taste.

What Is An Herbalist?

An herbalist is a person who studies and is knowledgeable in the healing and beneficial properties of plants and other botanicals.

A major part of an herbalist’s work is to identify various herbs and know their use and purpose. Many herbalists  are also very skilled in the knowledge of how to collect and store the herbs properly to ensure that they will work as intended.

Herbalist who gather herbs in their natural wild state are called “wildcrafters”.  While many herbalists enjoy wildcrafting, many other herbalists grow their own herbs.  This helps them ensure the purity of their preparations.

In addition to knowing what a plant is used for a good herbalist always ensures that they have access to a trusted supply of herbs which are safe for their customers.

A true professional herbalist is also aware of potential drug interactions between various herbs and different pharmaceuticals, and will always vigilantly discuss and view a patient’s situation before prescribing an herbal remedy.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Mechell Turner, Certified Clinical Herbalist