The Course presents the true nature of essential oils, especially what it means that they derive from living organisms. It analyses the issues of purity and quality beyond the current, mostly marketing driven narratives.
What are Essential Oils?
Their chemical and biological nature is explained.
Steam distilling and cold pressing of aromatic plants produces classic essential oils. Other extraction methods such as CO2 or solvent extraction can produce oils of similar or sometimes substantially different chemical composition. The specific qualities of extracts produced by these different methods are discussed.
Analysis, Purity and Quality
In contemporary corporate marketing prose the geographical origin of essential oils is often de-emphasized. This is not surprising considering that large suppliers often are forced to buy a specifc oil from different origins. Lavender today is at least as often from China or Ukraine as it is from France. This is compensated by emphasizing analysis (GC/MS) which supposedly ascertains the purity and “quality” of an oil. The Course explores whether or not GC/MS analysis lives up to all that is promised.
Blunt adulteration of essential oils with synthetics is not so frequent any longer. Instead standardization of essential oils by sophisticated addition of isolated natural components is a growing trend.
Over time essential oil quality has been described in different terms. ‘Therapeutic grade’ is the common corporate denominator and ‘Can this oils be ingested’ is the corresponding question by a potential buyer. The substance or lack thereof behind these designations is explored. Other more relevant concepts such as ‘large scale natural’ or authentic are introduced.
Regional Characteristics - Chemotypes
As the plant interacts with the environment in its specific habitat, it produces components most useful for survival and propagation in this specific location. Authentic oils from one region or one population often have a unique composition - chemotype - and represent the undiluted healing power of that species. Such oils are generally more radiant than more globalized, industrial specimens, which may be all natural, but are blended together from different origins.
Authentic Melissa essential oil is one of the most prized commodities in any essential oil collection.
While the Course introduces concepts which go beyond chemistry to explain essential oil properties, it is still essential and necessary to understand how the chemical structures of essential oil components translate into energetics and basic properties.
Molecular Structure and Therapeutic Properties
Essential oil chemistry is not as daunting as it may first appear. There are only twelve major families of chemical components found in essential oils. These twelve chemical families are all you need to know to understand the principal healing properties of most essential oils based on a conventional pharmacological perspective.
Monoterpenes and Functional Groups: The Western Aspect of Aromatherapy
French style aromatherapy attributes different general properties to various types of Monoterpenes present in essential oils. Terpene alcohols, for instance (i.e.linalool) are tonifying, Terpene aldehydes (i.e. citral) are sedative and Terpene hydrocarbons (i.e. limonene) are stimulating and antiviral.
Structure Effect Diagram
Seven different Monoterpene, three Sesquiterpene and two Phenylpropanoid families are plotted in a two dimensional diagram according to their energetic properties (see diagram below).
Sesquiterpenes have a larger molecular size and greater structural diversity than terpenes. Consequently they display a much broader spectrum of specific physiological or healing properties. The fascinating potential applications of unexpected properties discovered in Sesquiterpenes is discussed in Part VI.
Phenylpropanoids are not as numerous as the terpenoids but they have some of the most important therapeutic properties found in essential oils.
The Graph on the Left
represents the Structure Effect diagram of Helichrysum italicum essential oil. Calming esters combine with antiiflammatory sesquiterpene hydrocarbons and radical scavenging Diketones.
The twelve different structural families are entered according to their polarity and their electrophilic or nucleophilic qualities
The current perspective explaining the efficacy of essential oils is largely derived from conventional pharmacology. Accordingly healing properties of oils arise from the molecular structures of their chemical components. However, there are many obvious properties of essential oils that this reductionist, “chemistry-only” approach fails to explain. Examples are the ability of Lavender to heal minor burns or the ability of Vitex essential oil to treat PMS and menopausal discomfort. Both qualities are well established, but there are no specific molecules in either oil which would explain these effects. Part III explores alternate perspectives that provide a rational explanation of the physiological and/or pharmacological effects of essential oils.
Chinese Medical Aromatherapy
In the perspective of Chinese Medical Aromatherapy essential oil efficacy arises from three phenomena. First: Variability. Essential oils have varying composition from region to region and from harvest to harvest. Implicitly, the biological processes that lead to these variations are also the processes that provide the healing qualities. Second: Interaction with our senses. Essential Oils create a sensory impact and they also influence the way in which sensory perception shapes our reality. Third: The Chinese perspective contends that essential oil activity arises partly from their resonance with yuan (original) qi. In a very rough approximation yuan qi correpsonds to the Western concepts of the genetic code and reproductive processes and hormones.
Molecular Biology has discovered many cellular mechanisms by which the anti-inflammatiory and antitumor properties of essential oil components are mediated. At this time many of the discovered interactions of essential oil components with messenger proteins in the cell support traditional and established applications.
Systems Biology and Emergent Properties
The composition of an essential oil can be very complex. When hundreds of EO components come in contact with many different receptor proteins in the cell, the number of possible interactions rises exponentially. New properties result due to the sum of interactions instead of the activity of a single molecule. Realizing that living plants can generate healing qualities through their biological processes is a liberating experience for every aromatherpay enthusiast, as this experience acknowledges summons the processes of life.
Interestingly Chinese Medical Aromatherapy embraces exactly those essential oil phenomena, namely variability of composition and their sensory impact, which present problems for conventional pharmacology.
Urinary tract infections and shingles are two areas where essential oil therapy is particularly effective.
Part IV of the Course presents the more rigorous medical aspects of French Style aromatherapy. It surveys the classic research from the 1960s through the 1980s showing the pharmacological properties of EO components ranging from expectorant and mucolytic to sedative and spasmolytic, and many more. Extensive laboratory and clinical studies by Paul Belaiche into the antimicrobial properties of essential oils provided the basis for phytomedical infection treatment. Belaiches concepts of infection treatment with essential oils were ultimately adopted and popularized by Franchomme and Pènöel. Part IV features precise medical aromatherapy protocols of the latter two authors.
The Antiviral Properties of Essential OIls
30 years ago conventional medicine did not offer effective antiviral drugs. A major shift in favor of aromatherapy occurred through the research of Lembke and Deininger demonstrating the outstsanding antiviral properties of many terpenoid EO componets. Treatment of Herpes, Shingles and even the flu became one of the strong suites of aromatherapy. Even today essential oil treatments are generally more effective than common antivirals such as Acyclovir or Tamiflu Part IV surveys the original research demonstrating the stunning antiviral properties of essential oils and their components.
The second segment of Part IV discusses the underlying perspectives of phytomedical infection treatments and offers protocols for upper and lower respiratory tract as well as gynecological conditions. These protocols adopt the format of medical aromatherapy as it was practised by MDs in France. Fittingly the protocols are authored by world renowned MD Daniel Pénoël and equally respected researcher Pierre Franchomme.
Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea or canadiensis) is a most valuable oil for effective blends: it imparts many valuable properties while being entirely non irritant and even beneficial for the kidneys.
Modern aromatherapy blends always address the whole person, even when we create compositions to address specific issues. For instance, Roman Chamomile is included in a blend to treat Shingles to ameliorate the anguish many patients experience during the painful outbreak. In other words essential oils are included to reequilibrate the Autonomic Nervous System, which in turn can considerably speed up the recovery.
Todays style of creating therapeutic formulae has its origin in the principles of French Style aromatherapy. The French ideas were complimented especially in California and in some countries in South East Asia where the regulatory climate was such that interested individuals could explore a more liberal use of essential oils. This led to valuable experiences how to successfully self medicate even in somewhat challenging circumsatnces.
The trends that have evoved favor a casual use of oils including simple ingestion, simple topical application and using the oils in the shower. Special attention is paid to designing formulae which are sufficiently gentle so unwanted irritations are avoided, even when forceful oils like Cloves are part of the formula. Such blends can then be used rather liberally which often improves efficacy.
Modern Protocols are perfected by considering traditional wisdom and, if appropriate, suggestions deriving from molecular biology.
Scope of Part V
The chapters of Part V introduce in some detail todays most effective ways to treat viral, bacterial and fungal infections. It offers proven suggestions for chronic inflammationa, metabolics diseases and liver detoxification. It discusses scar treatment, psoriasis and eczema. There are suggestions for improving immune response and to ameliorate allergies. There are also suggestions for Nervous System issues and pain as well as PMS, Menopause and hormonal issues. Finally oils are suggested that help with restoring emotional balance.
Molecular Biology stimulates
What is New?
There are many exciting developments in aromatherapy almost at any given time. Today, data from cellular and molecular biology fuel the inspiration of individuals in the community, who take it upon themselves to try out in real life what the laboratory data suggest. The emergence of Helichrysum and Vitex essential oils as major therapeutic players, for example, has been driven largely by the community sharing its experiences.
One example that holds ample promise is the area of pain. So far numerous interactions of aromatic components with molecular targets involved in mediating pain have been discovered.. These new results allow for much more confident formulating in the context of pain relief.
Essential Oils and Cancer
It is uncertain whether or not the large number of laboratory data on the antitumor properties of essential oils will translate into stand alone cancer treaments. What has been established through convincing clinical research is the ability of essential oils to mitigate side effects of chemo and radiation therapy. In addition there is a strong sentiment, based on numerous molecular biological studies that Monoterpenes from essential oills are effctive cancer preventing agents.
Oils of Asian Origin
Many Asian essential oils are derived from rhizomes or resins. As such they naturally display high proportions of sesquiterpenes which give these oils a slower acting yin character. Their activity is deeper and longer lasting especially suited to treat metabolic and degenerative diseases often encountered at an older age.
exploration of the Yin character of sesquiterpenes in
Asian Rhizomes and Resins!