The 1st of march is St Davids day celebrating the patron saint of Wales. St. David’s mission was in the 6th century he founded a monastic order with some pretty strict rules, insisting that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals and they must drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs. Like so many of the saints, Glastonbury, the home of Fragrant Earth, has long been associated with David who was related to King Arthur. The lovely and smallest city of Britain is named for St. David.

Many myths and traditions come from this Welsh Celtic part of the UK one of which is that on the eve of battle with the Saxons, St. David told the army to attach a leek to their helmet or cap to distinguish themselves from the enemy. It became part of military tradition and Welsh soldiers carry the emblem every day, as they show the leek symbol on their buttons.

The wearing of a daffodil as an alternative is a more recent tradition popularised by David Lloyd George. Who in 1911 when Prime Minister wore a daffodil at the investiture of the future king Edward VIII as Prince of Wales in Caernarvon.

Leeks have always been  highly regarded as a cure for the common cold and preventing inflammation, incidentally the root of most diseases. Leeks are a tasty, healthy ingredient in cawl, the traditional Welsh broth and are full of beneficial vitamins.

The same cannot be said for daffodils. The daffodil relies mostly on its beauty, and this brings us to the ancient Greek legend of Narcissus, another worldly character being the son of a god and nymph. He chanced to see his own reflection in a pool of water and, thus, discovered the ultimate in unrequited love for he fell in love with himself, worshiping his own beauty. Narcissus’ name lives on as the daffodil into which he was transformed and as a synonym for those obsessed with their own appearance.

The family name for daffodils is Narcissus those beautiful early Spring flowers. The UK is the world’s largest producer of daffodil and narcissus cut flowers, many grown in Cornwall for the earliest blooms.

Narcissuses or daffodils have been known to people since ancient times; there is a mention of this plant already in De Materia Medica, a book of medicinal recipes put written by Dioscorides in the times of the Roman Caesr Nero. Dioscorides was a classical Greek doctor and pharmacologist who is considered one of the Fathers of Botany.

Today daffodils are not familiar as a medicinal herb and if bulbs are eaten, they will cause vomiting and can cause death. Extracts can produce numbness, hallucinations, convulsions and heart palpitations. Modern uses include extracting galantamine from the bulbs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and research shows daffodil compounds as a good treatment for depression having also the ability to kill off certain cancer cells (such as in  leukaemia).

Aromatherapy does not use narcissus, but perfumery certainly does. Narcissus absolute is drawn from two varieties the most common of which is narcissus poeticus, commonly known as the poet’s narcissi or pheasant’s eye.

The smell of narcissus absolute is strongly green, very sweet-herbaceous over a faint, but quite persistent floral undertone described voluptuous darkness yet this note is also honeyed, greenish and soft. It is usually a viscous liquid, dark green or dark brown orange, but occasionally a dark olive colour.

I remind narcissus absolute users that the word narcosis comes from the same Greek root word. It could therefore be considered as an adjunct to ylang ylang for its hypnotic or sedative properties. However, in perfumery it is found in many, many fragrances perhaps as much as 10% of all fragrances. Some names you might know are Givenchy’s L’Interdit loved by Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, similarly  Samsara and Fatale feature narcissus.

But there are two other narcissus species that have value in perfumery Narcissus tazetta, sometimes called Chinese sacred lily and Narcissus jonquilla simply known as jonquil. However these are often sold simply as narcissus, although there are different odour profiles to the poeticus type.

The tazetta species is now the most uncommon of the absolutes which can be found. It is generally a definite green colour with a more earthy and nutlike notes but definitely a deep floral.

Jonquil  again has its characteristic differences not least of which to me is that when used in very low concentrations it smells near to the heady flower making it less ‘floral’ than its counterpart species. Perhaps there is an aromatherapy or medical note, like tobacco, flouve, and spice but this is not dominant as there are so many notes that can be picked up such as honey, orange blossom, hyacinth and tuberose. The latter can be found within all the narcissus absolutes.  The jonquil absolute smell is very multifaceted — we can feel here shades of honey and mimosa, orange flower, tuberose, and black currant as well as the herbal bitterness of hyacinth. Expect to see a more deep yellow to brown coloured liquid.

Whilst having narcissus in your collection is itself a pleasure, the disappointing smell from absolutes is not uncommon, they do not often smell as expected from the source flower or materials. Remember these are concentrations and find their true smells only by dilution. The perfumer is trying to create accords, so they look for complementary aromas rather than single notes as might an aromatherapist.

Do not expect narcissus to be inexpensive it is not. There only has an annual availability of 100kg say for jonquil.

Its no surprise to find that synthetic accords have been made to replicate the smell of narcissus and these are readily available so be warned if offered cheap prices. The synthetics are from manufactured  phenols and esters such as (4-methylphenyl) acetate commonly known as narcissus, for it seems to smell similar to the absolute but has only one note. From this note other synthetics can be added to provide a narcissus accord.

My best tip is to enjoy the natural flower, for part of natures joy is the feel that the natural aroma and fragrance provides.  The Narcissus genus includes 54 primary species, and all known cultivated decorative narcissus hybrids are divided into 13 groups. One of the pleasures of life is reading the catalogues of daffodil growers and nurserymen seeing the lovely photos of all the different varieties. Let’s get outside in the garden or buy some and smell the flowers! If you are a budding perfumer best of luck in trying to reach the complexity of the daffodil smell.

Do not forget the warning of Narcissus for you might find that overly sniffing takes you to another world!  

Jan Kusmirek©

January 23

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mindfullness – What it Means

Mindfulness – this phrase crops up regularly in all manner of media. Apparently, it is something we should all be aware of us concerning ourselves and life. One may take find courses on how to achieve this ‘state’ and related practices or as in many articles one should simply practice it without any real advice as to what is meant.

We can trace the idea back to Buddhist philosophy, but mindfulness is not a set of doctrines, a belief system or indeed a philosophy. The ‘idea’ behind the term seems to be to be at peace with oneself, being satisfied in the equilibrium of the moment. There also seems to be, at least in the way that some teach, that as stressed and disturbed or suffering people or indeed humanity we can achieve a way of being and our response to the world can be mitigated.

Now most people would be put in mind of meditation, its purpose and technique and the related term mindfulness to lack definition and to be very loose and woolly. Some would say its about living the moment by noticing what is going on around you, the experience of the moment and react to the experience rather than any circumstantial habit without thought. Is that different from thinking about what your situation is in the moment, its consequences, and effects? I do not think so.   

All our actions should have a sense of kindness, common humanity and being non-judgemental. Proponents, teachers would say this should be applied to oneself as a primary objective. The suggestion is that breath control will aid in this fostering this attitude to self and others. This is reminiscent of Zen practice focusing on the intake of breath whereby we release past, present and future, taking in the breath of life and releasing it slowly. Anyone who practices meditation would recognise this. So is Mindfulness just a modern word, fashionable and the province of the London, LA, New York centric, journalists and celebs?  

Yes and No for the word has entered the general vocabulary but as I said above, used without definition. Let’s say then that mindfulness is meditation but that rather than separating ourselves from the world by cantering the objective is to relate to the world around us as experience.  Instead of closing our mind we observe what is going in and around us internally and let our thoughts flow without distraction.

Mind wandering in normal meditation is discouraged but with mindfulness it is not such a bad thing.  This is an opportunity to become aware of the reason or purpose of the mind wander and the ebb or flow of your thinking its direction and nature. Likewise with the sensations our body produces, rather than worry abut these strange pains, feelings and sensations we can evaluate the experience and change our attention to more pleasant aspects for the mind and usually categorise things as unpleasant, neutral or pleasing. For example, we can observe our heart rate and slow or increase it but observing the moment from different perspectives that is body function, feelings, and observing how our mind responds to these then followed by pondering as to why and where the mind returns. Mindfulness can therefore be a path of discovery about our habitual being and a journey into a better understanding of ourselves.

One of the first synergies Fragrant Earth produced was a meditation aid which has been widely used. Smelling the Meditation synergy was designed to centre the mind upon a single dominating note with molecules that induced sedation and a hypnotic state. This would not relate to the Mindfulness we discussed above.

The first question asked would be is there a relationship to smell and Mindfulness to act as a similar single aid. At Fragrant Earth we do not see this as a possibility but rather an opportunity for people to explore what various fragrances, perfumes or essences bring to their mind and emotions, a way to really explore feelings.

Fragrant Earth has some experience with this within their natural perfume range Ladies of the Lake whereby consumers are invited not to like or dislike a smell but rather experience the feeling, the impact that the odour provokes. Likewise in Mindfulness the complexity of our very being in body, feelings and mind needs clarity. Complex fragrances may well have been made with a purpose in mind which can be tuned into.

An example of such would be a group of fragrances created by Fragrant Earth called the Fey. Two artists created images of fairy, otherworldly beings, with specific characteristics and in certain settings. Simultaneously a small booklet gave stories concerning real life events with morals for each event. These morals are about our feelings, pains, anxieties, and sufferings whereby a fairy godmother might help. The purpose of the perfumer behind these complex fragrances was to set a path toward an exploration of the moment of smelling. Where can it take us? Surely away from the world but still in it but induced and provoked feelings, to excite intrigue and move us to be more positive about anxiety, pian and fatigue.

Mindfulness and smell, the act of breathing in and out the energy of nature go together. Strangely or coincidentally the Fey fragrances come in eight forms reminiscent of the Buddhist eightfold path. Our sense of smell is underutilised and is a good sense to take us to a place where we can rest, pause, and observe the moment. WE recommend the Fey as a Mindfulness assistant.   

Jan Kusmirek ©march 20/22

Posted in Body & Skin Care, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Be careful about what you wish for

The recent history of aromatherapy in the 21st century has highlighted the difference between those set on an orthodox medical approach to therapy and those who relate more to complementary or alternative approaches. Much relates to essential oils and our understanding or beliefs about how they work within the body system.

I have always lamented that within aromatherapy, the power of smell has never been given the credence or the value that a smell has. Education about the olfactory system is quite limited for most students being quickly assessed as molecules passing through and affecting the hormone system before passing to the limbic area and imagination and dream.

The oral route, and I include inhalation in this approach via transmission across the lungs, gets more attention. Some therapists are for oral ingestion others against. Much of this argument revolves around the claims that are made. Medical claims are not allowed for essential oils sold over the counter to consumers and is disallowed by practioner organisations. I think that for the consumer a pill is seen as medical even if it is not the same applies to a teaspoon of something! This can be seen in the supplement industry for despite what any legislation may say a supplement is taken by consumers for health benefit an example would be glucosamine taken ‘against’ arthritis.

Safety has always been a concern when taking essential oils by mouth or by ingestion. Multi-level sellers have contributed greatly to misunderstandings about the safety, use and efficacy of essential oils. This is not necessarily the fault of the originating company but rather of the exaggerated claims by individual seller to meet targets and grow personal benefit and income. Sometimes this sales route produces almost evangelical beliefs that surpass reality.

At the time of writing, I have letter from a potential Fragrant Earth customer enquiring about whether their oils are suitable to replace a multi-level brand. The reason for her enquiry concerns her self-treatment of a cancer she is suffering from. Now for whatever reason or source she has gotten hold of some ideas that naturally offer hope, but the problem is that there is no management of the outcome by the seller which is my main objection. A sale has been made but such a disease, presumably already under some ‘normal’ treatment needs management or cooperation with other clinicians.

Turning briefly back to the supplement industry I have noticed an increasing number of French aromatherapy brands now offering gelules, syrups and bonbons containing or laced with essential oils for various named purposes. Certainly, I have benefited from some very good, sugar free soothing lozenges, propolis and eucalyptus, a great combination. Sometimes adventurous copy overcomes local registration problems for I am looking at a catalogue as I write from Belgium selling ‘sweets to suck when winter arrives’, the flavourings of course essential oils!

If one looks at the national official pharmacopeia’s from the 1930’s, which is not so long ago, although to generation Z it probably sounds like the Dark Ages, many essential oils are featured. These were the days before modern synthetic antibiotics so essential oils were a great first line of defence against infectious disease.  In the UK many branded products continue to promote and sell herbal essences, tinctures syrups using essential oils as actives.  These are registered medicines or licensed medicines.

How this came about is aptly described by the British Herbal Medical Association who write “From the early 1970s a herbal medicine making a medicinal claim on the label required a Product Licence. Acceptable products already on the market were granted Product Licences of Right (PLRs) with minimum formality at the time, but thereby became subject to general regulatory requirements for medicines including, for example, the premises in which they could be manufactured. The European Community Review of Medicines during the 1980s required such products to be reviewed for quality, safety and efficacy by 1990. Those that satisfied the requirements were granted a Product Licence (i.e. a full Marketing Authorisation) and can be identified by a “PL” number on the product pack. For the majority, the available evidence of efficacy was based more on human experience than formal clinical studies and therefore indications had to commence with the words “A traditional herbal remedy for……”

 This has of course, which is typical of the European regulatory scenario, stopped the development of new and effective plant based medicines. Remedies based upon further traditional use particularly from aromatherapy have generally been unable gain traction in the medical context. Why so? To obtain a license now requires the same level of cost and requirements including trials as the pharmaceutical industry. This cost is prohibitive as it was designed to be. Big Pharma, as it is known, is the most powerful lobby worldwide alongside the arms industry. Jealous of its reputation and with outstanding successes in the medicines field it is understandable that the drug industry is not going to give way to witches, herbalists and folk tradition even if the remedies are demonstrated to be successful.

Those companies that were in the herbal business at the time of the regulatory changes and who obtained their product licenses by right were lucky. Aromatherapy was not yet established enough to come into that category. The number of essential oil suppliers as compared to today was very small and the emphasis was not on product but rather establishing the legal right to practice as a therapist. Practice took precedence over product.

The common law of England hold that patients have the right to exercise autonomy over their own bodies and over the treatment they undergo. This does not come from the European Convention on Human Rights but is a common law right. Common law is a system of law based on custom, tradition, and court decisions rather than on written legislation. One could say it is part of the tradition of being a free willed human. It is clearly the right of humans to take advantage of the health and life benefits of the hedgerow and wild fields. Unfortunately, legislation often dressed up in favour of safety has limited this right as seen  in the many patented medicines based or drawn from nature.

The 1970’s and 80’s were a great time for legislators and new regulations for medicine and cosmetics grew like Topsy. It was into the latter category that aromatherapy sought shelter. Coincidentally the Spa industry came out from its image of cold water and exercise into the more leisure spas of today. Spas in some European countries had a special medical role or status and so in this area treatment became blurred and aromatherapy ‘British’ style with massage grew increasingly popular. The question remained as to whether aromatherapy was a ’proper’ treatment.  

There were two highly influential schools in England that kick started aromatherapy leading to its worldwide popularity. These were the London School of Aromatherapy and the Shirley Price School of Aromatherapy. Both had distance learning programmes and spawned eventually rival or associated schools in different countries but notably the USA and Japan. Europe was retarded from this growth by opposition from perfume companies. They were scared of aromatherpie as practiced in France which is part of orthodox trained  medicine, often with oral prescription, compromising their market. Individuals who used aromatherapy, even ‘British’ style were fearful of prosecution as non-licensed practitioners of medicine.

There were two available solutions. The first was to seek shelter under cosmetic legislation as distinct from perfumery. Today essential oils are very prevalent in skincare and toiletry products. Essential oils as actives are seen especially in the smaller independent brands which, much to the annoyance of major brands, almost seem to operate ‘under the radar’ with unsubstantiated claims. Oddly despite wanting to be seen as distinct from perfumery, blends with various claims in label copy, hide on the ingredient list using the term parfum. Strictly speaking the only use of this term should be applied to fragrance and certainly noy in suppor5tof other claims. C’est la vie for the present.

The other solution had to prioritise the therapy itself. It was necessary to establish standards of training and practice acceptable to government institutions for education and practice as well as independent exam bodies. Two primary aromatherapy practitioner organisations were formed each one biased to one of the original schools. These two were the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) and the International Society of Professional Aromatherapists (ISPA) the SP part was always referenced to Shirley Price by the less commercial IFA membership! All thanks must be given to a band of hard-working volunteers at the time who helped establish what is now the worldwide aromatherapy phenomenon. of today. Few have been given the accolade they deserved being side-lined by the more commercially minded writers and producers.

With numerous amalgamations aromatherapy today is organised internationally but the old age split as to what it is; beauty, spa, therapy, medicine still exists. Most organisations still oppose oral use for the rather practical reasons mentioned within the article.

There is also some division due to the ambitions for the therapy amongst those with a bias toward the orthodox field or the desire to place science as the basis for the therapy. It seems more status is given to being a doctor or nurse rather than a therapist. If aromatherapy is seen as no more than smelly massage, then one can quite see their point. If a form of aromatic medicine is the goal, then legislation has to be unpicked which is highly unlikely. Equally the materials of aromatherapy would for the same legislative reasons have to be refined and standardised which some would see as a heresy.  

This heresy seen by some can be seen by examining one of the success story of the essential oil industry Tea Trea Oil (TTO). Arthur Penfold in Australia in the 1920’s had made reference to the different chemical constituents that could be found in Eucalypts of the same species growing close to each other. He acknowledged that whatever the constituent, the tree was the same species and had all the same botanical characteristics that its seed had foreordained in leaf, form and function. Whatever could be analysed in chemical terms its life form was a Eucalypt. Those who look beyond chemistry perfectly understand the meaning of this.

Penfold was also really the starting point for the development of the Tea Tree industry, and he promoted its use because he identified that it had antiseptic properties and had a history of traditional use. I do remember when the best tea tree species clones were being developed by Macquarie university that a terpineol4-ol type was identified as the epitome of the desired standard. The standard today sets the maxima and minima for the 14 components of the chemotype “Oil of Melaleuca—terpinen-4-ol type,”. Oddly the standard does not stipulate the species of melaleuca to be used. Some practitioners had a preference for wild sources rather than the standardised form but this is not the general view for legislation intervened.

Consumers today are likely to Google for information about tea tree and one of the first sites co come up will be Wikipedia. This how it is and is unfortunate in a world of information our lazy searching has become so limited.  By reading the entry one could soon be put off using it. The second section is headed Toxicity. There is plenty of data. Numerous traditional uses are mentioned but  “there is little evidence of efficacy” and “there is not enough evidence to support any of these claims due to the limited amount of research conducted on the topic”. My point is that in science which is often little more in academia an endless search for research grants, one should be wary of what one wishes for.

The lesson is, the more aromatherapy is proven to be effective the more restrictions will begin to be applied. This may seem jaundiced but that is the experience of much natural medicine and the evidence is all around you in pharmacies and as explained above. The balance between rights and freedoms has during the Covid period been heavily weighted against freedom. Many essential oils have been used in sanitisers to improve the characteristics of anti-viral and bacterial ethanol and propanol with great success with little publicity, for after all regulatory affairs would not allow such to be marketed without controls.  Nevertheless the financial might of the toiletry industry has elevated citrus essential oils into the same killing category all fully approved. I suppose one must assume that if ethanol does the trick with a bit of water, perfume, colour and gelling agent why bother for the profit margin has been brilliant.

Jan Kusmirek © February 2022

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment


One of the most frequently asked questions in aromatherapy and about essential oils concerns their quality.  All users, domestic or professional, like to think that they use “good quality” essential oils for aromatherapy.  As human beings our natural inclination is to reinforce the value of our purchasing decisions.  Few people would admit to buying poor quality yet, undoubtedly, by our desire to have good quality essential oils for aromatherapy and by using the term ‘good’, we admit that there must be the opposite, bad or poor quality essential oils, which are used for what we may call aromatherapy.  Some examples can be found at the end of this article.

Around the world since the late 1980’s I have been discussing this subject with a variety of professional people from perfumers to research scientists, from aromatherapists to producers and distillers.  I have also had the privilege of lecturing on this subject world wide at a variety of seminars and events, and conducted courses on the subject at numerous schools.  Indeed, Fragrant Studies International Ltd still offers the basic course “The Quality of Essential Oils” quite regularly and this eye-opening series of lectures is always well received by aromatherapists.  One of the strengths of this course is that it is not biased toward Fragrant Earth.  My reputation has been built upon neutrality and, once the listener has comprehended the meaning of the question “what is a good quality essential oil”, then its easy to see why neutrality between suppliers is easy to understand.  This short article is therefore only a précis of a full day’s lecture.

  1. Quality is a notion, it is not an absolute.   We must firstly define what we want to use the essential oil for.  So at Fragrant Earth we define quality as ‘fit for a stated purpose’ and no more than that.  Calling a chocolate ‘Quality Street’ does not make it the worlds best chocolate compared, say, to a handmade Belgian chocolate from a specialist.  Each has a role; each chocolate has a place in the market but the two are not comparable.  This holds true for essential oils.
  1. If we accept that the word ‘quality’ has to have applied to it a designated purpose, only then can we say what is best for that specific purpose.  We have to clearly define what we want the material for.  Let’s say ‘aromatherapy’.  What is that?  There are many aromatherapies these days.  Some aromatherapy is no more than smelly fun.  Some aromatherapy is serious medicine.  Some aromatherapy is mass market beauty therapy.  Other aromatherapy is serious individual treatment.  What aromatherapy do you practice?  We have to be very honest about what we do – about the level of our training and what we expect to get from our material.
  1. Essential oils are very different from each other.  The same plant grown in one part of the world, or in another soil, will yield something quite different from that grown in its native territory.  In addition, the way it is processed from harvest to storage, from storage to distillation, will affect the end result.  There is no doubt about this, and we cannot simply hide behind illusions.  Some essential oils are produced from bad material in the first place.  Some essential oils have many chemicals added to them to ‘improve’ them, or change them.  There is no point in arguing what is fraudulent, right or wrong.  At this point we simply have to accept that there are differences in essential oils.  Some brought about by man’s intervention, some coming about by nature itself.  We should realise then that essential oils are classified by manufacturers as industrial raw materials, aimed at a specific market, for example flavourings or perfume, etc.  These industries require the same taste, the same smell, from year to year.  So it’s pretty obvious to anyone with an ounce of logic that these industries will produce standardised materials.
  1. Essential oils are standardised by their chemical componence. As hinted at above, essential oils in their primary production, coming from all over the world and sometimes from different varieties, have different chemical components.  We may see on a list for example – Geranium/ Pelargonium roseum.  That sounds fine and dandy.  But if it comes from China it will be different from that coming from Morocco.  China is cheaper than Morocco and so a blend can be made of the two, or some components taken out of one or added back to another, to simply arrive at the smell of geranium from that particular company or for a particular perfume.  These industrial products are sold on as “natural”.  Are they, or are they not?  That is a question for you to answer.  They mostly certainly come from nature but the standardised version, the reconstructed version, the rectified version, is not as near to nature as is possible.  In fact it’s probably quite a long way away from what the plant released in the sunshine from its leaves as an aroma from its essential oil.  So what do you want?
  1. The British in particular have a penchant for believing that everything should be cheaper.  The supermarket mentality.  So what people want is low price and good quality.  The two very rarely go together.  At the end of this article there is a quote from John Ruskin which I would like you to consider very seriously.  (John Ruskin was a Victorian, English philosopher).  Essentially, you only get what you pay for.  Of course there is room for savings on scale of production and so on, but here we’re talking about plants, things that grow in the ground where there is a finite resource.  To understand essential oils for certain styles of aromatherapy perhaps medicine, fine fragrance or truly holistic treatment, we may have to look elsewhere than the standard industrial product.  Those industrial products are touted by those who delight in telling us that such and such an oil matched a standard GLC.  Such a notion simply tells you that the oil has been adjusted to conform to a standard.
  1. There is a straight analogy with wine and essential oils.  We all know that you can buy cheap, mass produced plonk.  It’s good for getting drunk with and for social drinking.  Most however accept that there is a pleasure to be derived from experiencing the taste of wine.  We must now remember that the majority of so-called taste is in fact aroma or smell.  So the difference between a good wine and a fine wine is in its smell, its aromatic substances – just like essential oils.  A fine lavender grown at 1400 metres is entirely different from a lavender grown at sea level.  There is just something that the mind or taste captures that is not in the standard product.  However the finest wines, being in short supply due to the nature of the ground, the side of the mountain, the weather , the season etc., are always more expensive than their standard blended cousins.  It doesn’t matter whether the wine comes from Hungary, Chile, South Africa or France, there is always a difference of price.  This irritates some people because they can’t afford the best, so their irritation turns into knocking the best.  This emotional response has nothing to do with quality.  It’s the same sort of response as when a neighbour who sees a nearby new car they can’t afford, goes out at night and scratches the new one.  We cannot simply bury our heads and say that we can buy good quality essential oils cheaper and cheaper.  Obviously there is a difference between one company and another but the nearer you are to nature the more expensive its going to be.
  1. Materials that are nearest to nature have to have, like wine, a ‘provenance’.  That means you know where something has come from, its origins, its sources, how it was produced and so on.  Few essential oil suppliers really know this about the products they sell.  Most essential oils are purchased from very big companies like Charabot, Adrian and so on.  These companies specialise in blending, or manufacturing for a purpose.  Aromatherapy does not feature very much in their interests.  Often oils are distributed via wholesalers, from wholesalers to small packers, small packers to different brands who sell them on to anyone from market traders to department stores.  So, in this sense, price isn’t always a guide.  After all an industrial lavender can just as readily be sold with a computer–produced label in a market or be found in a high class department store with a highly creative bottle and label etc.  This is partly a fault of the ignorance of the consumer who may not have the opportunity, or the knowledge, to tell the difference.  Again the analogy with wine is pretty exact.  Very few people in the UK, even 30 years ago, knew much about wine.  It’s only with the rise of the television wine pundits that people have begun to really notice the difference.  At Fragrant Earth occasionally we run smell and taste sessions where perhaps 40 lavenders (essential oils) are compared with each other.  Therapists love these events, soon become quite knowledgeable and realise that if you want to put something in a burner for a pretty smell at a dinner party there is no necessity to use ‘the best’.  Whereas if someone has a real problem with insomnia, then the best is to be preferred.  It’s a question of ethics not just a question of price.
  1. A few suppliers (and Fragrant Earth is included in this group) offer speciality oils produced normally by small growers and specialist distillers.  They trade particularly in the market of those who want oils that are near to nature and have a very dynamic fragrance.  I believe that fragrance is all important in true aromatherapy.  There is a certain life to it, a certain characteristic or dynamism that is lost in the blending of the industrial process.  I personally favour wild grown material from species.  Of course this raises issues of ecology which I’m very particular about.  My second choice is from materials grown organically.  But not everything can be grown organically and I do not believe that ‘organically grown’ is a statement of quality in itself.  It is a statement about soil quality. We forget that the soil needs feeding appropriately.  So ‘organic’ is always good for the soil.  But if you put the wrong species in the wrong place and you use a new clone or a new hybrid that is tasteless in the first place, growing it organically is not going to do much for the produce!  This is now happening with essential oils.  Organic growing is a sound investment in ecology but the produce is not always the best if the farmer doesn’t think through what crops best on his particular land.
  1. Essential oil quality is a very complex subject.  You have to decide what you are and look into your heart to see what your real ethics are.  At the end of the day it’s quite right that you need to make a profit but you also need to ask a question as to the nature of that profit.  Is it earned honestly?  People that attend holistic aromatherapists surely expect something different.  Do they really expect standardised product, industrial product, with a pretty label, that was purchased by the therapist because it was cheaper than a specialist brand?  There is room for harsh judgement here.  This is quite a different scenario from the consumer who has heard a little about aromatherapy, buys a fluffy ‘aromatherapy’ shampoo from a supermarket.  That’s called ‘point of entry’.  A professional therapist may have different brands for different circumstances.  It is a challenge too for those with a spiritual dimension to be forced to face the reality of essential oils.  Do you believe that a spirit of a plant really (if that is your inclination) lives in a diluted essential oil laced with mineral oil or turpentine?  It’s no good simply hiding behind a Gas Liquid Chromatograph.  These can be manipulated just as the essential oils can be manipulated.  We must face the fact, with new European legislation relating to ‘allergens’, essential oils are going to be increasingly manipulated.  We must face the fact that, for example, Bergamot is easily synthesised without too much difficulty and that some of the best synthetic reproductions of Bergamot essential oil are difficult even for the expert to distinguish from the genuine oil.  My words? – no.  Rather David Williams written way back in 1989. (book title?)

So, in conclusion, we must acknowledge that there are differences in essential oils.  We cannot logically expect to see any site, any shop, anywhere in the world saying ‘hey, buy me, I’m poor quality’.  Every essential oil I’ve ever seen for sale in a retail shop has said something about being pure and natural.  These are just words.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day you have to trust a supplier.  I suggest that Aromatherapists with heart, Perfumers that want something different, Therapists that practice medicine, should visit only suppliers with short lines of supply, who know what they’re buying and are working near to nature.  Such firms are not common and could not supply a vast retail market.  They could not supply a huge retail market like the United States or Japan in massive volumes.  Why?  Think about it.  There’s not much growing land up mountains.  There are not that many plants that are available from the wild.  There are not that many farms that can even go organic.  So I suggest that we get some reality into the quality market.  And for those who really love essential oils, to understand the real issues.  Want to know more?  Then why not come on one of our lecture days?  Write in to Fragrant Studies for the next available time.

“It is unwise to pay too much, but worse to pay too little; when you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all.

When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the things it was bought to do.

The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot.  It can’t be done.  If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is as well to add something for the risk you run.

And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.

There is hardly anything in the world that someone can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper – and people who consider price alone are this man’s lawful prey”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900

Adulteration does occur and is not always easy to detect.  A GLC is not a guarantee of purity.  Here is a list of adulterations recently found in a number of essential oils.  Unusual?  No, just a number of oils picked out from the Beauty industry and off UK supermarket shelves.

LEMONGRASS cut with 75% diethylphthalate

LEMONGRASS cut with Di-iso-Octylphthalate

LAVENDER – a blend of natural and synthetic ingredients

TEA TREE with a strangely low terpinen 4-ol content

ROSEMARY cut with Eucalyptus plus synthetics

SWEET MARJORAM that was actually Thymus mastichina

FRANKINCENSE adulterated with Turpentine

ROSEWOOD cut with synthetic linalol and Ho Leaf

BERGAMOT made with synthetic oil

NEROLI cut with synthetic linalol and with linalyl acetate added.

MANDARIN cut with Sweet Orange

LEMON of a BP grade, not from a generic species and with high levels of neral

ROMAN CHAMOMILE cut with Lemon and Orange oils.

PEPPERMINT which was in fact Cornmint

YLANG YLANG 3 compounded from natural Ylang Ylang plus synthetics.

Cheap is cheap – and often false.  You get what you pay for!

© Jan Kusmirek : April 2004

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment


Today most of us talk about the immune system.  We talk about it as some sort of computer programme as though it can be found like the liver or the heart.  Nothing could be further form the truth.  In fact, the very term is misleading.  It suggests that we are immune from something, immune particularly from disease and especially from some virus or bacteria.  This is accurate only in part for our immune system that is also responsible for a variety of other competencies within the human system including the simple act of wound healing. 

A slow down in the immune system is part of the ageing process.  Most of us wish to slow ageing, to grow old gracefully rather than rapidly.  There are several of strategies are open to us – for example a healthier way of life, better sleep, better diet, more exercise.  However this requires self discipline.  We can also bring to the skin something that it lacks.  This is the usual cosmetics approach.  We can add essential fatty acids, we can even spray collagen on the surface, we can add ceramides etc.  There is, however, a better approach and that is to utilise the concept of biosynergy with the immune system.  This simply means the use of active natural principles to improve the skin’s own metabolism, co-operating with the immune system to slow down ageing.

In talking about the immune system, we are in fact we are in fact talking about a cell communication process.  Immuno competent cells send chemical messages all around the body and the body or organism reacts accordingly by finding some sort of response to the requirement, whether it be an invasion, an aggression, an inflammation etc.  The immune system in general, then, is composed of all the biological defence and healing systems of the organism.  Its works in a wide variety of ways and different actions but is always through a uniting process based on cell co-operation and complementary molecules. 

We could loosely define the immune response in two ways.  First, a non specific response.  This can be characterized by inflammation, either localized or general and a general increase in white cells to remove foreign bodies throughout the blood stream.  The second response is quite specific.  This is based upon a theory of identification of self and non self.  The theory goes like this – at the surface of our cells there is a system of glyco proteins, human leukocyte antigens, HLA for short.  These glyco proteins are our own selves.  They are antibodies we own, part of our selves.  The membranes of the immuno competent cells ( macrophages) and lymphocytes recognize these antigens as part of the same organism.  We are also able to produce non self antigens.  These come about as a result of an invasion by some aggressor such as a foreign virus.  The cells communicate with each other to trigger a reaction from immuno competent cells, which ends up in the production of further antibodies.  The immune system is therefore proactive and reactive.

But the immune system does more than produce antibodies.  For example when a wound occurs at our surface, the skin, there is a necessity to heal the wound.  Have you ever wondered how this comes about?  Our immune system has to respond somewhat like this – through our macrophage cells.  Both tissues and bacteria have to be removed (phagocytosis).  Any infectious agent has to be dealt with and the macrophages secrete cytokines that have a strong activity on the healing process.  Cytokines stimulate fibroblasts which increase their own synthesis of collagen and elastin.  We will recall that both these materials are important in the ageing process.  At the same time, epidermal cell growth factors are released along with angiogenesis factors and together they initiate cell and blood vessel regeneration.  So we see not only is the immune system implicated in defence of the organism but also in building tissue regeneration.  Keratinocytes or skin cells produce a number of cytokines that are essential for intercellular communication.  It is the cellular communication that we should be concerned about.  If communication is good the wounds heals rapidly.

Hence we can see the idea of biosynergy.  Rather than trying to repair the skin, we can try to improve its intrinsic resistance to aggression, inflammation etc.  by improving its own skin metabolism.  This dynamic approach to skin care allows the individual to respond in a unique way.  No two cases will be the same as in reality no two human beings are the same.  As mentioned above, the regeneration of collagen and elastin is one of the most important functions of the defence system.  It is built to maintain tissue integrity.  Tissue regeneration is of course the reason why we look beautiful and therefore logic tells us that a slow down in our immune system is a major contributory factor in looking older. 

The classical signs of skin ageing are a loss of elasticity, wrinkles, a loss of firmness and suppleness.  The last two are closely related to elastin and collagen.  Ageing is usually grouped into two categories:

  1. from external aggression such as ultra violet light, urban pollution, smoking and a general poor life style
  2. intrinsic ageing which is the slow degradation of the human body which can be hastened by an inner production of free radicals

In 1987, Professor Susuma Toneganwa was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on the immuno competent cells, especially those called Langerhans that are located in the epidermis.  When one looks at the amount of nerve endings in one centimetre of skin, we can be led to wonder why so many nerves exist in the skin.  Langerhans cells are part of that nervous system.  They can loosely be called skin watchers.  Their job is to literally watch over the skin.  They have their dendrites right at the very surface layer of the stratum corneum.  They are actually exposed to everything that happens at the skin level and come into contact with any substance applied to it, whether soap, water, cosmetics – just anything that we like to throw at the skin.  Langerhan cells are therefore the first immuno competent cells of the skin.  They are true skin watchers.  They are highly communicant cells.  They really dictate what is going to happen when something is applied to the skin.  If we can make these cells happy and stimulate them or manipulate them we can see that without any “clinical” treatment or “chemical” treatment, we can co-operate with the immune system to improve the texture of our skin.  All we have to do is to stimulate the Langerhans cells and they will do the rest, perhaps with materials we may have provided to the skin surface.

One of a group of natural raw materials that has shown to be effective in stimulating Langerhans cells are beta glucans.  These can be found as part of the cell walls of yeasts in particular.  We must remember that grandmother said that Brewer’s yeast was always good for you! Which is not anencouragement to drink beer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Troubadors and aroma.

Smell without Thought. Thought is born from what we know. Fragrance draws us to the unknown. Do not smell by preconditioned notions of what something is like or what it should do. Allow it to find you, to seep into your unconscious. Ventilate the mind and not the space around you before valuing an odour. Inhale the rose, the being, through the nose allowing it to do with you as it wills unite with you as no other being. Be aware and free from hope, anxiety, tradition or ritual. Only then will the sacred be inhaled. Smell with every sense, let aromas touch you. Awareness is not thought but is a sense of the whole an unfolding of what is, that is not classified and thereby restrained. Listen with your nose and feel the intensity of stillness and quiet. The division between smeller and smelt disappears. We pass the veil to the divine. Smell without choice.

In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna reveals his true identity to Arjuna by declaring his essential nature to be the “fragrance of the earth”.

For the Egyptians perfume was the sweat or essence of the gods. Myrrh was the odour of Ra the sun god. Ben oil was said to be the essence of Horus. Sntr or sonter was one of the earliest perfumes derived from the terebinth or turpentine tree.

In all traditions the gods are delighted by aromatics and manifest themselves through odour. Virgil describes the ambrosial locks of Venus fragrant with heavenly odour another poet describes her as dressed in robes perfumed with the rich treasures of the revolving seasons. Hades seduced Persephone by creating the narcissus flower. Euripides writes that Artemis invisible presence is noted by her odour. Ovid writes when Bacchus approaches “the air is full of the sweet scent of saffron and myrrh”. Homer tells us how Aphrodite anointed Hector with the precious oil of roses.

When Anthony met Cleopatra, daughter of Isis, she prepared their meeting room by filling it with rose petals to a depth of two feet. The fleet of Mark Anthony washed down their boats with rose water. 

With a change of divinities the early church railed against perfumes. Origen described incense as “the food of demons” and Clement of Alexandria warned “Attention to sweet scents is a bait which draws us into sensual lusts”.

Perfumery became the provenance of the more decadent Eastern Church of Byzantium and in particular of the island of Cyprus, the birthplace of Venus. In the 9th century trade with Venice and Byzantium to more eastern countries drew in all manner of spices, aromatics and cosmetics. The Crusades, the invasion of Spain by the Moors the Mongol hordes all brought perfume to the outlying countries of Europe. 

The troubadour movement of Southern France carried the seeds of past moralities and a different view of fragrance to the established church. The troubadours were in effect a cult of the divine feminine. Much has been written about the poetry and songs of this group but little in the way of their more secret associations. They were a closed society that promoted love in an idealistic format. This was little more than an extension from the sacred sexuality of pre Christian times. The movement raised women’s status and asked men to behave in a civilised manner. The movement promoted the fulfilment of the senses and a keen involvement with nature. Like the art of the time their language was symbolic.  Women were equal in status but not in evident power. But there was a an equalisation; the power of woman to seduce to pacify the horned beast and by her breath or essence to exert influence beyond physical strength. To allow entry to the enclosed garden and to drink at the fountain of life and unfold the mystic rose.

‘The Lady’, virginal or not, was their central theme and love the supreme experience of life. Other themes surrounded the garden where in fact lovemaking took place. Masters at double meaning this metaphor not only covered the historical sacred groves but also the female herself seen as the ‘hortus conclusus’. Hence other ideas such as the unicorn in the garden and mystic rose of red and white or the union of virginity and carnal knowledge.

Eleanor of Aquitaine may rightly be called the Queen of Troubadours. She inspired a new religion of Aphrodite one of romance and courtly love. This was born of a return to the interest in King Arthur his knights and their ladies and in particular his two loves. Troubadours espoused the virtue of reaching the unobtainable. No mere mortal can mate with a goddess unless she chooses. Likewise the poetry of the troubadours exist in realm where the knight aspires to the Lady socially his superior or married to a Lord beyond his match. The lady would set quests for him to demonstrate the boundaries of his love and grant him favours to be worn at the tournaments.

Alongside Eleanor stood her daughter Marie Countess of Champagne who organised the Courts of Love. Similarly Marie de France a contemporary of Eleanor also espoused the troubadour movement contributing erotic themes emphasising the woman’s right to choose her lovers. It is women who make the sexual advances to men, offering love in exchange for happiness and transformation.

Eleanor was not popular among the Northern clerics of her age. Her enemies mostly wrote what we know of her. We do not know the colour of her eyes or even the colour of her hair. At an early age she married the King of France. She travelled to the near East in Crusader style and had an affair with her uncle. In the East she would have learned more of the perfumers art, the slow art of massage and the pleasures and treasured secrets of the harem. After a failed and annulled marriage to Louis (failure due to her inability to produce sons not morality) she married the future Henry II of England. She became the mother to her favourite son Richard the Lion heart and of course King John Lack land. 

Henry and Eleanor were rich and famous and led colourful lives. Henry had a hideaway manor at Woodstock near Oxford. Here he kept a zoo of exotic animals and his beloved mistress the fair Rosamund Clifford. Was this a real name, Rosa munde the rose of the world? Eleanor might have called her contrastingly, rosa immundi the rose of unchastity. A play on the red and white rose itself. It was said that Eleanor poisoned Rosamund but there was no reason to this. Eleanor was well aware of the interplay between summer and winter queens. She always held the Lion Henry in Winter. Eleanor already possessed the essence of excitement and well new the secrets of the irresistible odour of the sexuality of flowers.

Dante wrote, “Here is the Rose wherein the Word of God Made itself flesh”. Was he speaking of Beatrice? This rose, this metaphor so universally known has a diversity that displaces its so called familiarity. What may a rose smell like? Likened to grapes, apples, lemons, musk , clove, just green or tea there is no true rose scent except that which we instantly recognise whatever the characteristic as rose.

Smell like our Troubadours, is most subtle. A little registers at low intensity to be savoured whilst intensity is dismissed in seconds. The round art of slow love. The unfolding of the rose. We can be sure that along with the delights of song and words that the Troubadours were not only well aware of the visual symbolism of the strawberry between the lips but the odour of the crushed fruit. The enclosed garden heavy with many scents. The bower so often made from sweet chamomile and thyme and never grass. The strewing herbs of sweet cicely and woodruff, lavender and rosemary made this time a scented place, a pleasure garden an Eden found again by woman’s knowledge.

Jan Kusmirek 04/08/2004

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance, History Current Affairs | Leave a comment



In recent times patients, consumers, the public, therapists, practitioners, have been reminded by the Labour government that there is need for more regulation. This has played well with the European Union Commission which, by its nature, is a regulator or standardiser.  This is especially true of medicine.  It is an area where regulations on health and safety seem to be of paramount important.  The United Kingdom seems to abound in stories of lack of care, inattention to duty, and a failure to meet basic treatment needs.  In addition there are horror stories that range from murderous doctors and nurses, to sheer incompetence.  All this despite a wealth of regulation.  All this despite training standards, registration of title and other practises that are supposed to mark out a profession.

In part the public are distrustful of the NHS and has turned in considerable numbers to alternative and complementary medicine.  Recent governments have taken a benevolent attitude towards this sector and, whilst encouraging self-regulation and high standards, has done little to interfere with this sector either at treatment level or in the provision of material used.  There has been little complaint or outcry from the public over treatments received and there have been very few serious problems concerning the materials of choice by practitioners.  For example with herbs, herbal extracts and essential oils.


Despite the efforts of Professor Ernst at Exeter University, little in the way of evidence to show how unsafe these treatments are has been brought forward. In fact, compared to orthodox medicines which undergo such incredible testing and research, alternative and complementary medicines seem remarkably safe.  Yes, there are a few high profile examples of where people are irresponsible in home medication or where some obscure Chinese herb has been wrongly identified.  But these cases only highlight the general safety of the area in which we work.

Safety has always been at the forefront of aromatherapy.  Most courses have always emphasised judicious use of essential oils and a treatment pattern that does not encourage continual use.  It could be argued that aromatherapy has been, if nothing else, a large scale demonstration that essential oils are basically safe.  This must be very irritating to the academics, researchers and educators who normally find upon examinations of essential oils that they are loaded with allergens, toxins and things that shouldn’t be used, at least in the quantities that aromatherapists use them.  This is in part because much of research is based on models of reality as perceived by the researcher rather than the reality found at street level.  Working in cosmetics I know this only too well, contributing to models that demonstrate what the client/customer/company wants to know.  In other words – ask the right question and you get the right answer.  This is evident from the phrase “one person’s rubifacient is another person’s skin irritant”.


By and large aromatherapy has grown well and achieved a lot.  It could well be argued that until aromatherapy was introduced into the mainline educational systems, perhaps at Further Education Colleges, the standard of practise remained high.  When Further Education decided to blur the edges between medicine and beauty therapy, standards definitely took a turn for the worse.  This was probably due to the system’s “own box” system.  A ‘box system’ means that for every area there is a speciality.  People with a ‘box mentality’ cannot conceive that boxes overlap or interchange.  The box system has resulted in all the specialists that we see in medicine.  The box system is very antagonistic towards an holistic approach.  Aromatherapy illustrates this perfectly. 

Aromatherapy is a sensual system of treatment, one that crosses many boundaries and requiring a variety of skills and understandings.  To cope with such a multi-dimensional practise is beyond the scope of the system.  The box system would find it difficult to do anything but set a qualification for beauty therapy, clinical therapy, massage therapy, advanced aromatherapy, herbal aromatherapy, etc.  The box system is ideally suited to a bureaucratic arrangement.  It is ideally suited, for example, to the NHS where career paths over-ride the underlying purpose of patient recovery.  In the end, as we all know, there are too many managers and not enough people to do the real work.  Such also is the nature of regulation.  We might ask – who wants regulation?  The answer is invariably – the public want to be satisfied that they are receiving treatment from a qualified practitioner. 

Dr Shipman had all the necessary qualifications! 


In a non-regulated society people vote with their feet or take action through the Courts.  A good practitioner is therefore inundated with work and those that are poor therapists receive little custom and a bad reputation. If they do damage they are sued.  Try doing that through the NHS.  And whilst the taxpayer is prepared to foot the bill very little, if any, disciplinary action is ever taken due to the strong Union position.  Is that what people really want?  Did John Hutton, Minister of State for Health, in his recent desire to regulate Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture, put forward proposals for statutory regulation?  Many in the aromatherapy profession also believe that statutory regulation is a good thing.  John Hutton wrote – “this government is committed to increasing public and patient protection and improving quality in all health care settings.  As interest in complementary medicine grows, so too must our focus on public safety and ensuring effective standards.  It is no longer appropriate for statutory regulation to be restricted to orthodox health care professionals such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.”  

I would like to ask “why not?”  Why is it no longer appropriate when the majority of problems have come from those who have sought to impose standards from outside.  The introduction to the ‘regulation state’, the statutory self-regulation of health care professionals, helped protect patients and the public by ensuring that practitioners met agreed standards of practise and competence.  I come back to the central point – who is making the demand for regulation?  Certainly government; because of its very nature, without daily regulation, many bureaucrats would lose their jobs.  Perish the thought that at some point, some day, some place, any country would say – Well, we have enough rules and regulations.  We’ll have a moratorium for five years.  What would they do? 

Notice please that with this statutory regulation there is a parallel move for the standardisation of plant medicines and this applies to essential oils as well.  The argument is always that we need to protect the consumer and increase quality of product or service.


Not everyone likes history but surely it is there for us to learn lessons from.  In the medieval period there existed a series of Guilds.  In London today we still have Guild Halls.  These bodies were little more than statutory authorities that held the right of work in their hands.  The Guild Society was the antithesis of an entrepreneurial society and it wasn’t until the break-up of the Guilds that there was really much progress in the way of technology and working practises.

Milton Friedman argued that Guilds came about only for three reasons: money, power and control.  With that in mind we should ask real questions as to whether certification and so-called qualification actually gives further protection or higher standards.  Where is the evidence for this?  If we look at aromatherapy we see that standardisation has rolled forward a lack of basic understanding of essential oils has also come forward compared to those early pioneering practitioners. We see that there is a set massage routine, irrespective of the needs of the patient, which even has the disadvantage of stopping original massage techniques from being maintained.  Certainly the consumer or patient is not out there demanding that there be improved safety for aromatherapy.  If mainline medicine is anything to go by, a certificate on the wall is not going to protect anybody from harm!


Where then does the pressure from statutory regulation come from?  There are possibly two areas. 

The first is probably the academic or educational world which, under this government, seems to train everybody and everything from floor sweeping to rocket science.  One wonders sometimes where the trainers actually come from.  My limited experience of training in this sector showed me that the resulting training documents looked very technical and beautiful but the course itself had been de-natured diluted.  Those of you who have seen the recent TV programmes with the famous cook Gordon Ramsay in action in the catering field, will have also noticed the adverse comments coming from people on those courses saying ‘is it really necessary’ to say or do x, y or z?  Perhaps when they are as competent and as successful as Gordon Ramsay and have been as creative, their view would carry as much weight as his.  One may also question ‘who has more certificates to put on the wall?’  Somehow I do not think it will be Gordon Ramsay. 

Who else might be pushing for statutory regulation?  Most likely it would be the profession itself. 

Turning back to history it seems that it is generally the professions, and those in the professions, that want more regulation.  In herbalism this seems to apply particularly to those practitioners who are ‘science-based’. Perhaps this is also true of aromatherapy.  The European Union’s political agenda is to vilify its main trading opponent the United States.  We see this at every level.  For the European it is as though the United States has assumed the role of the ‘evil empire’ that the old Soviet Union used to occupy.  Perhaps it is a case of Animal Farm all over again.  We must accept however that the United States has and does some good things.  Even in a simplistic way those that shout loudest against the United States today would not have a platform or even a country had it not been for thousands of American lives that were lost for no more than an ideal.  After all, their country had never been invaded.

The United States studies on many things are quite interesting and of value and their studies show that the regulation of medicine has often resulted in poorer care, higher prices, less innovation and strident protectionism.  It is often this protection of title that so concerns practitioners.  In one American study it was found that up to 98,000 people died each year from medical errors.  The author of the report thought that the figure was most likely conservative. 


In aromatherapy a large body exists that does not support the totally science-based concept.  Of course it is true that the newest practitioners are being fed a diet of chemistry, mixed in with toxicological studies.  They should pause and look at their forebears who have not found the theoretical problems in their practice.  It is actually doubtful whether the study of chemistry has actually contributed much to the practise of aromatherapy.  I would suggest that aromatherapists heart-searchingly ask themselves the question ‘when did they last use chemistry in their practice?’

In terms of blending, the Caddy Profiles have taken away much of the risk and, provided that one is not using Industrial oils, such a process works extremely well.  Yes, I do accept that having a working knowledge, perhaps of functional groups, is advantageous.  But a contrary argument is that the education system provides increasingly more complex studies often with little or no actual relevance to the practise.  What we do see is that whilst education may be coming freer in the state sector rather than in the old-fashioned private sector, regulation has certainly increased prices for essential oils.

The thrust of the state educational system has to be biased towards the box mentality.  If we accept that one of the so-called driving forces for statutory regulation is consumer safety or patient safety, we would expect to see a rise in science-based aromatherapy.  Such education needs standardised or industrial oils.  There is an increasing tendency to say that a particular oil “works” because it contains such and such component.  Tea Tree is no longer good enough to be Tea Tree but has to be a specific chemotype, i.e. terpinen-4-ol.  The suggestion is that this is the magic ingredient that makes Tea Tree work (only it is not magic, it is science which persistently seeks to analyse herbs to find the active ingredient.)

The problem with such an approach is that the consumer and the patient have already voted with their feet to avoid just such a science-based medicine.  There now is a tendency to divide aromatherapy and herbalism into Western and Eastern Herbalism; the former being science based and the latter being mystic.  We must remember that western medicine, despite the billions of pounds spent on it, is not satisfying the consumer or patient.  Of course it does a splendid job in many sectors but, if we accept that there is a growth in the alternative and complementary medicine sector, then we should respect the fact that the consumer is looking for something quite different to that which is offered by orthodoxy.  So why therefore move the alternative therapies into an orthodox mode?

If the argument hinges on safety, I can see little evidence that aromatherapy has done much harm, even in the hands of inexperienced practitioners.  Problems associated with essential oils sometimes come from orthodox origins,……. the so-called professionals, or from accidental ingestion through inappropriate packaging of essential oils. 

In recent times essential oils have come under attack from the Cosmetics Directive which highlighted their content of allergens.  This Directive has imposed a number of restrictions in the cosmetics and perfume industry.  Little or no account was taken of the fact that aromatherapy was widely available in the cosmetics industry from official aromatherapy to commercial aromatherapy such as put forward by Origins or Decleor whwreby they had not encountered any particular growth in allergic reactions.  This is an example of where science based research highlights a problem that is demonstrably non existent in practical terms.


One of the significant driving forces for state registration or regulation for therapists is itself state medicine.  If a profession wants referrals from state institutions, such as from hospitals and doctors, then it would be a requirement for the practitioner to have some sort of state recognition.   The proponents of statutory regulation basically want to be able to practise legally within the NHS, as argued above.  Statutory regulation will be based around preliminary educational standards followed by the necessity to advance that education into specialities.  Mostly this advance will have a western, scientific bias and, as a result, restrict aromatherapists from practises that smack of mysticism, folk medicine and other paradigms to the standardised approach.  Indeed it will highlight the need for re-training into modules that are generally accepted.  It seems to me that the EU has had a long-term ambition that all medical practitioners, of whatever nature, should undergo the same basic training perhaps in anatomy and physiology or the pathology of disease.  Such an approach would be highly destructive to alternative or complementary medicine which sees a different basis for disease.  Further, such an approach would be highly damaging to the multi-disciplinary practitioner, one who even spans beauty, skin care, massage – whatever we may call it – with the use of aromatherapy, for the promotion of health and well-being rather than the cure of symptoms.

Of course, the need for advanced courses or CPD becomes a gold mine to the educator and also becomes a lifeline to ailing professional bodies and trade unions.  Having sold the idea that standards need to be raised, the educators and schools suddenly produce courses to raise the standards.  This will be an unending scenario whereby more and more unnecessary skills will be demanded, biased towards western medicine, The genuine aromatherapist or healer will be marginalised and certainly those working in skin care will become second rate citizens within their own profession, even if they were the foundation on which it was established.


In education there is a real danger of conflict of interests and paradigms.  The main associations are well content with trying to establish themselves as a real profession with some sort of state recognition.  This really is very strange. Aromatherapy has grown like topsy. It is obviously recognised by the consumer, judging from its popularity, and the only people who want proof of its efficacy are those in an orthodox realm who criticise it and don’t understand how it works.  In truth they need to control it because it challenges their own pocket and bank balance, and little else comes into it.  The other arguments so laudably presented by civil servants and bureaucrats in heavyweight papers simply ignore the medieval Guild protectionism that lies at the heart of so many professional organisations.  Such organisations hate to be called trade unions but we must remember that the Royal College of Nurses is a trade union.  The British Medical Association is a trade union.  So are the IFPA and the IFA, although some of its members would hate for it to be thought of in this way. 

Already looking back on the history of aromatherapy we can see examinations for certification and core curriculum have been difficult to achieve throughout the profession.  Not only that but the final result has been a set of materials dominated by major interest groups, whereas special interest groups have become splinter movements with their own ideas.  Statutory regulation is a way of controlling these splinter groups, or free-thinkers, and isolating them from the main stream of aromatherapy.  It does not require much imagination to see that aromatherapy becomes very restrictive at its core with set views – the way things happen and the way things work.  This is, of course, the opposite of what the consumer has expected and the opposite of where true science is taking us.  After all we hardly consider, or look at, the influence of smell within our aroma therapy.  This is a relatively unexplored area of therapy.  It probably lies at the heart of why aromatherapy works and why some materials work better than others, etc.

A hundred years ago or more, in the late Victorian age, many professions were developed including the medical profession.  The conventions developed then have almost become sacrosanct through the years.  Yet our understanding of the world and the way that it works has fundamentally changed.  There have been huge advances in the understanding of medicine and yet disease increases.  There are alternative conventions.  There are alternative ways of looking at human beings, plants, essential oils and so on.  Statutory regulation is not going to help or advance that view. 

Surely there are some simple solutions to safety and protection of consumers?  For example I would like to see a person’s training disclosed at the initial visit, whether this be in the orthodox field or in the alternative field.  Then the consumer has a real choice rather than an imposition by the state as at present.  Do you have any real choice in your GP other than the fact that the nanny state tells you that everybody is the same?  It is obvious that codes of conduct developed by the aromatherapy profession some time ago could have some form of state backing.  Such as inappropriate sexual conduct or, perhaps, not placing the client or patient into a position whereby they have to purchase goods.  These issues, if not already addressed, could be addressed in some form quite easily, allowing the therapy to maximise its development of healing without educational state interference. 

It seems to me that the present government has taken us back a hundred years to a time of restricted practise that will become expensive for those who can afford to buy into the regulatory system on an annual basis.  Few therapists realise that they will have to pay for their privilege of regulation.  I foresee that there will be an ever increasing demand from a small clique of experts to raise educational standards to more and more expensive courses for those who are judged to be professional aromatherapists.

Aromatherapy has demonstrated that there are many different paths to the same goal.  There is no single one ‘right’ form of aromatherapy.  The goal of the therapist is to heal and take people to a different realm from that which orthodox medicines handle so well, such a trauma, surgery, etc.  Surely we can find a way forward that does not require a regulatory system that stops the development of aromatherapy in its tracks? 


These days few remember the pioneers of aromatherapy who, with limited resources, struggled to develop a therapy that was under attack from the beginning.  Both the patient and consumer created aromatherapy by exercising their right of choice.  It’s not so long ago that Plymouth University commented that it couldn’t take an aromatherapy course forward because in effect it didn’t want to look stupid or unprofessional.   Plymouth, we must remember, operated a perfumery course at that time.  How short-sighted! 

Today aromatherapy is a large, successful, profession.  True, it is inconvenient for those in the NHS system not to have state recognised qualifications for their career paths.  The patient and consumer however continue to beat a path to the door of aromatherapists in clinics, spas and other salons.  They do not seem overly distressed that they cannot have free delivery of treatment via the NHS.  I wonder if, at the end of the day, they will be so happy when a state regulated system is applied to aromatherapy – voluntarily by the profession or imposed from outside?  If, with our medieval thinking, we put self-interest first then maybe we should look again at the real need for statutory regulation.  So far, without it, we have been successful.  With it, I am sure, that the profession will contract and become severely limited without the forward, dynamic movement of the past that has brought it to a point whereby aromatherapy is known for its healing capacity, the pleasure it gives and its fundamental efficacy.

Jan Kusmirek 21/05/2004

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Taxonomy is the science of naming things.  Botany is the science or study of plants.  Combining the two produces the scientific or Latin names that help identify species.  In recent years the population, and in particular gardeners, will have seen a number of name changes which has led to a lot of confusion as to what something really is.  For example, a classic example in the English speaking world is bluebell.  In England this refers to Hyacinthoides non-scripta, in  Scotland to Campanula rotundifolia, in Australia to Sollya heterophylla and in North America to species of Mertensia.

As with many things, the reason for this increasing confusion has at its heart politics.  Within the European Union there is a drive for what we may euphemistically call harmonisation.  It is better defined as standardisation.  The mind of the EU has in terms of bureaucracy a distinct communist flavour.  The new accession countries having just given up this system will know precisely what I mean when I say that a Dill plant growing in Poland should behave and grow as a Dill plant placed in France at least according to the bureaucrats.  Unfortunately nature doesn’t conform this way so the bureaucrats have been at trouble to try to remove from sale cherished and old national seed varieties, making them in fact illegal to reproduce.  The loss of gene pool resources was little thought of until the process was well under way.  It was of course non governmental organisations that first picked up this loss and institutions like the Henry Doubleday Institute in the UK pioneered the retention of valuable species and varieties that the EU in its harmonic wisdom had decided were no good for society for one reason or another.

Consecutive with these changes was, of course, the impetus that was given to the production of European new varieties.  It also opened the door to the patenting of these new varieties, which were themselves more often than not reliant upon precise fertiliser input, herbicide and pesticide use enabling a virtually guaranteed wall to wall production throughout Europe favouring the largest companies.  Unsurprisingly the common man or woman gets a little confused as to what is really going on and why there is the necessity to change the text books. 

Political interference is not a new phenomenon, especially in the continent of Europe.  The French and British in particular have been antagonistic for as long as one can remember.  The British won the empire-building race, often at the expense of the French.  Neither have the French really forgiven the British for Waterloo or together with the Americans, for getting their country back and giving them a seat at the United Nations on the Security Council!  This old antagonism  today surfaces in the way that the French language has been has been down graded as the “lingua franca” of the world by English.  French bureaucrats hate the spread of anglicised words and even have special laws about it. 

This empirical battle even spread to botany.  In the world of scientific knowledge British and French explorers slogged it out around the world, discovering plants and sending them back to Europe, giving them Latin names.  Sometimes they classified them the same and sometimes differently.  When a plant’s name is written out in full in Latin at the tail end will be the name of the person the plant was named after or discovered by.  For example Eucalyptus globulus La Balladiere. (Clearly a Frenchman won this particular point!) This empirical battle of the experts is at the root of why our bureaucrats found it necessary to try to harmonise things and the French methodology seems to be winning that battle.

We can view such matters in an amusing light and it does give rise to some problems.  As hinted above, there is a real concern that creeping standardisation has a clear political agenda in supporting the large companies, particularly those that are multi national in a European context.  If there is a contract between capital and government then standardisation is simply a control mechanism for labour.  Certain parts of legislation are used to blind the population at large with what is really going on.  The well-known British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, openly referred to EU Health and Safety policies as “creeping socialism through the back door”.    Her analysis has been shown to be very accurate. 

Why should we be discussing such matters?  Ask any Aromatherapist a few years ago what was their favourite oil for diseases caused by viral infections and you would probably get the answer Ravensara.  Life was simple, very few people actually sold Ravensara, we all knew what it was and where to buy it from.

My introduction to Ravensara came many, many years ago – even before I was involved with essential oils – when I first met Pierre Franchomme who, well over 25 years ago, was promoting the oil.  Not so long after, Fragrant Earth introduced the oil because Teddy Fearnhamm, and latterly Ulla-Maija Grace, were wanting to promote the material for its spectacular success for its anti viral properties. 

I also remember a conference, that Teddy Fearnhamm must have attended, at which it was suggested that Ravensara was no more than Camphor.  The information I supplied to her, which must now be some 18 years ago, was that this was quite wrong and that the essential oil of Ravensara did not even begin to resemble Camphor, which it does not. However that has proved to not be the whole story.

If you look on the current Price List of Fragrant Earth today you will see a very strange thing.  An essential oil called Ravensara but the Latin name attached to it being Cinnamonum camphora and in small print, in brackets, the name Ravintsera applied to it.

Quite regularly we now get letters from customers querying this, or sometimes even telling us that we don’t know what we are talking about.  Having introduced the oil, researched the oil for so many years, I think we do.  However, I wonder if the botanists past and present really knew what they were dealing with.  One thing that everybody seems to agree about is that the original Ravensara, as promoted by Franchomme, was a member of the Lauraceae family. 

The name Ravensara is now commonly used throughout the world simply because when we introduced it, in the English language it just rolls naturally off the tongue.  It is an easy word to pronounce and so the Latin name has also become the common name.  Originally we would have written the name Ravensara aromatica and frankly this is how I continue to think of the plant.  A quick review of the literature would find the following names that experts have been applying to the Ravensara used by Aromatherapists:

            Ravensara aromatica  

            Evodia aromatica

            Evodia Ravensara

            Agathophyllum aromaticum

            Agathophyllum Ravensara

            Ravensara anisata

            Laurus aromatica

            Cinnamomum camphora

This confusion is best left to the Botanists to sort out. However it does cause difficulties to the user. As an illustration: if Coffee was renamed Tea and visa versa what would you drink? Would you change your taste just because the name changed? I don’t think so. This is a most important point for those using Ravensara in Aromatherapy.

Perceived wisdom of the moment is that Ravensara, as used by the early promoters of oil, is actually Cinnamomum camphora.  We will discuss how and why this is used in a moment but let’s go back to confusion in the trade.  You will remember the conference I referred to above where some expert was saying that Ravensara was no more than Camphor.  What this did, of course, was to allow some unscrupulous traders who were unable to source proper Ravensara to start promoting ordinary Camphor.  Now unfortunately there is a tendency, especially among the British, to believe that everything can be bought cheaper.  So we can see that for a while Ravensara became a little suspect, hence the emphasis that companies like Fragrant Earth or Saffron Oils, under the aegis of Teddy Fearnhamm, remain proponents of true Ravensara and promoted the idea of provenance or authentic oils. This authenticity has always been the position of Fragrant Earth, since its inception, for professional Aromatherapists. 

Undoubtedly, as can be seen from the names above, botanists have a continuing argument as to what Ravensara really is.  Because we are increasingly governed by directives encouraging standardisation or legally enforcing changes Fragrant Earth now uses the Latin name Cinnamomum camphora.  Frankly, it’s not our business as to what botanists decide the plant is called.  Our business is to make sure that what we sold 20 years ago is still being sold today, because that oil works and it is the one that all clinicians are familiar with.  At the time another oil, Ravensara anisata, was available in small quantities. It was hardly used and never promoted and considered by some to be on the toxic side.

Most suppliers are far removed from the source of supply and they have to rely on things like GLC traces not knowing where their material comes from.  This raises other issues.  Reliance on a GLC is all well and good but the testing laboratory is only going to standardise based upon commercial samples that are given in the first place.  If you think it through, those commercial samples can be very varied.  Let’s take as an example the following.  A laboratory asks for a sample of Cinnamomum camphora.  Correctly the laboratory has asked for the Latin name because that’s more accurate than the common names.  In their opinion so far so good.  If you now look at a list of essential oils and find Ho Wood or Ho Leaf, you will also see Cinnamomum camphora.  So with which does the laboratory get supplied? Cinnamomum camphora is a very varied species with quite specific geographic sub species and chemo types of essential oil. Room for error is obvious.

The home of Ravensara aromatica is Madagascar.  Madagascar, as we may have seen from various TV programmes, is one of the unique places on earth.  It is a huge island – the fourth largest in the world.   – off the African coast, in the Indian Ocean.  It has a flora that is very special.  When a plant is confined to a specific place, it is called endemic.  Much of the flora of Madagascar is endemic.  Madagascar, hardly on the tourist list, is considered a paradise for naturalists.  About 11,000 species are endemic, only to Madagascar.  Unsurprisingly, Madagascar is therefore a conservationist’s priority.  Since Madagascar is subject to deforestation, the island is inundated with environmentalists and botanists.  New species are still being discovered. 

The colonising country most associated with Madagascar is France and the first explorations by botanists date from the mid 1600s.  Those of you familiar with the Ravensara aromatica listings will have noticed the name Sonnerat after the naming of the species.  The Sonnerat collection period dated from 1768 and Monsieur Sonnerat and his uncle, the then Governor of Mauritius – another Indian Ocean island – collected plants from Madagascar.  The Indian Ocean became a centre of flora exchange, species being transported from one island to another, from mainland India, Indonesia, right the way through to the African coasts.  Unsurprisingly, introduced plants to Madagascar mainly come from Mauritius along with Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The nearby African coast came under British control and we must not forget the Dutch who controlled much of the original spice trade.

Coming nearer to our own time, in the 20th century the French colonial governments promoted the cultivation of aromatic plants for use in cosmetics and perfumery. Madagascar became well known for its Geranium, Ylang Ylang and Clove oil.

Due to the increasing popularity of Aromatherapy in the USA Ravensara has become sought after by that market.  With grant aid from a variety of sources, new plantations and distilleries have been set up.  Such grant aid always attracts academics, marketing experts and the usual bureaucracy that our society of scientific little boxes sets in motion.  Each and every turn has to have an expert other than, of course, the indigenous or native population who in scientific terms never know what they are talking about.  This applies to many medicinal plants. Eventually an active principle may be identified and isolated and a clone developed. By that time and at that point, rather cynically, the exploiting company or academic institution will have almost certainly set up a commercial situation that will certainly disadvantage those that knew about the properties in the first place. Let us hope that Ravensara by whatever name survives the process!

The EU, unbelievably, has allowed the patenting of plant applications in recent times.  These patents rest mostly upon “discovery” of traditional uses.  This is a gross abuse of our civil liberties and indeed our birthright, whereby indirectly we all own the natural plant resources of the planet.  Patents should be about discoveries we don’t know about, not about what we do know about.  An analysis of a particular substance is no more than that and its effects should not be patentable. 

Let us now turn to the traditional position of those who introduced Ravensara essential oil to the rest of the world.  The local population sees and uses two trees.  One tree smelled strongly of aniseed and was termed Ravensara anisata.  It is found as a tree up to 20m high with a reddish strongly aromatic smell. The tree has small green flowers. It grows in the difficult mountain terrain and as an endemic species is under conservation controls. This tree, the least used, had the common name of Havozo or Avozo.  Ravensara anisata has not been popular among Aromatherapists.  It is the bark that is used for distillation although more recently the leaves are being distilled.  Its distinguishing chemical feature has been Methylchavicol and Anethol.  Botanists have now, in their wisdom, decided that Ravensara aromatica and Ravensara anisata are one and the same thing.

The native population uses and calls a popular tree and resultant oil or brew, Voaravintsara or Ravintsara and, at today’s date, is botanically classified as Cinnamomum camphora.  Confused? It’s just a name change or clear up. Certainly the oils of the two trees (C.camphor and R.aromatica/anisata) are quite different.  It does not seem to me at Fragrant Earth too much of a problem because what I buy, sell and use is what I have used in therapy for the last many years.  The source has remained the same, the indigenous people have remained the same and they know what they are doing. 

Elsewhere on Madagascar the new distilleries have obviously had to make up their mind what they are selling and at the end of the day oil suppliers will have to comply with the names and terminology that is imposed upon the species.  So in effect for me and for a large number of therapists confusion arises only if and when they switch supplier or if and when new textbooks begin to be written. 

The best approach I believe to be as follows – and this is where analysis becomes useful.  Let the botanists argue as to what something is.  We as therapists however have the choice of three materials –

  • one that is rich in Cineole, commonly called in the past in Aromatherapy Ravensara (now Ravintsara);
  • two that are rich in Methylchavicol commonly called in Aromatherapy Ravensara anisata (but now for commercial reasons too increasingly called R.aromatica) from the bark of the tree and one from the leaves.
  • None should be confused with Cinnamomum camphora from the Far East, Ho Wood or Ho Leaf, Linalool rich.  This is a simple way of avoiding confusion. 

I don’t want to get into the situation of being the definitive guru on Ravensara.  The sketch above probably outlines further battles over nomenclature to come.  It is up to the supplier to identify what he is selling and to try to communicate this to his customer base.  Obviously newcomers are very anxious to establish their credentials by being scientifically accurate.  Long-term suppliers with provenance and simple supply lines don’t have to do this in the same way.  All they have to do is identify in effect that this is the material or source that the original textbooks refer to. 

I think all of us in Aromatherapy have to face up to the main point –the oil introduced by Pierrre Franchomme and promoted by Teddy Fearnhamm and others and used successfully in Aromatherapy was generally called by Aromatherapists in Europe Ravensara aromatica.  This is the so-called Ravintsara from Madagascar.  Whatever botanists may call it, even if it is not the true or correct nomenclature as Ravensara aromatica, this is the oil that matters.  It is quite easy to see that at the beginning Ravintsara was wrongly called Ravensara and was, over the years, labelled Ravensara aromatica when in fact it was Cinnamomum camphora.  L’aromatherapie Exactement by Franchomme & Penoel, under Ravensara aromatica quotes 1,8 cineole as the major constituent.

In future listings Fragrant Earth will move to calling this product Ravintsara, which will be distilled from the leaves and ex-Madagascar.  We will use the name Cinnamomum camphora L. CT cineol (ex Ravensara aromatica).  This, I am sure, will satisfy nobody but should, to those practicing therapists, explain everything!  A simple way of knowing what you have in the bottle is that if it smells of aniseed in any way then it is not the original Ravensara (however, please note it is not botanically Ravensara aromatica).

It is thought that the Cinnamomum camphora tree was introduced into Madagascar in the 19th century.  Others however suggest it was much earlier via missionaries, perhaps even the Dutch. This Ravintsara can be found growing everywhere there are people, it’s a popular plant. You will see it quite commonly on balconies and in pots! It is not necessarily surprising that the tree produces a different oil in Madagascar than in its own Far Eastern heartland.  Cineole, Linalol, Safrol and Nerolidol are chemotypes known to exist.

If we accept that Sonnerat was right in his identification in the 18th century of Ravensara aromatica and assuming that Ravintsara as a common name did not exist at the time for Cinnamomum camphora, then we have to query the use of the name R.anisata as a synonym. In 1950 a species was identified by Danguy as Ravensara anisata because of the perfume that came from the tree.  It is now said they are one and the same thing.  However in terms of the essential oil, Ravensara anisata is nearly always sold as representing the oil produced from the bark of the tree.  This is the one with the strong Methylchavicol content.  The oil produced from the leaves is sold increasingly today as Ravensara aromatica. Be aware that this has a completely different chemical composition, being mainly composed of Sabinene, Limonene and Myrcene with Methylchavicol. This so-called real oil (in botanical terms) is the one nobody wanted before!

Altogether a confusing story and one that requires a little knowledge of suppliers and their policies.  Putting things straight is no bad thing but it takes time.  No one should run away with the idea that one company is plain ignorant or playing games or “I’m the better guru”.  There has been confusion in the past and I hope this article has somewhat helped to explain the issues involved.  In any event, if you see Cinnamomum camphora called anything like Ravensara coming from anywhere else than Madagascar, then watch out!

It is the therapist who is at the working end of essential oils.  It is the therapist who sees what works.  It is true that they have to have confidence in their supplier and it is they who have to make the decision of with whom to place their confidence and trust.

At the moment demand for Ravensara outstrips the supply and is likely to do so for some time.  It is one of the most valuable oils in the Aromatherapy repertoire and, supply permitting, has the potential for becoming a star such as Lavender or Tea Tree. 

Another star on the horizon that will give botanists a field day, no doubt almost replicating the Ravensara botany story, will be Kunzea ambigua with the common name of Tick Bush, from Australia.  Once this becomes popular I can see the botanists finding alternatives but, at the moment, verbally we stick to the names Kunzea and Ravensara because in popular parlance in Aromatherapy and in the popular books that’s what they are still mostly called.

© Jan Kusmirek 2004

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment


The vexed question of Preservatives.The issue of preservatives is not one that greatly occupies those working solely with aromatic or essential oils. However more and more therapists are beginning to expand their activities into using bases and making products for resale. Such products will undoubtedly fall under some sort of legislation and scrutiny by appointed authority. Essential too are now being spoken of as needing preservatives to maintain chemical standards.

Authorities will concern themselves mostly about issues of safety and conformity to standards. Labelling requirements, assessment of claims and performance, shelf life and a documentation trail are all now part of what is a cumbersome and quite expensive exercise.

The market that the small producer or therapist is most likely to addresses is the so-called green market. A great raft of not very inspiring toiletries has sprung up over the last few years. Most lay great emphasis on being natural. Consumers, people, seem to want to buy natural products. This is all well and good but few go to the trouble of thinking what natural is. Natural is not defined in law and it follows that a lot of spin and stretch as well as attractive packaging goes into leading the consumer to a certain brand.

Many so-called natural ranges sell on fear. This is a basic marketing tool used over a long time. Like bad news outpaces good news fear outsells good sensible product. Disreputable sellers have used cancer scares to sell their wares. Rarely is this done in company print rather word of mouth and ill informed sensational journalism or Internet scams are used. Sometimes these assume such large coverage that they become urban myths such as issues surrounding the use of SLS and its confusion with SLES. For most of us it is difficult to sort fact from fiction. Opinion is represented as fact. Truth or even balance is found mostly in the middle ground but this does not make reputations or create interest so much as controversy.

One of the most controversial areas is preservatives used in cosmetics and foods etc. We must have preservative free cosmetics declare the green lobby. Preservatives damage your health is an oft sung song. Preservatives cause allergies and are a pollutant says someone else. I am sure you are familiar with such sentiments.

Such an approach shows a complete failure to understand nature. It is in the order of things that nature recycles and is a dance of life and death between anabolic life and catabolic degradation. Natural materials wear out, degrade, die, go rancid, decay and in the process support a host of micro organisms such as bacteria and fungi that can do harm if in the wrong place or under improper circumstances.

To preserve something natural for a long period is therefore quite difficult. One method that is simple is by drying. Most herbs are dried and incidentally when dried are called a drug. Drying takes out moisture but even this does not stop the drug from losing actives and eventually turning to dust and then nothingness. This process reminds us that a factor in preservation is the water content of a product. The more water the more likely it is subject to contamination by microbes. Oil, which does not support bacteria, is rather subject to oxidation or rancidity.

The idea of a natural cosmetic without some form of preservation is therefore rather an odd notion. Nevertheless such preservative free materials are advertised in many places.

Perhaps we should start at the other side of the issue and ask what a preservative is. Essentially they fall into two categories – bug killers and antioxidants. It is the former that give rise to concern. Lets use some other names to illustrate their uses – biocides, antibiotics, disinfectants and sterilising agents. All killers or poisons of some sort or the other. Clearly both emotive and very real concerns lie around these materials.

At the outset let us also remember the old medical principle – there is no such thing as a poison only dosage. In other words a little poison may have no effect on one organism at a given dosage but kill off another. Or applying principles of homoeopathy a poison at an infinitesimal dose may prove an antidote to the poison itself.

Preservatives or antibiotics although mostly synthetic are often mimics of nature. Penicillin is the most oft quoted example the source being a mould found on decaying bread. Some of the wonder drugs researched in the 50’s similarly had their origin in soil microbes. The familiar smell of newly turned earth originating from soil bacteria after rain is similar to that of todays related anti biotics. Nature has some potent and dangerous chemicals within it!

Nature is perceived by many as safe and normal. Whilst it is true that nature has a benign side and that we derive life by it and are part of it, natural does not automatically mean safe. Cosmetics, medicines and foodstuffs are mostly made from extracts which are concentrates of active constituents or chemicals that are found in the plant such as alkaloids, steroids, acids, essential oils, vitamins and so on. Some of these have preservative properties such as Tea Tree or citrus acids. Recently in the EU some of these materials have come under question as to their safety. As natural materials are not inert it is proposed that they too need to be preserved say against oxidation. Essential oils for all the much-vaunted chemical analysis degrade or change in time some quickly some more slowly.

So how do firms put forward the idea that they are preservative free? An extreme example would be someone selling a massage oil with a small percentage of essential oils sold as a body oil. They may use mineral oil which is inert inactive and on pack emphasise the essential oil content which gives a gloss of natural but the base does not need due to its synthetic nature any preservation.  But how natural is such a product? Then again a vegetable oil could be used and a level of vitamin E added. In the copy emphasis would be laid on the function of the vitamin as a free radical scavenger and that this was why the vitamin was added. As this was the purpose then it is permissible to say something like ‘no artificial preservatives’ or reverse it and say ‘only natural preservatives’. This vitamin comes by the way in both natural and synthetic forms. This adventurous wording about an anti oxidant demonstrates what could be done with more aggressive or even innocuous preservatives.

Alcohol is a common substance used a lot in cheap toiletries and cosmetics to put consumers off the scent. So-called natural (it would by the way usually be synthetic) it is a solvent and good bactericide hence used as a bug killer in hospital washes. It is highly aggressive to the skin and helps transport sensitising chemicals natural or otherwise to receptor sites in the skin. It is a ‘recognised’ preservative but when present above 15% the product becomes preservative free! It is self-preserved. Incidentally if levels fall below that figure it may promote unwelcome growths. Alcohol is used to make tinctures from herbs so may be disguised as extract of x, y or z.

Similar comments can be made about glycerine also used as an extractive solvent. Glycerine is a humectant, it draws moisture from the skins underlying supportive tissues, draining the cellular structure and therefore drying skin and causing irritation. It too is a by-product of the soap industry. It is not classified as true preservative as of course it is! And one with quite a few problems associated with it.

Some quite over the top claims are made for combining these two cheap and no at all skin micro flora biocompatible products. The natural claim is played for all its worth and no preservatives needed after all that is what they already are! Meanwhile the marketing department will attack the horrors of parabens or phenoxyethanol.

It would be sensible to say that the Holy Grail of the cosmetics and allied businesses such as toiletries and aromatherapy is the ideal preservative. It does not exist. A combination of preservatives is generally preferable. Whilst it is not mandatory to use a recognised preservative it is to make a safe product and to match the shelf life claim. Different countries sometimes have differing views as to what is and what is not safe and formulators work mostly with those that are generally recognised as safe.

Common preservative names we may come across are Bronopol, Dehydroacetic acid, Benzoic acid and Benzyl alcohol, Triclosan and Parabens. One natural preservative we all carry in our cells (and pretty nasty stuff it is) is Formaldeyde but this natural preservative is rarely used as it is a notorious skin sensitiser – yet natural.  One preservative may be active against one family of fungi and not another, similarly with bacteria. Some work at one pH and another at a different level. Unless you are dealing with the real cheap end of the market rarely are preservatives raised to a high level. Good manufacturers use the lowest quantity and spread the risk by a system but then of course they suffer because their INCI list looks like a chemical factory.

Those in so-called natural products are rarely challenged as to the validity of their claims or the value of their products. Because many of the products are apparently so simple there are many copycats and there is much cribbing of copy and folkloric myths about certain ingredients. The demand for ever decreasing prices leads to cut corners. This includes large retailers who realise that cheapening a product by increasing volumes of glycerine, alcohol and water increases their perceived green credentials by dropping more expensive ingredients, which may include triclosan and parabens.

Make no mistake I am not flying a flag for preservatives I am just saying be real. Nature goes off and very unpleasantly with health and safety implications!

We must all learn to be careful in our research. For example Triclosan may be found in human breast milk but we must also add that it was found at over 1000 times less than the safety level, which as any informed person knows is always overstated. A balanced and personal view should be formed on the fullest information. This product works by blocking an enzyme that is needed by fungi and bacteria for cell production. Humans do not have that enzyme and so are not affected. The argument goes that it belongs to a certain group of phenols and dangerous by products may be released. The word may should be considered as to what it really means! Many essential oils are very toxic to the environment and certainly would be water pollutants and as bactericides hard to break down. Do we stop using them? Perhaps the biggest argument against Triclosan is it’s over use by a manic public bent on killing germs. Overuse of any antibiotic gives rise to the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria. This is one reason I am so opposed to standard essential oils being used as bactericides. If there is natural variation then adaptation cannot occur.

The other major bete noir of some people is the ubiquitous parabens group. These are used a lot where natural extracts have been made using propylene glycol as the solvent (which in itself has preservative properties). They have been in use since the 1920’s. A recent UK study of 20 women with breast cancer found intact parabens was present in the tumours. So far a natural alarm that could be transposed from caution to fear and from there exaggeration. This might be balanced against the European Commissions Scientific Committee view that considered parabens and concluded there was no evidence of demonstrable risk. Parabens is widely used in underarm cosmetics. Now consider the lists that blithely state that they do not contain parabens. Are they not cashing in on unsubstantiated fear and if they claim to have no preservative either their product has nothing alive enough to be worth preserving or they are misunderstanding the idea of preservation. If one uses a ‘natural’ preservative it is still a killer with as many drawbacks as any synthetic or otherwise. Many essential oils contain phenolic compounds, so called toxins etc. As stated it is not the poison but the dosage.

This is undoubtedly a controversial subject almost a sacred cow. Being involved over the years with the development of the natural toiletries and cosmetics market as well as the organic movement I feel sad to see the way product development has been retarded in this sector. Fast bucks have been made on poor quality materials from a public untrusting of main line information and unable to challenge the rather aggressive and sometimes fanatical promotion of some green cosmetics. Of course there are ethical people out there who are becoming less gullible. Let us hope someone finds the holy grail of natural safe biocides but I for one do not believe it will happen and before you reach for the pen and tell me of the latest by-product of some citrus seed factory let me say that they are great as part of a system and have their merits and demerits.

As for me I shall continue to respect the need for preservation and the ethics of each product it’s positioning, pricing and claims. I will continue to minimise preservatives but not to ignore them. I will continue to encourage the public to learn more about friendly bacteria and probiotics and to build a good immune system. Horses for courses and as grandmother said you would have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.

Posted in Body & Skin Care | Leave a comment


When a plant is formed it creates itself from sunshine or light energy. It gives a physical form to light energy taking a predetermined shape and substance from its genetic code or DNA. The initial impetus or stored energy of a seed from which a plant grows is its fat or lipid content.

The basic fibrous structure of a plant whether tree or grass they are formed by complex and simple sugars, starches and gums. Some of the names of these chemicals are well known such as glucose, fructose, galactose and cellulose. The group name for all these natural chemicals is polysaccharide. Certain plants produce specific polysaccharides with certain characteristics for example seaweeds yield fucose whilst lemon peel is richest in pectin. 

The average person realise that these polysaccharides have certain characteristics that are very useful when it comes to textures. For example the gel consistency of jam derives from its glucose and pectin content. Fabric stiffeners rely on starches. In cosmetics a variety of textures can be obtained from polysaccharides to provide what we may call gels, serums or slurries.

In the latter case the key to their performance is their ability to hold moisture. As gelling agencies by their textural properties alone they can enhance the sensation of touch and well-being. Our initial contact with any substance on the skin is a sensorial one – what does it feel like? What does it smell like? Polysaccharides are touch improvers.

Fundamentally the skin requires moisture. About 70% of the skin is simply water. This moisture balance is crucial to the efficacy of any product applied to the skin. A cosmetic cream may be packed with the best ingredients of nature or science but they will not work if the substrate, the skin is not in a condition to use the materials or even receive the materials. Applied product must be bio compatible with the skin to be effective. They must have the right microenvironment in which to work to contribute lasting benefit. This means the skin must be brought to or maintained at its optimum level of moisture retention in other words hydration balance.

The water balance of skin is dependant upon a number of combined factors. Natural perspiration, local atmospheric conditions and the quantity of water in the cells of the stratum corneum itself are seen as the major factors. Often overlooked however is the hydrolipid film that overlays our skin that we call the skin acid mantle. This is a complex structure of substances that should provide a homogenous film covering our entire body.

It is this film combined with the corneal layer of the skin that determines skin comfort and sensitivity, the appearance of the skin, the efficacy of the epidermis as a barrier or coat and the perception of touch and even pleasure.

Polysaccharides seen for the moment simply as sugars can form moisture-retaining gels but this is not the story. For survival the originating plant via its roots secretes sugars into the soil in which it is planted. These provide food for the multitude of microorganisms existing in the soil, the bacteria which live in a symbiotic relationship with the living plant. Soil acids form other complex substances and enable the mineralisation of the plant to take place. The soil is full of odd substances some having a half life like yeasts and moulds which in their natural cycle with plant polysaccharides present ferment, yielding certain alcohols and yet more food for plant and bacteria.

Few realise that what goes on in the soil replicates itself on our skin. Such activity requiring sugars, acids, oils, and bacteria is fundamental to skin health. Today few live in a world conducive to skin well being. We are surrounded by pollution, dryness from air-conditioned or over heated environments. Our skin is stripped of its natural defences by alcohol-based toners, by detergents, shampoos, shower gels and soaps. This over cleaning is a killer for our skin and a primary cause of the signs of ageing.

Cosmetic scientists today can replicate many of these important natural processes especially fermentation. A combination of sugars, acids and alcohols can be combined under the loose heading of polysaccharides not only to moisturise by biofilm forming but actively support the natural processes of the skin acid mantle itself.

Looking even deeper into the microflora of the skin we see that each good bacterium secretes around itself a film or shell of polysaccharides. In turn the biofilm creates a consistent plane of protection for the skin or hair.

This moisturising film is however more than a mechanical protection. Our skin defence mechanism consisting of specialised cells forms a network of communication sending and receiving biological signals. Specialised polysaccharides are involved in the phenomena of cellular communication. Seaweeds and fungi in particular seem to have special affinity to the skin receptor sites. Padina pavonica has been recently highlighted as a specific seaweed with this capacity but it is present wherever the sugar fucose (from the Latin fucus=seaweed is present). 

Polysaccharides should be seen as agents that reduce sensitivity and relieve inflammation and help to reduce allergic reactions. This is an especially useful concept if a cream contains excessively active materials such as AHA’s or enzymes.  This is of course in addition to the previously made points about film forming and skin mantle nurturing moisturising properties.  Polysaccharides always improve the texture of cosmetic formulations.

Unlike direct action moisturising materials such as hyaluronic acid or even petroleum gels polysaccharides show a build up of moisturising activity. This is the everse of direct action applications. This build up is due to the normalisation of the skin acid mantle and an increase in the skins own NMF’s (natural moisturising factors). This is a long lasting and not transient effect brought about by the skins own enzymatic activity breaking down the complex sugars into simple free sugars so trapping water molecules.

Another surprising benefit of these gel-forming materials is their ability to to enhance and increase the remanence of perfumes and essential oils. Polysaccharides intensify the perfume and makes it last longer on the skin but at the same time reducing the risk of skin intolerance.

Polysaccharides may be the unsung heroes of many gels and creams. Certainly they respect the skin and enhance its capacity to look its best and remain healthy and vital.

Posted in Body & Skin Care | Leave a comment


 Images are constantly presented to the consuming public of sveldt people without creases or wrinkles in sight. Models are shown in glossy magazines without a blemish. A smooth, honed, toned shape is air brushed or computer enhanced to the original photo shots leaving us with the impression that this glossy world is real. A walk along any beach in the summer, observing sunbathers shows this to be false, unreal.

There is an ideal for all of us and few attain it. Looking good, ones best, is hard work. We can reduce the signs of aging and we can reduce weight that generally is considered undesirable. Much of our appearance is related to personal fitness but few ask fit for what. For example a person training for the marathon or endurance racing needs to be lean and incidentally, hungry. A person living and working in a cold environment such as the sub arctic will carry more protective fat.

Our body shape, our features, are all inherited. Our ethnicity clearly plays a role in what we look like. We are a gene pool of our ancestors. Whether we like it or not how they developed to survive their environments will mostly determine what we look like, our proneness to disease our body shape and its capacity to look toned or not.

The term cellulite was coined somewhere in the mid 20th century. It is not a disease but refers to the sort of appearance commonly seen on mostly female thighs as orange peel skin. The skin appears to be dimpled. The condition is not exclusive to women and is not restricted to thighs. However this is the common perception and wherever it is seen it is not considered visually desirable.

Women appear to have this condition more than men simply due to the differences in physical make up. Supportive tissue placement, muscle bulk and fat storage tissues are clearly different and differently distributed between men and women. Women have a more naturally rounded figure than the more angular male. This genetic gender difference is further enhanced by hormones, our chemical message system, giving more bulk to women’s thighs and buttocks and eventually to men’s stomachs.

How we look is just that, a moment in time based on life style and ancestry. Dimples are natural and in truth whilst we can perhaps cause transient or cosmetic changes we cannot change our nature and whilst hormones may play a part especially in the female cycle they do not hold any major key for any dimpling reduction treatment.

On the assumption that most of us want look as sleek as possible we can now ask the question as to whether there is anything we can do to improve our condition. Yes we can but first we have to be realistic. If we are tall or short that is what we are and likewise if we have a lot of fat tissue in one place or another then equally that is just the way we are built. Human beings have enormous natural variation in shape and size.

A key therefore is found in the phrase ‘fat storage’. Eating more than we output in energy will result in us laying down more fat as stored fuel or energy. We have areas where we store fat especially thighs, buttocks and waist or lower abdomen. Where our body favours storing fat is decided by genetic and racial factors. There are natural fat storage seasonal variations with most of us. We lay down more fat in winter and less in summer. If things get out of hand we become obese, really overweight and visually really disproportionate with consequent health implications.

Let us be quite clear that cellulite or any so called fat problem is best dealt with by recognising and adopting a healthy lifestyle and appropriate diet of good food with some moderate exercise suited to you. Nothing else pays off better.

Under our skin, subcutaneous, lies a layer of fat specialised cells (adipocytes) that give roundness and smoothness to our body shape. If we overfill these cells or stimulate too many they fill up and dimpling and sags result. It’s that simple. As we get older our skin is not as elastic as it was and indeed gets thinner and so dimpling shows more say in our upper arms.

What additional things can we do about fat other than burn it off by high-energy output and low consumption? Neither of which is pleasant.

There is a possibility that some materials ingested as supplements might reduce the body’s ability to convert food to fat (lipogenesis).  Carbohydrates, starch and sugars, are our main energy source along with certain proteins. Fat production, lipogenesis, occurs when substances are hydrolysed by the action of the lipoprotein lipase enzyme (LPL). The resultant natural fatty acids and glycerol are stored in adipose or fat store cellular tissues. Both of these substances incidentally are fundamental to good health and a shortage produces disease! It follows that if (LPL) can be reduced then fat conversion is lessened and there is less to store. A variety of herbs have been promoted for this purpose in the form of teas, pills and potions.

The reduction of weight by diet control or supplementation is no guarantee of specific area weight loss. There is generalised weight reduction but not to a specific area like buttocks. That being said if a specific area is the body’s main storage zone then it is possible that the ‘offending’ area will reduce quicker.

In commercial products apart from supplementation there are several consistent approaches to treating cellulite especially in the thigh area. These are: –

Electrical stimulation


Massage and massage contraptions

Certain materials from a variety of sources frequently occur and these are: –

Vitamin P better known as bioflavonoids

Methyl xanthines

Essential oils

The xanthines are found in innumerable plants and therefore are a constant source of newfound miracles to cure cellulite. We must note that the chemical group yield some familiar names i.e. caffeine, theophylline and theobromine. Theophylline also commonly called aminophylline is commonly found in bronchodilators as anti asthma drug. Caffeine needs little introduction but in view of its bad press needs review. Theobromine is mostly known for its inclusion in chocolate.

Xanthines have certain effects that may cause a reduction in fat. They appear (but there is little evidence) to cause lipolysis of adipose tissue into free fatty chains in other words releasing or breaking down fats for elimination (toxin reduction). There is again some suggestion that xanthines dehydrate the cellular fluids by the release of sodium (salt) so having a drying or shrinking effect. Any fluid reduction would quickly be replaced by drinking but a transient effect may be seen.

The commonest xanthine to be used for slimming is caffeine. Let us explore why this natural drug has such a bad name. Firstly please note that religious groups often promoting dietary regimes as part of their philosophy have dominated the supplement industry and multi level marketing industry. Noted amongst these groups are Scientologists and Mormons both with considerable public relations clout. The latter are well known for their prohibition of coffee in a largely coffee drinking climate.

Fashion, health and beauty writers are primarily interested in tit bit information. Of course there are more informed individuals. Coffee is bad for you has become a commonplace statement followed by because it contains caffeine. For some reason tea has got off very lightly in this argument. Caffeine free ‘teas’ are sold although there are at least 60 plant species that contain caffeine! Please also note that the human race has been consuming these plants since the dawn of time, tea and coffee drinking is not new.

The pros and cons are as follows. Ingested xanthines of whatever sort including caffeine are absorbed 100%by the body from whatever plant source. They appear in the blood about five minutes after ingestion and effects last for up to five hours. Interestingly nicotine ingestion by smoking helps eliminate caffeine whereas alcohol reduces xanthine metabolism, as do some oral contraceptives. Make of this what you will but at least these are agreed facts.

Theophylline is the most effective xanthine at smooth muscle relaxation and urine production often associated with the anti cellulite claims to remove toxins, which is a polite way of putting things. Coffee enemas are well known to stimulate bowel elimination by increasing muscle contractions! Theobromine mostly found in chocolate is a good mental stimulant. The reason for the consumption of any of these materials or drugs is that they are perceived to be mood elevators, fatigue relievers and work capacity enhancers. In past times methylxanthine containing substances were universally viewed as the food of gods. Today pharmacognosy confirms their usefulness for these activities.

Now let us turn to other aspects of ingestion. Theophylline has the greatest effect on the central nervous system (CNS). Xanthines improve thought flow and sustained intellectual effort and so up to three cups of coffee in five hours will act as a good mental stimulant. Above this some people will get tremors, restlessness and nervousness, irritation and along with increased heart rate especially if taken with alcohol. These effects may be taken as adverse reactions but note the dose dependency.

Xanthines may effect affect the circulatory system especially caffeine and theophylline but again depending on the condition at ingestion. Not only are we talking about the possible raising of blood pressure and pulse rate but also the microcirculation of the brain.

All the above point to the fact, leaving adverse reactions aside, that xanthine consumption will contribute to weight loss and therefore cellulite reduction. Topical applications though cannot work. Caffeine can be shown however to reduce dermatitis but it cannot break through the skin barrier to effect subcutaneous tissue. This is why xanthine-containing creams do not work except alongside other regimes. Various members of the Theaceae family are used to disguise the basic caffeine inclusion. Most of these creams are seasonal (highest use in Spring) and as hope springs eternal, after one failure a new brand may be tried another year. The better creams will use materials that are formed into liposomes sometimes called microencapsulation or indeed to place liposomes into some form of macro or micro bead.

Into this anti cellulite discussion we may now bring essential oils. These are the most spectacularly successful of anti cellulite treatments. There are now a number of commercial brands that include essential oils. Unlike their herbal cousins the molecules of essential oils are able to penetrate to subcutaneous levels quite easily by topical application. Essential oils may be found in the blood stream shortly after topical application. They may also have a targeted effect i.e. whilst they are dispersed via the blood stream and thereafter broken down by the liver local application can have a direct effect e.g. increase in local blood supply. Such activity can be genuinely called a flushing of the system or an aid to toxin removal.

Certain essential oils have an affinity to specific organs and are therefore capable of stimulating an elimination process. This would be especially true for water retention.  Essential oils detox, stimulate the lymph system and balance hormones as well as being diuretic.

Neither should we dismiss the power of aroma alone. It may seem incomprehensible to the older generation that smell alone can cause weight loss but there is a strong body of evidence to support this. We eat until we are full or we eat more than we should because we don’t feel full. There is a difference between hunger and satiation. In the hypothalamus, the hormone master, the drive and instinct controller lies a satiety centre. Of course aroma transits through and affects the hypothalamus. It is this centre that says we are full not our stomach with its juices! It is perfectly possible to devise odours which if regularly sniffed will repress appetite. If this is too much to take on board then a twice-daily friction rub or some other device can be invented to encourage the sniff and slim routine.

Essential oils that are commonly used for anticellulite activity are: –

Geranium, Sweet Fennel, Black Pepper, Juniper Berry, Oregano, Citrus (including Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit), Cypress, Sage.

There are a host of others that can be blended but only with great skill into active perfumes that are functional at different levels and that smell good with a great chance of consumer acceptability.

The market for firming, slimming or anti cellulite products grew 111% in the year 2003 according to Euromonitor. Even mass-market brands like Nivea have entered the market with relatively high priced products. Most of these products appear to be a fruit and natural cocktail claiming a 2cm reduction in thigh size after about four weeks of use when of course allied to a diet and exercise routine.

There is a definite trend to use facial skin care ingredients in these products principally for moisturisation and softening claims. Up market brands such as Givenchy stress this skin care attitude but rely on hidden caffeine. All the toning claims of facial products may now be applied to this new generation of firming products.

Product difference is mostly based upon texture rather than performance. Body enhancement with a hedonistic application routine is a significant part of the commercial offer.

Scent is being used as a further active ingredient to promote weight loss. Shiseido have led this route using the term Aromachology for a gel product and bath essence.  In the first month of sales this aromatic product sold 693,000 units in Japan. In the UK Selfridges department store recorded it as their most successful cosmetic launch ever. Decleor too use aromatic power and in Italy a new slimming oil by Claudalie simply uses essential oils in a vegetable oil at very high price.

In essence anti cellulite products no longer concentrate on massage and detoxification but promote tissue strengthening and firming as well as fat breakdown alongside traditional claims. 

In conclusion of this section we can see that a ‘good’ product will perform many functions and that there are a variety of pathways but with few key ingredients that are by name at least unpopular (caffeine) but which need to be present.

So let us accept that primarily we are talking about weight loss. What is the best approach?

Weight control is not easy what anyone says. It is a balance between energy input and output. There are a host of reasons why we may overeat. Such as eating family meal leftovers because we think it wasteful or comfort eating when upset. It is claimed 50% of the UK population is overweight if not downright obese. This subject is not about aesthetics but health. Carrying optimum weight will make us less liable to arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure for a start. Aim for good health and cellulite reduces. Aim for a supermodel figure and you may end up with more trouble than you would wish. Eating disorders are not funny.

We have to balance our weight and this requires a variety of activities.

 First make sure our natural elimination system works. We need lots of moisture or water. Whether that is plain water or a beverage or juice is somewhat immaterial. Once water hits the stomach unless it is empty which it rarely is all water becomes a soup! Eat fibrous foods such as unrefined spaghetti and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Look at your stools and if they float a little that’s fine as it shows you are eating enough fibre. If they sink like a stone change your diet! Your bowels should move once a day or perhaps every other day. If not use a gentle  herbal laxative until a natural rhythm is established. Don’t overuse laxatives.

Taking proper time to eat is not a modern thing to do. Eating off a tray, in front of a TV show, can actually add weight as in our interest or excitement we bolt down food. Chewing and allowing saliva to penetrate the food starts digestion. Make sure the food is not swallowed in lumps half chewed like a dog eats. The stomach is a slow starter and does not get its digestive juices flowing until this chewing/salivation kicks it off. If you gulp a lot take some liquid with your food, anything from water to wine. Slowly does it, eat relaxed and unbelievably people start to eat less and feel fuller. The thighs will come down in size!

Similarly those people prone to work all day on a snack are opening themselves up to fat store problems. The body is designed to eat small and often say three or four times a day rather than one big meal a day. Fluid intake too is a constant consideration as is fluid retention by overindulgence in salt added or hidden.

Supplements may have a role but eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables should provide all our needs. There are additives that stimulate our appetite or digestion and in themselves may be digestive aids or nutrient boosters. These are the condiments or herbs and spices we add to plate or cooking. Most of these contain essential oils such as mustard, horseradish, caraway, pepper, rosemary and traditional ‘stuffing’. All these condiments are good for you containing micro aromatic nutrients and incidentally may slow down food intake as noted above when discussing satiation. However we describe them they are actually food additives.

My paper suggests that there are no miracle cures that do not involve lifestyle. Only transient effects will be found with treatments unless combined with lifestyle and a proper appreciation of what is possible with our genetic make up.

Jan Kusmirek 16/07/2004

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


or How come we can buy essential oils all year round?

First published in 2004 and still relevant!

In a modern world, in the developed countries, we have lost sight of seasonal patterns.  Old timers will remember that it was not so long ago that one bought food and cooked food in tune with the seasons.  We used to understand that harvest time was a season of abundance and that there was a hungry gap between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. 

With the rise of the supermarkets this seasonal balance was lost.  Many modern youngsters believe that they should be able to buy fresh apples in April and spring greens in December, buy fresh roses at Christmas and Christmas roses in June.  The supermarkets and hypermarkets, in their greedy desire for profit at any price or cost to the environment, have exploited the Third World countries.  These countries produce cash crops and transport produce from one half of the world to the other at great cost to the environment and often at great cost to the Third World countries themselves.  Such countries know all about poor harvests and famine and the fluctuations of nature.


To many buyers, aromatherapists included, essential oils are mere commodities – something to be purchased when they want, where they want and at a price they want.  There seems to be some strange belief that you can buy an essential oil from any place and at any time, and it should be exactly the same.  Even amongst educated aromatherapists there seems to be a gullibility that allows a chemical analysis to fraudulently lead to the belief that one essential oil is the same as another.  Our nose tells us something quite different. 

Aromatherapy has, however, become big business and those sellers of essential oils around the world whether in Japan, the United States, Great Britain or France, do want essential oils when they want.  Supermarkets, department stores, and even therapists, seem to demand an unending supply regardless of harvest, weather and distillation possibilities.  In the main they are duly satisfied by essential oil suppliers, little realising, or perhaps not even caring, that what they offer their customers is no more than a chemical soup.  One cannot blame the supplier but one must ask the question Who is responsible for this?  Is it the sheer ignorance of the buyer, the consumer or the user?

Consider this:  Aromatic plants grow best and provide the most superb aroma when they are grown at the edge of the optimum environment.  They often grow on so-called ‘poor’ soils but that are just right for the aromatics, the perfumes that grow from such soils.

When you are a real plantsman and genuine grower, a lover of the soil, you know that plants have a strong sense of place.  You can feel it in the soil. You can feel it in the plants that grow.  This is not romantic nonsense and is known to every wine lover around the world.  True, as one Biblical reference suggests, you can throw pearls to pigs and they don’t appreciate it.  Today one can drown in vinegar and propylene glycol that is sold as wine but that just tells us that the audience is uneducated and has poor taste – both metaphorically and literally.  The same can be said of essential oils and perfumes.


Undoubtedly the best aromatics come from land that is uncultivated and wild, whether this be Lavender or Chamomile, Cedarwood or Thyme.  You only have to walk the land, feel and touch the plants, to understand this.  Unfortunately the few ‘experts’ that debate about wild crafting, or comment on what should or should not be done in the environment, have little real experience of the beauty of essential oils from the world’s natural resources.  Of course the wild needs protection. Of course endangered species should be protected. But not every wild crafter is an environmental rapist, not every government agency is stupid, not every essential oil distributor is a rogue. 

Rather there are many people who have been concerned about the developing of such rich resources and protecting those resources before many of the johnny-come-lately environmentalists were born.  This is especially so of tribal communities, of ancient village communities and local crafts people who are well aware of the destruction that greed and demand from the developed countries have wreaked on their land.  Often it is the academic experts from around the world from, say, Aberystwyth to Tokyo, that have been at the bottom of the advice that has destroyed a great deal of land.

Those truly dedicated to aromatherapy, the classical aromatherapists, those with a passion for nature and real plants, understand only too well that there is a finite limit to the very best.  The average consumer does not always realise this.  Led by the supermarket mentality of cheap food, consumers think that essential oils can be turned on like a tap, with an unending supply.  That is just not true.


We can briefly review the most popular essential oil of all time to illustrate the difficulties that affect the supply of essential oils.  This oil is of course Lavender.  French Lavender in particular is famous world wide.  Yes it is grown in Tasmania; yes it is grown in Norfolk; yes it is grown in the Balkans; and yes it is grown in the Crimea; but they all vary, they are all different.  Chardonnay from France is different from Chardonnay from California.  Ask yourself then how something that was a dry wine becomes something that is fruity and sweet?  The answer is not always in the chemical factory but a difference in the soil and the clone – something that appears to be the same is not always the same.  For example, to suggest that one can buy wild Alpine Lavender and supply the world is simply ridiculous.  It is not possible.  It is not really even possible to supply large volumes of High Altitude Lavender.  It is not even actually possible to supply really large volumes of true Lavender. 

This comes as a remarkable surprise to many purchasers.  Here are some basic facts:

True Lavender is grown at an altitude of between 800 and 1800 metres.  The 1800 metres height is very rare indeed and is truly a speciality product.

The yield per hectare at the lower heights (800 to 1000m) is between 12 and 20 kilograms and nearly all of this goes to the select perfume industry and specialised aromatherapy companies like Fragrant Earth. 

The total tonnage produced of essential oils is between 40 and 50 tonnes.  That’s it – no more.  It includes good oil, bad oil, high altitude, middle altitude and so on.  There really isn’t very much to go round. 

Most of the Lavender is produced in the Ardeche, Drome and High Alps by a relatively small number of growers, numbering just in the hundreds. 

The majority of Lavender is grown by co-operatives – groups of farmers who join together, perhaps using one central distillation unit.  This is the commonest way that fine Lavender is produced.  Several crops are blended together to give a co-op standard.  If the Lavender is grown in Provence, it will be given an AOC mark, AOC meaning Appellation d’Origine Controlée – simply meaning that it has been government approved, or stamped, guaranteeing that it comes from where it says it comes from.  This is a French system and it is also applied to some of the old French colonial territories like the island of Reunion.  Wine drinkers among our readers will recognise that this is exactly the same system that is applied to fine wines.   Co-op Lavender with an AOC mark is good Lavender but it is not necessarily the best.  Each grower may compete for medals based upon aroma and other merits.  A number of specialised growers also have their own stills or favour putting their crop for distillation to a small and expert distiller.  This often applies to organic growers who want their product separated from general or standard co-op Lavender. 

Altitude plays a part in quality and the majority of Lavender is farmed between 800 metres and 1000 metres by co-operatives.  Remember too that one side of a mountain produces something different from the other side of a mountain.  There are many quality parameters that combine to make some materials scarce or even rare.  Much of the material sold by Fragrant Earth is classed as High Altitude, a phrase that many co-op farmers would shrug their shoulders at.  After all they are in the business of the mass market as far as is possible and, truthfully, it is not really practical for a co-op to grow such a specialised crop.  For many years Fragrant Earth has, however, offered well grown material from specialised and selected growers from altitudes even as high as 1600 metres, which is virtually unheard of !  These specialists may produce even as few as 5 or 10 kilos per year, but what they do produce is sought after by the cognoscenti, those that really know. 

Actually the term Lavender itself is very misleading because it includes a number of species and covers a multitude of meanings.  Let us be clear about what we mean at Fragrant Earth.  Our High Altitude and Wild Lavender is true Provence Lavande Fine from Lavandula angustifolia or officinalis.  This is true population Lavender.  That means that each plant is unique, it is different, it has no particular parentage, it is natural.  Every single plant varies in shape, size, colour or fragrance all of which gives a wonderful subtlety and complexity of aroma and, incidentally, ensures that no bug, virus or anything else can adapt to it. 

Beyond this comes cloning.  Every good gardener knows that you can take cuttings from woody plants.  Cuttings are essentially clones.  This means that a specific plant has been taken from a population, perhaps with a certain shape or a certain flower or, particularly with Lavender, having a higher yield and the ability to grow at lower altitudes.  The common varieties of clonal Lavender are Maillette and Matheronne.  We offer an excellent Maillette clonal Lavender, organically grown.  This too is good, general ‘work horse’ Lavender.


It will surprise many that the majority of Lavender that is sold is in fact Lavendin, a hybrid Lavender, a cross between True Lavender and Spike Lavender.  Lavendin is grown because it yields essential oil 5 or 6 times higher than that of true Lavender.  It also has the commercial benefit of growing at lower altitudes than Lavender.  The aroma of Lavendin is always dominated by camphor although Lavendin Grosso has lower camphor content and its fragrance is not so far away from true Lavender.  The yield of Lavendin is well over 1,000 tonnes and accounts for most of the so-called Lavender that people are buying.  The Plateau of Valensole is the Lavendin capital of the world and the co-operatives are kings of this world.  Lavendin helps to make up many of the chemical ‘soups’ that are sold as Lavender.  Perfume and other companies buy in varieties of Lavendin and Lavender, mix them, blend them, add natural or synthetic components to them, whatever is required to arrive at smells that purport to be Lavender.  These are sold around the world at different prices in different ways, often to an unsuspecting public and often to an unsuspecting therapist who believes that a GLC will determine what is authentic and what is not.  That is only true to some extent.

These adjusted “Lavenders” have many uses.  One of the greatest uses is to neutralise the odour of detergent – it acts like a white out if added at the right proportion, making the unpleasant detergent smell neutral.  After that, many other types of fragrances can be used in the material.


So let’s be real.  If you want the best then you have to accept the difficulties that go with it.  The best is not always available, whether it is Lavender, or Thyme of a specific chemotype, or Cedarwood coming from a specialised area.  There are harvests and growing cycles that have to be taken into consideration.  At Fragrant Earth we also have a policy of choosing the best distillers.  Often our material comes from those who are medal winners or prize winners in competitions for their essential oils.  For example, we look for distillers who use both old fashioned methods and new types of stills, such as hydrodihesion.  We do not use materials that are ‘green’ or shredded and immediately distilled.  We avoid co-operative blends where possible, preferring single source material from named growers.

All of this makes for fine fragrances.  If you are a lover of nature and a lover of perfume, a lover of essential oils, a lover of plants, then you will understand the shortages that come from supply.  You will understand the necessity to buy when available.  You will understand the value that an essential oil will have and you will have the intelligence to appreciate it through your senses.  Be quite sure – the best is finite.  Understand that if you sell on commercially that there may be problems in the continuation of supply.  Be prepared to switch from a wild Alpine type to a clonal Maillette type should the season run dry.

Remember that Fragrant Earth works near to nature, near to growers, with short supply lines.  We do not readily substitute materials and we do not hide behind the generic term Lavender.  Rather we really tell you what is going on and offer you the best without compromise.  If you believe that chemistry is all that counts in aromatherapy then this material is not for you.  If you want to sell it in a supermarket and have reproducibility and regular supplies then, again, such material is not for you.  If you are in therapy where impact counts, where your desire is for a simple aroma to change the immune system, then this type of essential oil is for you.  If you are a true perfumer, you already know.

© Jan Kusmirek

July 2004

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment


The media has had a field day just lately, seeing toxic dangers everywhere arising from nasty chemicals in our immediate environment, and blaming them for the hitherto unexplained rise in allergies – as manifested by symptoms of eczema and asthma. To be fair, there is certainly a cause for concern in this area: for example, Melke (2003), referring to Bristol University’s Children of the Nineties study, reveals that nearly one in three children has suffered eczema by the age of three-and-a-half, which is triple the rate in the 1970’s. Part of this media attention is generated by the EU Chemicals Policy, which aims to evaluate all substances which impinge on the environment, and has highlighted chemicals used variously in the home, garden and working spaces. Against this background, the wariness of the Alternative Health Movement towards synthetic chemicals is already legendary, having been previously commented on by Vickers (1995), who contrasts the positive concepts of natural, organic, spiritual, healthy & holistic against those of the synthetic, chemical, unhealthy and mechanistic. Certainly, levels of undesirable chemicals such as those used as flame retardants (like polybrominated diphenyl ethers), insecticides, carpet & upholstery matrix materials, plasticisers (such as alkyl phthalates) etc. are now commonly found in Western homes and in our workplaces, and their long-term persistence in human bodies is cause for enough for health concern.

Fragrances – the new bête noir of environmental  pollution?

The finger of suspicion is also pointing at fragrance volatiles – one is tempted to say, raising it to a level of near-paranoia. Pat Thomas (2004) in a recent article in the normally sensible periodical The Ecologist, suggests that there is no difference between conventional perfumes and pollution, saying “fragrance chemicals… include … many other known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic & asthmatic reactions”. It is surprising therefore that those of us who have been employed in perfume factories breathing in these allegedly noxious ingredients at high odour concentrations for much of our working lives, seem to have enjoyed such rude health over the years! Moving swiftly on, Thomas goes on to list “forty-one known (fragrance chemical) ingredients” found in the perfume Eternity Eau de Parfum (Calvin Klein). Thomas suggests that some of these “known” ingredients reproduced below may have dangerous properties, although no actual concentrations of components allegedly contained in the perfume are given. Once the curious non-systematic chemical names in the text are translated, you may recognise one of these “dangerous” ingredients  as vanillin, which you might find lurking as a flavouring in the exceedingly toxic local national dish “Crème Anglaise” (or custard as it is alternatively known!).

Benzyl acetate – said to be irritant and also said to be linked to pancreatic cancer.

Benzenemethanol (aka benzyl alcohol) – said to be irritant, CNS disruptor & carcinogen.

Benzeneethanol (aka phenylethyl alcohol) – said to be a CNS disruptor, carcinogen, affects bone marrow etc.

Cyclopentadecanolide – hormone disruptor, irritant, carcinogen.

Eugenol – said to be an irritant, a cause of contact dermatitis, pesticide & insecticide ingredient.

a-Terpineol – said to be highly irritating to mucous membranes and a CNS disruptor.

Benzaldehydehyde, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy (aka vanillin) – irritant to mouth throat eyes etc…kidney damage, CNS disruption

Of course in the real world, toxic effects of chemicals are directly related to the dose, and splashing 0.03 ml of alcoholic perfume containing minor concentrations of these components behind the ears is unlikely to promote the effects listed above, even in a small minority of extremely susceptible individuals. Further, many of these components identified are identical to those components naturally occurring in the scents emitted from flowers, meadows & pine forests, or are responsible for the odour & taste of spices and natural flavourings etc. – so what are we to do? Mow down all the flowers and trees, since they give off these dangerous volatiles?

Odours from Living flowers and trees

Here are a few examples of the same “toxic” chemical odours listed above in the Calvin Klein perfume, as are given out naturally by living flowers:

Benzyl acetate – in jasmin, narcissus & hyacinth headspace odours and in gardenia oil, ylang ylang oil & cananga oils.

Benzyl alcohol – headspace odour of picked jasmine flowers, narcissus, lily of the valley, hyacinth, honeysuckle, water-lily & meadowsweet.

b-Phenylethyl alcohol – headspace of rose varieties including the yellow tea rose, broom, phlox, & daphne.

Cyclopentadecanolide – found in the scent glands of the musk rat! Other w-macrocyclic lactones are found in forest floor litter and the sun-struck resin of Pinus pinaster (Kaiser 1997).

Eugenol – in the headspace of hyacinth flowers & carnation flowers; and in the oils of clove, cinnamon leaf, pimenta berry, W.I. bay oil, & basil oil CT linalol.

a-Terpineol – in headspace odour of flowers of white freesia, polyanthus, lotus, and in the headspace odour of pine oils & resins.

Benzaldehydehyde, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy – in vanilla beans, peru balsam, & benzoin resinoid.

So in reality we are continually exposed to emissions of natural materials – for example – as the volatiles from flowers and from leaves. Schenk (1979) has estimated that 438 million tons of monoterpenes evaporate into the air continually from biological material sources – and we are probably the better for it, in terms of the pleasure it gives us!

A Miscellany of Topics regarding Flavourings, Cosmetics,Volatiles and Health.

Attention is also given by the press to synthetic chemicals consumed as flavourings. Corkwise, which we are told is a company of analytical chemists in Surrey, have been finding (added?) pyrazines in South African & New Zealand wines, and theorising over their significance. The same article quoting the above findings (Lawrence 2004) reveals that Michael Fridjhon, a wine critic, has indicated elsewhere in print, that ranges of fake flavourings are used to give characteristic notes to retailed wine, such as blackcurrant flavouring added to Cabernet Sauvignon. Strange that we don’t seem to worry overmuch about any health effects of these unnatural additions to “real” wine. More scary still, (Ravilous 2004) has also run stories on findings of a material in mains water supplies called ptaquiloside, which results from bracken poisoning the water all over the world. Ptaquiloside is capable of causing cancer epidemics. Meanwhile this year also Poppham (2004) reports on the carcinogen methyl eugenol in Ligurian basil leaves used to prepare Italian pesto, the levels of which were alleged to be 600 times over the accepted safety limit (quoting Prof. Francesco Sala of the Umberto Veronese Foundation). Unquantifiable concerns facing aromatherapists regarding methyl eugenol exposure from essential oils used in massage have been discussed recently by the author (Burfield 2004).

A further article alleging health concerns from fragrances was presented by Hilpern (2004), this time in a pull-out supplement of The Independent newspaper, and covered similar ground. A quote from Lindsay McManus of Allergy UK is included, who informed us that ‘second hand scent is more serious than second-hand smoke’. Hilpern points out that Halifax, Nova Scotia discourages the wearing of fragrance in public places, and Santa Cruz, California bans the wearing of fragrance at public meetings – perhaps this restriction will spread? The well-known anti-fragrance campaigner Betty Bridges is also quoted in the article, suggesting that people ask for products which don’t contain fragrances [Betty Bridges had previously published a highly referenced article on health and environmental concerns from fragrances (Bridges 2002) which concluded that there needs to be a system where adverse effects of fragrance chemicals are recorded and evaluated. Bridges also mentions aromachology in the scope of her article].

Cameron (2004) also reports on negative health effects from cosmetics, stating “without exception, modern perfumes are manufactured entirely from petrochemicals”. It is not disclosed however if the author drives a car – petrol production inherently is connected with by-products which need outlets – and fragrance chemicals – many/most of which have undergone rigorous testing procedures – are a socially beneficial outlet for these co-produced materials. Further, lets not forget that if we are looking for bogeymen, the combustion engine has a lot to answer for – particulates & emissions themselves are responsible for high levels of respiratory and other diseases.  Cameron quotes the Journal of American Toxicology (no further reference details) on fragrance chemicals penetrating the skin advising: “some (fragrance chemicals) have been shown to cause discolouration of internal organs, others are toxic to the liver & kidneys. Some accumulate in fatty tissue and are passed on in breast milk”….

Whilst I pass on the prospect of bleached kidneys, I’d like to remind readers that the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials is an independent international organisation (established in 1973) which actively investigates the safety of fragrance materials. It has indeed found that one or two fragrance materials such as acetyl ethyl tetramethyl tetralin and musk ambrette are neurotoxic, and the International Fragrance Research Organisation (IFRA) has recommended that these substances be prohibited from use in perfumery under self-regulation. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still find musk ambrette as an ingredient of joss sticks brought back from your holiday to India – but it means that you can check on the full list of IFRA prohibited and restricted materials in perfumes which can be freely viewed at http://www.ifraorg.org/GuideLines.asp. This illustrates the responsible attitude that the fragrance industry takes towards safety, and you, gentle reader, as a member of the public, can ask your supplier of fragranced product whether the fragrance in question is IFRA compliant – although adherence to IFRA regulations is just one of the regulatory safety hoops a marketed perfume will proably need to jump through. It is true that we are learning more about toxicology all the time – after all, less than 100 years ago we used to put copper sulphate in canned peas to make them appear green! Now we can add some safe ghastly green dyestuff instead!

Volatile Organic Carbons.

Hilpern and (separately) Hawkes (2004) covering the same theme on toxic domestic chemicals, refer to a well publicised study, by Alex Farrow et al. (2003) and since as it has attracted so much media attention, we will consider this article in more detail. Farrow looks at the catch-all category of volatile organic carbons (VOC’s), and is concerned with the health of mothers and infants in relation to total exposure to VOC’s (TVOC’s) from household products. To carry this out a large number of medical histories were followed over twelve months, and TVOC’s were determined in 170 home environments of Avon, with the help of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Partents & Children Study Team. It becomes clear fairly early on that the term VOC’s in Farrow’s study refers to propellants in aerosols and solvents in airfreshners, such as toluene, m-xylene, which were assessed by Tenax tubes placed in the subjects living rooms and bedrooms. No distinction is made between solvents and fragrance ingredients, so the class of compounds responsible for the observed symptoms is unclear.

Farrow et al. found that higher airfreshner & aerosol use increased the TVOC concentration, and that infant diarrhoea and earache were significantly associated with airfreshner use; diarrhoea & vomiting were significantly associated with aerosol use. Headache in mothers at 8 months or more past birth was significantly associated with the use of airfreshners & aerosols; maternal depression was significantly associated with the use of airfreshners.

The findings of this relatively small-scale study are quite thought provoking, and appropriate explanations are even more so! Little hard data on VOC’s really exists in the literature. Some papers are reviewed by Farrow et al. on chlorinated solvents and oto-toxicity (oto- meaning ear), and on urinary tract disorders from solvents in mature females seemingly associated with impaired immune system responses. Farrow himself has previously looked at the relationship between nitrogen dioxide levels as an indoor pollutant, and infant gut well-being. It is also intriguing to remember recent findings that babies born by Caesarean section suffer more from infant diarrhoea1 and other conditions that those born normally (perhaps because of the beneficial effects of micro-flora gained via passage down the birth canal) – making it more difficult to establish a base-line for “normal” health. It is also permissible to think about chicken and egg situations – do mothers use more airfreshners & aerosols when diarrhoea and sickness visit the family members, or say, when they are depressed (i.e. the connection is non-causative)? Most of all the connection between sickness and VOC’s as fragrance – which can include essential oils and absolutes, just as much as fragrance chemicals – is not firmly made here.


A culture of fear (of terrorism) is currently being used both sides of the pond for political ends, but the axis of evil doesn’t necessarily extend to the collection of fragranced cosmetics on your bedroom dresser. Certainly many bad things are currently being laid at the door of household and home-care products, cosmetics and fragrances, including allegations of many minor illnesses and allergies. Phobias about synthetic fragrances are being pandered to by the media, who are obligingly providing plenty of scary, and often inaccurate, material. It isn’t a great step to include the volatiles from essential oils and flowers as unwanted VOC’s, which can invade the personal space of these sensitive chemophobic individuals, and which may provoke illness & distress, either real or imaginary….

My take on this is that VOC’s cannot be lumped together as a group as Farrow et al. has done, and proclaimed harmful per se. It is far more likely that specific toxic components (chlorinated solvents, aromatics like benzene) are the causative agents, and that fragrance components are being tarred with the same brush. In the case of fragrance phobia, the power of auto-suggestion is such, that a negative image of synthetics to some suggestible individuals people may “bring on” imagined symptoms.

As regards any inferences for aromatherapists from these reports, we can be assured that the safety of essential oils is a relatively well-studied subject. Whilst toxicological inhalation data on individual essential oils is admittedly sparse, topics like skin sensitivity and reproductive toxicity have been the subject of many studies, many of which are on-going. Further we have a fragrance industry which has been producing essential oils and absolutes for more than 140 years, and as mentioned previously, whose workers haven’t experienced serious occupational health problems like those found in mining, cotton and asbestos industries, in spite of the high levels of exposure to fragrance volatiles. The problem then is often more that those concerned with safety legislation matters in the EU, or at National Government level are not well versed in finding reference information – and so we get strange decisions like the suspension of the free use of citronella oil in retailed insect repellents in Canada on the basis of lack of toxicological data (!) The problem is arguably not one of lack of appropriate information, but leading the horse to the right trough!

First Published 04/06/2010

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment

The Green Man & Fragrance of Christmas

Christmas in the Green

It was New Years Day, the Great Hall doorway bedecked in the red and green of Ivy, holly and red berry shadow the portent felt to come. The wind slithers its chill beneath the oaken door floating tiny snow flakes that sparkle before wetting the herb strewn floor turning to shining water droplets by the warmth of the blazing fire, the great Yule log. For fifteen days the feast of Christmas had been in play. The air is heavy and tainted by the smell of candle and reed light burning bright light to cheer and banish cold dark night away. The air smells of roast meats and foods, garlic and onion, of warm breads of dank clothing, sweat and dogs, mulled wine and spilled ale, crushed strewing herbs all souped to the feeling of conviviality and warmth. The harping is silenced by the sound of Horse and Rider coming closer. Conversation dampens and ceases with an uneasy sense of expectation as eyes turn toward the doors.

The thud of heavy horse hooves sounds outside, loud and worrying. Jingle bell notes of steel accoutrements sound in rhythm to the thudding hooves. Chill fears creep to heart and stomach preluding the unexpected, the unknown. The knights reach for sword and dagger whilst the damsels and ladies cluster. Only Arthur the King remains undisturbed.

The great doors swung open as though by a hidden force and in rides a great knight in full armour emblazoned green and his destrier painted green and the knight himself of green pallor. The stranger held a large and menacing axe in one hand but wore no breastplate, neck-guard or helmet or other battlement protections, and in his other hand he held a sprig of holly. Around his broad shoulder hangs a garland of ivy and holly with pines and evergreens woven fast. His presence distils a sharp note of freshness a cleansing feeling that pushes aside the redolent warmth and yet there is the smell of earth and fern of scented power without powder, so smelled Purdue the court perfumer laying back at table scenting the air like the war hounds by Arthurs great chair.

Now was this scented giant from the Fougere or Woody family? Purdue began to sniff but surely Aromatic? Surely a hint of hay from the now pawing steed, oakmoss and musk are strong yet the first notes were floral like but no lavender or clary sage like the great Fougere Royal he foresaw to come. Whilst some elements were there it was the Woody facet that shone through with pine absolute and cypress and fir balsam the epitome, when skilfully blended,  of exhilarating winter.  Ah he felt the touch of vine and cypress that tall dark harbinger of shade and shadows to another place and the woods of the forest sharp and dark. Could that be the intense cologne of that London persona Jo Malone simply called Cypress and Grapevine. Then he had it! Something yet beyond cypress, it was simply a top aromatic note overlaying the woods and greens, fresh and spicy an element there for sure of Christmas citrus, mor sharp than orange. All held in the embrace of musk and warming spices and the leaves which doth wilt in the warmth of the great hall. What else could it be, he mused, but the great Chanel Allure in in its Extreme Sports perception, yet at that time still to come .

The Knight roared a challenge. “I am not here for idle chatter. I have come in search of the bravest knight of the land, for this Round Table, I heard, is where one can find the most valiant of the land. By this holly berry branch of red and green you must know that I come in peace. I challenge that knight to strike the first blow with my axe. Know only that if I survive the first blow, I may return a stroke in kind one year and a day from now.”

Gawaine the nephew of the king and Champion stood forward. With one fell stroke, Gawain’s axe clove through the stranger’s s neck, the head falling to the herb strewn stone paviours, to be sure, yet the body of the Green Knight remained firm, as sturdy as if the head were still there. The body strode over to claim it’s head; and holding it by the hair with one hand, the body grabbed hold of the horse’s reins. Stepping in the stirrup, the body strode aloft and the head, still dangling, turned to Gawaine, raised one eyebrow and its mouth said, “Gawaine, in one year and one day, find me at the Green Chapel. I am known as the Knight of the Green Chapel.”

This Christmas tale of course is drawn from The Arthurian cycle best exemplified by the medieval literature entitled ‘the Matter of Britain’ and the troubadour Chrètien de Troyes. In essence it is the enactment of the death of winter that comes each year. In English tradition Holly King and Oak King fight it out at each of the solstices.

The previously mentioned cypress was, along with vetiver, my introduction to the pungent smells of aromatherapy.  I love those two smells. Cypress has a fresh, clean aroma that is herbaceous, spicy, with a slightly woody evergreen coniferous scent. The uplifting aroma has a very soothing emotional quality that provides comfort during times of grief and sadness. Cypress trees are often found planted near burial grounds. I feel it to be fresh, lingering, pine-like, resinous, slightly smoky with a sweet, balsamic undertone. The scent is very evocative of a forest setting, bestowing a soothing and refreshing ambience.

In aromatherapy according to Valerie Worwood in her book the Fragrant Mind, the personality of Cypress is characterised by wisdom, strength, and uprightness like the tree. In practice, cypress is most often associated with upper respiratory issues. A less well-known property of cypress essential oil is the ability to stem bleeding, promoting blood clotting so having hemostatic and astringent qualities. The astringent properties allow cypress oil to tighten tissues, strengthening hair follicles and making them less likely to fall out! The hemostatic properties in cypress oil reduce the flow of blood and promote clotting where needed. These two beneficial qualities work together to promote healing for wounds, cuts and open sores quickly.

As with jo Malones Cypress & Grapevine this cypress note features strongly in Gucci’s’ Winter Melody Scented Water and others seeking to achieve the smell of this season. As with our folk romance hero, the green knight, it is the gloss green colour of the season that draws us to the base of the accords where ‘spikiness’ gives way to the sense of repose and renewal such as the surprising rose used by Gucci. Any therapeutic benefit must lie within the genuine essential oil or absolute and certainly that fleeting sense of coniferous reality will only come from natural materials.

Red and green together be seen

In the dark time of the year

Red and green together be seen

In the time of dread and fear

Green for the thorn of the holly leaf

That shines in candlelight

That holds the hope of evergreen

That glimmers in the night.  Maddy Prior

Jan Kusmirek ©  November 2021

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blending essential oils is part art, part science and indeed part tradition.

Perhaps there are three schools of thought about this. All three would take into consideration the individual and their condition and set an objective for treatment. First would be a learned approach, a mixture of looking up a textbook and taking a view based on the constituent chemistry. Second would be an intuitive approach almost based around creating a fragrance. This used to be the most common and then thirdly the traditional herbalist approach.

The latter blending system is quite simple and has been advocated since the dawn of time. It uses only  three materials. Three in ancient lore is a significant number (aren’t they all!). The idea was simple enough, first the therapist deals with the obvious symptom or issue. A choice is made of one ingredient then a further two are chosen, the second as an alternative to the first choice dealing with the primary cause and the third a support for the other two.   

A simple illustration maybe taken using arthritis. Now we know there is not an obvious ‘cure’ for this condition so a choice could be wintergreen for pain relief and warming at fifty percent. Lavender as a supporter for the same reason and then roman chamomile as a support for the other two being an anti inflammatory. Both the latter two would be at 25% to make the whole blend to be added to a carrier, probably in this case a nice gel base to which a floral water say of rosemary has been added.

Blending this way makes eminent sense and requires quite a bit of thought abut he client or patient yet keeps the blend simple. Often the text book blends are over complicated. Effective blends for common ailments rarely require a degree of sophistication that might go into a blend for someone with an addictive problem.

Those who blend for fragrance might consider a basic trend. Take a botanic family and work within it. Once we realise that a rose is a cousin of an apple we can see what in the same family matches or enhances a trend. Say we want a citrus aroma but cannot afford Neroli. Then using sweet mandarin modified by grapefruit and a lemon petitgrain we can end up with something quite floral. The proportions would be trial and error.  This is blending by family but the result should not be identifiable by the individual constituents, rather one achieves a citrus but with floral tones.

The synergies produced by Fragrant Earth International  have been adapted over the years to make elegant and effective blends for the clearly stated purpose or implied in the name. Not only have they been tried and tested, standing the test of time but have been devised or adapted from the experience of well respected therapists. They save time and money. Whilst these blends are not all exotic like the Meditation blend they nevertheless make cost effective use of the very best essential oils.

Remember blending from books is a hit and miss affair. Take a respected author and therapist like Valerie Worwood. She suggests many blends. However generic names like lavender tell you nothing. Valerie’s original blends would have come from specific essential oil suppliers who in turn would have selected sources for effect. A  lavender from Moldova is not the same as from the Alps of France. Blending therefore requires continuity and decent supplies of good oils.  

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment

Baby Massage

Around our world at all times and in all civilisations the bond of touch has significance. The shaking of hands, the kiss even the avoidance of touch with strangers tells us the significance of touch. 

Touch is closely allied with our most sensitive and sensual sense that of smell also closely linked with taste.

Babies wonder at the world around them and long before the attunement to language and sight, happy babies indulge and delight in what they can touch and smell.

Parents and family too live to exchange touch with baby. The love that flows from and to tiny fingers grasping at an adult thumb. The smiles and coos in both directions from tickling and holding tiny toes. Touch is part of a sane and balanced joyful life.

When touch is carried out with a purpose and in an organised manner we may call it massage. Babies love to be massaged. Women in Eastern Europe used to especially smooth and round their babies heads, women of the south pacific massaged their children with sacred Kukui oil with the added benefit of suncare.

Certainly massaging from birth onward is part of normal parental care. It can help promote a strong parental bond between the family. Getting to know the family perhaps especially the mother is essential to a healthy infant. Bathing too should be considered part of the massage routine. Using the texture of fluffy or other towels is part of sensory stimulation and leads to a contented child one whose sense are satisfied.

Massage for babies and infants should be a simple gentle affair. Each child should be allowed to have a routine developed that meets its emotional needs. Eye contact is always important when commencing baby massage as is a warm and soft environment perhaps the ambience set by mood lighting or music.

For young babies it is best to start massage with the arms and legs. Gentle sliding strokes should be used with very little or no pressure. A good vegetable body oil should be used as a lubricant. The oil chosen will also have hidden benefits and skin care qualities depending on type. After nine weeks or more a small amount of essential oil may be introduced to the massage oil. It is best for security to stick to ready made blends rather than making ones own. Commercial blends often come for specific purposes from dry skin to teething. Yes gums can be massaged too!

After the arms and legs you can progress to the chest and then abdomen and finally after turning the baby the back.

Enjoyable techniques can be learned that makes giving massage easy and safe as well as pleasurable to receive. Baby will love different pressures and strokes. Remember the smallness and suppleness of the child. Always be gentle and smooth. Massage using oil and sweet essences becomes not only beneficial routine buta happy experience for all concerned. Massage is a sharing time and one that helps build a healthy skin, reinforces the immune system and helps toward emotional maturity and balance. The sense of touch and smell our senses of well being from birth.

First published 08/01/2008

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance, Body & Skin Care | Leave a comment

Animals Just Nose About

Noses instead of Eyes? Animals use their noses to focus their sense of smell, much the same way that humans focus their eyes, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

A research team studying rats found that animals adjust their sense of smell through sniffing techniques that bring scents to receptors in different parts of the nose. The sniffing patterns changed according to what kind of substance the rats were attempting to detect.

The sense of smell is particularly important for many animals, as they need it to detect predators and to search out food. “Dogs, for instance, are quite dependent on their sense of smell,” said study author Leslie Kay, associate professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Mind & Biology at the University of Chicago. “But there are many chemicals in the smells they detect, so detecting the one that might be from a predator or an explosive, for instance, is a complex process.”

Kay was joined in writing the paper by Daniel Rojas-Líbano, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chile in Santiago, who received his PhD from UChicago in 2011. Rojas-Líbano, who did the work as a doctoral scholar, was the first author on the publication. Their results are published in an article, “Interplay Between Sniffing and Odorant Properties in the Rat,” in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Scholars have hypothesized that animals may be able to focus sniffing, just as humans focus their sight to detect a target, like the face of a friend, in a crowd. Humans are also known to be able to adjust their ability to detect specific odors with practice when cooking or sampling wine, for instance.

Kay and Rojas-Libano drew from two ideas proposed by other scholars to test whether animals can focus their sniffs.

In one set of findings, researchers had shown that the nose can act like a gas chromatograph (a device that separates chemicals in complex blends like flower scents), absorbing substances for different times depending on how readily they interact with the water-based mucus on the sensory receptors in the nose. Odorants that have high “sorption values” are easily absorbed into the mucus, while odors that do not absorb easily into water have lower sorption values.

The other finding crucial to the current work was the discovery that changes in the airflow rates of scents entering the nose can change which odors the nose readily detects. Different parts of the nose have different airflows, and classes of receptors suited to detecting specific odors. Researchers had speculated that animals might be able to change airflow to target specific odors in a blend of chemicals, like focusing on smelling a particular scent in a perfume.

But until the publication of the paper by Kay and Rojas-Líbano, no one had been able to test the ideas that arose from those earlier findings.

“Daniel devised an excellent experiment to test these hypotheses,” Kay explained. Rojas-Líbano trained rats to detect a specific odor by rewarding them with a sugar pellet when they had detected a target odor and responded correctly. Electrodes attached to the rats’ diaphragm muscles measured the rate at which they were taking in air. He then tested the animals with many mixtures of two chemicals to see if they could pick out those containing the target scent.

The rats were successful in making the distinctions, regardless of which type of odor they were seeking. But the rats learned to look for a highly absorbent odor much more quickly than the rats learning to detect a less absorbent odor. The rats also inhaled differently, depending on which type of odor they were detecting. The animals inhaled for a longer time when they were learning to detect the low-absorbing odor, and then reduced flow rates once they had learned to detect the odor, researchers determined.

“What was happening was that the air was moving through the nose at a slower rate and targeting those parts of the nasal epithelium that are further along in the pathway — those more likely to pick up the low-absorbent odors,” Kay said.

For highly absorbent odors, the animals inhaled more quickly because the parts of the nasal cavity that are sensitive to those smells are closer to the start of the nose’s air pathway.

“I think one of the most interesting aspects of these experiments is the finding of the difference in difficulty the rats displayed to detect different targets from the same set of mixtures,” Rojas-Líbano said. “This shows that there is more to olfaction than just receptor types and combinations. If detection was solely based on chemical-receptor interactions (as people seem to assume quite often), performance levels should have been more similar between the groups of rats. The physical properties of the odors matter a lot, and so does the type of sniff that an individual uses to smell the odors.”

The project was supported with a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


In the initial stages of Aromatherapy development in Europe little attention was given to perfumery as a source of facts, evidence, or inspiration. One of the key factors was the reluctance of fragrance brands and manufacturers to be associated with any form of medical claim or treatment. Aromatherapie in France was considered and officially limited as an accepted form of treatment but only administered by orthodox medically qualified doctors.

The Aromatherapy taught and practiced in the United Kingdom, initially the lead proponent of Aromatherapy had little in common with the French model. Confusion came about to some extent by the use of French names by the earliest practitioners of aromatherapy in the UK working within the beauty industry. High class London salons hosted such as Danièle Ryman or Micheline Arcier, students of Marguerite Maury. Marguerite Maury was not of course French her maiden name being of Austrian origin. Her therapeutic approach was anything but orthodox.

With a nursing background Maury, due to the influence of her husband, a homoeopathic doctor explored the principles behind homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy and radiesthesia. Her work became centred on the beauty of science, its symmetry and the behaviour of aromatic materials and their effect upon health. Aromatherapy developed not on the orthodox chemistry of Gatteffosse but on the principles that if we exercised, took care in diet, seeing our individual self in beauty, our energies and beliefs, all would sustain us through many of life’s problems.  Her technique developed a massage programme which has become the hall mark of modern aromatherapy especially as practised in the UK and Japan.

The perfume industry exists as a place of emotional response. Perfume is described by poetry and as no vocabulary exists in single words to describe the effect that our sense of smell may have poetry has to be employed. I am perhaps famous for teaching that any fragrance or scent has only two responses for humans, it will evoke or provoke. Either way an effect is produced, and our thoughts motivate us into more complex emotional patterns of appreciation or rejection.

Perfume has an overriding legal responsibility for safety which has become its main concern. The scents used today are far beyond essential oils, absolutes, and common natural substances. The petrochemical industry has been a major source of new synthesised volatile aromatic material. Today the demand for natural perfumes has led the industry into a host of chemical copycats of single molecules, then as chemically identical, said to be natural. Now the new world of fermentation process techniques provide sand construct mells unknown unknown to man or nature.

So the paradox of separation remains between perfume and aromatherapy. Both admit to emotional motivation. One concerns itself with healing the other the avoidance of medical connotation.

The one place they seem to have agreed about  is with description. When I first acquired a copy of The Art of Perfumery (and Method of Obtaining the Odor of Plants) by Septimus Piesse I had not realised he was the originator of the scale of musical notes attached to odours of all types. It seems natural to describe smells as musical notes linking, just like synaesthesia, one sense to another.  Maury later appreciated this by a clear understanding and implication the French word sentir translated both and either as feel or to touch, alongside its other meaning smell, hence the introduction of massage or the healing touch of aromatherapy.

Fragrance descriptions are based on this musical scale. The perfumer builds a pyramid of notes. top notes or head notes, middle notes or heart notes and low notes or base, or even bass, notes. As the composer, the perfumer will have to use all the notes to create a balanced fragrance. The three “notes” of the perfume make up the olfactory pyramid that is a visualization of their degree of volatility. This so resembles the herbcraft of the past whereby one herb specific to the condition was supported by two other relevant herbs.

Perhaps aromatherapy and its inability, due to regulation, to interact with perfumery as a whole has begun tom lose the art of Maury to chemistry alone. The first book I read on aromatherapy was by Robert Tisserand called the Art of Aromatherapy. Tisserand put his finger squarely upon the dichotomy between orthodoxy and alternative views of healing and medicine.

Creating an aroma of harmony should lie at the heart of the traditional approach. Perhaps book learning has led some to think purely of the safety and supposed efficacy of a blend. After all tea tree or niaouli are good enough medicinal smells and already meet the expectation of the client, likewise who can deny the beauty of neroli or ylang ylang.

All these have different characteristics and volatility and can be built into something for mind and body rather than single actions. This was the content espoused by Maury and her students, a creation of sensism and like a visual experience, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so smell is a personal taste. For me it is the farmyard that evokes peace but hardly acceptable as a fragrance.

Context and perspective is always required for example children react to bad tasting, smelling medicine so aromatics can change that rather than just adding sugar. End of life experience can be softened by aroma as we know. One experience that I encountered was with a South African lung cancer patient. He wanted the smell of Oranges. The relatives obtained some Jaffa oranges, but the patient was disappointed, but please note was not aware of the country of origin. Some South African oranges were purchased which immediately had the desired emotional response. Somewhere a nuance of aroma, which would have been minute in analytical terms had significant impact.

Piesse and his partner Lubin eventually created the odaphone an attempt to create a perfume to correlate to the musical notes on the diatonic scale. His idea was that you could create something from smells just like choosing notes from a piano using volatility like a scale. If you search Google you will invariably be inundated for ads and links to Vodaphone which shows how pathetic and commercial the net has become!

 Essential oils analysis is a complex procedure. At one end of the complexity scale, a smell or odour can consist of a very simple elemental chemical such as; tellurium which smells like the most pungent garlic.  On the other end of the scale a cooking smell, say of French fine cuisine, can actually consist of hundreds of different chemicals, which combined give a particular smell sensation for the gastronome..

Unfortunately for chemistry buffs similarly shaped molecules can have quite different odours, and molecules that look nothing alike in a linear representation can smell almost the same. The smaller the molecule the more intense the smell. Some chemicals are incredibly odorous e.g. Trimethylamine can be smelled at concentrations as low as 0.00021 parts per million or 0.0005 mg/m3. Some other known smelly chemicals have very high odour thresholds e.g. Ammonia 46.8 parts per million or 33 mg/m3. In Europe, dynamic olfactometry, as described by the European standard EN 13725, has become the preferred method for evaluating odour, now a long way from the more romantic methods of Piesse.

A very pleasing term use by Piesse is the word accord. It is certainly one I use in practice. The volatility scale by Piesse or other can still be used as a starting point. Remember an accord represents two elements that combine to make a third; in one case, it’s a musical composition, and in the other, a unique blended fragrance. The nose should smell a whole note not a set of easily differentiated smells. When elements are compounded, as they are in an accord, even with GLC techniques it becomes very difficult to ascertain the true analysis for replication because the foundations of the fragrance lies in minute traces of the components that comprise an accord with a certain scent.

This raises the much vexed question of quality and authenticity. Physical standards for essential oils have long been specified by the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) as well as by ISO. Official opinions and guidelines, such as those from the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), and the Scientific Committee on Consumer’s Safety (SCCS) regulate maximum quantities and uses of certain oils as well as single compounds therein.

The problems independent perfumers face using natural materials are the same as any aromatherapist. Standardised materials are not always what one wants. As mentioned above there are specific nuances that give different smells or results. There are only roughly 1 trillion scents that the human nose and brain can distinguish from each other, according to a new study at Rockefeller University in New York. Researchers in the 1920’s had previously estimated that humans could sense only about 10,000 odours but the number had never been explicitly tested before. So forget the wolf, we are not so limited as we thought.

The study highlights a growing interest in how combinations of odours—rather than single odour molecules at a time—are sensed and processed. If then a combination of odours an accord is indistinguishable by smell yet being very different at a molecular level then we have to review the idea of innate and learned responses based upon the stereochemistry of the individual molecule.

This is highlighted by the perfumers pyramid whereby consumers mistake the notes given for actual inclusions. So, an accord smells like bluebell but it does not have any, this is common for rose accords. No rose is present just a skilful combination. Various attempts have been made to tabulate essential oils and their odour since Piesse. William (Walter) Poucher who worked for Yardley, wrote a textbook published in 1923 which is still very much in use. He listed in order of volatility materials a grouped under respective evaporation coefficients (perfume notes) that ranging from 1 to 100. Today with the advent of the GLC which depends upon the volatility or weight of the molecule we have more accurate information.

 However, odours for essential oils have another method of classification. Probably Aristotle stared this off and it took a further 2000 years for Linnaeus to come up with another classification of odours.  Piesse a hundred years later chose his different route of notes. Due to our cognitive interpretation of an odour all present and previous systems are subjective, opinions and judgements. Nevertheless, passing through the hands of such fragrant luminaries as Rimmel, Poucher, Arctander and Parry a general consensus emerged but no industry standard. The paradigms of nature have been used to group smells and are as much applied to essential oils as perfumes.

The majority of ‘smells’ are then described as much an artistic exercise as anything. Regardless of odour description maps or fragrance wheels or major manufacturers such as IFF own set of tables, most of us are familiar with and understanding of terms such as floral, Woody, Animalic, Balsamic etc. These are associated into families so allowing for subcategories and accords could then become like children.

It behoves all holistic practitioners to review the traditional approach of blending for synergy which is a perhaps a more modern word than accord.  The opposite of this approach is the magic bullet of symptomatic treatment based upon usually a single element. Barbara Griggs used this phrase in her book The Green Pharmacy. The phrase can be used as much in ‘green’ context as mainline orthodoxy. There is a place in medicine for both but healing has a bias toward the holistic approach.

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment

Defining Sensitive Skin


Cosmetic houses often suggest products which are specifically designed for sensitive skin. Sometimes they are more expensive than products designed for normal skin. What do cosmetic companies mean by Sensitive skin.

Most people think their skin is special. Well in a way that’s true. The skin bacteria which form our skin acid mantle is not only vital to skin health but like a finger print is unique to every person. But whilst we think of our skin as delicate, special and so on sensitive skin has a special meaning.

We could say there are two types of sensitive skin. Those with serious medical conditions that require specialist medical treatment often with genetic origins and those with more superficial conditions. It is the latter that cosmetics are good at resolving.

Check for these signs to see if your skin needs some extra care.

Prone To Rashes and Bumps

Flaky skin

 Itchy Skin



The common factor to all these conditions is a dry skin. True there maybe underlying conditions like eczema or an allergic reaction but even these are often related to excessive dryness. So the best way to combat this is to make sure our skin’s barrier is in good condition to stop our natural moisture escaping! That’s okay provided at the same time we don’t block pores and make sure the skin can breathe!

Surprisingly the main cause of dryness is hot and cold weather or ventilation systems providing auir conditioning. In the cold we close down at the surface and air conditioning ca be as dry as the Sahara desert. In the hot we sweat to keep cool. Many office workers at lunch time go from a cold or warm environment to the reverse outside and the skin does not have time to adapt – it gets shocked and then irritated. Once irritated it tends to look for other reasons from itchy wool to products we apply – it is sensitive – even to change. So keep skin balanced and cool.

Jan Kusmirek©

The Skin Wizard

Posted in Body & Skin Care | Leave a comment

Triangle Test in Perfumery

What is a triangle test

Simply put, a triangle test is a study in which you compare 3 samples and pick out the one that is different. Of the three samples, one is different while two are the same. If you can consistently pick out the different one, there is a pretty good chance that there is some difference that you’re picking up on. You might not always know what the difference is but sometimes that doesn’t matter. The key is that if you can notice a difference then there is probably something different about it.

When to conduct a triangle test

Triangle tests are useful whenever you need to determine whether a change in the formula is noticeable or not. So, they work well for…

  • Fragrance evaluations – When you have an odour change and you want to see if there is a noticeable difference.
  • New raw materials – To see if there is some performance effect by using a raw material
  • Cost savings – Remove a raw material and see if anyone can tell a difference
  • Formula development – See if changes you’ve made improve your results

The triangle test is one of the key tools that a cosmetic chemist has at their disposal.

A triangle test can be done by one person or by an entire panel of people. The former is best when making new prototypes and evaluating raw materials. The latter is better for making final decisions as it will give some statistics.

The first thing you to do is figure out what test you’ll run to compare the samples. For odour evaluations, this can be as simple as a “sniff test”. However, fragrance is more complex and one must learn how to “sniff” and to take into a consideration a variety of parameters and other techniques. Sniffing is not the best method!

Put the formulas in a small jars or bottles, label them and smell, touch or feel etc. Close your eyes for odour and texture and touch evaluations or with odour do it in a dark room so you can’t be influenced by colour. Colour in surroundings or on pack change perceptions.

You can use any number of tests such as foam tests, texture tests, moisturizing tests, touch tests, etc. It really depends on what you are testing and what characteristic you want to notice.

If you are doing a test in which you want to get some useful statistics, you need a panel of about 30 people before you get meaningful data. However, if the differences are significant decisions can be made on fewer subjects.

Ideally, if you are going to test the samples, you should have someone else make and fill the samples. At the very least you should have someone else fill and label them. That way you can be singly blinded and won’t be able to trick yourself.

Once you’ve tested the samples, it is helpful to re-run the test.

If the test was done with a panel of people you need to determine if there were statistically significant differences.

Jan Kusmirek©

Posted in Aromatics, Fragrance | Leave a comment