Herbal Body Oils vs. Essential Oils

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Aren’t they the same thing?

Herbal body oils are not essential oils. They are made through a simple extraction process of infusing the whole herb directly into a carrier oil such as olive oil, whereas essential oils are the extraction of only the volatile oils of a plant through the process of distillation. Volatile oils are only one of many categories of plant constituents and are mostly responsible for giving plants their distinctive smell (lavender) or taste (peppermint) which are then used for aromatherapeutic purposes. While whole plant infusions extract the essential oils as well, they also extract other constituents from the plant that essential oil distillation leaves behind such as some resins, flavanoids, and vitamins. Simply put, whole plant oil infusions capture a broader spectrum of the available plant constituents.

I feel it’s important to make the distinction that aromatherapy and herbalism are actually separate practices. Or, perhaps more accurately, aromatherapy is a branch of herbalism or just one modality used within the umbrella of herbalism. Aromatherapy is the practice of using the aromatics of a plant as a supportive healing modality through the use of essential oils and hydrosols (mainly), and can even be pursued as a separate clinical in-depth specialty. Herbalism is the practice of using plants through a variety of preparations such as teas, extractions, powders, powders, tinctures, syrups, essential oils, etc., for supporting the healing of the body, mind, & spirit in a variety of applications often used in conjunction with one another, and even beside Western allopathic medicine and other healing practices. Herbalists vary in their use of aromatherapy in their practice, and feelings about essential oils specifically range from love to loathe.

I’m a dabbler when it comes to essential oils. I keep a handful of essential oils around because I do enjoy them and find them useful here and there, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t employ them beyond personal use to include them in my products. This is mainly due to the sustainability of essential oils at the current rate of use, which perhaps I’ll get into more in-depth at a later time. However, another key distinction between distilled essential oils and infused oil is the amount of plant material required to produce them. Essential oils take many pounds, we’re talking hundreds and up, to produce a small quantity of finished oil of usually an ounce or less, whereas infused oils can produce gallons of finished oil from the same amount of plant material. Which reminds me, infused oils do serve as a great base carrier oil for diluting your essential oils, which you should be doing y’all, because they are highly concentrated. And, please, don’t take them internally. Ever. Good quality essential oils are precious and worthy of being handled with reverence if you’re going to use them. Infused oils don’t require dilution before applying topically, and I consider them the safer choice when it comes to children’s delicate skin and tiny bodies.

How do I use herbal body oils?

While each herb has specific uses for which they are particularly adept, herbal body oils are a highly adaptable and simple means to work with plant allies in your everyday life. Really, you can use them in any situation where you would use massage oil. They are for the whole body!

  • Add a tablespoon or so to your next bath. (Mind the slippery tub!)
  • Give yourself or a loved one a bedtime foot massage.
  • Massage into your earlobes and down along your lower jaw and then along your collarbone.
  • Give yourself a midday hand massage. (Take that break!)
  • Straight up lay a towel down on the floor and apply the oil head-to-toe in whatever fashion feels good to you!
  • Breast self-exam.
  • Use as a spot treatment for bug bites & minor ouchies.
  • Take them along to your next massage appointment.

Additionally, herbal oils may be used as the base for a variety of bath & body products, including as a base carrier oil for diluting your essential oils. Transform them into lotions, scrubs, salves, and even soaps! If the base oil is a culinary oil such as olive oil, you can even (safely!) use herb-infused oils in salad dressings & marinades! Kami McBride does an entire lesson on using calendula-infused oil in a salad dressing recipe in her fabulous online course, Handcrafted Healing Herbal Oils, and I’ve seen chef forums/recipes discussing them as well.

I am already working on another post all about herbal body-oiling, so keep an eye out if you want to hear more about the benefits of working with our beloved plant allies in this way! Consider signing up for my newsletter to be the first to know when that post goes live, and be sure and hit that share button if you know someone who needs to hear about the differences between infused herbal oils and essential oils.

These statements are solely for informational purposes and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products and the information provided on this website are not meant to diagnose‚ treat or cure any disease or medical condition. It is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercise or nutritional supplement program or before using these or any similar products. 


  • https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/what-is-aromatherapy/
  • https://mythicmedicine.love/blog-full-archive/2015/4/what-is-the-difference-between-herbal-body-oils-essential-oils-and-flower-essences