Can You Eat Essential Oils? An Expert Says You Really Shouldn't & Here's Why

Last night, I was baking a spice cake for one of my friends. The recipe was full of so many delicious ingredients, but I'll admit, I hesitated a little as I read the directions that called for almond oil. I have a bottle of what seemed like the same exact stuff for my essential oil diffuser, and I was suddenly curious about how many other oils could cross over into my kitchen. Like, can you actually eat essential oils straight-up, or at least bake them into a larger recipe? Unfortunately, while lavender oil and peppermint oil certainly smell divine, you probably shouldn't start eating them, says at least one expert.

Here's the thing, though: According to registered dietitian/nutritionist Kim Yawitz, it is pretty common to consume essential oils in foods or candies that you buy. "Many food flavorings contain essential oils like cinnamon," she tells Elite Daily in an email. "We also eat many whole foods that are used to make essential oils — for example, orange oil is derived from the rind and zest of oranges."

But before you start chugging one of the cute glass bottles that came with your essential oil diffuser, pump the brakes. While your essential oils and the oils used in some food products are technically the same thing, the difference in potency can vary significantly, says Yawitz.

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"Essential oils are much more powerful than these whole food ingredients, and this is where it becomes tricky," Yawitz explains. A trace amount of lemon oil might appear in a store-bought lemon drop, for example, but drinking lemon essential oil straight (or even diluted), isn't worth the risk, according to the dietitian/nutritionist.

One of the issues with drinking something that's marketed for diffusion, says Yawitz, is that there isn't always rigorous testing or a blanket safety standard for many of these types of products, meaning it's not guaranteed to be safe to eat.

"It’s difficult to say that any specific variety of essential oil is safe to ingest across the board, simply because preparations vary from brand to brand," Yawitz explains. "The FDA doesn’t test for safety or quality before these products hit the market."

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It's true that there's been some research on the health benefits of ingesting essential oil, but that doesn't mean you should try to replicate those trials at home by yourself. For example, one study published in Mymensingh Medical Journal found that consuming peppermint oil daily over a period of six weeks could relieve abdominal pain in people who have irritable bowel syndrome.

But, again, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to try to cure your own stomach pain at home by sprinkling a few drops of the stuff under your tongue, says Yawitz, because clinical trials often deliver these oils in capsules (which she says may be safer), and have close supervision by researchers, should anything go wrong.

"Furthermore," Yawitz tells Elite Daily, "some essential oils can cause irritation or damage to the mouth, throat, and digestive tract. Others can be toxic in large enough doses." For example, one of the active ingredients in oregano oil can sometimes be fatal, she warns, if taken in an unsafe dose. Plus, Yawitz explains, if you're on any kind of medication, consuming essential oil can also potentially mess with your prescription, so it's really not worth the risk.

Bottom line: Essential oil diffusers are beautiful, great-smelling tools that can help deliver certain health benefits by dispersing oils into your environment. Appreciate them for exactly what they are: fragrant, holistic remedies to be enjoyed on the outside of your body.