Rosewood and its Issues

Rosewood excerpts

  1. Brazil Research trip (from private papers 2005 reporting investigation)

Sustainability issues surrounding rosewood

Rosewood was heavily used as a key ingredient in perfumes from 1930 -1980 and it is estimated that production was ~ 1000 drums per annum at this time, representing over 2 million trees were harvested in total. Since then, synthetic linalool and the Ho oil have replaced the use of Rosewood as well as adrop in the market for environmental reasons. Rosewood is now scarce in its natural habitat and it is only found in the deep forest where it is no longer economically viable to harvest it. In 1992, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment (IBAMA) included rosewood on its officially endangered floral species. This listing prohibits harvesting of rosewood except within an approved management plan and requires the replacement of trees removed with an equivalent or superior number of trees. It takes 15-20 trees to obtain a 180 litre drum of oil and 80 seedlings need to be planted to replace those harvested from the native forest. Production has now dropped significantly to around 130 drums allowable for export, representing 780 trees a year. In Brazil about 1,000 local Indians and Mestizos living in the Amazon region still make their living from the production of Rosewood oil

Properties of Rosewood oil

In Brazil, native people use Rosewood for acne, colds, coughs, dermatitis, fevers, frigidity, headaches, infections, nausea, nervous tension, skin and wounds. In Venezuela, it is used for arthritis, catarrh, edema, leucorrhea, nerves and venereal problems. In the West, Rosewood oil’s therapeutic properties are known as an anti-depressant, mildly analgesic, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, bactericidal, anti-fungal, antiviral, deodorant, an insecticide, a stimulant and tonic that may help colds, coughs, fever and infections. As an aphrodisiac it may have an effect on sexual problems such as impotence and frigidity and be helpful for headaches, nausea, nervous tension and stress related conditions. It is also used for skin in cases of dull, dry or oily skin as a balancer, for acne, dermatitis, scars, wounds. Rosewood is said to stimulate the circulation and new cell growth, regenerate tissues, create skin elasticity and help minimize lines and wrinkles in ageing or mature skin. Rosewood oil has always been known as non-toxic, non-sensitizing, and a non-irritant. However, the EU is concerned about the high percentage of linalool as this may lead to a build up of the skin sensitizing substance linalyl hydro peroxide that occurs on oxidation. The EU’s 38th Amendment to the IFRA Standard requires that manufacturers add 0.1% Rosewood oil only or a-tocopheral (Vitamin E) to the oil.

Harvesting sustainably grown rosewood from a plantation

It is possible to get sustainably harvested Rosewood oil grown on a plantation. This is typically planted on previously deforested land and the seedlings are obtained in the wild by local communities. It is important to leave enough seedlings to make trees in the wild, but not all seedlings will make it to maturity in the wild, so the sustainability argument is not affected too much by this. In fact it could be argued that the plantation actually propagates the species and so it should be encouraged. The other way of obtaining seedlings is by vegetative propagation which has been researched by Paulo de Tarso at INPA. It is difficult to find seeds and sprout them directly because the seeds are very fragile and affected by temperature and humidity. The main issues with growing on a plantation are the time taken to mature the crop (up to 10 years) and the increase in likelihood of diseased trees. However, Paulo de Tarso has done some work on preventing diseases using organic pesticides such as soap. So far, there is only one plantation with trees old enough to harvest and this is owned by Magaldi in Maues. He has trees that are 10 years old but the plantation is quite small and his production is only about 6 drums a year (a drum is about 180 litres). The other large producer I met (Raul) only has plantations with 4 year old trees which won’t be ready to harvest for another few years. It is possible to harvest wild trees sustainably (like Raul does) but this is more controversial because the producers are meant to plant a certain number of trees for every tree chopped down. Producers like Raul probably follow these rules (although it would be hard to monitor) but this has a less robust

sustainability story.

Harvesting rosewood from the leaves

Harvesting rosewood purely from the leaves is a neat sustainability solution; however it is still very

nascent right now. Jamal Chaar and Antenor have been researching the properties of the oil from the leaves and whilst it has a 2% yield of oil versus 1% in the wood, it has a lower level of fragrance giving linalool (estimates range from 60% upwards vs 90% for the wood) and it contains other compounds which change the smell somewhat (e.g. Chlorophyll which makes it smell of leaves unsurprisingly).

However, some of the rosewood producers have also been harvesting oil from the leaves and mixing it with that from the wood and they do not see an appreciable difference in the smell. It seems that length and temperature of processing make a big difference in the final quality of the oil. This is particularly the case with the leaves as the oil oxidizes more quickly due to the other compounds that they contain. More work needs to be done to establish the best method of extraction. Harvesting from the leaves is difficult to do in the wild because the biomass you get from one tree’s leaves is quite small versus the overall tree so you need to harvest from many more (work is still underway to quantify the numbers here) and the trees are very spread apart in the forest which makes this expensive. However, harvesting from the branches and leaves in the plantation could be done to a limited extent until it becomes too difficult to reach the upper branches. In some ways this is little different to harvesting directly from the plantation as eventually you will probably cut the trees down anyway, unless you use them as a means to obtain more seedlings to plant. Another way to approach the problem is to harvest from seedlings as researched by Antenor at INPA. He has found that leaves and branches can be harvested from them without affecting their ability to grow into a mature tree or to be used for vegetative propagation. More work needs to be done to establish how much of the biomass can be harvested without damaging the tree, and also what age it is best to harvest. Dr Chaar and Dr Lima propose a project to study this over 2 years using trees of different ages to make a comparison. This would cost £500 and would be based at Magaldi’s plantation as this has trees up to 10 years old. Raul would also be interested in forming a partnership to start extracting oil from the leaves in his plantation, but it remains to be seen whether his trees are old enough to begin the harvest (they are only 3-4 years old). He would be willing to supply oil harvested from leaves gathered in the wild, but he estimates it would be much more

expensive (need to confirm % with him)

2.  Shades of Green (from an article first published in 2003)

From time to time, green issues impact upon natural therapies and stories abound about our natural world and its environment.  It seems an endless treadmill of disaster.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.  Those old enough to remember the cold winters in Europe of the early 60’s recall experts telling us that we were in a new cycle.  This was leading us inexorably to another Ice Age and that the glaciers were creeping even further south.  Today the experts are telling us the reverse – that we are entering into a hot house and that glaciers are creeping ever further north.  It’s difficult to know what to believe or who to believe.  However confusion or misinformation is not necessarily a reason for complacency.

Complacency is the enemy of nature and has allowed the altering of our environment to its detriment as well as to the detriment of our own health.  Greed is the basis for the over exploitation of nature but where is the point of greed?  Who is the most greedy or reprehensible? Is it the giant corporation that allows destructive logging?  Is it the communities that subsist by destructive logging?  Is it the importer who manufactures cheap garden furniture or is it the consumer who purchases the product?  These are not simple questions or issues and are not resolved by simplistic boycotts or similar.  After all, we have entered the world of politics and just as many are greedy for power and influence as they are for money. 

In simple terms, people generate life from the soil.  Communities need to be able to make a living from the natural environment – that’s what living is all about.  Society and politics raise issues of sustainability and our natural ecology.  We are part of that ecology and have responsibilities.  Nevertheless we must accept that many journalists, political parties and individuals not only have written agendas but may have hidden agendas.  Green issues are big news.  Green issues are emotive subjects and we, the consumer,  are cynically manipulated as we ever were, despite living in an age of information.  Green politics does not mean purity.  Green journalists may not be more white than any other political colour.

Never before did the world seem to have access to as much information as it does today.  Often this information is presented not for discussion or for debate but rather for persuasion.  Theories are presented as fact, opinions are presented as facts.  We live in a world of hidden persuaders.  Of course we may argue that it is always the other guy who is persuaded, never us – we are never moved by advertising.  If that were true, the western economy would probably collapse!  Green is big business.  Just look at the supermarket shelves and Health Food stores loaded down with “natural” products.  “Natural” is not defined in law which opens us to buying very shoddy products at very expensive prices. 

This is certainly true for essential oils and to a certain extent to other forms of extracted natural goods.  The demand for green and natural products is growing all the time.  The market is fuelled by scare stories about health.  The market is also fuelled by scare stories about shortages or environmental damage.  For example if there is to be a government ban on such and such a wood because of sustainability it soon becomes in short supply, it is hardly surprising that those holding the stocks push them out very rapidly and the consumer, believing that they are not going to be able to get that product any more, buys them just as rapidly – so actually increasing demand.  Cynical?  But that’s the market place. 

Likewise with medicinal or semi medicinal products and plants.  These may be considered food supplements or traditional medicines but you notice how there is a wave of fashion that flows through the industry.  Each year there is a miracle plant, just as there is a miracle drug in the pharmaceutical industry.  We are persuaded to green miracle drugs as to any other.

Leaving aside the vagaries of the industry and just how natural a shampoo or a bubble bath is, issues of ecology and sustainability should affect practitioners.  After all, in complementary and alternative health care as well as the more select therapists in well being and beauty, one would expect to find very caring people.  That self same care can make us more vulnerable to emotive issues perhaps more so than other sections of the community.  It is good, therefore, for practitioners to examine not only what they do but what they use.  After all, why should a consumer come to see a practitioner, other than for counselling, if they can buy the self same value product in a natural health food store or pharmacy.  If the therapist supplies chamomile tea does not the consumer expect that chamomile tea to be better than a supermarket tea bag brand? 

Choices of products are an issue of ethics from the point of view of the prescribing therapist.  It has been my experience over the years that few schools really get to grips with the issues surrounding natural materials and natural products.  That is why Aromacosmetology™ as a course was born.  Those now who have passed through the course agree that it has been quite an eye opener to debate and discuss issues surrounding what we use in practice.  Take the matter of chamomile tea.  Making a direct comparison between freshly dried chamomile flower heads and a tea bag is an experience in itself.  How many therapists, though, go to this sort of trouble?  How many therapists slip into the habit of providing standardised powdered herb, often from an unknown source, in capsule form, rather than advocating tisanes or providing the more difficult to obtain high quality freshly dried flower heads.  At the end of the day, it’s often a question of economics and providing easy to use, perhaps branded goods and a not unprofitable sideline. 

Profit is not a dirty word.  All we have to do is consider value for money and in terms of ethics, efficacy.  What is the most efficacious substance?  In Aromatherapy we are constantly faced with a deluge of industrial oils.  Most students start their life with cheap industrials.  Many of the schools, particularly those government subsidised courses or in national education systems, are encouraged to buy the cheapest materials simply because some tutors are themselves unversed in the differences between categories or grades of essential oils.  The drift over the years to chemical analysis and a reliance upon the chemistry of essential oils and their co called active constituents has encouraged this lack of understanding 

Essential oils have become to many a commodity which they are definitely not.  There is a belief in some sectors of the practitioner community that a Lavender is a Lavender and it doesn’t matter where it has come from because they’re all alike, whether from Bulgaria, from France or from Tasmania.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  As more science based courses are introduced into Aromatherapy out goes the old idea of vitality, life force or whatever one may call it.  The therapy, however, was based in the idea that essential oils convey more than chemistry.  Essential oils were themselves part of the foundation of holism which, like synergy, has behind it that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  In practical terms it would mean that a reconstructed oil, a standardised extract, a blended oil or an extract using certain solvents would have completely different characteristics from its original wild counter type, even if the chemistry looked similar.  After all, in practice it is effect that counts rather than the theory.  For whatever reason if a person’s health or well being has improved using a substance X, then that is what has happened.  This is the reality, not perhaps the theory that substance X should not have behaved in this way! 

We all use medicinal plants.  Government has chosen to tell us or define which are medicinal and which are not.  In the European Union the matter of definition is getting more complicated year by year as bio analysts tell us what our food stuffs contain.  Did you realise that by eating lettuce you are consuming a good deal of sleep inducing components?  Or that by adding Rosemary to your potatoes you are ingesting stimulating drugs that can upset your brain chemistry.  At what point do you draw the line and do you need to draw any lines rather than providing more education.  Is a lettuce a functional food and therefore subject to restrictions?  Ridiculous.  Be sure Big Brother thinks about you!

Heath and safety has become a mantra of green politics too.  However the first point of green politics is to show up the failures of the establishment.  This should generate discontent among the masses and lead to inconvenient demonstrations, bans, campaigns etc.  Good causes are sometimes hijacked for rather different ambitions than from those who started along this course.

Such an instance is the sustainability of medicinal plants.  As the demand for natural products grows, so does pressure on plant material, especially if taken from the wild.  Before criticising or jumping to conclusions, we should remember that the majority of wild collected materials come from very poor communities with financial insecurity and who are often being exploited by companies who do not pay a fair price for these wild harvested materials.  It is not really the best option to stop this collection but rather to ensure that the wild plant community (known as population) is managed or sustained.  This is partly covered by the term wild crafted, which is different from the term collected.  Sustainability requires management and that requires fair pricing.

 Saying wild crafted implies (even if not having enforceable status) that the plants have been collected in a sustainable manner.  It is very arrogant of people to assume that collectors are all dastardly people stripping the countryside, ignorant of botany and economics.  Most are not so stupid as to destroy their own eco system.  In fact their forebears had been harvesting these materials, sometimes for centuries.  So they do have some ideas of sustainability without the interference from young, western fresh out of university, government funded experts who are principally there to encourage them into the world wide market. 

This world wide market would often include the introduction of high input agriculture for the production of cash crops.  Or perhaps academic plant hunters – finding a specific species, taking it from the indigenous population (both plant and human) to be transplanted to a more developed country where the farming community can make more money from an alternative crop.  Such ideas would be sold to us as sustainability. One could equally argue that it is a stealth theft from the indigenous population.  Sustainability of community often goes out of the window when cash crops are introduced.  Agriculture is not always a solution to the sustainability of plant population or indigenous community.  Are you prepared to pay the real price of fair trade?

For the ethical therapist, this should not be about the politics of the market but should be about the actual material used.  Let us go back for a moment to the principle of life force or vitality.  By ingesting or using a plant that is “vital” we are supposed to heal quicker or find that the constituents of the plant extract simply seem to work better. 

Such effects are hard to pin down but were well understood by ancient people, who although expressing themselves in poetic and fanciful terms were not at all fanciful in their concepts and ideas.  This was made very clear in the seminal work by Fritjoff Capra – the Tao of Physics.  Professor James Lovelock, too, extended these ideas into the Gaia Hypothesis.  On the basis of his hypothesis it is not the eco system that will be destroyed, but rather those of us who are destroying the planet.  In other words, the system will bite back to our total disadvantage.

Ancient people expressed their ideas in different ways.  Gabriel Mojay, when talking about alchemy, draws our attention to the transformative powers of essential oils associated with this so called science in the Mediaeval period.  Combining fire and water had the explosive effect of steam and the equally dubious practice of distillation!  The ethereal or etheric oils that were produced had both a physical form and a non physical form, (aroma) both of which had quite distinct effects. 

We of course are familiar with this today in a different context of science.  We are also at the edge of new sciences and it would be right to call Aromatherapy an energy medicine or a vibrational medicine.  Tricia Davis in her works often uses the term subtle energy in relation to Aromatherapy and essential oils.  All this affects the ethical therapist who wants to work with such vibrational medicine. 

To the dyed in the wool “allopathic or chemical” orthodox practitioner there is no interest or regard for such ideas.  Rather there is a reliance on standardised materials that are often blended, rectified or reconstructed to conform to some industrial norm or standard.  The student is led to believe that such a finger print really exists.  Nature however is far from standard and biodiversity is the name of the species game.  That’s why the term population is used for wild materials.  Within the wild population, a whole gamut of genetic jumps may occur.  That’s why you end up with blue Lavender, purple Lavender, pink Lavender, white Lavender. 

This biodiversity has some interesting characteristics.  For example, if an essential oil has infinite variability, although within some top and bottom parameters, no germ will be able to readily adapt to it.  The first ethical point of contact with plant material for a professional aromatherapist who is working with vital energy or life forces must be the wild population, the species itself.

 Sustainability is really not an issue for the practice of the therapy itself.  The impact that a relatively small number of therapists would have on, say, Sandalwood is minute and the therapy itself should take precedence over all other uses for example shampoo, incense etc.  The trouble is, and as we know only too well, oils like Sandalwood, although controlled, are adulterated left, right and centre.  Sandalwood dust is incorporated in much incense (a by product of from the furniture and wood carving trade) but most of what people buy as sacred incense is no more than bamboo powder and synthetic fragrance.  In the UK not so long ago Health Which? identified one well known mail order company selling synthetic Sandalwood fragrance as authentic.  The mail order company promptly blames its supplier who admitted responsibility.  Running tests on Lavende, the magazine found mixed results (Health Which?, February 2001). Currently I am looking at some Frankincense which upon a GLC analysis (a useful tool but not an arbiter of quality) shows that it is largely Turpentine!  If therapists buy, use and sell cheap materials they neither support local communities or sustain ecology.

One could be harsh and say that people deserve what they pay for and an ever increasing demand for lower prices results in more and more junk finding its way onto the market.  Genuine aromatherapists should remember that they should be part of a very selective, traditional and exclusive supply line.  Many of the wild crafters I have met and worked with are very dedicated people, very professional people and additionally well trained in their crafting abilities and techniques.  The essential oils that they produce are often of exceptional quality, sometimes coming from very small stills – specialist stills such as percolation or hydro diffusion stills. 

The impression that is sometimes created is that wild crafted material comes from environmental rapists.  This is far from the truth. Doubtless there are rogues and poachers and there are shortages but often this results from the poorest communities being exploited by the richest countries and that includes people like you and me who are not prepared to pay the price for properly and carefully produced materials.  What is a tragedy is that in the demand for say a  boycotting, ethical communities and ethical companies can be put out of business.  The classical example is the issue over Brazilian Rosewood.  Arguments rage backwards and forwards as to whether the tree is really under pressure or not.  This is not the point at all.  First the therapist should decide whether they want to work with vibration, energy medicine, homeopathy, Aromatherapy etc.  They have to decide whether they want to work with the energy of the plant, and the species in a natural environment certainly provides the best materials.  No one can argue with that.  Once that’s established, the next consideration is the source material that comes form crafted sources, from sustainable sources.  They do exist – there are small specialist suppliers, there are conservation bodies that are encouraging re-forestation, there are all manner of activities that make really good news.  Good news does not make good journalism.  Good news does not sell books or papers and when blanket bans occur, small ethical communities go out of business.  Sure, their products were high priced in the first place and the smell alone said it was different from the industrial product which probably used pirated raw materials to add that little extra to their chemical compound.  Remember one of the big issues over Rosewood was the Communist Party attacking the use of Rosewood in Chanel perfume – decadence versus deprivation, not just sustainability.

Such issues can be raised time and time again.  At the time of writing this article I’m reviewing correspondence with my colleagues in Madagascar over the subject of Ravensara (Ravintsara).  Fragrant Earth was one of the very first companies to promote this into ethical health care and to encourage communities to traditionally harvest (wild craft) the necessary leaves.  My colleague writes “There is now little production but high demand.  Just a few years ago the oil was only known by Aromatherapists and the quantity available was enough to serve everybody.  Now lots of people ask for it but the actual quantity available has decreased, both of organic and non organic type.  ECOCERT does not want to certify any more the leaves from so called urban trees because of the possible pollution so this quantity of raw material is missing from the market, so there is extra pressure on the collector and the price increases.”  Have you noticed price increases?  I do not see it in the market so what may you be really buying?

Now where is the extra demand coming from?  It is not really coming from Aromatherapy as we know it but from the mass market who see Ravensara as a fashion.  From producers who have some international funding with some academics thrown in for good measure.  The first end result is a standardised product.  One of the justifications put forward for this standardised product is the issue of sustainability.  As I hope you can see, the issue becomes quite complex.  The driving force, however, is the large producer with the standardised material, which in the guise of green issues seeks to promote its own self interest.  This is clearly the case with many materials coming from the Chinese Republic, which is not well known for its policies on conservation.  Similar comments could be made about eastern and central Europe, Second World economies rather than Third World but where traditional values still apply and many medicines are coming from herbal sources.

So if the therapist is looking for vitality what are the alternatives if they cannot find the appropriate wild crafted material?  The secondary course is to go to organic material.  Again in the terms of green politics it has become a little bit fashionable to knock organic standards and societies.  I got into organics in my early teens.  In truth, I suppose it had always been with me – through my mother and grandparents who had encouraged my love of the soil and its natural cycles.  Also being brought up thinking that homeopathy was normal I was a prime candidate for following the trail of vitality and so was into organics early on! 

The average person, when they talk about organics, will define organically grown as being grown without pesticides, herbicides etc.  This is actually a secondary issue.  The primary aim of organics is to increase the vitality and natural strength of the plant via soil fertility.  Soil fertility includes microbial activity as well as mineral content so from the point of the ethical therapist, the professional therapist trying to give their client, patient or customer something different from what can be found in the supermarket.  The aim is to produce a healthy vital plant from a living soil.  Organically grown material is probably the best or second option if the wild material can’t be found. 

You should, however, remember the nature of the plant itself.  Earlier I had referred to wild plants as the species, the gene pool of all the varieties we would know as cultivars or things that we grow in agriculture or even in the garden.  These cultivars are often no more than slips or cuttings that have been taken from the original species.  As any gardener knows, you keep taking cuttings, and cuttings from cuttings, and cuttings from cuttings and eventually a clone – because that’s what it is – breaks down, deteriorates, has less vitality or life force.  That should tell us something.  Nature has its own way of explaining that the variety one grows is as important as anything else.  We can all probably appreciate this by thinking about tomatoes.  Tomatoes used to have taste and aroma.  These days they seem to be pretty cold, perhaps a little bitter and they have lost that warm almost musty aromatics of the old “Worthing” tomatoes. 

So sometimes it doesn’t matter how a material is grown if the variety or cultivar is poor in the first place.  Many varieties are grown for yield only and as a result have become pretty tasteless.  The same would apply to the fashion in roses which once went well away from fragrance.  The type of clone is as important as anything else.  When we buy essential oils very rarely is the term clone mentioned.  For example, if you buy High Altitude Lavender, is it from a species, a population or is it from a clone?  These are questions that professional therapists should be asking themselves.  They should be asking themselves what they really believe in, what they really want their clients and customers to have.

Another problem associated with organics is that people like to have them certified as organic.  Presumably this is because they don’t trust their supplier or really don’t know the pathways their oils have taken.  Many years ago now I had the privilege of being at the origin of what is called the Soil Association’s Symbol Scheme, a mark of quality.  So I know a little of how the system works.   Understandably it is very difficult to get an oil certified in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest!  You may actually have to put someone on a plane to get there, verify the whole system and then pay them to come back.  Now if the total production is 25 – 50 kilos, then I don’t think that is an option.  There is no way that people will pay that sort of price.  There is actually a lot of good organic material about that is uncertified.  This is often sold as pure and natural but you have to buy on trust.  Pure and natural, too, has become a meaningless phrase so again the supply line should be known and considered.  As for the rest of the crops, wild or cultivated, there is a world of technology, greed and profit between the growing community and the end user.  What Chanel uses or Avon specifies will more often determine a fashion or create a demand. 

The health food shops sell as many poor quality products as they do good quality products, especially in the toiletries sector.  Many professional therapists in medicine, health, well being and beauty want a more defined position.  They aim to maximise quality and look for efficacy not price.  Effectiveness is why people keep coming back.  If you are a manufacturer of cheap toiletries or cosmetics, that simply doesn’t apply or perhaps even matter.  It does, however, if someone has called upon us for a professionalism that cannot be found in a supermarket.  Green issues are all well and good and have their place but there should be a good deal of education and a clear understanding of the complex issues that surround each case, each country, each community, each growing method, each distillation method.  No one in their right minds wants to pick the last primrose but health professionals should be able to utilise what naturally grows in the wild.  Management and fair trade are the key.

Small time bans by therapists may well do more harm than good, especially to the small, specialist producer who is trying to keep traditional medicine along the traditional pathway.  Such ideas only suit big producers and plays directly into the hands of those who want a standardised product coming from large scale commercial agriculture or indeed into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry who is keen on restricting sales of naturals.  Very few therapists have the luxury of time to investigate the materials that we use, any more than the shopper has the time to investigate whether the organic produce they have just bought meets a specific type of organic standard.  Unfortunately at the end of the time, a certain amount of trust is involved. 

Such an idea turns green politicians red with fury.  After all we are not supposed to trust any body unless they have been blessed by those who claim authority in these matters.  Some of the people in Strasbourg who were voting for green ideas over the banning of allergens have no idea of the impact that such a simple move could make.  Incredibly some of them had no idea that essential oils were contained in citrus fruit peel, which presumably opens up the possibility that each orange or lemon should be labelled with its chemical allergen constituents! 

Few writers or journalists have really stood with wild crafters, worked with wild crafters and understood where they are coming at life from.  Few of us in the west have lived and perhaps watched the dying in Third World countries.  We need to support those who are working actively to improve matters.  We do need to consider what essential oils we buy or what herbs we buy or what herbal teas we buy.  We do need to think about organics, fair trade, wild crafting, sustainability.  That is the objective word – we need to think.  Perhaps above all we need to pay the price of supporting those communities, but then that’s another story.  Paying the price actually costs us something.  Supporting the ban and buying a cheaper alternative actually costs us nothing – it just makes us feel good.  It is enough to make Gaia die of laughter, but then as she shakes we could be thrown off the planet!

  1. From Private Papers 2006

At first in this introduction to this paper seems little to do with Cosmetics & Toiletries but it does. Depending upon which newspaper you read there is a campaign amongst some sections against main line cosmetics. I do not use the phrase ‘for green cosmetics’ because such campaigns are essentially negative – against something.

They are against parabens, against, sls, against petrochemicals, against perfume etc.  The nature of Green campaigning has changed during the course of the last few years. Campaigns highlight what they are against rather than what they are for. Fears are raised and normally applied to health and safety or appeal to sentiment.

As campaigns have a political dimension I cannot help but remember Mrs.Thatchers comments about Health & Safety legislation being used to introduce Socialism by the backdoor.

The European Parliament has a predominantly Socialist or Left wing tendency. Its extreme edges include both the Communists and the Greens. That does not mean members are extremists but in political terms they are not centrist parties. A degree of sentiment exists in such communities that personal wealth and choice and therefore luxury goods should be limited by the State in the interests of the proletariat. Politics do impact upon the Cosmetics industry by regulation and the wider manipulation of the market. The Cosmetic regulations now in place are often more stringent than in medical practice.

The Green Party & Left wing Socialists tend to be concentrated in the Scandinavian countries and Germany where there is also a strong culture of what we may call naturism and a particular view of cleanliness. A study of art from these countries also reveals this tendency.

This is reflected in their influence throughout the wider EU. Historically this ‘naturalistic’ approach raises strange bedfellows from the writings of Goethe to the arch Nazi, Himmeler! Naturopathic principles to which I subscribe arose in such countries birthing water cure and dietary cures. It is not till you reach Slav countries that this approach is tempered with more appeal to the senses or sensuality.

So for some cosmetics are luxury items and fragrance and Aromatherapy a decadent black art. They are a target for those who resent capitalism and see luxury presentation as over packaging, as a sin and cosmetics as unnecessary and with their female bias, an insult to women or Aromatherapy as verging onwitchcraft. We must remember that a sector of this political community are against something all the time, they are the perpetrators of the urban myths, have the ear of sound bite journalism and have little time for fact or hard science. Rather they appeal to emotion – principally fear. They are the Crusaders bringing salvation to a polluted world.

Into this mix can be added the true environmentalists whose views are often overtaken by extremism. For example the Organic movement which is primarily about soil science and the means of agricultural production, sustainability.  Serious pollution issues of contamination have been reduced to consumerism i.e. X product does not contain Y or Z therefore it is organic. This is not true but has become a fashionable position in journals and the more extreme activists have gradually infected organic organisations perhaps to ‘make them more campaigning’!   

We should accept that there is a certain media climate that highlights problems to an almost neurotic public! We should accept that the public are manipulated for reasons that are beyond the stated purpose. For example there has been a campaign to stop the use of Rosewood oil due to Amazonian rain forest destruction.  Chanel was ‘pilloried’ for its Rosewood usage.

Why was Chanel attacked for its use of Rosewood?  This was eventually reported to have been, at heart, a Brazilian Communist party inspired media attack on a luxury goods company.  The so called and public basis for the attack was the loss of rosewood trees and its environmental impact but this was spurious because it was resolvable and already well understood with conservation methods in place. Boycotts were organised, Chanel sales were hit.  So also were ethical producers of Rosewood oil who were engaged in renewable resourcing.

Rosewood oil is generally produced by distillation from the heartwood and therefore is destructive. It follows that supply must not outstrip demand. The need for conservation is clear to all not least the users of Rosewood oil for whom there is no incentive to see its loss. Into this campaign slipped another oft hidden Green issue (rarely discussed but still a motivating factor) – spirituality. Some campaigners believed that trees have spirit and therefore should not be felled at all. This fitted neatly with some Amerindian belief systems and contributed to campaign issues. My point is that the ‘against’ campaigners sometimes have hidden agendas which have little to do with reality, science or common sense. 

Obviously not all Rosewood logging was illegal and certainly not used to the extent suggested.  Ethical growing of Rosewood and the need for financial support to growers has been obscured to the detriment of all concerned.  The growers have been left to the market already affected by ‘against’ campaigns. If more effort were put into promotion of sustainable methods then such issues could be resolved to the benefit of all. However there is little ‘kudos’ in good news and hard work. It would also mean less publicity to pundits, more thought and responsibility rather than emotion and sentiment.

Similar emotional campaigns have been mounted against Sandalwood.  In this case it has somewhat backfired as alternative sources from developed countries have benefited from high prices.  In both cases the losers have been the poor. The winners have been the do-gooding campaigners whose personal profiles as environmentalists have been improved and sales for industrialised alternatives such as Linalool or Santol from chemical companies in developed countries.

The above is what we in the Cosmetics, Fragrance, Aromatherapy and related Industry should remember. Being aloof from it has allowed poor information to circulate and forced changes into the industry that have not been needed. Where genuine improvements have been made or advances made the campaigners have claimed the merit not the Industry.

The view presented is both a simplification of a complex situation and yet a reasonable summary. It is not a fashionable position but is realistic based upon my experience on both sides of the arguments.

  • ECOLOGY, SUSTAINABILITY, AND REALITY.  (from a presentation first made in St Louis USA 2003)

Personal Comments on Fragrant Earth Policy by Jan Kusmirek, a Long Time Director.

We live in a world of sound bites and instant experts. Aromatherapy, of which I am a devotee and practitioner, seems to suffer from a wealth of books and journals. As the market for mainline Aromatherapy books dies out due to the sheer number, journalists and others have begun to turn their attention to Green issues surrounding medicinal plants. Green issues exist and are genuine however they are not new.

Let me open by making this controversial statement: ‘If all the medical aromatherapists in the UK stopped using Sandalwood from Fragrant Earth it would make no difference to the exploitation problem with consequent damage to a sustainable crop, but it would damage the ethics of the therapy – with what would the ethical therapist substitute the energy of sandalwood?’

Let me now qualify this statement by adding ‘If that which is called Aromatherapy (in the toiletry & perfumery industry) stopped using Sandalwood it might make some difference to sustaineability and it certainly would if the Indian incense industry completely switched to synthetic Sandalwood.’ Those readers out there, I hope note the sense of humour and more than a grain of truth.

It might come as a shock for people to know that last year Fragrant Earth sold 1.5 litres of Sandalwood essential oil, drawn only from managed plantation. This should put into context claims that aromatherapists are denuding the world’s forests. This small volume went to Fragrant Earth customers who are in the main hard working, ethical, clinical therapists who have a responsibility for their clients or patients, as well as due regard to sustainable nature. It is insulting to their intelligence and dedication to classify them alongside the environmentally ignorant.

When Fragrant Earth was started in the late 80’s, it was with an objective of providing Aromatherapists with what they wanted. Most of the oils being sold at that time came from large industrial stills, and companies using materials of dubious merit. Having a background in Organic Growing and being lifelong supporters of the Soil Association, it seemed to us that the ethics of Aromatherapy demanded something different. So Fragrant Earth started up using the many contacts I had established over the years.

My world was then, as is now, closely associated with the extraction industry for herbs and plants and the substitution of synthetics by naturals. Basically my work was with, and remains the promotion of renewable resources. I have become quite well known in Aromatherapy over the years for promoting the ideas of life force and vitality, as well as pointing directly to the effect aroma has. The sense of smell and the unique aromatic properties of plants have been crucial to the sales policy of Fragrant Earth. They promote aroma, sensory perception and special oils above all.

Fragrant Earth has never been a big company and has remained faithful to its traditions. It has always primarily sold to Aromatherapists in medicine and the more serious beauty industries. It remains a specialist supplier. During the nineties it became the brand of choice for many dedicated therapists, counting amongst its customers many well known names. It led the way in trying to encourage a wider view of the need to use good materials, but always with regard to availability and sustainability, it was a pioneer in this field. Hence, we always said that we could not offer an ‘Over The Counter’ brand because there was not enough good material to go around. That is still our position for many essential oils.

Of course this did not make us popular. We have never wanted to sell into Aromatherapy a chemical soup which is how we view many industrial materials. We did and do want to sell very active often hard to source materials. Over the years we have been sniped at, got at and pilloried by an odd collection of people, some purporting to be very green, others carrying the banner of orthodox chemistry. Despite these attacks often personal (and we are not the only company that suffers such abuse) we stick to our guns basically saying if Aromatherapists really want active, vibrant essential oils and if a therapist claims to be holistic and believes in life forces, prana, chi whatever name is given then they have to seek something outside the standard essential oils.

There are several resources open to therapists. The first resource is nature in the wild. No, not stripped from nature, but wild crafted. I had the privilege a few years ago of being part of a committee setting standards for wild crafting. These standards cover everything from a sustainability plan to abiding by fair trade rates of commerce. Genuine wild crafted materials are not easy to find but they do exist and often supported by government and non government organizations encouraging for example sustainable forest communities.

People rely on people like you and us to maintain wild populations and to cut out eco piracy. Without harvest and maintenance wild populations can and do disappear as any true conservationist knows. Nature is not immutable but moves on. That is why the word ‘craft’ is used. My advice to critics is to get out of the armchair, abandon the computer and university grant and go get your hands dirty and find out what real people really do! No you won’t end up a famous guru but you may do some good on the way.

Wild species plants are as nature intended – vital, alive and diverse in themselves. This means that bugs are less readily able to adapt due to this natural diversity. Some advocate agriculture as an alternative but are they farmers or real conservationists? I doubt this as many species will not adapt and farming practice leads to changes in the resultant material. Clones are normally used in farming even for such basics as Lavender i.e. clone Maillette. We all know the way clones deteriorate over time; some are so weak they need rootstocks from the original species to support their existence. So much for Life Force then. What about hybrids? Have you noticed that they are sterile, and does this not raise the issue again of Life Force? So an ethical therapist needs to explore these questions too. Like most really important things these are big and complex subjects.

Fragrant Earth has always suggested that by its existence it advocates the best for healthcare not a poor substitute. Substituting one species for another does not make sense unless you rely on orthodox chemistry alone. If you do that then fine, but do not criticize those therapists who acknowledge species diversity, the field of the plant and its vibrational properties that have made it what it is. The chemical componency differs from field to field but thyme remains thyme. This is the point of alternative or complementary medicine; the whole is more than the sum of its parts. We are totally committed to seeking the best from nature and importantly maintaining nature.

So in the Fragrant Earth brochure you will find wild crafted materials and you will find organically grown materials, as well as materials from orthodox agriculture. Wild is not best if it damages the ecology, organic grown is not best if the material is poor, orthodox is not best if pumped full of chemicals. We try to source the best for health and well-being. Not unnaturally this is in short supply and as our customers know Fragrant Earth does run out from time to time it’s a sign of commitment to sustainability!

Below, are a few essential oils about which caution should be shown. This is our opinion and is not meant to reflect badly upon what other people do. Fragrant Earth is not the only Company in the world that has ethics. We seek out sustainable resources as I am sure others do. Each, not unnaturally, guard their sources; it is a competitive world. So we would not presume to comment on others. A lot of research material can be found on the Internet but avoid the shock horror sites they usually have an axe to grind.

We leave it to you the therapist to decide without pressure from the company and we hope from other sources to decide your position on oils that come from species that for whatever reason are in short supply. The work at Fragrant Earth is to ensure that our buying sources come from realistically sustainable or ethical supplies. An interesting case study from my experience will be found as a foot note to this article.

1) Sandalwood especially santalum album. Most authorities are aware of these problems and a variety of articles and programmes exist. A Certified organic product has been made available.

2) Rosewood Aniba rosaeodora & Ocotea pretiosa (known also as Sassafras). Big controversies exist around this oil from red politics to traditional tree spirit religions. Sustainable material sources exist.

3) Amyris balsamifera also called West Indian Sandalwood has been under pressure due to the Sandalwood shortage in part brought about by restrictions.

4) Spikenard Nardostachys jatamansi I believe Fragrant Earth were the first to add this to an Aromatherapy list many years ago. Brought to our attention by a Polish émigré there. The problem exists in material taken from Nepal down into India. Some good attempts at conservation have been made.

5) Cedarwood Cedrus atlantica from North Africa which does need careful watching but the Morroccan government is not stupid and the trees are under specific Royal patronage. Certainly you cannot substitute this with Junipers which are sold as Cedars.

These are the oils Fragrant Earth would like to draw to your ethical attention. We advocate their use being restricted to proper Aromatherapy which demands skill and thoughtful use.

In plant conservation various phrases are used. You will generally find the phrases Extinct, Endangered, Threatened, Vulnerable and Protected. These have different shades of meaning. Remember too that you must be aware of the danger of using Generic Names. Wintergreen from the wilds of the Himalaya might be endangered but be readily available as a farmed crop elsewhere! Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Lastly when considering this article from the comfort of your home, spare a thought for the many communities who lack the basic needs of the day. Many of these communities need to be supported by more than food aid from a rich selfish Europe. Third world countries need more demand for their produce at good prices. If a demand exists then it should be met and rather than bans and restrictions sustainable agriculture and responsible wild crafting should be encouraged.

We consumers are responsible for much world poverty by our constant demand for cheaper goods. We undermine good companies who pay fair trade prices by looking to cheaper goods sometimes ripped from conservation areas because we want cheaper prices. This is a big and long argument! This site is not the place for politics however you see I get quite excited about poor people. Fragrant Earth has done a good job in many ways, especially in leading therapists to think about vitality. Sure we have made mistakes and errors too but we continue to promote and source as near to nature as possible.

In a few years from now I will have reached retirement age. So to you younger people who have green concerns, I say think through the implications of what you advocate. Really study nature and explore world communities. If you can, go and live or work in the third world or failing that take a back breaking holiday hand weeding on an organic farm! This way you will grasp the wider picture and not have the narrow view. Lets all work for a sustainable world but please lets use our intelligence not just our emotions.

About Jan Kuśmirek

Having brushed with the Security Services in my late teens and early twenties, I went on to become one of the world's leading exponents of aromatic medicine and skin care. I am an accepted authority on the subject and a sought-after lecturer. In the last few years I have turned my hand to literature and am the author of three spy novels that retell the European confilcts of the 20th century from a Polish perspective. The central character in the series - Teddy Labden - has resonated with the Polish media, who have claimed him as their own "James Bond".
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