Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice, 2nd edition, by Jennifer Peace Rhind. London, England: Singing Dragon; 2012. Softcover; 318 pages. ISBN: 978-1-84819-090-0. $35.00.
The author’s PhD in mycotoxicology is evident in the clinical leanings of this publication, which will be especially valuable for the professional aromatherapist or other botanical practioner. Her UK roots and involvement in integrative care are apparent in her access to clinical applications of essential oils, which is quite rare in America. She distinguishes this book from previous advanced aromatherapy writings by taking a more therapeutic approach focused on aromatic chemistry of essential oils, which she refers to as the “molecular approach,” a topic frequently addressed in foreign languages such as French, German, or Italian. The front cover depicting clary sage’s (Salvia sclarea, Lamiaceae) secretory cells is indicative of the level of technical expertise within the book.
Expanding on the field of aromatherapy, this book focuses on the uses of essential oils from a research perspective of pharmacologic activity of their chemical components. The author introduces the subject with an overview of the origins of aromatic medicines from Greek, Chinese, and Ayurvedic perspectives and provides detailed information on the processes by which aromatic extracts are produced.
In Part I, the author deliberates over the philosophy and theory of essential oil uses from an historic perspective and reviews the pioneers of this discipline from ancient figures to early 20th century and modern-day practitioners. Her overview of contemporary practices encompasses theoretical perspectives, the uses of essential oils from the beauty profession, to applications in psychology and clinical use. The author provides an extensive chart on the biological properties of essential oils with sections pertaining to their action, therapeutic potential, and personal comments. Her description of olfaction lays the groundwork for the pertinence of the sense of smell in healing and stress reduction, and her experience as a massage therapist is palpable in the segment detailing the application of this modality.
Part II addresses essential oil synergies and the influence of functional groups of aromatic chemistry in a molecular approach to efficiency blending, introduced by the French medical model. Another approach goes beyond symptomology, addressing the psychosensory effects of essential oil blending, which move beyond the realm of the physical and tap into intuitive insights based on the work of French practitioner Phillippe Mailhebiau. Perceptions and applications of the Chinese Five-Element theory are discussed, as is an Ayurvedic approach to blending.
Part III contains four chapters, beginning with “Botanical Principles in Aromatherapy.” The materia medica segment is categorized into two sections — essential oils from the Angiospermae and the Gymnospermae — and assumes the reader’s knowledge of botanical classification. More than 100 essential oils, absolutes, and resinoids are covered. Rarely are the therapeutic activities of these last two extractions used for aromatherapy practice, so it is interesting to see them addressed here.
The less-advanced student will appreciate the six-page technical glossary of scientific and medical terms used throughout the publication. Charts of significant chemical constituents in essential oils help to clarify the extensive body of knowledge surrounding functional groups of aromatic compounds in essential oils. Examples of essential oils and their corresponding isolated constituents are listed for 16 categories encompassing nine pages. An appendix provides odor description and therapeutic potential for 15 of the groups. The pharmacokinetics are explained in a question-and-answer format, and lists of essential oils are categorized by their active components and functional uses. (e.g., antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, etc). Additionally, there are three pages listing the characteristics and properties of carrier oils for the dilution of essential oils, including what one must assume are herbal-infused oils such as gotu kola (Centellaasiatica, Apiaceae), comfrey (Symphytum officinale, Boraginaceae), and marigold (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae). Latin name use is inconsistent and, with the exception of the materia medica, most references are to their common names only. Common names also are used in the last appendix for indications and actions for absolutes and resinoids in aromatherapy, wherein the author discusses the pros and cons of solvent extraction. This category of extracts, as noted above, is rarely discussed in other publications that focus on the therapeutic uses of essential oils; these are usually the domain of books specific to the perfume industry.
There is a hefty list of references to original citations, lending an air of authority to a subject with less acknowledged research than other botanical therapies. Overall, this book is a welcome addition to the English-speaking world of published work on the therapeutic value of essential oils and other aromatic extracts. It expounds on the diversity of this growing modality of professional aromatherapy with a broad and scientific approach to the properties and potentials of essential oils by connecting biological properties, scientific research, and clinical applications of this particular form of botanical therapy. The professional aromatherapist, educator, herbalist, student, and complementary care practitioner will find it most useful. The author succeeds in weaving scientific research and clinical rationale with holistic principles of healing in a practical text suitable for more in-depth training courses in botanical therapies.