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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.
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 (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 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.
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.
The essential oils from the island of Corsica have a special place in aromatherapy. An explanation for the uniqueness of the Corsican essential oils is found in the recent history of modern aromatherapy.
When modern aromatherapy first took shape in the mid 1970s, essential oils came from one place and basically one place only, the large fragrance houses of Grasse or New York. These classic fragrance houses were highly proficient in distilling and extracting natural products for onward processing of fragrances and flavors into perfumes, foods or cosmetics. To manufacture these products in constant and even quality the natural raw materials must be of reliable and constant quality. The variations caused by nature, through climate, soil, altitude etc., are an impediment to the industrial process. As a result the processors have built extensive know how for adding and removing components from the natural product, so that one years batch is basically identical with that of another! Lavender for instance should not have an arbitrary concentration of Linalyl acetate if used in industrial processing, its concentration should be between 40 and 42%. Hence Lavender 40/42 is found on the market, where the concentration of Linalyl acetate has been augmented to reach the desired level.
This process is also known as standardizing and it can also be used to adjust or even reconstitute essential oils to bring down the price point. It is important to understand that this is exactly what industrial processors do: Adjusting essential oils so the cost comes down so low that the resulting mixture can still be sold at a price below the pure natural oil and still generate a hefty profit. This is where the necessary margins come from. Simply buying and selling natural oils does not generate the returns – let alone dividends for the share holders – which these large outfits require.
As a result early aromatherapy was caught between the writings of Valnet and Tisserand who insisted that essential oils for healing had to be pure and unadulterated and the reality of a supply where practically everything coming out of Grasse was standardized or adulterated!
Then came Corsica.
As aromatherapy gained some traction some distillers in Corsica made the leap and began to manufacture essential oils specifically for the aromatherapy market. No one in Grasse was interested in a high priced specialty like Inula graveolens, but aromtherapy icons Pénoël and Franchomme were. Inula proved itself to be probably the most effective mucolytic agent in aromatherapy. And since this oil went directly from the producers to the aromatherapy market it bypassed the standardization processes inherent in industrial processing.
The idea of genuine and authentic essential oils was born.
The same was true for another Corsican specialty, the Rosemary verbenone. No one in Grasse would be interested to buy a Rosemary oil for 350 Euros per kilo when the oils from Tunesia could be adjusted so that they could be sold for 20 Euros per kilo! But again, the aromatherapy market honored the the efforts of the Corsican distillers and began to integrate this fabulous oil into a seemingly infinite number of skin care products.
There are quite some essential oils form Corsica with basically the identical story: Green Myrtle, the perfectly mild essential oil to sooth the lungs, used by some even to support patients with pneumonia, Mountain Juniper, another perfectly mild essential oil, sometimes used to ease neuralgic pain.
Wild Fennel to sooth spasms.
Black Pine for preventing sun damage and also as a powerful decongestant for the prostate.
Because of the unflinching dedication of the distillers to producing truly authentic essential oils for the healing purposes of aromatherapy Corsican essential oils have gained a wide following wherever aromatherapy is practiced. Especially comparing the Corsican Juniper or Fennel to their industrial counterparts immediately illustrates the difference between a truly authentic essential oil and the adjusted product so prevalent on the market.
Often we are asked by customers, which Lavender should I buy. A legitimate question considering the significant price differences between sauvage, population, clonal and hybrid Lavenders. Generally the subtext to these questions is, whether or not the more expensive oil packs a bigger therapeutic punch. The honest answer, in a first approximation, is probably ‘no.’ A Lavender Maillette should calm down a mosquito bite just as well as a population Lavender.
But at second glance there are probably some subtle but still significant differences. The best way to explore these less tangible qualities is to use the different Lavender oils for a few days in a row, as described in the Lavender Journey in “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils.”
The most obvious qualities of population and wild Lavenders clearly are their complexity (broader range of components) as well as their elegance, reflected in the less intense but round fragrance.
Using these fine Lavenders over time often leads to a closer and more intuitive relation with these classic essential oils. The substantial contributions they provide for our physical and emotional well being become ingrained in our experiences.
A typical stainless steel still in Provence, used by the larger distillers, holds about 6 tons. The large tire in the foreground can be lifted up by a pulley and positioned over the still. As it is lowered over the Lavender charge of the still it serves as a giant pipe stopper, compacting the plant material in the still.
With “Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils” being in the stores and the year being 2011 it was interesting to revisit what we had to say on our ten year anniversary in 1993. Here is the original article from our, then, “inside aromatherapy” newsletter:
History of Firsts
Ten years ago, Bill Mandel’s feature article about Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt and Original Swiss Aromatics appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. It has been an exciting decade filled with many firsts in American aromatherapy. Since 1983, Original Swiss Aromatics and the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy together have been the first…
…to establish the concept of genuine and authentic essential oils in the US,
…to create the Aromatherapy Course, the first comprehensive text on scientific aromatherapy to come out of the US and the first and foremost course with a pharmacological basis that is internationally recognized,
…to bring Robert Tisserand to this country for his first major US seminar,
…to set the stage and present Dr. Daniel Penoël, aromatherapy researcher, author and lecturer, who has since become practically a household word in American aromatherapy,
…to present Pierre Franchomme, Master Aromatherapy Scientist and aromatherapy consultant for the Origins product line,
…to coordinate the original two American aromatherapy conventions in the US,
…to speak out not only about the quality of essential oils but to start a rigorous program of purity analysis by GC/MS.
Many have adopted our concepts and now espouse essential oil purity and others have copied or adapted our innovative and academically oriented course materials as a basis for their own training programs. Graduates of our International Certification Seminars include corporate executives, spa directors, medical professionals and representatives from almost every major manufacturer of aromatherapy products or importer of essential oils in this country. Inviting distinguished aromatherapists from France has now become a must for virtually any business even remotely involved with aromatherapy.
In retrospect, so much has occurred in aromatherapy in the last 10 years, but it seems that we are only now beginning to grasp the enormous potential this modality has in our lives, our work, and for our health. Aromatherapy is currently the fastest growing, most dynamic, alternative healing method being explored today.
As we peer into the future, we see even more exciting possibilities on the horizon. Learn with us, if you want to be on the cutting edge of scientific aromatherapy.
Watch out for more innovation and “firsts” in our field.
Join us on our journey into the world of aromatic plants, and that gentle, effective art of “sustainable” medicine…AROMATHERAPY.
Signed copies are available from the PIA store.
presented by Monika Haas
Reno: April 29th
Registration and Contact:
tel: 775 722 4128
or PIA, tel: 415 479 9121
PLANT LANGUAGE and ASIA AROMATHERAPY
a continuation of the Plant Language Process presented by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt
Singapore: March 3 and 4
Registration and Contact:=
mobile: 65 9387 3867
fax: 65 6288 5288
or in North America, PIA, tel + 1 415 479 9121
Tokyo, Asia Aromatherapy only: March 24
Registration and Contact:
Ayako Berg, LSA Japan
6-18-11-4F, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Seoul: March 31st/April 1st
Seattle, April 14 and 15
San Francisco: April 21 and 22
Seoul presented by Kurt Schnaubelt, Seattle and San Francisco presented by Monika Haas and Kurt Schnaubelt
Registration and Contact:
PIA: +1 415 479 9121