The Human Element in EO Authenticity Part II

May 13th, 2016

Addressing the issue of essential oil authenticity in 2016 is a tedious process. Because of the success of the large corporate players aromatherapy and essential oils are spreading to many new and enthusiastic followers. A seemingly unavoidable element is that to gain such broad success the message needs to be simplified. As a result the discussion about purity and authenticity is mostly framed within the terminology the big corporate players.

One of the most common questions we receive these days from individuals we never heard from before is: “Can your oils be ingested?” How does one answer this in good conscience? How does one respond when a yes or no answer is expected, but a rather layered response is the sensible route.

To approach this issue a little bit of history might help. There was a time in the mid Sixties when EO were a commodity exclusively traded by the fragrance brokerages, often situated in Grasse or New Jersey. At that time, purity as aromatherapy requires it was not an issue, instead quality was seen as a function of the valuable components in an oil. 42% Linalyl acetate in Lavender was better than 37% and 50% Thymol in Thyme was better than 45%. Adding some Linalyl acetate was not adulteration, but improving the quality.

Then came aromatherapy with its desire for pure and authentic essential oils. Originally the folks in the fragrance industry did not have  a lot of respect for the green desires of the aromatherapy buyers. Fragrance engineers had the know how to remove undesirable components and to add desired ones producing what they considered superior products for the use in fragrance and perfume manufacturing.

In addition the demand of the early aromatherapy buyers was so small it was more like a nuisance to the fragrance traders. Certainly not enough to consider changing the entrenched production methods for essential oils, of which the overwhelming proportion was slated to be used industrially.

Then came Henri Viaud. Artisan distiller of essential oils with a vision to produce essential oils specifically for use in aromatherapy, to use essential oils for healing. To the best of my knowledge he was the first to publish the terms “genuine and authentic” in connection with essential oils (Advanced Aromatherapy, page 8).

Requiring that essential oils be genuine and authentic added sorely needed concepts to the hitherto used ideas of purity.

It is probably fair to say that “purity” for most in aromatherapy today means that no synthetics have been added. But the terms “genuine” and “authentic” are less clearly associated with a firm meaning. I overhear many discussions where pure and authentic are used interchangeably.

Here is what Viaud meant to describe. An authentic oil is only the oil that is the product of the distillation of the plants of a single species. It is an authentic representation of that plant. A genuine oil was meant to be one that had not been subjected to any kind of post distillation process, such as redistillation nor deterpenization.

Why Essential Oils Authenticity Matters for Healing?

Today, whether or not a aromatherapy user is clear about these precise definitions, genuine and authentic oils are what is expected, at least intuitively. Those who turn to essential oils do so as a result of a preference for natural materials and natural healing. They chose natural, because they believe, true or not, that natural is more benign, less intrusive and maybe ultimately more effective. Let us, for the sake of the argument suspend doubt and assume this all is correct. Would it then not stand to reason that the essential oil should be as natural and authentic as possible, to actually confer all these benefits? Of course the answer is a resounding yes.

But as the supply chain of essential oils has become ever more corporatized, emphasis of analysis has increased exponentially. Mind you, analysis is not necessary to produce an authentic oil. It can serve different purposes, such as studying nature or to guard against fraud. It also provides the data needed to make the adulteration of oils ever more sophisticated. Ultimately I believe that to quite some degree overemphasis of analysis commodifies and objectifies those beautiful products of plants.

When pure data are seen as a proof for superior quality analytical technology takes the place that was once given to a human understanding of the aromatic plants in our environment. The deep knowledge we have about the healing qualities of aromatic plants arose from their integration into the cultures of our ancestors. Hildegard von Bingen explored these plants without the help of a GC/MS as did the ancient Egyptians or Chinese or, for that matter all other cultures that preceded our own.

(Please check back soon for The Human Element Part III: What is a Bioauthentic Original)

The Human Element I

May 11th, 2016

Recent events surrounding potential adulteration of Cinnamon Bark oil from a large corporate supplier have inadvertently highlighted the problems associated with the overemphasis of instrumental analysis and especially GC/MS analysis, for proving the purity of essential oils.

Let us recollect. For quite some time now it has become almost imperative to provide GC/MS read-outs to concerned buyers of essential oils. This seems to be a consequence of the standpoints announced by different parties in this conversation.

There are the big corporate players who advertise the prowess of their testing labs, enabled by their ability to spend lavishly on equipment and personnel. The implication is that by having all the machinery money can buy, the oils associated with the brand must be pure. Another aspect of this conversation is that 3rd party testing has become quite en vogue. One implication may be that analysis performed by the owner of an oil may not be objective. Then there are those students of aromatherapy who request analysis so it helps them understand the make-up of the oil and understanding the therapeutic properties accordingly (i.e. if an oil is rich in alcohols it is different from one high in esters).

All these aspects carry quite some truth. More powerful equipment may well allow better insights. Sending a sample to two or three different labs is always highly instructive to say the least and the desire to understand the basic chemical make-up of an essential is all but tantamount to the concepts French style aromatherapy.

There is only one problem. We all have become so accustomed to the power of computation that we forget that there sometimes are sizable margins of error in the data that are generated. In our case the exclusive reliance on instrumental analysis and especially GC/MS has its own set of problems. The most overlooked issue is the way GC/MS are ran today.

Lets step back in time just a bit. As recently as 30 years ago Mass Sectra were interpreted on a case by case basis by chemists. A mass spectrum is a record of all the observable molecular fragments that arise when a specific molecule is shattered to pieces by bombardment with electrons. The range of fragments that arise is indicative of the molecule that was blown apart. It took, mostly rather specialized chemists who knew how to make sense of the many molecular fragments that show up in a Mass Spec to identify the original molecule. Spectra were interpreted one by one. (A classic introduction to the topic is “Identification of Essential Oil Components by Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry,” by Robert P Adams)

However, when one analyzes an essential oil there are dozens of Mass Spectra, one for each component in the oil. Needless to say that for routine analysis this proved way to cumbersome to have a chemist sit down and interpret each spectrum separately. However, with the advent of computers these tedious tasks of interpreting the enormous amounts of data of not only one, but many Mass Spectra became manageable. Once a spectrum was clearly associated with a specific molecule it was stored in a computer library and software was written which compared the spectra generated in your GC/MS with those previously recorded. If your newly recorded spectrum matched the one in the library you had identified your component. But here comes the hitch. Almost never is there a 100% correlation or identification between your recorded spectrum and the one in the library. The software will return data that will say component x is identified, lets say, as linalyl acetate with a degree of 86% certainty. However with a degree of 75% certainty it could also be a closely related isomer. To chose the right component from the different choices offered the operator needs to have a good measure of experience .

I could go on and on about the idiosyncrasies and the potential for wrong conclusions in the process of interpreting GC/MS data. Identification of EO components becomes especially fuzzy when it comes to the complex field of sesquiterpene isomers. Most Mass Spec library setups are hopelessly over challenged when it comes to precise IDs for complex sesquiterpene mixtures. The take away message here is that even and especially computerized interpretation of the Mass Spectra of a GC/MS is not immune to delivering incorrect results. To quite some degree the reliability of such interpretations is based on the quality of the library. I.e an operator who has analyzed EO for ten years and added and added specific EO components to her or his specific library will have a better chance than someone else who starts out with a store bought library of common chemical components.

The above described issue is one inherent in todays ways of managing large amounts of information by computers. But there is yet another issue that is inherent to the process of analysis itself: purity and authenticity. Often mixed up in casual discussion these two terms really have different meaning. In the case of EO a point can be made that pure should mean that no impurities are present or have been added. Authentic is used to describe that an oil is the true representation of the components present in the specific plant that is referenced on the label.

Impurities or adulterations often are present in the form of easily discovered components such as perfume extender or also in the form of well known substances used to adulterate specific oils. Such gross adulteration is easily discovered with GC/MS. But the methods for adulterating or even reconstructing essential oils have reached an astounding level of refinement. For example Lavender EO. It contains, in an authentic sample, the terpene alcohol linalool. The proportion of linalool in different Lavender EO may well vary to some degree. While the addition 5% of natural linalool, derived from another EO, can ultimately be proven by strenuous analytical effort, routine GC/MS will not detect it. In other words neither GC/MS or any other instrumental method alone can prove authenticity of an essential oil.

That this is so can be verified by looking at some of the analyses posted on the internet. These analyses ostensibly demonstrate the purity of an oil, but anyone familiar with the composition of authentic Fine Lavender will notice quickly that quite some of the posted chromatograms reflect EO which are reconstructed to varying degrees.

The only way to truly grasp authenticity is to have access to verifiably authentic specimens. Such specimens can the be analyzed and serve as benchmark for future analysis.

One of my mentors once told me the real way to ascertain authenticity is to see the growing plants, the still and ideally be present during distillation and obtain a sample fresh from the still.

Clearly one cannot do this every time for every oil on the list. But we believe that the contact to the actual producer is an indispensable element of every attempt to procuring authentic oils. In our experience adulteration never happens at the level of the producer. The know how to reconstruct, standardize or adjust essential oils is found in the big brokerages who often can sell essential oils for less than they cost at the source.

I could discuss this endlessly, but suffice it to say, instrumental analysis is a very valuable tool in working with essential oils, but when it comes to the appreciation for truly authentic oils it will never replace the human element.

Essential Oil Outlook 2016

December 29th, 2015

Dear Friends – New Years Greetings – Essential Oil Outlook 2016

It has been a while since I have posted a ‘Roots’ or an ‘Explorations in Aromatherapy’ blog. Having been busy with our last conference drowned out these efforts. However, the conference is always an incentive to introduce new concepts and, of course, new oils. While we have been focusing on exploring oils from Asia we have also added new oils from the old world, or, in other words, oils which are closely related to the concepts of French style aromatherapy.

As the New Year gets on its way one might ponder what will it bring in terms of essential oils? Well, if 2015 is any indication, it may be that essential oils and aromatherapy might continue to reach new dimensions in popularity. This also means the issue of sustainability will move closer to center stage. It is no secret that the quantities required by the large MLM companies to satisfy their growing number of followers are larger than what conventional suppliers are equipped to provide.

Shortages of essential oils as we have seen them in 2015 may repeat themselves, even if they may not be as obvious as the absence of Cape Chamomile was. As Cape Chamomile has a rather unique composition it was not possible, at least not in the short term, to substitute it, by a blend of other oils. In the case of more common oils, such as Lavender, shortages manifest differently. As all the true ‘Fine Lavender’ of 2015 is basically spoken for, the trade shifts to clones from regions with larger production such as Bulgaria, Moldavia, Ukraine and China. While these Lavender oils are of fine quality in their own right, having to deal with different clones from different regions has its own challenges for the marketeer. The parameters for the quality grades (this issue of creating official sounding designations for quality grades has been discussed in other places and shall therefore not be revisited here) that the MLM define for themselves  must be drawn up in such a way  as to include the oils from different origins.

That this is so is evidenced by the fact that some providers refrain from giving an origin for their oils. Trust is instead placed in hyped up analytical regimens whose main purpose is in the marketing, ostensibly ascertaining that a given oil is of the promised grade. The long and the short is that by moving these ever larger quantities of essential oils, aromatherapy will most likely become more and more corporate. And while I am certain that the large companies will do everything in their power to offer the best possible oil, all of this will probably result in increased homogenization of the oils on offer. A huge supplier has no use for a 3 kg batch of an unusual chemotype of Thyme when their projected need of Thyme oil for the year is more like a 1000 or 2000 kg!

From our perspective at OSA, where we deal in much smaller quantities, it is fairly obvious that truly authentic essential oils will become scarcer. It is also not difficult to foresee that there will be an increasing number of discerning individuals who do understand the true value of authentic oils. It would not be surprising, if over time there might evolve something like a collectors market. Given that most essential oils maintain their quality and potency for many years it would make sense to stock up on those oils for which a drop in prices seems rather unlikely. This is a scenario certainly true for Helichrysum EO. As for other oils I would like to refrain from prognoses, simply not to add fuel to an already hot market. But again, in a world where everything is increasingly subject to homogenization and mass production, true oils will always stand out as the rare treasures they are.

As a response to those market conditions and to pass on potential savings to our customers we will, in loose sequence, pass on opportunities as they arise. We will offer specific oils at specific times at particularly attractive prices for their 100 ml or 1000 ml quantities. As of this please check out our special offers for Frankincense, Myrrh, Bay Laurel and organic Lavandin super.

aromatherapy 2.0

November 27th, 2015

After the Conference

The 8th PIA Conference on Therapeutic Uses of Essential Oils appeared to be a success in every aspect. We would like to thank all the participants, presenters and helpers who contributed. The diversity of the presentations showed impressively how aromatherapy is a healing modality with an expanding horizon.

Almost all presentations can be looked up in “Unlimited Possibilities,” proceedings of the conference. An overview of the presentations is still available on the New PIA site (

aromatherapy 2.0

In addition, I would like to point to “aromatherapy 2.0.” This project of OSA and PIA offers new perspectives on essential oils that so far have not been at the center of attention. “aromatherapy 2.0” highlights essential oils of an Asian pedigree that have not been among those that the colonial powers of the 16th century and thereafter brought to the West. “aromatherapy 2.0” focuses on the wood, rhizome and resin oils of Asia, quite some of them at the center of scientific attention for their ability to help with chronic inflammation or to prevent tumors.

“aromatherapy 2.0” also introduces some of the most sought fragrances from Asia: Different Agarwood and Sandalwood essential oils.

All of this can be explored on our new site The objective of the site is to allow for leisurely exploration and gathering of information. It offers three main approaches

Experiences. This first approach introduces two offerings, “Monsoon” and “Smelling T’ang.” Collections of oils intended to transport and mediate a relaxed and balanced mood.

Explorations. Different collections of Asian essential oils assembled according to diverse cultural or therapeutic aspects.

Notes and more Reading. The asia-aromatherapy site is first and foremost intends to provide a slow and pleasant approach to the cultural connections in which many Asian aromatics are embedded and to stimulate curiosity. In the “Notes and More Reading” column we will sporadically add more texts referring to the healing properties of these oils, mostly from an Asian perspective.

How to Use the asia-aromatherapy Site

This site focuses on offering information. To order any of the collections or the single essential please visit the OSA site ( and click on the Asian Oils menu. For your convenience the collections and oils on the asia-aromatherapy site also link to the respective items on the OSA site.

2015 Harvest Update

August 14th, 2015

Not too long ago the aromatherapy industry was a conglomerate of what one would colloquially call mom and pop businesses. With the advent and success of the Multilevel Marketing companies this has thoroughly changed. Aromatherapy now has a full size corporate aspect. Of course I am aware that there is a lot of criticism going around and different individuals find fault with this or that aspect of the MLM giants. But in all honesty, if we are serious about helping more individuals to take responsibility for their own health by means of essential oils – and other forms of plant and natural healing – then the MLMs are wildly successful.

There are other aspects that seem more worrisome to me than whether or not a specific form of application is considered appropriate or not. While natural goes mainstream, the big question is, is it sustainable?

A large proportion of essential oils used by the conventional industrial buyers (food, detergents, etc) is being helped along by the infinite wisdom of the wizards in the chemistry labs. In other words conventional industrial users are interested in consistent quality and odor profile, not so much in pure and natural. But of course those supplying to aromatherapy users are.

If, for simplicity’s sake we stay in North America, it is easy to verify that large segments of the population lead a so-called pro-inflammatory lifestyle. It is not surprising that many who turn to aromatherapy suffer from conditions related to chronic inflammation in many different ways and end up gravitating towards anti-inflammatory essential oils.

And this brings us to the question of sustainability. As many of you are probably aware of some of the more specialized anti-inflammatory essential oils are distilled from plant material collected in the wild. Tanacetum annuum and Ericephalus punctulatus have vanished from the lists of the producers. Whether or not the wild crops will be sufficient to provide for a growing demand or whether cultivation is a possible answer is hard to predict.

Looking at the old fashioned German Chamomile might be instructive. Because of its popularity and high price point German Chamomile has been cultivated in regions where it was not originally native. The composition of German Chamomile from Egypt and Nepal is such that they never became very popular. The trade buys them because they are much less expensive than the oils originating from central Europe with its moderate climate. In the Egyptian and Nepalese provenance the concentration of (-) alpha bisabolol is very low compared to the European oils. Instead they contain more bisabolol oxides A and B as well as bisabolone. Summing up, it appears that German Chamomile could probably well serve as a stand in for the Eriocephalus punctulatus and the Tancetum annuum oils, as long as the powerfully anti-inflammatory and antiallergic European (or German) varieties are chosen.

Another essential oil with powerful anti-inflammatory properties is also becoming increasingly scarce, Helichrysum italicum. Prices in Europe have reached new levels and Helichrysum is now twice as expensive as it was 5 or six years ago. Given its use in  an international line of cosmetics (see post below) different attempts have been made to cultivate this precious Everlast, however, the ultimate success of these efforts remains to be seen.

Explorations in Aromatherapy Winter 2014

November 24th, 2014

Explorations in Aromatherapy Winter 2014

Rose – Eternal Fascination

Rosa CentifoliaRosa centifolia literally means Rose with a hundred petals. It is a hybrid developed between the 17th and 19th century. Rosa centifolia has been widely cultivated in Provence, especially the areas surrounding the city of Grasse for its singular fragrance with very bright high notes.

Extracts of Rosa centifolia are commonly used in the formulation of so-called communels, Rose absolutes composed of different Rose varieties – i.e. R. damascena – from different growing regions in which the manufacturer attempts to create a Rose absolute of constant odor quality.

As a result pure Rosa centifolia absolute is rarely offered, not the least because its low yield renders it more expensive than the blended Rose absolute.

So when a pure Rosa centifolia absolute became available we were mesmerized by its incredibly bright high notes.
We now also have a pure Rosa damscena absolute to compare. Both absolutes are from Morocco.

Helichrysum 2014

Helichrysum is an ingredient in a successful cosmetic line of L’Occitane

There is probably no other oil in current circulation, which so predictably and reliably heals and rejuvenates the skin like Helichrysum italicum. As many in aromatherapy are aware, Helichrysum essential oil is an ingredient in a successful cosmetic line of L’Occitane, the multinational company originating from Provence. In this context there is an interesting First. Let me explain. Over the years we have had almost count

less inquiries from all different interests about wanting to purchase essential oils for the creation of a new and ultra natural, ultra pure line of cosmetics. However, whenever the crucial decision making nears corporate sponsors, without exception, have opted to ultimately formulate the new product not with authentic oils, perceived to be to expensive, but with the usual industrial products from the large brokerages. With L’Occitane this changes. Apparently they are procuring authentic Helichrysum oil wherever they can find it. It appears to be a two sided affair. On the one hand there is a corporate entity that understands that authentic oils will do things that synthetics will not. On the other hand this means that for the foreseeable future the price of this precious commodity will move only in one direction, up.

We realize that our new prices for this oil must seem high, but given the current market situation we expect that prices will still move higher.

Oils from the East

For a while now we have been offering CO2 Extracts of some Asian aromatic plants. Exploring their therapeutic potential and, if you will, their philosophical implications is rewarding for everyone devoted to essential oils and aromatherapy.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is indigenous to India. Its extract contains a high proportion of Turmerones and traces of Curcumin. It is used as antiinflammative, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial and in detoxifying compositions. There have also been studies demonstrating the anti-wrinkle properties of Turmerones. Apparently it also works well to calm inflamed gums.

Javanese Turmeric – Curcuma xanthorrhiza

Javanese Turmeric or Temu Lawak contains mainly sesquiterpenes – aryl-Curcumene, ß Curcumene and 15 – 25 % Xanthorrhizol (Hydroxy-aryl-Curcumene) – and is soothing and calming. It is used in anti-inflammative, anti oxidant and detoxifying compositions. It is used in mouth care for its efficacy against staphylococcus mutans and other oral pathogens. Studies have been conducted showing the whole spice’s liver protective qualities (whether these apply to the extract is not ascertained).

Galangal – Alpinia galanga

Alpinia galanga extract is pungently spicy and can produce quite a sting in the nose when sniffed or inhaled incautiously. It is mainly used in compositions against nausea, vomiting, digestive disorders and arthritis. The extract, properly blended has balancing antimicrobial and anti-inflammative properties.

Fenugreek – Trigonella foenum graecum

Fenugreek extract contains mostly fatty acids, 30 – 40% Linoleic acid and 30 – 40% Linolenic acid. Traces of Sotolon are responsible for the typical aroma. The steroid Diosgenin, to which current research attributes some of the more astonishing properties of Fenugreek Seeds is apparently not present in the extract or if so, only in traces.

Schizandra sphenantera

Schizandra extract contains rare lignans, sitosterol, terpenoids and linoleic acid. It is relaxing and tonifying, minimizes the influence of stressors, stabilizes the membrane. It is a COX-2 inhibitor and has antioxidant, anti-hepatotoxic anti-asthmatic and antidiabetic properties.

Cassia – Cinnamomum cassia

Cassia extract contains up to 75% Cinnamic aldehyde, Methoxy cinnamic aldehyde and around 2% of Coumarin. It can be added to mouth wash compositions or to carminatives.

Calamus – Acorus calamus

Calamus extract contains about 65% essential oil components. Different to the essential oil the fragile sesquiterpene lactones, the acorones, especially acoragermacron remain intact.

Indian Frankincense (Boswellia serrata)

Indian Frankincense extract contains up to 85% mono terpenoids but also the sesquiterpene alcohols and esters including incensole acetate. The content of Boswellia acids is below 0.1%.

Guggul (Commiphora mukul)

Guggul extract is derived from Commiphora mukul and contains about 2% Guggulsterone. Recent research credits it with anti tumor anti-inflammative cholesterol lowering and antidiabetic properties. Other studies show that it supports the transformation of adipose tissue. It regulates glucose and fat metabolism and is seen as useful addition to therapies for type II Diabetes, high cholesterol, excess weight and metabolic syndrome.

Explorations: Patchouli and Yuzu

February 27th, 2014

One could be tempted to call Patchouli the Lavender of the East, so widespread and common are its uses. The properties attributed to Patchouli oil in the literature are numerous. It is beneficial for skin ailments such as bacterial and fungal infections. It regenerates tissue and supports wound healing. It prevents water retention, counteracts stress and is generally uplifting. Franchomme and Pénoël emphasize especially its “phlebotonic” quality which makes it specifically effective in the treatment of varicose veins. They also recommend it as one of the more specific oils to treat acne.

Patchouli oil is a commodity traded in rather large quantities, so much of the product on the market has passed through the usual industrial brokerages and is standardized in one way or another.

In the 18th and 19th century silk traders packed their cloth with Patchouli to prevent moths from laying their eggs.
While Patchouli is produced in many different locales around tropical Asia, experts claim that the oil from the northwestern most province of Sumatra, Aceh, is one of, if not the best provenance.

At this point we have two lots on offer, one from a COOP in Aceh Barat (West Aceh) and one from Aceh Selatan (South Aceh). The oil from Aceh Barat is extremely well rounded and may faintly trigger a chocolate reminiscence. Its richness derives from growing in the low lying coastal areas. The oil from Aceh Selatan is mild and sweet, its delicate and balanced scent comes from the proximity of the medium altitude growing areas to the coast. Both of these provenances are also those sought after by the large perfume houses as the high end Patchouli used in fine perfumery.

These COOPs have been established with the help of international aid in a bid to reconstruct after the devastating 2006 Tsunami. Both provenances show, next to the obligatory Patchoulol good amounts of the marker components Pogostol and Pogostone.

Yuzu is an extremely popular as flavoring agent in Japan. It is lemon-fruity but with a tang.
Citrus junos grows wild in Tibet, Korea and in China.  It has bee cultivated in Japan since the 10th century. Today it is cultivated on a commercial scale in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku.

The essential oil is cold pressed, displaying an exquisite citrus aroma suggesting a coming together of grapefruit and mandarin, with hints of bergamot and lime. What makes Yuzu so special is its very dry, tangy nature.

It is refreshing and uplifting As is common with Citrus oils it has powerful anti-bacterial action which might explain its popularity in Japanese folk medicine.
Inspired by its Japanese uses it can be tried with stress, burn-out, nervous tension or anxiety. Yuzu needs to be tried to experience its complexity which sets it apart from other Citrus oils.

Explorations in Aromatherapy

November 13th, 2013

How Oils from Indochina Became Global Staples

Celebrating our 30th Anniversary we begin to introduce a new range of products on our OSA website. We believe they represent a missing element in today’s aromatherapy: Essential oils which carry the message of the East, many of them at the center of various traditional healing systems, cultures or cuisines. Asia Aromatherapy attempts to integrate the missing Eastern element into aromatherapy. So far Aromatherapy has been a western cultural phenomenon driven by a hard to articulate, maybe subconscious disenchantment with the exclusive reductionist reasoning of western medicine.

Through aromatherapy, individuals, especially in urban centers, rediscovered an easy to grasp aspect of the plant world: Plant fragrance, plant perfume plant communication.  Aromatherapy arose in Western urban regions because separation from nature had reached its most extreme levels in these environments.

The European origin of aromatherapy (Gattefossé, Valnet, Tisserand) is reflected in its most popular essential oils. The first essential oils of aromatherapy were those of culinary herbs from Europe such as Rosemary and Thyme, popular florals like Rose and Jasmine and also globalized denizens like Lemon and Orange.

However, exotic oils like Ginger and Clove also made it into the European essential oil cabinet and one has to ask why? Europeans, beginning with the Roman Empire, have a longstanding desire and for exotic spices. Since the first millennium BCE, this desire was satisfied by adventurous Arab maritime traders. This only changed when in the 16th century the colonial and economic aspirations of the Dutch and British made Pepper and Clove a household name.

The numerous oils we use in aromatherapy that originate from the former Indochina (“Indochine”), North Africa and Madagascar have become aromatic common places because of the French colonial involvement in these regions (i.e. Cajeput, Niaouli, North African Rosemary etc) in the 18th and 19th century.By now quite a number of essential oils from the East are well integrated into aromatherapy. Nonetheless their historic and cultural aspects have been all but ignored in the aromatherapy literature. Almost all books somehow homogenize essential oils by adopting the Roman alphabet as the organizing principle beginning with Anise Seed and ending with Ylang Ylang. Niaouli is just another essential oil listed after Juniper, and before Mandarin.

In Asia Aromatherapy we explore the oils from the East in the cultural context of the plants and their origin. Even a quick glance at this subject intimates that there is much to learn that can broaden our capacity to heal with essential oils and other extracts from aromatic plants. The complex web of anti-inflammative and anti-tumor properties molecular biology discovers in Asian rhizomes and resins encourages a new look at the wisdom of traditional systems such as Ayurveda or TCM. As extracts from these plants are found to lower cholesterol or to prevent arthritis, one might ask whether our ancestors had information about these plants that has escaped reductionist pharmacology. So, besides introducing oils like Galangel, Turmeric and Guggul, Asia Aromatherapy also revisits oriental, holistic treatment strategies to which these oils hark back.

Taking cues from the history of the spice trade and the many cultural and religious movements of the Asian continent some general areas of interest are easy to discern.

Sacred Fragrance:                                                                                                                                                                                                       Intuitively Lotus carries many notions of spirituality and purity. Osmanthus absolute directs the seeker’s attention to China’s South, especially Guangxi province with its unique landscapes. Sandalwood has been a global favorite as a warm and tenacious base for amateur and professional perfume creations. And for all who desire to go on truly exotic or new fragrance explorations the depth and diversity of a few different samples of Agarwood essential oils will prove a spectacular diversion.

The Malabar Coast, spices everywhere:
India’s Malabar is home to the Black Pepper vines that have become the globe’s most common spice. Besides Black Pepper India and Sri Lanka are home to many typical “spices,” many of which not only have exquisite culinary value, but also the most astounding healing properties. Cinnamomum ceylanicum is even named after the island of its origin. It still evokes associations of exotic spice but also has become a staple in cuisines the world over. Its healing properties for infections and modern day metabolic diseases are spectacular.

The Spice Islands and Rhizomes and Resins:
Nutmeg and Clove were among the foremost commodities that Columbus was looking for when he first set out to find a more direct route to East India. Today the riches of the Indonesian Archipelago’s aromatic plants are known around the world. Most famous – and also unique – is maybe Patchouli with its mostly overlooked, yet superb healing qualities.

The Early Spice Trade:
Adventurous Arab traders sailed the oceans between China and the Roman Empire beginning probably 3000 years ago. Understanding the routes, the cultures and the products of the early trade can tell us much about what drove human desire thousands of years ago. It seems reasonable to speculate that Frankincense and Myrrh have acquired their mythical status because humans throughout history knew about their wide ranging healing properties, at least intuitively.

We will start our explorations with nine different CO2 extracts and a Blue Lotus and an Osmanthus absolute. Some of the oils we already have in the regular essential oil category we will list again in the Asia Aromatherapy column, when we are especially proud of their authentic Asian pedigree.

2013 Seminar Flyer

March 25th, 2013

2013 Seminar Flyer PDF download

Please visit our new Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy website and see under Seminars and Conferences for events.

Roots: Oils from North Africa

June 8th, 2013

The essential oils of Morocco illustrate the emerging dual nature of the human experience with medicinal and aromatic plants: to characterize essential oils according to their active component groups and to understand their cultural history. The cultural environment of the oils’ geographical origin often provides us with basic knowledge about the qualities and uses of a specific plant.

Atlas Cedar, Armoise and the other oils from Morocco have become commodities in the global essential oil trade because French colonizers saw these materials as one more valuable resource for its fragrance industry. (How cultural wisdom from around the world contributes to the body of experience of aromatherapy will be discussed at the 30th anniversary lectures on November 16 and 17 in San Francisco)

Lemon Verbena # 128
Because of its content of potentially photosensitizing so-called photo-citrals and furo coumarins the fragrance industry considers Lemon Verbena (Lippia citriodora) oil to present a high risk of photo sensitization. In the aromatherapy community no corresponding observations have surfaced. This may be attributable to the relatively high price of the oil and that it is only included in blends in low concentration so that this risk is inadvertently diffused.

The overall composition of Lemon Verbena essential oil is dominated by the isomeric aldehydes Neral and Geranial. Together, as an unseparated mixture they are commonly referred to as Citral. Different than the Asian essential oils of Lemongrass or May Chang which contain often more than 70% of Citral, its content in Lemon Verbena oil is decidedly lower, usually between 15 and 30 %. This allows the oil to be much milder and much less irritant than the former two.

The composition of Lemon Verbena essential oil is quite complex, components of many different chemical families are present. Anti inflammatory sesquiterpenes such as germacrene and curcumene occur next to sesquiterpene alcohols such as spathulenol and sesquiterpene dienols as well as esters like neryl or geranyl acetate. The oil also contains unusual sesquiterpene oxides.

Correspondingly complex are the therapeutic properties French aromatherapy attributes to the essential oil. It is a powerful anti inflammatory and calming agent and is described in the French aromatherapy literatureto support thyroid and pancreas function.

Lemon Verbena essential oil has a most radiant fragrance, which might well be the most universally appreciated fragrance among common essential oils.

Tanacetum annuum # 103
The essential oil of Tanacetum annuum is distilled from an annual in Northern Morocco. Its chamazulene blue color and slightly fruity fragrance give it a unique character. Authentic oils of Tanacetum annuum display a fairly complex array of different sesquiterpene lactones. Conventional wisdom suggests that these sesquiterpene lactones are responsible for its special anti inflammatory qualities, inhibiting the release of histamine. It has been used extensively to ameliorate or prevent asthma symptoms as well as dermatitis.

Atlas Cedar # 106
The essential oil of Atlas Cedar is valued for its fragrance, an enchanting base note. Smelling and feeling the essential oil reveals its high sesquiterpene content, without any need for chemical analysis. It has a powerful resonance with the circulatory system and is described in French aromatherapy as tonic to the lymph as well as lipolytic, meaning it acts to solubilize fat deposits.

Ammi visnaga # 100
Khella (Ammi visnaga) essential oil also has come to aromatherapy in a two step path. One aspect was the above mentioned interests of the French fragrance industry and the other the specific approach of French style aromatherapy which recognized the medicinal values of this member of the Apiaceae family.

Khella essential oil is a powerful agent to release spasms and to provide relief from kidney and gall bladder colics as well as asthma symptoms. Because of its pronounced content of diverse coumarins, furo coumarins and pyro coumarins the oil should probably not be used in an ongoing fashion. It is, however, the experience of some in the aromatherapy community that brief internal and also topical use to counteract emergencies did not produce obvious undesirable effects.
Because of its coumarin content the oil might present a strong risk of photosensitization if used topically under sunlight.

Oreganum # 135
Oreganum oils found on the market may have different plant species from which they originate. The common denominator apparently is a high content of carvacrol, the phenolic component with the typical Oreganum fragrance. The two oils most often found in aromatherapy are distilled from Oreganum compactum and also Oreganum elongatum. Oils distilled from O. heracleuticum are found less frequently. Distillates of O. vulgare are rare to nonexistent. Spanish originating Oregano oil is distilled from Thymus capitatus.

The Oregano oils are powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents. But it challenges the aromatherapist to create synergies that soften the irritant impact of the Oregano, but still preserve its efficacy. In French aromatherapy its recommended uses are mostly internal and via suppositories.

Myrtle # 733
Essential oils distilled from Myrtus communis in Morocco have a relatively high proportion of esters, especially terpenyl acetate and present a generally different sensation vis-a-vis the oils from Corsica.

The main therapeutic uses for the Moroccan Myrtle are as vein and lymph decongestant. With its mild character and typical, elegant Myrtle fragrance the oil recommends itself as main component of nurturing skin and body oils.

Moroccan Thyme # 219
Thymus satureioides is significantly different from other common Thyme and Oregano oils. It contains a significant proportion of borneol and a lesser proportion of phenols. It is less irritant than Thyme thymol or Oreganum compactum and it has a different set of properties.

Where phenolic Thyme and Oregano oils are well suited to treat acute infections, Thymus satureioides is appropriate for chronic infections as it integrates the qualities of borneol, which has the unique ability to down regulate pathologically elevated levels of gamma globulins as they occur in many chronic conditions.

Armoise # 752
The oils pedigree is only insufficiently rendered by the English word “Mugwort,” Artemisia herba alba. In aromatherapy it is known as an oil with a rather high Thujone content that needs to be used carefully, if at all, because of the toxicity associated with ketones. Besides the standard application as a mucolytic different individuals have explored specific qualities of this oil in a ritualistic context.

However, when the distillation is just right, Armoise may almost be a perfume in itself, it provides a hard to describe floral note over the ketone base which can be quite captivating. There are two separate Artemisia herba alba distillates on the site, #152 Mugwort and # 752, both from Morocco. The latter has the most exquisite fragrance.

Roots: Chamomile and other Moderate Climate Oils

February 5th, 2013

Many of the oils we use on a daily basis aromatherapy are somehow associated with dry and hot climates or with poor soil. Apparently these stresses induce the plants to produce more powerful essential oils to ensure survival. Examples are Citrus, Lavender and Rosemary oils. The EO’s from these plants employ a chemical vocabulary that is heavily centered around simple monoterpenoid components, such as cineol, terpineol or linalool.

Quite distinct from those are essential oils from many species that belong to the Asteraceae and Apiaceae families. Often these oils find there highest degree of finesse not so much in the hotter subtropical climates but in the moderate and moist climates encountered in Central and Eastern Europe. In the case of German Chamomile the relation between the plant and a specific geography has even become a part of the common name of the species.

For aromatherapy this is quite interesting. These latter plant families thriving in the more moderate climates have evolved to display a more diverse array of components than the essential oils from plant species that developed before them. Lactones and en-yn ethers are just two examples.

In this post I would therefore like to share some thoughts about some classic oils of the Daisy (Asteraceae) and the Parsley (Apiaceae) family.

German Chamomile

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of the best researched medicinal plants. Much of the abundant modern research, dating from the late seventies and early eighties, is ‘pre-internet’ and hence not so easy to locate.

Summing up for the purposes of aromatherapy: Depending on a variety of factors, most importantly genotypes, the Chamomile plant produces chemotypes of essential oil. Some oils have high concentrations of bisabolone and others have high concentrations of bisabolol oxide. However, only a third type, with (-) alpha bisabolol, truly has the full powerful antiinflammative qualities associated with this essential oil. It is a more powerful antiinflammative component than the characterisically blue Chamazulene.

The oil we offer is from an estate in southern Germany specializing in the cultivation and distillation of German Chamomile essential oil. As this is the climate and also the cultural environment where Chamomile has been a part of life for at least a thousand years (Odo Magdunensis, 11. Jh.) it reaches its greatest finesse in the moderate climates of central Europe. Oils from other parts of the world with subtropical climates invariably are of lesser quality.


Yarrow essential oil is distilled in a variety of places, however, demand for it and consequently its production seem irregular. The most relevant quantities on the market are from Eastern Europe with Bulgaria being the main supplier, and to a lesser degree Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Wild oils are described as having a concentration of approximately 1% chamazulen and cultivated oils as having a somewhat higher percentage. The wild oils have a light blue tinge whereas the cultivated oils are a darker color blue. Whether the oil with the higher Chamazulen content is really of higher value – therapeutically – remains questionable.

The appreciation of Yarrow essential oil in aromatherapy is probably fueled to a large degree by its traditional popularity in herbalism. As such Yarrow is popular in different ethnopharmacological traditions, even Bedouins in desert areas of the Middle East value Achillea millefolium as an anti-allergy agent and the treatment of high fever.

In modern aromatherapy Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) essential oil is described as a powerful antiinflammatory agent with particular affinity for rheumatic pain. It is ‘the’ oil to alleviate neuralgic pain and Franchomme and Pénoël even list prostatitis and kidney stones under the indications for Yarrow essential oil.

Some of the components found in Yarrow essential oil are quite special, i.e. the sesquiterpene lactone achilline or its isoartemisia ketone. Considering the appreciation Yarrow has had throughout history it is quite likely that some of its best therapeutic qualities are still to be explored.


Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root essential oil is precious and unique. Unique for its content of musk lactone and musk ketone which give its aroma the much desired exalting fragrance quality. The novice can easily explore this particular quality by creating a simple blend of equal parts of Bergamot, Jasmine absolute and Angelica.

Therapeutically Angelica is an essential oil with great benefits for those who are weakend or asthenic.

Angelica Root essential oil contains a variety of coumarines and furocoumarines which render the oil photosensitizing if used externally, but make it effective to ease anxiety, insomnia and nervous exhaustion and to ease digestive cramping that goes along with these stresses.

Angelica Seed oil has generally similar qualities as the root oil and its musk fragrance is a bit more nuanced than that of the root oil.

Lovage Root

Lovage Root essential oil is apparently somewhat diffcult to produce. The specific gravity of the oil is very near that of water so it only rises to the top very slowly. But the unique composition of this essential oil makes it worth the effort to separate this oil from the hydrosol.

Lovage Root essential oil contains a variety of components called phtalides. In a simplified way one could say that the phtalides from Lovage Root remove toxins from the body by chelating them. In the French literature Lovage Root essential oil is therefore recommended for liver congestion, food, chemical or drug poisoning. Franchome and Pénöel consider it to be one of the most effective agents to treat Psoriasis. The oil is very powerful and should be explored cautiously.


Hops, being from the Cannabinaceae family does not fit perfectly into this post’s Apiaceae and Asteraceae theme. However, its cultural coordinates are classically central European. Its main actions are quickly described, it is estrogen mimicking and it is a very fast acting sedative and destressing oil. It is especially effective to calm irregular heartbeat and heart arythmia.

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)

The outstanding therapeutic qualities of Carrot Seed essential oil have been explored in different environments. Recently, however, a study of Anne-Marie Giraud-Robert established the therapeutic value of this essential oil (in combination with some others) for conditions of the liver. The French literature attributes the capacity to regenerate hepatocytes to Carrot Seed oil. The oil’s ability to improve liver metabolism also seems to be the origin of its skin regenerating qualities.

The qualities of carrot Seed on the market are often uneven. In addition essential oil is distilled from cultivated plants and also from plants gathered in the wild. Although their therapeutic properties seem to be more or less identical the wild Carrot Seed oils often have a most appealing and complex fragrance, almost being a perfume in themselves!

Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)

Celery Seed essential oil (Apium graveolens) is next to Lovage Root the only common essential oil with a sizeable content of detoxifying phtalides. Similarily it drains toxins from the liver. It also acts as a forceful tonic.

Roots: Thyme Chemotypes from Provence

November 19th, 2012

One of the better known phenomena of the Thyme essential oils from Provence is summarized by the term “Chemotypes.” The most popular is probably so-called Thyme linalool. This is aromatherapy shorthand for essential oil of Thymus vulgaris, type linalool. It indicates that this particular oil contains a high concentration of the terpene alcohol linalool. Let’s take a look, the Thyme chemotypes from Provence are perfect to study essential oil authenticity.

The most important factor determining the actual composition of a Thyme oil is elevation. The higher we go the more the blue and ultraviolett components of visible light become stronger. And the composition of light influences the formation of essential oils directly as terpene synthesis begins in the chloroplast! In Provence, given its unique topography, growing areas at a 600 feet altitude can be only a few miles away from plateaux at 2400 feet or higher. The hot and possibly irritant, but also very strongly antibacterial phenolic Thyme (Thyme thymol) oils grow at sea level. A few miles away and at slightly higher elevation Thyme paracymene with its anti-rhumatism qualitites can be harvested. And again only a few miles away, but much higher, the etherial Thyme linalool grows.

Yet to arrive at the sought after Thyme oils this geographical phenomenon has been complemented by the dedication of the distillers. For the last 100 years Provence has been a place where essential oils have been distilled by small and midsize businesses and many farmers and distillers are fully aware of the potential that resides in these Thyme plants.

As a result a number of artisan distillers have turned their energy and attention towards making the most brilliant Thyme oils. (For reference try to think California boutique winery, quality over quantity). Those producers are on the lookout for interesting populations of Thyme or they cultivate clones with a particularly interesting composition and quite a diversity of Thyme oils is now available from Provence. When the virtues of Thyme thuyanol were first advanced through a study from a Belgian university that found that it was effective against Chlamydia infection a demand materialized and some growers cloned the respective plant and distilled clonal Thyme thuyanol.

One of our supplier friends discovered a population of Thyme plants in a secluded valley not far north of Nice, where the wild plants upon distillation yield an oil that is rich in the terpene alcohol thuyanol. Sometimes there is so much of it that it crystallizes out of the oil. Producers in the Drome have taken to producing Thyme linalool oil from specially cultivated clones.

In higher elevations further south in Vaucluse and Haute Provence even the casual hiker can smell that the wild Thyme plants growing on the ground have the etherial aroma of linalool and geraniol. From this area come Thyme linalool essential oils distilled from wild plants.

Every such wild plant, strictly speaking, represents its very own unique chemotype. The composition of one plant may well be different from the one growing right next to it. However, upon distillation, the resulting oil will still have the predominance of a specific component, in this case linalool and often geraniol (Wild Thyme linalool/geraniol).

Some have suggested to call oils from wildcrafted plants regio types instead of chemotypes. As with population or wild Lavender, the Thyme oils from wildcrafted plants are more complex than those distilled from clones, even though they contain the same main component. But while clonal Thyme linalool may have up to 70% linalool, as a result of successful selection, the wild counterpart often has a content of 15 – 20% linalool, accompanied by substantial amount of geraniol.

So the true quality of the Thyme oils of Provence lies not so much in an especially high linalool (or geraniol) content, but rather in the fact that there is quite a variety of authentic, non-industrial oils which truly reflect the processes of the Thymus vulgaris plant in the specific environment it has grown.

And as has been said elsewhere, there is much healing that emanates from the plant and its processes that cannot be reproduced in the laboratory, even if the chemicals involved look identical on the surface.