Essential oils are concentrated liquids extracted from plants. They are called “essential” in the sense that they contain the essence of the fragrance that is characteristic of the plant. Essential does not mean indispensable or usable by the human body. But despite that fact, essential oils have been used in folk medicine throughout history.
In recent times, essential oils have frequently been used in aromatherapy. Generally speaking, medicinal uses of essential oils are controversial, and, in some cases, they have even been demonstrated to be dangerous.
Research has shown that essential oils have potential as natural pesticides. Recently, the USDA has funded research into the use of essential oils to battle pests and diseases of organic crops.
U.S. organic food sales topped $50 billion in 2018 and fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops combined make up more than a third of organic sales. In order to meet consumer demand, farmers need ways to battle pests and diseases that often accompany organic crop growth.
A four-year project at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is entitled “Plant Safety, Horticultural Benefits, and Disease Efficacy of Essential Oils for Use in Organically Grown Fruit Crops: From the Farm to the Consumer.” The researchers will work with certified organic producers in Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and California to evaluate the effectiveness of plant essential oils on major fruit pathogens such as avocado scab, anthracnose fungal disease, and powdery mildew on targeted tropical and temperate fruit crops such as avocado, mango, blueberry, and peach.
The goal is increase orchard productivity of the expanding organic fruit industry.
Photo, posted January 6, 2015, courtesy of Abi Porter via Flickr.