in two parts
By Martin Watt

Published on the IDMA aromatherapy Internet newsgroup-years ago.

See also: IATA conference lecture by Martin Watt, which contains additional
information on these issues.

There are major problems with the course notes sent to me below.

1. The confusion of teachers and authors between the therapeutic activities of
the herbal extract compared to the essential oil.

2. The highly misleading, inaccurate and sometimes dangerous, generalisations
of therapeutic activity based on single chemicals occurring in essential oils.

3. Most of these errors are also widely disseminated in the USA and Canada. I
may be going over some old ground covered in previous articles, but when I
see the same mistakes continuing to be taught, perhaps it is necessary to re-
emphasise some points for the benefit of new readers.

The first page below contains extracts from the course notes of a well known
figure in the UK aromatherapy trade who also served on standard setting
committees! This is the same person referred to in another article who was
making illegal medicinal claims in sales literature for her oils. The second page
is compilations from commonly made claims by numerous aromatherapy
teachers and authors. So much for the knowledge of leading trade teachers!

Bold text are her claims.
Ordinary text my comments.
Red illegal and dangerous.

Page 1

"low blood pressure; poor circulation; varicose veins and
haemorrhoids; urinary problems and cellulite. It is reduces excessive
fluids in the body associated with conditions such as diarrhoea".

Note: ALL of these actions could only be achieved via the use of the herbal
extract. Since most essential oils increase capillary circulation, then the
external application to varicose veins is more likely to cause irritation, rather
than astringe them. On the other hand, the application of a herbal lotion
containing tannins and other compounds not occurring in an essential oil,
may have a cooling and astringent effect on the skin. Cypress oil for
haemorrhoids may have a mild antiseptic and healing effect, but the traditional
use was the application of a water-based solution, NOT the essential oil.

"Cypress to reduce excessive sweating".
How can it do that if a known warming effect on the skin of the oil does the
reverse? Again a total corruption of the use of the herbal extract.

"Good for HIV and AIDS".

There is no evidence that these oils can do anything in the body for these
conditions. Both oils have not undergone any Internationally acceptable testing
for potential adverse effects. It is therefore unwise to use such substances on
human skin and extremely unethical to use them internally.

"Reduces obesity, water retention, urinary-tract problems, indigestion
and babies' colic. Its oestrogen-like hormonal properties increase
mother's milk".

To even suggest that the external application of fennel OIL can reduce obesity
is ludicrous. The oil was not traditionally used for that problem. Any references
in traditional medicine are to the internal consumption of either the seed or a
herbal tea. Effects on the urinary tract resulting from the internal use of the oil
are from causing irritation of the kidneys. The estrogenic effects of trans-
anethol are still open to debate within the scientific community. It looks
increasingly likely that it does not have this effect.

We must look at the traditional uses of this plant to find where all this
nonsense has come from. The whole SEED is what was used traditionally to
increase mothers milk. Seeds of course contain many nutrients in a highly
concentrated form, ideal for helping mother to produce good quality milk. The
seed may also contain other water-soluble substances that may affect the
hormone system. Such chemicals may not occur in the essential oil.

Useful for"coronaritis, endocarditis, viral hepatitis, gastro and
duodenal ulcers, biliary lithiasis, cholera, tuberculosis, cancer of the

It is outrageous that a leading aromatherapy figure should teach such utter
nonsense to unsuspecting students. So, for those who can’t work it out for
themselves, I will go through this list below:

Coronaritis and endocarditis.
These are severe inflammatory conditions and life threatening. There is no
evidence that externally applied niaouli oil can affect these conditions. More
importantly, if someone was suffering such a condition they are likely to be in
hospital and no aromatherapist would be allowed to treat it.

Viral hepatitis.
A very nasty illness and also potentially life threatening. What on Earth is
Niaouli oil supposed to do? I have never seen any research papers proving
niaouli oil to be an effective virocide in-vivo. Most such information comes from
obscure and unreferenced publications, and convincing con artist teachers
from France.

Duodenal ulcers.
What on Earth is the external application of oil of niaouli going to do for that?
Since it is now known that most gastric ulcers are caused by helicobacter
pylori, the oil would need to be given internally to have any effect. I have not
seen any data showing tests on this organism using niaouli oil.

Biliary lithiasis.
The suggestion that the external application of an essential oil is going to
dissolve stones is just preposterous. Massage over such an organ is strongly
contraindicated, because the potential exists to move the stone and impact it
into the wall of the gall bladder. This is quack medicine.

I am not aware of niaouli oil having been proven effective in-vivo. We must
always be most cautious in assuming that tests conducted in petrie dishes will
have similar effects in humans. This is a serious infection and foolish (illegal in
some countries) for anyone other than a registered doctor to treat it.

I am not aware of niaouli oil having been proven effective in-vivo. This is a
very serious infection and foolish (illegal in some countries) for anyone other
than a registered doctor to treat it.

Cancer of the rectum.
This sort of dangerous nonsense is just what gets aromatherapy looked on as
‘quack medicine’ by the mainstream medical profession. I could not believe my
eyes when I saw this, I have seen some rubbish in aromatherapy course notes,
but this really tops them all. This is quack medicineand from someone
who has taught nurses on her lousy courses!!

Some more from the same source:

The native South American tribes have no known use for this essential oil. This
means that ALL the therapeutic data hails from European practitioners. They
largely based their therapeutic properties on the fact that the oil contains a lot
of linalool. Since the isomers of linalool differ between species, one cannot
possibly make a sound therapeutic judgement based on the occurrence of that
chemical in an essential oil.

Various species of rosewood are on endangered species lists. Products from
these protected species are banned under International trade agreements.
Therefore, the importation of genuine rosewood oil may be illegal. Most
rosewood oil is either synthetic linalool, or oil derived from the LEAVES of these
trees. In which case it is a misleading trade description because a WOOD oil,
can not be the same as a LEAF oil. See other articles on Rosewood on this site.

No varieties of yarrow oil have been adequately tested to ascertain if they are
safe or not. Since fresh yarrow herb is a well-documented skin sensitiser, the
potential for skin sensitisation for the essential oil can not be ruled out. Most of
the claimed therapeutic effects are those of the herbal extract NOT THE OIL.
Anti-inflammatory effects are those attributed to the azulene’s in some oils.
However, certain chemotypes of yarrow contain no azulene’s (the clear oils).
Even if the blue oil is used, the fact that one component may be anti-
inflammatory is useless if the oil also contains low levels of sensitising agents.
These sensitising chemicals can be so powerful, that they may overcome the
anti-inflammatory effects of the azulene’s.

"Ketones are known to be abortifacient".
There are no essential oils which can be legally purchased in Europe that are
"known to be abortifacient". See article on Pennyroyal.

Some other therapeutic claims from various sources:

Yes some aromatherapy teachers still say essential oils can treat this condition.
Many plant medicines and foods contain high levels of iron as well as other
chemicals that may influence the production or oxygen carrying capacity of red
blood cells. However, these substances tend to be water-soluble and do not
occur in essential oils. The suggestion that such a serious condition as anaemia
can be influenced by the external or internal use of essential oils is appalling.
It could lead to life threatening illness caused by ineffective treatments.
Such a suggestion is beyond belief and defies all medical science as well as
most traditional medicine knowledge.

Blood pressure high/low.
Since most aromatherapy course providers and authors have never been
taught how to take blood pressure, how do they know what effects these oils
may have? A group of nurses I trained in aromatherapy some years ago took
the blood pressures of their clients before and after an aromatherapy massage.
The tendency was a slight (3-4 mb) transient drop in pressure no matter which
essential oils were used. This effect was probably as the result of the C.N.S.
relaxation caused by the treatment. No increase in pressure was detectable
due to the unloading of lymphatic fluid into the circulation from the massage.

"Eucalyptus species, lemon, melissa, myrtle in an eye ointment".
The suggested oils for this condition are very hazardous. Such oils would
cause very severe inflammation and pain if they got into the eyes.

Suggested oils-eucalyptus ssp, fennel, geranium, juniper, lemon, salvia

Does anyone seriously believe that aromatherapy can cure or even relieve this
condition? Once again a serious medical condition that aromatherapists
should not attempt to treat without a registered doctors back-up. These claims
on diabetes are more commonly seen in the US & Canadian aromatherapy

Many plants used as herbal extracts have been used for this condition.
However, there is not a scrap of evidence, traditional or otherwise, that the
same plants essential oil applied externally can have the slightest effect.

Lymphatic congestion.
Since there is no sound evidence that externally applied essential oils can
reach the lymphatic system, then how can they "decongest" it? Surely, it is the
massage that does that, not the essential oils used.

Sperm insufficient.
"Aniseed, fennel, geranium, rose".

Wow, medical discovery of the Century!! Essential oils applied externally
increase sperm production do they???

Vision poor.
"Aniseed, black pepper, German or Roman chamomile, fennel, hyssop,
lemon, myrtle, rosemary".
Well how do you use them and how do they
work? I have used all these and still need glasses. Sounds like another medical
discovery of the Century, or quackery, you choose which!!

"Absolutes should not to be used for therapeutic purposes".
In fact several floral absolutes have been extensively tested on humans for
adverse effects and are passed as safe if used in the appropriate amounts.
Several absolutes are permitted food additives under EEC, FDA & WHO
regulations. Solvent residues are subject to International regulations, and
these levels are only a few parts per million if for food use. Therefore, the use
on the skin in aromatherapy is perfectly safe, provided the maximum levels
recommended by the IFRA-(standards tab) are not exceeded. As absolutes are
cold processed, they represent the perfume found in the living plant much
more closely than the equivalent distilled essential oil.

"Distillation was invented in the 13th Century, or by Avicenna".
Wrong-in fact Al Kindi an Arab physician circa 870 AD writes extensively in his
‘Medical Formulary’ & ‘Book on the Chemistry and Distillation of Perfumes’
about essential oils and distillation. His knowledge of the techniques would
appear to be of even more ancient origin.

"Fennel, peppermint and rosemary should not be used in pregnancy".
This statement is ridiculous, they are all permitted food flavours. Peppermint is
of course widely used in confectionery and many others products. The volume
of oil getting into the body from an aromatherapy treatment will be far lower
than from that in numerous foods and drinks. For example, if this theory were
followed then a pregnant mother must not eat curries while pregnant. Strange
that those Nations whose prime diet is curry and spiced foods seem to be
overrun with children!

Traditional Chinese and astrological attributes.
Several Herbs in some books & notes are given therapeutic and energetic
properties based on Chinese traditional medicine, or astrological factors.
However, when one looks in detail at the Herb’s, surprising one finds that
some were unknown to the Ancient Chinese practitioners. Therefore,
any actions such as "regulates Liver-Qia–clears heat" cannot be of Chinese
origin but are Western inventions based on a weak understanding of Ancient
Chinese astrology.

Herbs such as eucalyptus were unknown to the Ancient civilisations in the
Northern Hemisphere. It was mainly their observations over thousands of
years, which resulted in astrologically based attributes given to plants. Any
planetary signs given to plants unknown in the civilisations referred to, have
been ‘invented’ in recent times by western practitioners and therefore have no
historical basis whatsoever.

Summary: Some people will be aware that I have been saying for a long time
that quality of education within aromatherapy is a lottery. And that
membership of certain trade associations who claim to 'set standards' in reality
is no evidence of educational quality at all. I thought until I acquired the
material mentioned above, that I had enough evidence. However, now I have a
new stack to justify my claims that some appallingly dangerous and highly
misleading trash is being taught and by so called 'leading lights'.

People often say "well if you don't like what is being taught, why don't you
work with these people to improve things". My reply is "me work with
criminally incompetent con-merchants, you must be joking". My definition of
a con-merchant:
Someone who makes money by selling low quality, phoney
or dangerous goods and services, or giving the impression that they have a
good knowledge of their subject when in fact it is very weak. People in the
health care business that do this should be jailed for fraud.
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