When Natural Health Can Be Dangerous: Part 2 an Interview with Lea Harris on Proper Usage and Education

I am so excited about Part 2 to When Natural Health Can Be Dangerous! You can read part 1 here. My goal with these posts are not to discourage you from using natural remedies, but to encourage you to do your research and thoroughly learn about these tools before you begin implementing them. Before we begin, I want to take a moment to say I am not bashing anyone who chooses to work with an MLM company when it comes to using essential oils. This is such a hot button topic. But I do want to encourage people to please please please do your research and make sure you are using oils or any other natural remedy properly before using them and teaching others how to use them. I have become extremely passionate about this topic and making sure people are understanding information and approaching these remedies safely.

Ok so back to the actual post. I was beyond excited and went all fan girl squealing when Lea agreed to let me interview her. I even called a friend squealing like a little girl. Lea is so awesome and a wealth of information, but she is very approachable and wants to share her knowledge.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Lea Harris, and I started blogging back in 2006 with my natural health website, Nourishing Treasures. I became a Certified Health Coach in 2012 through Beyond Organic University. In 2013 I launched LearningAboutEOs.com and worked my tail off to become a Certified Aromatherapist, graduating from Aromahead Institute in July 2013. I founded the ever-growing Using EssentialOils Safely facebook group in December 2013, which currently has over 66,000 members. In February 2014, I became a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist after graduating from Aromahead's Scholar's Program.

Not to limit myself to aromatherapy, I also educated myself in the herbal world. I completed both of the Herbal Academy of New England's (HANE) Intro and Intermediate courses, graduating as a Certified Herbalist in April 2014.

I am currently a volunteer for the Alliance of Aromatherapists publications committee, and a contributing writer to HANE's website, as well as the Natural Herbal Living magazine.

In March, I launched UsingEOsSafely.com to match up with our FB group name. You can also find me on Pinterest,Twitter, and Google+.


What does and herbalist and aromatherapist do?

Both herbalists and aromatherapists help to guide people on natural remedies. Herbalists are trained in the proper and safe usage of herbs for remedies, while aromatherapists are trained in the safe and proper usage of essential oils. I feel blessed to have the background from both worlds, as both herbs and essential oils have much to offer when it comes to helping the body heal, elevating mood, relaxing after a stressful day, and many other areas.

Some people question the validity of aromatherapist and whether they are actual experts in the field. What are your thoughts on this and what would you say makes you an expert or gives credibility to your advice and teaching?

 Well let's start with the "some people" part of your question. I am going to assume that the kind of people that would want to discount hundreds of hours worth of training are one (or more) of the following: not trained themselves; promote unsafe practices; involved with a company which promotes unsafe practices; are a company which promotes unsafe practices.
Next, let's look at the word "aromatherapist." Anyone can call themselves an aromatherapist. A hobbyist or enthusiast can technically call themselves an aromatherapist. In order to use the title Certified Aromatherapist, you have to have specific training from an approved school, such as Aromahead Institute, where I graduated from.  Aromahead specifically teaches uses of essential oils based on proven sscientific research. You also learn proper dilution guidelines and safety recommendations based on research from true experts in the field. Aromahead also teaches anatomy and physiology, which is essential to knowing how essential oils work in the body. There is a LOT to learn. Certified Aromatherapists have received 200+ hours of training from a reputable school approved by Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) or NAHA (although the NAHA requirements are not as strong). I personally have gone though the Scholar's Program from Aromahead Institute, which allows me to use the title of Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, according to the guidelines set by AIA, as one with 400 hours of education through Aromahead. Not all schools are reputable, so if you're looking for one that is, be sure to check AIA's list
Now let's look at the word "expert." To me, an expert is one who has not only formal training, but experience as well. I share what I have learned with many on a daily basis, and some have called me an expert, but this is not a title I am personally comfortable with and is certainly not self-described. Perhaps in a couple of decades you can call me an expert, but it feels odd to call me that now :)
To wrap up before I address the question specifically: just because someone runs an essential oil company does not make them an expert on essential oils. Their primary goal is to run a business and make money. They can be very good at sales, and perhaps they even use essential oils themselves for a long period of time. But unless they are properly trained, they will not know the safety side of essential oils, and they are doing their customers a disservice if this is the case. Taking the time and making the investment to get official certification from a reputable school will be an eye-opening experience.
 Finally, to address the point of your question: why should anyone listen to me? I do have hundreds of hours of training from a reputable school that is highly respected, and I am not a sales rep who pushes one brand of essential oils, making up more and more reasons to use essential oils every which way possible so you will use your products more quickly and come back to order every month or week. I provide educational information from my training and own personal research from highly respected veterans in the field and I answer dozens of questions daily in the safety group (when you know better, you do better!). If I don't have an answer, I will find one for you. And if I don't know, I will be humble enough to tell you.


What is your favorite herb and essential oil and why?

This is not easy to answer! There are so many wonderful choices, and depending on the need, there will be different answers. But since I have to choose just one, I will go with Elderberry for the herb, and Tea Tree for the essential oil. Elderberry's usefulness for shortening the duration of a virus is impressive – and elderberry syrup tastes good! As for Tea Tree, it is the first essential oil I used, and it is excellent for combating a range of bacteria, fungal, and viral microbes.

What resources do you recommend for people just now beginning to use natural remedies?

I wrote a book, “Using Essential Oils Safely,” which was basically the final report I submitted as part of the requirement to graduate from Aromahead. I offer it for free when you sign up for my newsletter at UsingEOsSafely.com. I also offer on my website a list of educational resources and books that I personally have and love.

As for herbs, I have a list of resources in my herbal facebook group, LearningAbout Using Herbs Safely which include recommendations for the Herbal Academy of New England, Learning Herbs, and Natural Herbal Living. We have over 8,500 members who are very helpful.

How do you decide if a situation calls for using an herb or essential oil and how do you use these in conjunction with one another?

That is an excellent question. I have been asked this so often, I actually wrote apost about this very subject It really depends on the situation and what you have on hand. Generally speaking, herbs are most effective when consumed, where essential oils are best when inhaled or used topically. Often they can be used together, and I will give you some examples here:

For a virus, I would both consume elderberry syrup, and diffuse anti-viral essential oils such as Tea Tree to help kill the germs, and/or keep them from spreading.

For bumps and bruises, arnica (herbal remedy) is a great option for unbroken skin. Helichrysum essential oil is an option as well.

For insomnia, you can consume chamomile tea, as well as diffuse sedating essential oils such as Cedarwood, Sandalwood, and Vetiver.

Here are some examples when herbs are preferred:

Pink eye is definitely an example of when to use herbs and not essential oils. You never want to use essential oils in or near the eyes. Using a dampened chamomile tea bag over the closed eye can provide anti-inflammatory, and anti-histamine actions to provide relieve and reduce itching.

Lavender flowers can be infused in an oil, strained out, and the oil can be added to a bath for a relaxing night's sleep. This is as, if not more, effective as essential oils, and much safer.

Digestive issues are best alleviated with the ingestion of herbs such as peppermint or chamomile, made into a tea.

For adrenal issues, consuming adaptogens such as astragalus, ashwagangha, and licorice can help your body fight stress and actually help the adrenals to heal. Calming essential oils can make you feel better, but won't actually help to heal the adrenals.

For young children, such as those under the age of 6, herbs are probably going to be the most common tool you are going to use.

Now for the aromatherapy side. Here are some examples when essential oils are the best choice:

Bug bites can be relieved by applying a mixture of Tea Tree and Lavender in a carrier oil. I have a recipe here: Bug Bite Soother

For inflammation, anti-inflammatory essential oils can be added to a lotion to provide relief. My recipe can be found here: Anti-Inflammatory Lotion [http://www.usingeossafely.com/noflames]

Scars can be greatly reduced by the topical application of diluted essential oils. I have had many people tell me my Anti-Scar blend has worked well for regenerating skin cells.


The popularity of using natural remedies are on the rise. There is so much information out there especially on line. There are tons of blogs out there like this one that try to teach others about using natural remedies, the only problem is that like myself they most blog writers aren’t experts but moms looking for better ways to help their families. Not that that is a bad thing I am just seeing more and more bad information out there. I want to discuss some of these things with you and clarify some of the misinformation and discuss some of the dangers that can come with misuse of natural remedies.

I totally agree. I started out as a “mommy blogger” and so I totally get being in that place of having a platform and an audience to speak to, and still not having all of the answers. Wanting to know the truth and have the right answer to properly educate myself, my family, and my readers, is what pushed me to get my certifications. I don't want my family to be guinea pigs.

What should you be cautious of when reading information online? How do you determine if the information you are reading is reputable?

Follow the money. Yes, bloggers need an income, and affiliate links are expected. But if the blog posts are mostly sales pitches, and not informational, obviously making a buck is a huge priority. Not to discount  bloggers who have no certifications, as I know from experience that being self-taught and having experience is not meaningless, but see what qualifications they do have. Find out where they are getting their information from. If they are a sales rep of a company, and they are using the marketing materials from the company to provide health advice, stop reading. This is less of an issue with herbalists, as there are not multi-level marketing herbal companies, and the research for herbs is far more extensive. But for aromatherapy blogs, if the writer is a company rep, go somewhere else for your information on essential oils. Unless the rep has taken it upon themselves to get certified, they are not going to have the knowledge needed to properly educate you on safe usage. Aromatherapy certification takes hundreds of hours to complete, and the goal is safety and usage, not sales.

What do you need to know before purchasing herbs and/or oils and what things should you look for in a company? What about companies that claim that there products are pure and therapeutic grade?

Look for companies that have lots of information about their products. Not just promoting their products as wonder drugs, but those which are honest with you about safety issues. Make sure that there are warnings not to use if pregnant or breastfeeding, for young children, and other applicable advice. This is less of a problem with herbal companies. With essential oil companies, safety information is key. I recently published a blog post “How to Tell if anEssential Oil Company is Worth Purchasing From – just by checking out theirwebsite”. The same applies to the question of which blogs to read.

Do essential oils really cause detoxing?

This is a myth to explain away adverse reactions. If you are applying essential oils to the skin undiluted and develop a rash, this is not detox. This is an allergic reaction. Herbs can detox, essential oils – not so much.

Do you recommend using oils or herbs daily? What about boosting your immune system with natural remedies?

I recommend using anything “as needed.” If you need something daily, there is probably a more chronic, underlying issue that needs to be addressed. So generally speaking, nothing should be required on a daily basis long term.

If you are going through a season of stress and you find yourself needing those adaptogenic herbal teas each morning – by all means, consume them. But also consider why your body needs them. Perhaps you need to lighten your load, get more sleep, go to bed earlier, stop chugging the caffeine.

We all go through times where we may be using things daily. Cold and flu season might have us consuming echinacea or elderberry. But this shouldn't be a year-round daily habit.

Essential oils you have to be more careful when using on a regular basis. Diffusing isn't as much of an issue, but topical dilutions should be used no longer than 3 weeks at a time, then rotated out with another essential oil, to lessen risk of sensitization. High dilutions should be used far less often.

Explain the difference in immune boosting and immune stimulation and how these can affect people with an autoimmune disorder.

Immune supporting herbs are gentle enough to use, but for those with autoimmune disorder, stimulating the immune system is not advised. Definitely discuss this with your doctor if you are unsure what you can/can't use.

Are there any oils or herbs that shouldn’t be used on children? Why or why not?

Children's immune systems take a couple of years to fully develop, so there will be herbs and essential oils that will need to be avoided. Generally speaking, with herbs you just give them less than you would for an adult. Due to their concentration, there are essential oils which do need to be avoided around children. I have a list of those here and it includes Clove, Eucalyptus and Peppermint.

What about people with medical problems? Are natural remedies ok for them?

Generally speaking, there is always going to be a natural remedy that can help in some form or fashion. At the same time, medical issues can be contraindicated for certain herbs and essential oils. For example, if you are on blood thinners or about to have surgery, there are some essential oils which may inhibit blood clotting and should be avoided. You can find a list of there here: EssentialOils Which May Inhibit Blood Clotting.

Always do your research before using an herb or essential oil to be sure it is safe for you.

Is it safe to use essential oils and herbs in conjunction with prescription medications?

Yes and no. Some herbs and essential oils can be used safely along with prescription medications, but some are not safe when used together. If you aren't sure, ask your doctor or health professional. Some doctors, however, are not trained herbalists or aromatherapists and may not know. Do your research.

Essential oils and herbs are wonderful tools and I love having these alternatives but is there ever a situation in which you feel you should use traditional medication instead of natural remedies?

Yes, there are going to be times where mainstream pharmaceuticals are going to be preferred. My children are 7 and 11, and I have yet to come across a instance where they needed traditional medication. But if something traumatic occurred that required them to need to go to the ER, I might find myself in a situation where medications might be temporarily required.


What are your thoughts on ingesting oils?

My thoughts are that essential oils should only be ingested while under the supervision of a trained aromatherapist. There are times where ingestion is acceptable, but more often than not, inhalation and topical use are going to be the preferred methods. All aromatherapists trained by reputable schools receive training that acknowledges the three methods of using essential oils (inhalation, topical use, and ingestion), and we respect ingestion as a method that should be used sparingly. If ingesting, adding drops to a capsule (along with a carrier) is preferred, or using internally via a suppository – but never added to water where the concentrated essential oils float on the surface and hit the insides at full concentration. Know that whichever way you ingest, your liver has to deal with the load.


What worries you the most with so much bad information being promoted when it comes to natural health and wellness?

My worry when it comes to essential oils is that people are hurting themselves due to listening to marketing myths and gimmicks which are unsafe. They are ingesting by adding essential oils to water, and giving themselves ulcers and reflux. They are consuming supplements containing essential oils and burdening their liver. They are using essential oils without dilution on their children, causing their skin to burn or become sensitized. Essential oils are concentrated, so it doesn't take much misuse to have an adverse reaction. At least other natural health options aren't as concentrated and the damage isn't as serious as it is with essential oils.


To conclude what tips and advice would you like our readers to know?

Research, research, research! And when you research, please consider the source. Companies who sell essential oils are not usually also educated in proper, safe, essential oil usage. Most companies who sell a product have one goal: to make money by selling more product. This means they might not care as much about safe usage. If you use the essential oils properly, you will use much less. You will not ingest. You will dilute when using topically. Your bottles will last much longer. This means you are spending less money on product.

Finally, if you don't know anything about the product you are using, whether an essential oil or an herb, or whatever it may be, don't use it yet. Learn about it first. Learn what its uses are. Learn what the safety issues are. Then you can use it, armed with the knowledge of how to safely and effectively use it. :)
Did you learn anything new from Lea today? Is there more you'd like to know or understand? Be sure to check out her Facebook groups! What essential oil or herb are you hoping to learn about and try first?
Please consult your doctor before trying any of these remedies. Consulting an expert such as an aromatherapist or herbalist is also a wonderful resource.



  1. Great tips and info regarding natural oils! I was shocked when you talked about the Liver having to take the load. You are so right, people need to become more informed. Great post!

  2. I have always been careful with herbs and oils because really, they're medications. People think that, because they're natural, they're safer. But they are every bit as potent and dangerous as prescription meds. I would love to learn enough to be a herbalist, but for now I stick with the mild, safe ones.

  3. Great interview! I definitely believe in the power of herbal remedies when used safely.


  4. Thanks for all of the great info! My knowledge of aromatherapy begins and ends at lavender!

  5. Such an interesting interview, thank you for sharing! I'm a huge fan of natural remedies and especially essential oils and have been for years. Now that they are gaining more popularity, it's really important that people educate themselves more about it! :)

  6. This is so interesting. I need to read up on all of these oils and herbs. Thanks for the great interview. Stacie xo

  7. These oils and herbs seem to be so popular lately! Thanks for the tips! -M