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Healing Civilizations: The Search for Therapeutic Essential Oils and Nutrients

Healing Civilizations: The Search for Therapeutic Essential Oils and Nutrients by Nadim Shaath. Petaluma, CA: Cameron and Company; 2017. Hardcover, 321 pages. ISBN: 9781944903091. $65.00.

Seven years in the making, this large coffee-table-style hardcover book is the culmination of the world travels of Nadim Shaath, PhD, over 25 years, and it is as beautiful as it is informative. Shaath scoured the globe in search of remedies and healing traditions, and investigated a wide variety of sources, from ancient writings, early pharmacopeias, and ancient civilizations to modern-day ingredients and practices. Traveling across continents, Shaath met with scientists, industrialists, farmers, healers, and historians to chronicle discoveries both past and present. Dozens of ingredients were analyzed and catalogued into practical information relevant to herbal and aromatherapy practitioners, perfumers, researchers, and complementary care providers. Award-winning photojournalist Thomas Hartwell contributed gorgeous color photos on nearly every page, which helps transport the reader to these lands that are so rich in history and healing traditions.

With an emphasis on environmentalism and a plea to return to the roots of healing, Shaath encourages the reader to partake cautiously of modern pharmaceuticals and reconsider the overreliance on synthetic ingredients, products, and drugs. Acknowledging the advances in modern medicine to increase longevity, he notes that the contributions to natural healing by early civilizations must be remembered, and implores readers to consider these earth-friendly remedies with tested performance over centuries of safe and (ostensibly) effective use.

Shaath places an emphasis on his native country, Egypt, mining its golden history of scientific knowledge that is unequalled. He references information carved on temple walls and papyrus scrolls, which list plants that are used for everything from cosmetics to medicines. Many of these plants are used for similar purposes to this day. Exploratory travels took him to other lands, including Israel, Turkey, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, India, Asia, South Africa, the Americas, and more. The author discusses the impact of each of these locations on the development of modern holistic and homeopathic remedies, and the therapeutic uses of botanical ingredients, including both herbs and essential oils.

This book walks readers through the progression of humanity, and includes lessons from past botanical knowledge that can be applied in the future. It is composed of 16 chapters, an extensive list of references, and a well-organized index. The chapters are: “Historical Perspectives”; “The Call to Naturals”; “Egypt”; “The Silk Road”; “Europe”; “The New World and the Americas”; “Ancient Egyptian Cosmetics, Toiletries and Therapeutic Ingredients”; “The Influence of Ancient Practice on Today’s Modern Therapy”; “The Production of Essential Oils and Absolutes”; “Essential Oils and Absolutes” (a materia medica of Shaath’s personal favorites); “Fixed Oils and Therapeutic Nutrients”; “The Art of Perfumery”; “Medical Aromatherapy”; “Quality Control and Analytical Methods”; “Templates of 50 Essential Oils and Absolutes”; “Templates of 20 Fixed Oils and Therapeutic Ingredients.” There is also an epilogue, titled “Where Are We Headed Now?,” which notes that although many aromatherapy and herbal preparations are now mainstreamed into complementary care, more studies are needed to substantiate ancient wisdom and provide integrative care that will allow us to achieve healthy living.

An extra note about Chapter 15: It encompasses a large portion of this book (102 pages) and provides everything that a quality evaluator needs to characterize the 50 listed essential oils, which were chosen for their historic context, current popularity, and modern commercial uses. The easy-to-read two-page template for each oil includes 13 parameters: product identification; physiochemical properties; gas chromatography results; regulatory status; safety data; country of origin; price scale; perfumery scale; aromatherapy properties; stability; storage conditions; historical/folk traditional uses; and mass spectrometry evaluation (of the active/main component). This information comes from Shaath’s extensive personal experience. The section on fixed oils is similarly informative.

This book is an homage to natural ingredients across the globe with a plea to return to clean and green ingredients in foods, medicines, and cosmetics. Shaath concludes that ancient remedies are still effective options that support the health of the planet and its inhabitants.

The book provides brief descriptions of some ancient remedies, and includes appropriate cautions for responsible use. It also has a few aromatherapy blend suggestions and skin-care applications, but it is not a formulary book. Healing Civilizations is punctuated with interesting historical anecdotes, mythologies, and extensive narratives about the lore of many of these ingredients, making this book more than a reference, but also a captivating read. Though the historical information is fascinating, the greatest contribution to an essential oil library or professional laboratory is the extensive and informative reviews of the 50 essential oils and the fixed carrier oils. The book compiles a host of regulatory information that is invaluable to anyone working in the natural products industry in general, and in personal care specifically. Although the book contains a few very minor errors, I recommend it to anyone from beginners to advanced users of botanical ingredients, especially those with an interest in the historical roots of herbalism.

—Mindy Green, MS, RA, RH (AHG)