Not all, but most oils we discussed in the two previous posts appear to be characterized by their flamboyant monoterpenes and by expressing a mediterranean feel. In contrast, many oils from Central Europe, especially those presented in the Classic German Oil Combo, have a somewhat more staid nature. In Central Europe the medicinal effects of Angelica Root (Paracelsus 16th Century, Peter Pomet 1717), Melissa (Paracelsus), German Chamomile (O. Isaac, comprehensive research, 1970) and Valerian (Hildegard v Bingen 11th Century) first became popular and were described by the learned of the respective times.
To this day the most stunning examples of these essential oils come from the habitats where the plants were originally used and respected. With time they have also been commercialized and their essential oils are produced in different locales around the world.
In our opinion the oils from the original locations are especially precious. All four of these Bavarian oils have a most refined fragrance that creates special synergies with the therapeutic effects of their components.
Valerian, for example, is a staple sedative in plant medicine. The fragrance of some exotic cultivars is, however, sometimes a bit challenging. The refined fragrance of this batch from Bavaria makes it easy to use the oil by itself or to include it in calming or truly sedative blends.
With Angelica root oil a similar situation exists. The cultivation is cumbersome and crops from various origins are distilled or often CO2 extracted to bring down cost. The Angelica Root oil from Bavaria has the most amazing musk notes, which prime the psyche to accept the anti-anxiety effects of the also present coumarin components.
The Bavarian German Chamomile is of the unique (-) alpha Bisabolol type with anti-inflammatory qualities superior to the distillates from more southerly production areas.
The Melissa is our tried and proven Bavarian provenance. Its most agreeable fragrance and composition allows for the oil to be fully embraced by everyone seeking its benefits, especially when the goal is to reduce or release tensions.
As aromatherapy expanded globally it was inevitable that artisan distillers in Corsica and Provence were unable to meet the increasing demand and that the trade started to look for alternate supplies of the classic oils. Small quantities of true wild Rosemary from Provence - a camphor type - were supplemented by Spanish Rosemary, which is also a camphor type, but is produced on a much larger scale.
As available quantities of Provencale Hyssop decumbens dwindled, a low ketone variety of Hyssop was also cultivated in Spain. Whether or not the Spanish cultivar is identical to the Provencale decumbens variety (Hyssop officinalis, var. montana intermedia, to be precise) has apparently not been verified.
Spike Lavender is a similar case. There is the industrial product from Spain and the old fashioned artisanal distillates from Provence.
These comments are not meant to insinuate that the oils form the secondary production areas are not good oils. However, there is a sparkle that is inherent in the original, which sometimes is hard to find in the more industrial products. For more detailed thoughts about this please go to kurtschnaubelt.com and scroll down to the post “The Human Element III.”
Another example are the different Chemotypes of Thyme, a favourite topic for the artisanal distillers of Provence, especially Thyme thuyanol which is unique. There is no other Thyme, and maybe no other oil, which combines the same degree of gentleness with such antimicrobial and anti-viral strength. The original authors did write quite a bit about this oil. There was even a study that showed that this oil was effective against Chlamydia. But given the fact that the production of this oil is apparently not easily scaled up it has so far escaped global demand.
Above: Thymus vulgaris, image from "Aromatherapy Course, 4th Edition"
Lastly there is the maybe most popular Mediterranean oil: Helichrysum italicum. Most everyone interested in Helichrysum knows that the bulk of it today comes from Bosnia and Croatia whereas Corsican oils are not as abundant and typically more expensive. And while we believe that the oils from Bosnia and Corsica are, while not identical, therapeutically equivalent, we also find it hard to escape the special radiance of our new batch of 2019 Helichrysum #4135 from Corsica. We also have a new batch of Bosnian Helichrysum #118 which we find equally appealing.
......aromatherapy has gone global. In the 1980s Aromatherapy conferences that are still remembered well were held in the UK and among the speakers were authors like Robert Tisserand, Valerie Worwood, Shirley Price and of course many other distinguished individuals. In that time aromatherapy also jumped over the British Channel and established strong roots in Germany where a company by the name of Primavera Life became very active not just in providing essential oils but also organizing educational events and conferences.
In 1990 the American Aromatherapy Association held a well attended, groundbreaking conference in Santa Monica, arguably the first major aromatherapy event in the US. The 1990s were also the time when aromatherapy generally expanded to urban centers in the English speaking world. Along the trails of the old Empire aromatherapy moved from London to places like Toronto, Singapore or Sidney. Finally, in the new Millennium, aromatherapy became an industry. In the1980s the percentage of the worldwide essential oil production that went into aromatherapy was probably less than 5%. With todays corporate players in the field, one can only guess that the essential oil usage for the purposes of aromatherapy has sky-rocketed. The issues arising from the new volume of essential oil trade and consumption merit an extra column. Today, I would like to focus on the cultural aspects of a globalized aromatherapy.
There are now aromatherapy conferences and trade shows in China. In Japan people have been interested in aromatherapy for a long time also. In Indonesia essential oils have been produced for a long time for purposes other than aromatherapy, but by now the aromatherapy fascination has also reached the urban centers of the archipelago. This global rise in interest for the powers of essential oils merits closer examination as to the associated cultural phenomena.
As we look at the trends of 2019 aromatherapy we see that many friends of aromatherapy in the East are interested in the oils from the West and especially from Provence because those are the classic oils of aromatherapy. But simultaneously aromatherapy also stimulates, in all areas of the world, interest in local oils and how they fit into the framework of aromatherapy. I have maintained that the classic oils of Europe often are from green leafy plants and the classic oils of Asia often are from rhizomes, resins and trees. If this is an expression of different climates in different parts of the world and whether or not this reflects in the character or preferences of people that live in these different climates remains a question which can be hotly discussed.
To approach the global character of aromatherapy in a playful fashion we will, in future posts, visit six distinct areas and their characteristic oils, which we believe are representative for their regions of origin and are used by the people of that region for their specific healing properties.
Lavender is our first example. Its cultivation was introduced to Haute Provence in the beginning of the 20th century. In the process Lavender cultivation became central to the local agriculture and the farmers gathered extensive experience how to produce different types of Lavender oil. Specific clones became popular and Lavandin became a dominant feature in the landscape of Haute Provence.
More detail on the different types of Provencale Lavenders can be found in my February 12th piece: “My Favorite Oils.”
Lavandin: Aromatherapy Workhorse
Today most of the areas of Provence cultivated with some form of Lavender are planted with different types of Lavandin, a hybrid between True (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spike Lavender (Lavandula spica).
This has not always been so. Prior to the WWI era, Lavender oil was mostly produced from wild plants in the French and Italian Alps. Given the poverty of the soil at higher elevations of Provence and the dire economic situation after WWI local farmers looked for a crop that could produce extra income. They found that cash crop first in Lavender and soon thereafter also in different Lavandin hybrids.
The history Lavender and Lavandin cultivation on the plateaux of Provence is a fascinating story that tells us much about the often mysterious or serpentine interactions of people and aromatic plants.
Among the different Lavandins, Lavandin super is the most easily accessible and useful one. Its high content of the calming linalyl acetate (an ester component) gives it a soothing quality, without taking away a very mild tingle. The oil is very useful as a calming and anti-inflammatory component for blending, that can be used in larger proportions due to its favorable cost. It is also a good oil to use in the shower, it can be splattered over wet skin for an immediate sensation of well being.
Further reading in Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: Lavandins in Provence, page 88. Lavandin in the Shower page 125.
© 2019 Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy