Endangered Plant Species & Aromatherapy – Part 1

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 www.cropwatch.org/Threatened 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.

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.

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

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