Archive for the ‘Daily Posts’ Category

Blends for the Boys

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Have you followed how a large retailer was taken over by an even larger retailer recently. It appeared that all the green vegetables that previously were almost always crisp and refreshing had all of a sudden been left to themselves to come across a bit wilted. And the Avocados, that once were proudly displayed as being Californian OR Mexican are now offered as originating from  California/Mexico. One would not doubt their organic certification, but the colossal size of the large retailer leaves little space for local flavor. Supply chain considerations, on-time logistics and similar concerns move center stage.

The same is happening with essential oils as the success of aromatherapy goes global and the demand for true essential oils is outpacing available supplies. As demand rises it is probably the most sensible solution to amp up the cultivation of the essential oil plants which are in high demand. This seems to be the responsible strategy to make those desired secondary metabolites of Medicinal and Aromatic plants available to a growing number of individuals who look to improve their health with natural and aromatic means. And while cultivation is certainly a responsible starting point, it imprints its own set of characteristics on an essential oil once it becomes industrial.

In my own frame of mind I have hence resigned myself to embrace the essential oils which are cultivated on a large scale using them for the appropriate purposes while still admiring the radiant beauty of the essential oils harvested in the wild, which project a vibrant impression of their specific local origin.

Admiring the beautifully radiant oils originating from their most favoured origins forces us to develop a stand vis a vis such precious remnants of a plant world which is changing just as everything else is. So while it appears to be the responsible thing to  work with cultivated oils as much as possible, I also believe that there is nothing wrong with responsibly collecting and using essential oils from wild plants. If nothing else to get a glimpse of why it is that originally individuals of our and prior generations fell in love with essential oils. In my mind, oils, such as those from Provence harvested in the wild and distilled by artisan producers are instant rarities and should be cherished as such.

Personal Blends for the Boys

To manifest the above statements I have allowed myself to actually suggest some blends which address an unusual target audience. Please read on: The aromatherapy universe is full of blends for health issues, fitness, meditation and the like. However, at least subliminally, those are generally aimed at women. There really is not that much aromatherapy aimed at male sensibilities. To remedy this I thought it might be a first step to share some of the combos I have made for myself in different situations. In this offering there are two shower blends that I always come back to. One I have come to call

Bro Balm

This is a blend that was originally aimed at keeping brown spots and other impurities of the skin to a minimum. It also helps me to maintain my composure when I am venturing into unknown territory, be it by travel or by addressing an unfamiliar audience or both. The blend can be used in the shower or it can also be dabbed on strategically, i.e. a drop on the wrists or similar. Please try this blend cautiously on a sensitive spot, i.e. inside the elbow, as it is purposely constructed to deliver a bit of joyful awakening to the skin. Also, since this blend is rich in precious wood and resin essences it is not entirely inexpensive. If you do not wish to dive headlong into this, please note there are sample sizes.

The other one I like to call

Stay Cool

This blend is very simple. It is based, a rare batch of Borneo Camphor, an oil that has been cherished in the High Cultures of the Far East (i.e. the T’ang Dynasty) in the past, but has apparently not been available in authentic form for decades. The fragrance of the blend is designed to transport the Borneo Camphor sensation. For those used to highly refined and perfected aromatherapy compositions this may be too musty or too unfinished. For many this may be an acquired taste, reminiscent of the atmosphere in a damp tropical office shot through with hints of moth powder.

The blend is meant to be used in the shower or to be dabbed on to selected spots of skin. As stated the fragrance is quite unusual, so do not take this into the public if you mind that some heads might turn. The blend has a strikingly settling quality. If you distribute a few drops on your wet skin after a shower, your shoulders will relax downward and some deeply calming breaths will follow. Sample sizes available.

In addition to the Bro Balm and Stay Cool there some suggestions and offerings from the vault including some oils that we have not been able to offer for quite some time.

There is a special offer on Moroccan Chamomile, a few resurfaced bottles of rare Bay Laurel 123, a new batch of Blue Lotus Wax 4722, the most elegant wild Lavender sauvage and 6 year aged Patchouli from Southern Aceh. And finally we were able to purchase a new batch of Hyssop decumbens, which allows us to release some of the remaining original batches.


Chemotypes of Thyme

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Reposted from 2011

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-rheumatism 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.

Essential Oil Stories

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


As we look back at the essential oils that caught extra attention this year I think of the Butterbur as a new entry to our repertoire and I also think of the shortages that were a telling event in 2016 aromatherapy. While the Cape Chamomile and Moroccan Chamomile shortages were certainly the ones most noticed I am also worrying that some of the staples we used to be able to procure from smaller distillers in Provence may be in the process of disappearing. Yet their disappearance might not be noticed as immediately, even though it would be a severe loss to the diversity of the oils we have available. Let me explain.

As I write this I am looking at three half liter aluminum bottles, one with Thyme oil of the paracymene, thymol chemotype, one of the ultra mild geraniol, linalool chemotype and one of Mountain Savory. What makes these so special is that they were all harvested in the wild, in the plateaux of Haute Provence.

And yes it is true, there is enough Garden (Summer) Savory cultivated to supply us with  stimulant Savory oil which is so perfect to remedy cases of mild asthenia. There is enough Thyme cultivated to give us an anti-infectious oil with a good thymol content and there is also sufficient cultivation of clonal Thyme linalool to allow us to formulate mild antiseptic acne formulations. And yes, cultivating these essential oil plants is generally the environmentally sound way to ensure supply of these precious commodities.

Still I have a rough time imagining that at some point I might be restricted to oils produced in larger batch sizes either by efficient Coops or by larger specialized enterprises. In the 1990s when “l’aromatherapie exactement” had just been published, there were those distillers in Haute Provence, the Drome and Corsica who made the oils that Franchomme and Pénoël had written about. They had written about these oils, practically by default, because those were the oils they had available, those were the oils they used in their treatments and explorations.

Now I am not saying that, as the original sources of wild crafted oils from Provence and Corsica become less abundant, we will not have therapeutically valid new entries into the repertoire. Oregano from Morocco or Hungary is highly effective against bacterial pathogens and Myrtle from Albania is almost as gentle as the one from Corsica. And I also believe that in terms of therapeutic activity we can always explore new oils from aromatic plants that have not been the focus of current trends. Nonetheless I feel nostalgic about the very radiant oils from Provence. And maybe I am overly concerned and new distillers will fill the void when our lifelong friends enter their well earned retirement.

But for now we are holding on to these wildcrafted oils and treat them as the precious rarities the truly are. For now, we are offering these oils, wild Mountain Savory 145, wild Thyme linalool/geraniol 220 and wild Thyme thymol/paracymene 703 on the regular essential oil menu of the OSA site. Once these batches are gone these oils, from the three above mentioned containers, will move into the rarities section.

But true joy can only be had if it is shared. So every once in a while, at a special time we shall offer some of these precious extracts. They can be found in the rarities section on the OSA website. But please do not order these oils if you are looking for bargains, GC/MS reports or larger quantities. One should only ponder buying these oils if they can be seen in the same way one would see a rare cabernet from Napa Valley. These oils offer the ultimate in generosity and finesse and these are qualities that the GC/MS will not recognize.

The Moroccan Camomile Shortage

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Essential Oil Stories

The increased popularity of essential oils has had interesting yet not always intended consequences. One of the phenomena we observed is that authentic oils are becoming more scarce. Or as one would say in more technical terms supply chains are becoming strained or even exhausted.

I remember the first time this happened during our time at OSA was when Ravintsara was unavailable. “There just are no leaves” was the laconic statement of the exporters from Madagascar. This was a while back in the mid 90s. When we ran analyses of the first batches that became available again after the shortage the oils were not the same as before. I could never come up with a logical explanation and eventually the issue slipped out of sight as the new provenance apparently was working well and generally had the hallmarks of Ravintsara.

Recently two other oils had been temporarily unavailable. Interestingly both oils are sought after for their anti-inflammatory properties. One was Moroccan Chamomile (Tanacetum annuum) and the other one was Cape Chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus). Let us first look a Moroccan Chamomile. It is finally back on the market after two years and the fragrance and overall qualities are such that those used to the previous batches are happy with the new crop.

However, similar to the described situation with the Ravintsara in the 1990s, the chemical composition of Moroccan Chamomile oil does not seem to be 100% established. Without going into detail it appears that the data published on the composition of the oil do vary. I remember that in the 1990s analyses of this oil showed, next to mono terpene hydrocarbons and chamazulene a variety of sesquiterpene lactones, generally thought to be at least in part responsible for the outstanding anti-allergic properties of this oil. In today’s age of standardized testing and probably standardized libraries of mass spectra sesquiterpene lactones are not mentioned in current publications on the composition of Moroccan Chamomile. Ideally one would hop on an airplane and go to the production area and attempt to clarify the situation on the spot. The next best option is to have a sample from the provenance as it was prior to the oil being unavailable. And this is exactly what we offer to those who wish to do their own olfactory forensics.

We offer a few bottles of a historic batch of Moroccan Chamomile (Tanacetum annuum) essential oil. The bottles are about 4 years old, purchased two years before the oil became temporarily unavailable. These oils are not for those who are worried their oils might go bad. This is from the vault for those who would like to do their own explorations.

Mistral over Lavender

Friday, August 26th, 2016

For a brief impression of the strong Mistral that blew on a day or two of the PIA Provence excursion please click below


The 2016 Harvest. Special Offers

Reporting back from distilling Helichrysum in Corsica and the PIA Provence 2016 Journey we would like to thank all the participants for riding along and contributing their wonderful energy. The explorations in Corsica and Provence were an inspiration to pursue authenticity.

It is one thing for us to claim that the Population Lavender we sell is from the plants on a specific hillside in Provence. But it is quite another to have a group of over twenty individuals meet the proprietors of the land who physically distill the oil with their own hands. It is a form of closeness and familiarity that cannot be rivaled by the naked numbers of a GC/MS.

As a traveler within the PIA journey one not only felt the terroir, one could observe the realm of species in the Lavender genus: Fine, Spike and the Lavandin Hybrids in the wild. understanding how the different cultivations of Population Lavender, Lavender Maillette and the Lavandins arise. The anonymity of sleek internet advertising is replaced with an appreciation of the true qualities of these oils.

Our two offerings of Fine or Population Lavender 125 are distilled from the crops of two of the oldest exclusive Fine Lavender farms on the plateau of Lagarde d’Apt. Both received the coveted AOP appellation.

But it was not only Lavender we could study. We were also able to observe how this year has provided a rather successful crop for one of the rarer therapeutic powerhouse oils from Provence: Thyme thuyanol. We will offer Thyme thuyanol at a special price for everyone who wants to stash aside a little stock of this oil while it is readily available, just in case the next harvest is as scarce as those of the last few years were.

Another entry to the market is Helichrysum oil from Provence. While it is illegal to process wild harvested Helichrysum italicum in mainland France, this restriction does not apply to cultivated plants. Helichrysum italicum oil from plants cultivated in Provence is a welcome addition to the oils available from Bosnia. In our opinion Provencale and Bosnian oils are of practically equivalent therapeutic value. As you can see from our ongoing sale we are able to offer this Provencale Helichrysum at a very attractive price.

Coming soon, Classic Florals: Prices for the essential oils of Rose and Neroli are rising incessantly. We will, however, be able to offer this years harvest of Bulgarian Rose at a price only somewhat higher than last year. Our new Neroli is, as always, from our established source in Seville, Spain. We will be able to offer the new Neroli at a low introductory price but will eventually have to revert to the previous level.

Please check back soon as we have new arrivals coming in on a regular basis and we might be able to offer deals on other classic oils as well.

The Human Element III

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

As the business model for selling essential oils has gone from mom and pop operations to large corporations the language describing essential oils has become the language of marketing. There is a strong emphasis on brand and the “quality” the brand is meant to guarantee. However, a clear definition of what really constitutes EO quality seems sorely absent. GC/MS analysis has become the ready substitute. Marketing suggests that the quality of an oil is demonstrated through analysis. Let’s explore if this assumption is really true? In order to do this we first need to clarify some more EO related concepts.

Essential Oil Authenticity and Why it Matters for Healing?

The healing properties (physiological effects) of Essential Oils arose in the course of biological evolution as plants developed highly interactive components (secondary metabolites). These components are characterized by their uncanny ability to cause different types of effects: not only inside the plant that originally makes them, but inside a range of other organisms. For instance, EO influence other plants nearby. Or they repel insects or animals that might threaten the plant. EO molecules will also prevent fungi or yeast from spreading. They achieve this through their activity deep inside a fungus or a yeast cell. EO terpenes, deployed by the plant when it senses a colonization attempt by a fungus or a mold, will inhibit the fungus from growing by inhibiting crucial regenerative processes inside the cells of yeasts and fungi. In short, the plant makes these terpene molecules to defend itself from being infested by yeasts or fungi. In aromatherapy we use exactly this quality of essential oils to rid ourselves from Candida.

Plants have optimized these defensive abilities by making not one, but many components which will act together (synergistically) derailing not only one, but many processes in the yeast cell. This interaction of many plant components with many processes in the yeast or bacterial organism makes their action gentle and effective at the same time. In other words the many different EO components in a living plant work together in an elaborate and complex way creating a spectrum of activity that is much more efficient than a single or even a few components ever could be (The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils, page 48).

Here is where the idea of authenticity becomes highly relevant. It is the exact composition of the oil inside the plant that makes the synergy so efficient. And the exact composition of an essential oil is tied to the biological population from which its source plants originate. They are genetically connected, as they all reproduce among each other, staying strong by maintaining their diversity. At the same time the secondary metabolites (EO) of a given population will reflect the environmental conditions of a particular geographical area. If, for instance, a specific year is particularly hot the plants will make a slightly different oil than in a cooler year. The genetic code of the plants within the population provides the plants with different mechanisms to respond to challenges such as heat or cold or nutrient scarcity or attack by herbivores. The composition of a truly authentic oil reflects these biological processes that enhance the plants ability to survive and propagate. And if one believes in the powers of nature, the slight variations in EO composition, which arise as the plant contends with ever changing environments, are the hallmark of true authenticity.

Let us look at Fine Lavender in Provence. It usually grows on the most barren and rocky plateaux contending with the sparse soil and the hardy insects and plant pests that can negotiate this rough environment. The specific composition of the essential oil produced by these Lavender plants is its biological response to the conditions in the environment. In aromatherapy, this Lavender oil from Provence, aptly called Population or Fine Lavender will impress the user with a seemingly paradox combination of gentleness and high efficacy. Other Lavenders, clones or also those ever so gently “helped” in the laboratory all have a fragrance stronger than the authentic Fine Lavender oil.

The question now arises, what about all the other Lavenders. Those from Crimea, Bulgaria or China. Generally the plants for these Lavender cultivations in other parts of the world are clonal, propagated by clipping, not seed. These oils may all be very good oils too, albeit different. Clearly a Lavender cultivated on a expansive plane on Crimea faces different challenges to the one on the Provencal plateau. In addition it stands to reason that the limited genetic diversity of the clones allows for much less response of the plant to its prevalent environment.

This is why, in our thinking, the composition of an authentic EO from plants of a specific population is unique and carries properties which are only found in the plants of this specific population.

At the end of the day all the oils will be Lavender oils. Their analysis will show variation in composition, sometimes dramatic and sometimes minor. But these numbers do nothing to explain or predict the differences in the beauty and quality of the oil as we perceive it.

By studying the cultural history of our aromatic plants we learn that medicinal and aromatic plants have originally become part of ritual, medicine and religion in those areas where the biological processes were such that the oils attracted attention within a specific culture. Lavender was esteemed first coming from the high Alps of Northern Italy and then, in the 20th century, from Provence. Patchouli is most esteemed in Northern Sumatra, Sandalwood from India has no rival and German Chamomile from Germany is just simply much more beautiful and efficient than its exotic brethren. This is why we believe that understanding the cultural history of the aromatic plants we use is a tremendous aid in assessing their authenticity and originality and subsequently their superior qualities that can be subtle and dramatic at the same time.

Bio-authentic Originals

For this reason we would like to call oils arising from their original environments bioauthentic. Bioauthentic  originals, oils that became popular in their specific regions, stand at the beginning of the immense popularity they have gained, because they offer a broad range of obvious and subtle benefits. Apparently they aroused the interest of humans a long time ago because of their biological processes and benefits and not because of corporate business plans.

As for the secondary production regions, it is well possible that some of the benefits of the original are not present in oils from cultivated clones. Again, this is because clones lack the genetic diversity of a population, and also because the extensive farming makes for an entirely different biosphere. The Lavenders from the secondary regions are certainly valuable and good oils, but the true sparkle is brightest in the biological – bioauthentic – original.

Summing Up

In an ideal scenario we at OSA prefer oils distilled from plants grown in those – cultural and geographical – environments where they became well respected in the first place. We believe that bio-authentic oils have unique qualities that arise from their specific chemical composition which arises from specific biological processes responding to specific environmental conditions.

We would, however add, that we do not advocate using bio-authentic originals only. In a world and time where demand for essential oils has risen dramatically, it is not only legitimate but often necessary and environmentally sound, to cultivate sought after plants in areas where they will grow readily, whether it is their original habitat or not. This is especially true when wild plant inventories are threatened and cultivation is the sensible answer. We do, however, support interest in the cultural aspects for which the bio-authentic oils are the aromatic messengers. The wine analogy may illustrate it well. It is certainly a fabulous experience to enjoy a high end Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet, even if it may not lend itself to daily consumption.

Please watch this space for the next installment of “The Human Element,” exploring some more bio-authentic originals and where and how people first integrated them into ritual and medicine.

The Human Element in EO Authenticity Part II

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Friday, 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

Friday, 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

Monday, 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.