Essential Oils: Magic Potion or Scientific Solution? (part 1)

Essential Oils: Magic Potion or Scientific Solution? (part 1)

Witch brewing potion

Essential oils have a long history in magical practices. In this modern era, such beliefs and practices are not held on as strongly as before.

But, with the association that essential oils have with its past, it questions the credibility of its effectiveness and therapeutic claims. 

Do essential oils work? Are they considered magic?

We will explore the history of essential oils. From where and how they were being used, to the reasons why some find it hard to believe that it works. 

Essential oils come from herbal medicine which focuses on the usage of plants. Given its many benefits, it is hardly surprising that most cultures believed them to have medicinal and magical abilities.

As such, it was assumed that for thousands of years, herbs were used as a ritual for their magical powers. In many traditional societies, the world is believed to be shaped by good and evil spirits.

Illness is thought to stem from possession by evil spirits or malignant forces and shamans are expected to bring about a cure. [1]

Shamanistic societies from Siberia to the Amazon believe that, in serious illness, the soul of the sick person has been taken over by malign forces.

The shaman’s role is to heal both the physical and the spiritual dimension of the illness. The patient cannot be cured until his or her soul has been freed from evil spirits.

Shamanistic ceremonies and rites to heal the sick person’s spirit include dancing, chanting, drumming, playing games, and the stirring of ashes or sprinkling of water.

By taking hallucinogens such as peyote, the shaman is able to reach out to the spirit world and heal both the individual and the community as a whole. 

For example, they mostly consumed psychoactive plants for its hallucinogenic properties. The Huichols of West Mexico ate fresh and dried peyote buttons. Other psychoactive agents could be inhaled or brewed as tea. [2] 

They also provide medical treatment by putting salves and compresses on wounds.

With the development of science and medicine, people hardly believe that a sickness involves evil spirits. As such, there is no need for rituals with herbs or oils to heal them.


There also exists a biblical love drug. A mandrake appears in the bible, in the writings of Shakespeare and in tales of witchcraft and magic.

They are indigenous to the Middle East and Central and Southern Europe.

Roots of mandrake (mandragora officinarum) are spindle-shaped and often branched in a way that suggests a human figure.

This led the ancients to believe that it possessed fertility-promoting and libidinous properties by sleeping with them under their pillows at night. [3]

Apart from its aphrodisiac properties, mandrake was said to be a charm against evil spirits and a universal cure.

Legend has it that when wrenched from the earth, the plant would shriek and cause all who heard it to go mad and die. [4] Doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s the same mandrake plant in Harry Potter! 

Sage burning

Witches believe that these herbs provide benefits for healing the same as it does for any other magical spells or hexes.

A ritual of cleansing smoke is beneficial to an energetically healthy home. [5] For example, sage is the go-to for most people.

The weakest smoke tool is floral smoke such as lavender. Flowers are well suited to brighten a space. Leaves are stronger and are good for refreshing the energy of a space. The roots of a plant are stronger magically than its leaves.

They will remove energies and entities that were not bothered by leaf smoke. The strongest smoke tool of the plant ally families is the resin group such as frankincense and myrrh.

Witches used frankincense as a smoke tool for removing negative energy and entities in a home. This gives a preconceived notion that there exists negative energies in our home regardless and there is a need to rid of it.

A more modern approach to this would be diffusing frankincense essential oils instead.

Does this mean we are still following the beliefs of witches? Are we taking part in their practices?

Let's look out how these practices have changed since the time of spiritual beliefs.


The first recorded written accounts of medicinal plants were the Ebers Papyrus of c. 1500 BCE.

It lists dozens of medicinal plants, their uses and related spells and incantations.

The herbs include myrrh, castor oil and garlic. By about 500 BCE in developed cultures, medicine began to separate from the magical and spiritual world.

Hippocrates the Greek “father of medicine” considered illness to be a natural rather than a supernatural phenomenon, and he felt that medicine should be given without ritual ceremonies or magic. [6]

In early 1900s Greece however, traditional herbalists were persecuted due to political conflict in licensing for practicing medicine. [7] The word itself became an insult and means “trickster” or “quack”.

In France and Italy, experienced traditional herbalists were imprisoned for providing treatment to their patients. [1]

As the knowledge of herbal medicine transitions into natural medicine, it creates new instances for discrediting essential oils. Essential oils earned a bad reputation because of greed and misinformation. [8]

MLM empires were built using essential oils. Attracting customers who are looking for alternative medicine and wanting to earn a quick buck alike. This misaligns its purpose to be sales-focused.

The targeted marketing strategy has also changed to “manipulate” the buyers. For example, they claim their essential oils to be of “therapeutic grade”. However, there is no such thing as “therapeutic grade”.

Therapeutic grade oils are a label made by the company for marketing purposes. They have their own standard of what makes up an essential oil to be considered “therapeutic grade”.

But, there is no regulatory body that provides a consensus on the standard of therapeutic grade. As such, it is up to the company to label on their own will. So remember, there is no such thing as “therapeutic grade” oils [9].

Quackery in essential oils are found in instances where the seller is upselling herbal medicine to make a huge profit.

Examples include Andrew Weil and his own brand of supplements under the name Dr. Weil’s Select.

Visitors to the website can buy his Memory Support formula containing ginkgo for $56.10, his Joint Support formula containing glucosamine for $72 and his Energy Support formula containing large quantities of vitamins for $72.60.

Another scenario is where Deepak Chopra promotes ayurvedic supplement, oils, massages and herbs under the brand name Chopra Center. He also sells books, videos, aromatherapies, jewelry, gifts and music.

One year of anti aging medicines can cost as much as $10k. [10] The lack of trust in essential oils rises when consumers of these products are overpromised and expect incredible results as justified by its price tag.

Since there is no trust in the products, many believe essential oils don’t work.

Deepak Chopra has also stopped attending to customers personally and ceased to renew his MD license after 1993. He says, “I don’t consider myself a religious or spiritual leader. I consider myself a writer who explains some of the ancient wisdom traditions in contemporary language.”

It just shows he cannot be professionally accountable for his advice.

The effectiveness of essential oils are also known to be placebo effects by those who don’t believe. Research with inconclusive testing often show the lack of a placebo-control in their experiment.

As such, there is a need to validate research to include a placebo-control to verify if the effectiveness of essential oils are valid.

For example, an experiment was done to find the effects of lavender essential oil to treat migraines in a placebo-controlled clinical trial. They have found that inhalation of lavender indeed is an effective and safe treatment, not just a placebo effect. [11]

We will explore more into the scientific side of essential oils in part two!

Finally, instances in which essential oils were used in the past gave rise to the doubt in its effectiveness. More than that, the credibility of essential oils are being questioned.

In this age of reasoning, many people don’t believe in the existence of magic. Many believe everything can and has to be explained by science for it to be relevant.

As many magicians say, you have to see it to believe it. In this case, you have to use the essential oils for yourself to see if they work for you.


The article written represents the writers' opinions based on their findings. It is not meant to be expert/medical advice. Users are solely responsible for fully understanding the safety and risks of essential oils. 

[1] - Chevallier, A. (2016). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments. Penguin.

[2] - VanPool, C. (2019). Ancient medicinal plants of South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(23), 11087-11089.

[3] - Carter, A. J. (2003). Myths and mandrakes. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 96(3), 144-147.

[4] - Gerald, M. C. (2013). The Drug Book: From Arsenic to Xanax ; 250 Milestones in the History of Drugs. New York, NY: Sterling.

[5] - Blackthorn, A. (2018). Blackthorn's Botanical Magic: The Green Witch’s Guide to Essential Oils for Spellcraft, Ritual & Healing. Weiser Books.

[6] - Offit, P. A. (2013). Do you believe in magic?. on Violence Decline, 57.

[7] - Hionidou V. (2016). Popular Medicine and Empirics in Greece, 1900-1950: An Oral History Approach. Medical history, 60(4), 492–513. 

[8] - L.V. (2020, June 9). FTC Warns 16 Multi-Level Marketing Companies About Coronavirus Fraud. FORBES. 

[9] - Essential Oils FAQ | Plant Therapy. (2020). Plant Therapy. 

[10] - Wheen, F. (2005). How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world: a short history of modern delusions. PublicAffairs.

[11] - Sasannejad, P., Saeedi, M., Shoeibi, A., Gorji, A., Abbasi, M., & Foroughipour, M. (2012). Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. European neurology, 67(5), 288-291.

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