An Aromatic Life blog by Jade Shutes
Hello all!!!! Boy oh boy has it been an odd beginning to a year. Lots of great things unfolding as the school continues to expand and we cultivate new grounds and new relationships to expand our visions and goals as a school and as a community of individuals passionate about and dedicated to aromatherapy, natural plant based medicine and empowered healthcare selfcare.
Over the last two weeks I have been asked two interesting questions by two different individuals. I thought the questions were interesting so I shall post my responses here:
1. Do we teach how to blend medicinally?
Typically when you blend essential oils together the goal is to ‘treat’ or ‘prevent’ something in some way, whether this is to relieve anxiety or support healthy digestion, relax muscle spasms or prevent stress related illnesses. It could even be as simple as blending for the beauty of the aroma, which would also lend itself to ‘medicinal’ as it would lift the spirits and hence have a positive effect on the immune system and body/mind/spirit. When we use the term ‘medicinal’ this is by definition what essential oil are.
They are aromatic plant extracts that display a wide range of potential medicinal effects: from antimicrobial and anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) to antidepressant and anti-inflammatory. Even if we were only blending for products to clean our house, the goal is to reduce exposure to toxic cleaning products, and hence we are blending for medicinal reasons: to reduce exposure to toxic compounds, to enhance immunity, and to experience natural aromas which have a positive effect on our mind/body/spirit. For cleaning products, they also serve as preventative agents, preventing potential illnesses that may arise from using traditional cleaning products.
Any blending of genuine and authentic essential oils, therefore, will be medicinal.
Over the years a number of unique approaches to blending have evolved. The following outlines potential approaches to blending, all of which have a medicinal purpose:
Blending based upon core therapeutic effect (prabhava – a plants specific action in Ayurveda): e.g. antispasmodic – For a potent antispasmodic blend, we could combine Peppermint with Clary sage. This blend could be used to relieve muscle spasms as well as to treat menstrual cramping.
Blending based upon core chemical components (constituents) or chemical families (e.g. esters): an example of chemical component blending would be using essential oils rich in linalol and/or linalyl acetate: both components that are sedative. Some essential oils rich in linalol and linalyl acetate include: Lavender, Ho wood and Rosewood. You could create a blend of all three of these oils to ‘treat’ insomnia or relieve anxiety.
Blending based upon Morphology: e.g. flowers, leaves, or roots. This is a concept I wrote about in 1992 in the Aromatic Thymes and it has been picked up by many aromatherapy teachers and businesses. Although some think this idea existed before, I can honestly say, it did not. The idea of of plant signatures is similar but Morphology blending was specifically created to address the more emotional, energetic qualities of essential oils.
By researching in botany books the purpose of a particular plant part: e.g. roots, I interpreted that the innate energy essential oils would have based upon the purpose of a specific part and its role within the plant. Hence, we have roots which serve to anchor a plant in a substrate and provide nourishment. Root essential oils therefore carry this message within them. Root essential oils such as Vetiver ground and provide nourishment and it is beneficial for individuals who feel spacey, ungrounded, or out of touch with their bodies. This concept is a bit different from the idea of Plant signatures which is based upon a plants appearance and how this reflects potential applications and medicinal effects based upon its color, its growth, and its habitat. I hope to write more about morphology blending in another newsletter and possibly even rerun the article I wrote in 1992.
If you have been in the aromatherapy industry for a fairly long period of time, one thing you will know is that in the early days of aromatherapy there just was not a lot of ideas in the way of blending. Most schools in England taught blending based upon notes, however, this type of blending really does not lend itself to medicinal blending except perhaps on an emotional level. (another article).
So that sums up the most popular choices of blending in aromatherapy. All this information is in our Dynamic Blending Manual, but this is undergoing a rewrite so won’t be available again until the Autumn. There are other methods and approaches but for the sake of brevity these three core approaches have been introduced.
2. Do we teach over 80 essential oils?
I have always loved this question. It seems to imply that the more essential oils you cover or know the better a course or practitioner may be. However, is this truly the case? Absolutely not! It is interesting how we perceive quantity with quality. I personally would rather know a handful of essential oils well than to know a little about a lot of essential oils.
One of my loves for herbal medicine is its emphasis on getting to know the medicinal plants that grow around you. Having experienced this first hand while training as a herbalist in WA state, I can say, that once you become aware of the plants growing around you, they become your allies and awaken all your senses to their presence. However, this takes time, often years. The first step is to awaken and see what plants are before you. The next step is to spend time with them: taste them, smell them, touch them, look at them, and yes, even listen to them.
This all takes time as each plant asks that you spend time with it and it alone, to get to know it. You may notice another medicinal plant growing around it, but wait: be still with this one and then move on. After you are familiar with each one then you can also observe how they may work together or not, as the case maybe. Another step is getting to know the optimum time to harvest a specific plant and to understand/appreciate its climate preferences, its growing tendencies, and its dislikes.
Perhaps most importantly in herbal medicine, and this should hold true for aromatherapy as well, is the concept that to know a plant (or essential oil) one must experience it personally. It is one thing to write that lavender helps you to sleep, it is quite another to say “Lavender helps you to sleep and this is I know because I have used it and it helped me to sleep”. This step is perhaps the most crucial for aromatherapists as it often asks us to make a commitment to our knowledge, to our beliefs, and to work with the essential oils for our own health, even when there are potentially quicker paths to healing. (another article!)
Back to the value of observing: In the article below I mention some of the spring plants emerging on our land: it is interesting that chickweed grows very close to the nettles. Ahh, we can use chickweed if we happen to get stung by nettles. And in the summer, we have lots of poison ivy growing in our area and then lots of jewel weed too, its antidote. Or we may just have a group of similar plants that can be used to mutually enhance one another.
So now, that I have gone on an excursion talking about medicinal plants, how does this translate to essential oils? Well, they are the same. To truly deepen ones knowledge and application of individual essential oils, one must cultivate a relationship with the plants that bring them forth. Or at least, if possible. I realize that many of us may never actually see a sandalwood or frankincense tree physically growing but we can get some sandalwood raw wood or frankincense resin and work with these substances.
With many of the most commonly used essential oils, we can easily either grow them or be sure to visit botanical gardens throughout the seasons to observe them, touch them, smell them, taste them, and again, listen to them. Most of the aromatic plants I grow, I do so because I want to be able to interact with them, to smell the aromas right from the plant so I can attune my sense of smell even more to natural aromas. It deepens my interpretation of what I smell when smelling an essential oil.
So, do I think getting to know 80plus essential oils is a great thing? Only if it takes the rest of ones life, Yes. If you think it needs to be done in a weekend or in a year, absolutely not. It belittles our allies and supports a knowledge based on surface understanding rather than the depth of appreciation, experience and awareness they deserve.
And finally, although we do cover 50 or 60 essential oils in our course, my personal hope is that a handful of those essential oils call to you to spend time with them and get to know them more deeply. And that you answer this call.