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The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy

The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 2011. Paperback; 234 pages. ISBN: 978-1-59477-425-6. $19.95. 

Kurt Schnaubelt has been a pioneer in the movement to bring more scientific validation to the use of essential oils for the aromatherapy practitioner and consumer. His most recent book demonstrates the practical applications of plant essences and their effects on human physiology. There is significant emphasis on the benefits of the complex chemistry of secondary metabolites (e.g., those compounds found in essential oils) through explorations of evolutionary biology, cellular biology, and pharmacology.

Though beginners may get a great deal of reliable information from this book, it is best understood by the professional aromatherapist, herbalist, or natural health practitioner seeking to learn more about how and why essential oils work and their potential uses in an herbal or integrative practice. Occasionally, the author suggests incorporating herbal therapies. For instance, along with a suggested blend of essential oils for staph infection (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA], Staphylococcaceae) is a blend of antimicrobial herbs. Dr. Schnaubelt, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, also recommends adding an essential oil blend to a base of herb-infused oils for greater efficacy than that provided by either ingredient alone in a carrier such as coconut oil.

Furthermore, the book covers essential oil first-aid issues, as well as treatment protocols for more serious conditions such as hepatitis, osteoporosis, liver detoxification, and the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. Dr. Schnaubelt counters the concerns of dangerous toxicity with a sane and scientific approach for safe application and treads upon a much-avoided area, that of oral and internal use. He also interweaves cosmetic and skin care applications and explains how they contribute to overall well-being while building natural immunity.

Particularly unique is the layout of pages and the tidbits of information on the edges highlighting subjects such as toxicity myths, quotes by various contributors to the craft, nods to plant pioneers, and more. Throughout the book, Dr. Schnaubelt presents the work of other prominent figures in the profession, explores historical views of essential oils from around the world, and the utilization of essential oils in various cultures.

The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils is divided into 3 parts and begins with an overview of the biological understanding of essential oils and their advantages over synthetic drugs. The author first links human biochemical and cellular heritage with human’s symbiotic relationship with plants. Various theories about how essential oils contribute to traditions such as Chinese Medicine, Five Element Theory, and French-Style Medical Aromatherapy are also discussed. In Part I, Dr. Schnaubelt presents findings that support the use of whole oils, claiming distinct advantages over single components such as essential oil isolates and conventional pharmaceutical drugs.

Part II delves into essential oil authenticity, traditions, safety, and the cultural aspects of fragrance perception and healing. Myths perpetuated in numerous other books are addressed head-on with an emphasis on the use of high-quality unadulterated oils. Therapeutic activity of various chemotypes are also explored and explained.

Part III takes up the second half of the book with its emphasis on treatment strategies, case studies, and the practical applications of essential oils, including cosmetic and therapeutic uses. The extreme caution usually seen in aromatherapy books is debunked throughout, with suggestions for oral and other internal uses. An entire chapter is devoted to the safe use of essential oils internally, which includes oral ingestion and rectal and vaginal suppositories. Recipes and instructions on self-care are also included.

Antiviral uses are discussed with a focus on herpes and flu. The inclusion of herbal support is occasionally provided. Three chapters in Part III are devoted to issues around caring for cancer patients. These chapters deal with the side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation such as nausea, mucous membrane inflammation, bowel discomfort, skin problems, and burns. The section on the prevention of melanoma and the photo-aging of skin includes lesser-known carriers such as sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnaceae) and rose hip (Rosa canina, Rosaceae) oils (extracted by super-critical carbon dioxide) and newer carriers to the skincare market such as raspberry (Rubus idaeus, Rosaceae), pomegranate (Punica granatum, Punicaceae), and cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon, Ericaceae) seed oil.

The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils builds on existing information from other aromatherapy books on the market and assumes a basic level of knowledge from the reader. Though it lacks a standard materia medica, the book highlights the uses of numerous oils. It stands apart from most of what is available in the English-speaking market on plant essential oils by delving into the scientific reasoning behind the effectiveness of essential oils as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial agents. Citation references are provided for all 15 chapters. Indeed, Dr. Schnaubelt excels in turning dense scientific information into language that can be understood by the simple practitioner. This book summarizes his teachings of the last 30 years—that plant essences provide a sustainable form of health maintenance by supporting the integrity of the human genetic code with a form of biologically familiar medicine. This book encourages the reader to use her or his own experiential knowledge, stating, “We are only beginning to understand, in scientific terms, the many dimensions in which highly complex natural mixtures such as essential oils benefit our wellbeing.”

—Mindy Green, MS, AHG,