I became an herbalist in 1972. And yet, for nearly two decades, with the exception of eucalyptus and peppermint oils, I was unaware of the health benefits of essential oils. It wasn’t until I attended the first American Aromatherapy Conference in Napa Valley in the late 1980s that I became most intrigued and fascinated with their healing powers. It is not commonly known that there are nearly 10,000 medical doctors in France who completed a three-year training to specialize in aromatic medicine. There are entire wings of hospitals in that country that specialize in essential oil and hydrosol therapeutics. French aromatherapy pioneer and expert Daniel Pénoël, MD, co-authored a medical aromatherapy text in 1990 that is to this day a remarkable contribution to the field (Franchomme & Pénoël 1990). A year after this work was published, I invited him and his wife Rose-Marie to give a four-day aromatic workshop in Edmonton. I began to use some of the techniques and preparations I learned from Dr. Pénoël.
Thymus vulgaris for Chlamydia trachomatis
One protocol he taught was the use of Thymus vulgaris chemotype thuyanol for the treatment of Chlamydia trachomatis, a Gram- negative bacterium. This condition can affect both men and women, with an estimated1 million Americans infected. Cervicitis is asymptomatic in nearly 70% of women, and half of these will develop pelvic inflammatory disease. It can linger for months and may not be completely eradicated by antibiotics.
In 18 years of clinical practice, I sawover 40 cases of chronic chlamydia infection, particularly in those who took antibiotics such as the beta-lactams, which seem to induce a chronic growth state of the bacteria, where they stop cell division and increase in size. Given the opportunity, the cells will return to their normal state and begin to divide once more.
The protocol is three-pronged, and involves oral ingestion, as well as vaginal and rectal suppositories for a two-week period. When taken orally, the oil must be blended in a non-petroleum emulsifier to ensure a homogenous mixture. These products can be purchased commercially but are extremely expensive. I have found that mixing 96% (192 proof) alcohol with liquid lecithin until dissolved creates a good substitute. The client ingests five drops of essential oil with equal amounts of emulsifier in water three times daily. Note: Ingesting oils must be approached with care. Essential oils are quickly recognized and acted upon by Phase I liver detoxification. Cytochrome P450 enzymes are found in the liver, intestinal mucosa and in smaller amounts in bronchial tissue, kidneys, and skin. Ingested essential oils are processed by the liver before traveling to lungs. When treating lung conditions, use inhalation or suppositories.) A 10% suppository is inserted once daily in the vagina and rectum. This administration positions the essential oil closer to the source of infection. Oils inserted in this manner are absorbed by abdominal veins and bypass the liver. The success rate was over 96%.
Aromatograms; Santalum album for vaginal infection
Another technique I learned from Dr. Pénoël was the use of aromatograms. These are basically agar culture plates on which the infectious material is brushed and cultured for 48 hours. This unknown pathogen may be gathered from anywhere in the body. Then a single drop of essential oil is placed in four quadrants on the growing culture. Twenty- four hours will show the zone of inhibition of the un-named bacterium, virus or fungus.
I had one case that illustrates the benefit of such an approach. A young woman, 28, married for six years came to me with an unresolved chronic vaginal infection. She had been treated with various anti-fungals and antibiotics for years, with no relief. It was affecting her sex life and marriage, and she was very despondent.
We cultured four plates, with the opportunity to test 16 essential oils for effiacy. I did the fi st 15 drops and had one spot left. For some reason, Santalum album (sandalwood) came to mind, so I applied one drop.
Twenty-four hours later, the zone of inhibition around this endangered essential oil was by far the largest, twice the inhibition of thyme and oregano oils. We prepared sandalwood suppositories (10%) for insertion daily for six days and then one day off with a mild decocted and cooled Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal) root douche. She came in three weeks later with the biggest smile. After one week, her long-standing issue had been resolved.
Clinical Experience and Studies on Oils and Hydrosols Distilled from Native Canadian Plants
As I became more intrigued with essential oils and hydrosols, I became chair of the Alberta Natural Health Agricultural Network. A group of individuals, a college and the government kicked in money to build a portable distillation unit. This was moved around the province and members steam-distilled about 70 native plant species in the first summer. These were then sent to Leseve in Quebec for analysis with some surprising results.
Acorus americanus rhizome yielded an amazing oil that was wonderfully aromatic and spasmolytic. While our native Acorus is beta asarone-free, calamus root (A. calamus) essential oil from India contains up to 80% of this tetragenic, and carcinogenic compound.
Rhododendron groenlandicum (labrador tea, formerly Ledum groenlandicum) leaf and flower yield essential oil that relieves nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, induces cellular apoptosis and reduces elevated levels of transaminase and gamma-GT enzymes. That is, the essential oil reverses degenerative processes in the liver and restores the integrity of cell membranes. Viral loads of hepatitis B and C have been considerably reduced in work by Dr. Giraud Robert (Schnaubelt 2011). I have used 5% rectal suppositories for prostate infection and enlargement (BPH) with great success in clinical practice (Szott-Rogers 2014). The flowers only, harvested at their peak, sun-infused in a good carrier oil at 1:5 weight to volume, yields an oil that smells like fresh raspberries.
Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed, formerly Epilobium angustifolium) aerial parts in flower yielded no essential oil, but produced a hydrosol with amazing ability to reduce inflamed skin conditions, including sunburn, dry eczema, acne, and rosacea (Rogers 2014).
We also found that Popula tremula (aspen poplar) twigs, even harvested in winter, yield an amazing, balsamic, chamomile-like essential oil. Analysis found the (+)-alpha bisabolol is a stereoisomer with a different configuration than Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile). The latter is 4S, 8S and 68.4°, while poplar bud and twig oil is 4R, 8R and 51-54°. In clinical work, I combined the two oils and found increased anti-inflammatory activity at lower doses, suggesting a synergistic effect.
No essential oils were found in steam- distilled Hierchloe odorata (sweetgrass), but the hydrosol was very authentic to the scent of the fresh plant. First Nations healers working in hospital settings were unable to smudge with sweetgrass, as the smoke set off fire alarms, but misting the room with sweetgrass hydrosol solved the problem.
Essential Oils and Hydrosols in Treatment of Urinary Tract Infection, Scleroderma, Plantar Warts and Cervical Dysplasia
I once treated a 64-year-old paraplegic male confined to a wheelchair during the day. He suffered chronic bladder infections four times a year, due in part to his daily posture. He used a moisturized ventilator to assist in breathing. I recommended 1 tablespoon of Eucalyptus globulus hydrosol be added to each four litres of water in his ventilator apparatus. A year later, his family reported back to me that he suffered no recurrence of infections.
Scleroderma is a difficult to treat, chronic auto-immune condition, characterized by hardening of the skin and internal organs. One 74-year-old woman with this debilitating condition showed remarkable benefit from the following protocol:
Centella asiatica (gotu kola) tincture was given at dosage of 20 drops three times daily after meals. This was combined with daily massage, performed by her daughter, of 5% gotu kola essential oil in sesame seed carrier oil. The effect over three months was astounding, with renewed flexibility of hands and significant improvement of swallowing difficulties.
Thuja occidentalis (eastern cedar) essential oil helped many cases of plantar warts. A drop or two at most is applied directly on the affected area. In order to ensure that the surrounding tissue is not damaged, Un-petroleum Jelly, comfrey gel or other viscous ointment encircles the applied drops of oil. Thuja is one ingredient in the well-known and widely used Vag Pac for cervical dysplasia. A tampon, saturatedfor one inch with a combination of equal parts calendula and carrot root oils as a carrier for 5% Thuja essential oil, inserted to the cervical mouth, is a very effective solution to this all too common issue, especially stages 1 through 3. Protocol is for six days, one day off with mild goldenseal douche and repeat for three weeks.
Contraindications and quality control challenges
Of course, there are a lot of contraindications with essential oils, particularly during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A number of oils stimulate the uterus, and some ketone rich oils cross the blood-brain barrier. Some essential oils are contraindicated in cases of asthma, epilepsy and for use in young children.
Eucalyptus smithii may be safely substituted for commonly used E. globulus in children. Nepeta cataria (catnip) can be used instead of Mentha piperita (peppermint) for youngsters.
The quality of essential oils is variable. For example, France exports the largest amount of lavender oil in the world, in fact eight times what they produce. How is this possible?
Lavendula x intermedia (lavandin) is a hybrid between L. angustifolia/L. officinalis (true lavender) and L. spica (spike lavender). Lavandin is the knee-high plant often seen in pictures from the south of France, where it is gathered in large diameter round bales for steam distillation. This particular hybrid is more camphorous than the sweet, fruity true lavender, and is often lacking the levels of linalool and linalyl acetate (40/42) found in true lavender.
Companies will buy true lavender from small producers in Croatia, for example, to make the product more acceptable and ship off to brokers around the world. What this means is that consumers are not purchasing true lavender, shown in human studies to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity and to stimulate the parasympathetic system (Buchbauer et al 1991).
Adulteration can also take another form. It is easy for biochemists to extract linalool and other compounds from “tall oil,” a by-product of the pulp and paper industry. This is generally produced from conifers, mainly spruce and pine species. This linalool is then added to lavandin to “top up” its sweetness. Energetically, not biochemically, the combination of lavandin with components from stimulating plants such as pine is fraudulent and deceptive.
Citrus peel oils are cold-pressed, and any pesticide residue on orange, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, mandarin, and lime peels will find their way into the oil. Use only certified organic essential oils from the Rutaceae family.
Sandalwood oil mentioned above is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to access. This situation will only worsen, as it takes 35 years to produce a mature tree for its heartwood and oils.
The adulteration of many essential oils can be determined by the oily residue they leave on blotting paper. Consumer attention is required; ask your purveyors of essential oils about origin, and for genuine and authentic guarantees.
Buchbauer G, Dietrich H, Karamat E, Jirovetz L et al 1991, Aromatherapy evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation. Journal of Biosciences 46: 1067-72.
Franchomme P & Pénoël D 1990, L’aromathérapie exactement. Roger Jolois Editeur.
Rogers R 2014, Fireweed: A treasured medicine of the boreal forest. Discovery Phytomedicine 2014; 1:10-15
Schnaubelt K 2011, The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.
Szott-Rogers, L 2014, Scents of Wonder. Aromatic Solutions for Health, Beauty and Pleasure. Prairie Deva Press.
Buckle, Jane. 2003. Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice.
Second Edition. Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier Science.
Catty, Susan. 2001. Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy.
Healing Arts Press. Rochester, Vermont.
Price S & Price L. 2002. Aromatherapy for Health Professionals.
Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier Science. Rhind, JP. 2012. Essential Oils: A Handbook for
Aromatherapy Practice. Second Edition. Singing Dragon. London & Philadelphia.