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Aromatherapy Articles

Endangered Plant Species and Aromatherapy - Parts 1 & 2


Joie Power, Ph.D.

Part 1

Aromatherapy Update (9-28-09): Recently I have been corresponding with a member of Cropwatch, an organization that monitors the status of plant species that are put at risk by agricultural and commercial practices around the globe. Many of us in the field of Aromatherapy have been aware for years that we are faced with increasing challenges as we try to select essential oils and other products that are both ecologically and socially responsible. This is not a frivolous concern as many plant species are being decimated by commercial activities and human beings abused by unsafe and/or unfair employment practices that exist throughout the world where plants are grown or harvested for commercial uses.

I hope that no one is still using Rosewood and Sandalwood essential oil. I have been buying Sandalwood oil for 40 years but I have not seen any really great sandalwood in at least a decade and this is a reflection of our misuse of this species and the damage that we have done. People are still buying and selling these oils but it's way past time to stop. Many frankincense species are also in trouble and one of the things that I have realized from reading the material produced by Cropwatch is that although Boswellia carteri, the species of frankincense that we commonly use in aromatherapy, is not yet listed as threatened it too is in trouble. I will discuss this issue in greater detail at my upcoming seminar on 10/24 -10/25/09 in Clayton, Georgia and discuss alternatives to using species that are in trouble.

In trying to determine which essential oils can be ethically used it's necessary to consider not only the status of that species itself but also whether or not it's harvesting is wiping out species that grow near it. I hope that you will check out the Cropwatch material that I've been reading at Aromatic Species v1.11.pdf; it's very informative and I have learned some things I didn't know before reading it.

We must begin to deal with these issues in Aromatherapy; we cannot claim to be practicing a healing art if our activities are not ecologically and socially ethical. Even if we don't choose to start making more conscious choices, we will be faced with involuntary changes in our practice as essential oils and herbs that we have relied on begin to disappear.

When these issues come up in my classes, someone will almost always say, "But I LOVE Rosewood" (or Sandalwood, or Frankincense, etc.). Please be conscious of the difference between "loving" the experience that you get from an essential oil and truly loving the plant that it comes from - if you really love the plants you will try to avoid contributing to their obliteration. And here's one of the secrets that the greatest healers know: it's when you really love the plants that they open their powers to you and become the most potent medicines. This is what makes you a healer and not just a pharmaceutical technician.

Part 2

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri, B. sacra, B. papyri et al) in use for over 5000 years and now threatened?

It may seem counterintuitive that some Frankincense species are on the threatened species list of Cropwatch ( since no trees are destroyed in harvesting the resin (which is then steam distilled to make Frankincense essential oil) but it appears that the sap (resin) is being over-harvested and many of the trees are dying. And, I've just learned that only 16% of seeds of trees from which sap has been harvested are viable whereas 80% of seeds from untouched trees are viable. To make matters worse, it takes 8-10 years for the tree to mature enough to make sap harvesting possible. Add all this up and it's easy to see that one must consider carefully before purchasing and using Frankincense.

Frankincense is just one example showing that not only do we in the aromatherapy and the healing arts professions need to look at the efficacy and quality of each plant/herb/oil/medicine we use and recommend but we need to dig deeper on each one and make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the planet as well as for the individual.

For a more in-depth review of Frankincense, go to Frankincense article on Wikipedia.
See also section on Frankincense in Cropwatch’s Jan 2009 newsletter

Joie Power, Ph.D.

*This information is provided for educational interest and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Copyright © 2010 Joie Power, Ph.D. / The Aromatherapy School  |  All Rights Reserved

This article, "Endangered Plant Species" was originally published in: The Aromatherapy Newsletter E-published 9-28-09 with follow-up of part 2 in Oct. '09. To subscribe to The Aromatherapy School Newsletter, click: Subscribe to Aromatherapy School Newsletter.

Dr. Power is a retired board certified neuropsychologist and former Assistant Professor of Surgery/Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Georgia, where she performed intra-operative cortical mapping with renowned neurosurgeon Herman Flanigan, M.D. She has over 20 years of clinical experience in both in-patient and out-patient settings and during her years of practice has also been both a practitioner and student of alternative healing methods, including herbal medicine, aromatherapy, Reiki, Chinese Medicine, and other energetic healing systems. Her extensive formal training and experience in the olfactory and limbic systems of the brain give her a unique qualification for understanding the actions of essential oils in the body. Dr. Power, founder of one of the earliest essential oil companies in the U.S. to specialize in therapeutic quality essential oils, is now a clinical consultant for Artisan Aromatics as well as an internationally known writer and teacher in the fields of aromatherapy and alternative medicine. Her approach to aromatherapy weaves together her solid scientific training and strong clinical skills with a holistic philosophy that honors body, mind and spirit. Dr. Joie Power is also the author of The Quick Study Guide to Aromatherapy and numerous published articles on aromatherapy and related topics.

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