Author: Jen Shepherd, MSW, LICSW, CCA

Jen is passionate about helping mental health and behavioral health professionals integrate aromatherapy into their practice (safely and effectively). She is a consultant, educator, and coach serving a diverse community of individuals, groups, and organizations. Jen is actively involved in the professional aromatherapy community, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA). She talks a lot with her hands (fluent in American Sign Language), and lives in Minnesota with her husband and houseplants.

Touring Lavender Farms in the Midwest

Have you ever considered the journey of lavender, from farm to bottle? As an aromatherapist, I sometimes forget to appreciate the labor and dedication required to produce the essential oils that I use. In our fast-paced world, we’ve lost touch with the source of our food, herbs, and farm products, with only 2% of the US population being farmers or ranchers (n.d.).

My appreciation for the hard work and perseverance it takes to be a farmer stems from spending summers on my grandparents’ farm in east-central Minnesota. It’s crucial to support small-scale farmers and artisan producers who create our aromatherapy products. We can show our support by purchasing directly from them, visiting their farms, engaging with their social media, and shopping at markets where they sell.

Over the past few years, I embarked on a journey to learn more about lavender farming and distillation in the US. I visited farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas, where I witnessed live distillation and inhaled the herby floral scent of fresh lavender. We visited the farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota as a local group from the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA). These experiences deepened my understanding and appreciation of the essential oils that I use.

THE FARMS

The Lavender Barnyard – Farmington, Minnesota

The Lavender Barnyard farm in Farmington, Minnesota. Left: The barn in the yard with rows of lavender plants that have been harvested. Top right: Lavender plant waiting to be harvested. Bottom right: Lavender up close.
The Lavender Barnyard farm in Farmington, Minnesota. Left: The barn in the yard with rows of lavender plants that have been harvested. Top right: Lavender plant waiting to be harvested. Bottom right: Lavender up close.

Marie and Marty Schuhwerck are the proud owners of this idyllic small lavender farm situated just south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Marty spent his childhood playing on the farm next door, and now resides where Marie cultivates their beautiful lavender plants. This farm is an emerging lavender destination, and the sole producer of its kind in Minnesota. The inaugural harvest took place in 2021.

The farm is currently home to 250 plants, featuring four unique lavender cultivars – Phenomenal, Hidcote Blue, Edelweiss, and Gros Bleu. By 2023, they plan to introduce a fifth variety, the locally cultivated Cynthia Johnson, with a goal of expanding their collection to 400 plants. (M. Schuhwerck, personal communication, May 6, 2023).

During my visit to the farm in 2022, my friends and I were treated to a personalized farm tour and U-pick lavender cutting session. Despite the late season, we were still able to catch a few plants in bloom, and the experience was unforgettable.

After the tour, we got to explore the Laiterie farm store, which is situated in the old milk room on the side of the barn. The store was stocked with an impressive array of lavender products, including bath bombs, body butters, freshly cut and dried lavender bouquets, sachets, bath salts, sachets, and lavender gift boxes, which can also be purchased through a monthly subscription. Marie is a true champion of her local community, and her farm partners with other local vendors to offer unique experiences and events at the farm, as well as being a lavender source for other vendors like a tea company. Visitors can also find The Lavender Barnyard products at local shops and say hello to Marie at farmers markets and other boutique events.

Marie is always working on new projects and dreams to further transform her farm. One such project is the renovation of a pop-up camper called the Bud Mobile, which will soon become her mobile pop-up store. I can’t wait to see how the Lavender Barnyard continues to evolve and expand, and I encourage everyone to check it out for themselves.

New Life Lavender & Cherry Farm – Baraboo, Wisconsin

New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin with a lavender field full in bloom, The Secret Garden, and Owner Aron McReynolds talking about the varieties of lavender plants on the farm.
New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Top left: Lavender field in bloom. Bottom left: The Secret Garden and bee haven. Right: Owner Aron McReynolds explains the varieties of lavender on farm.

Aron and Laura McReynolds run a delightful family farm with over 14,000 lavender plants of more than 25 varieties. They carefully select and grow many culinary varieties dedicated to specific uses such as syrup, pie, ice cream, baking, and tea. Their farm store houses a commercial kitchen where they bake their signature lavender cherry pie and other lavender-based treats.

The Farm to Table Wagon Tour provides an exclusive look at the demonstration garden, wildflower sanctuary for bees, and additional lavender fields. The McReynolds’ three children have specific responsibilities on the farm and even provide demonstrations. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Secret Garden and discover the hidden haven of the bees.

Rowley Creek Lavender Farm – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Rowley Creek Lavender Farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin. A beautiful Aloha welcome and sign to the entrance of the farm. Fresh lavender harvested that day. Still set up for demonstration with hydrosol in jars.
Rowley Creek Lavender Farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Top left: A beautiful Aloha welcome to the farm. Bottom left: Fresh lavender harvested that day. Right: Still set up for demonstration. The aroma was amazing, and I got to take some of that hydrosol home with me!

Kehaulani and AJ Jones, with their five children, operate an authentic lavender farm using “Aloha Sustained Agriculture” to sustain the land with love. The three hilly acres of land have over 23 lavender cultivars, and the Farm Cottage Boutique sells a variety of lavender-infused organic botanical skin care products, crafts, plants, and culinary products.

Kehaulani is a Certified Aromatherapist, natural skincare designer, distiller, and aspiring herbalist. She offers classes and beauty respites on the farm. Her favorite cultivar being Wyckoff for its sweet smell, deep purple color, sturdy long stems, and double bloom.

Starting at the rustic barn, we observed a live distillation demonstration with a majestic 30-liter alembic column still. The still’s seams were sealed up with rye flour dough (to prevent the steam from escaping during the distillation), the still was packed with fresh lavender, and then fired up. Eagerly anticipating the freshly distilled lavender hydrosol, we set out on our tour.

First we learned how to harvest lavender from the bush with a harvest knife in the organically grown lavender fields. Then we set out to explore the property which revealed a beautiful Class 2 trout stream, other plants, and animals like donkeys and bees.

Returning to the barn, the sweet floral scent of lavender hydrosol greeted us, with the run using about 30 plants for a couple of gallons of hydrosol and 1 oz. of essential oil. This made the issue of sustainability tangible, and the take-home gift of 1-oz. hydrosol was precious.

Washington Creek Lavender FarmLawrence, Kansas

Washington Creek Lavender Farm in Lawrence, Kansas. Lavender in full bloom, demonstration garden, and the drying room.
Left: Lavandula angustifolia var. Folate in full bloom. Top right: Demonstration garden with Owner Kathy on the mower. Bottom right: Drying room with an amazing aroma.

Kathy and Jack Wilson, the owners of Washington Creek Lavender Farm, gave me a personal tour of their hilltop fields where I saw a few lavender varieties starting to bloom. The farm is certified organic with over 6,000 plants and nine different varieties, labeled for easy comparison in a demonstration garden.

A calming aroma lingered in the large drying room, which housed a copper alembic still just outside and it was waiting for some plant material for a run.

Washington Creek’s lavender is used for culinary, hydrosol, soap, and various handmade products including eye pillows, dryer sheets, and sachets.

Evening Light Lavender Farm – Deer Park, Washington

I was able to have a conversation with a colleague and friend of mine, Sandra Shuff, the owner of Evening Light Lavender Farm. Sandra is a Certified Aromatherapist, Artisan Distiller, Regional Coordinator for the U.S. Lavender Growers Association, and a Regional Director for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Her farm, which is located outside of Spokane, is USDA Certified Organic and boasts an impressive 21,000 plants with over 41 varieties of lavender. The lavender grown is considered “high altitude,” as it is grown above 2,500 feet in elevation. Along with lavender, Sandra also grows Rose Geranium, lilacs, herbs, and other flowers. (S. Shuff, personal communication, August 12, 2019).

Sandra has a passion for distillation, and her “copper family” includes four stills that she affectionately named Felicity, Sophia, Bernard, and Lily. She distills over 48 different botanicals, including six different citruses, and sells them in her farm store and online. With plans for a new distillation facility and a new 300 liter still, I was inspired to visit her farm in person and hope to make it someday soon.

LAVENDER 101

Kehaulani of Rowley Creek Lavender Farm, refers to lavender as “Mother Nature’s most versatile herb. Not only is it great in the garden, attracting many beneficial insects and birds; it is also a medicinal herb that has anti-microbial and anxiolytic properties, and it is amazing in skin care products with its ability to heal and repair damaged skin. The sky is the limit when it comes to creating things with lavender.”

Lavender Basics

Lavender is considered a culinary and medicinal herb that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has defined it as a specialty crop (USDA, n.d.). Experienced lavender growers suggest doing intensive research along with compiling a comprehensive business plan prior to starting out. Lavender farms in the U.S. are considered small scale with an emphasis on quality: specifically, in production, processing, and distillation.

It is common that a lavender grower will diversify, often adding value added products such as baked goods, crafts, body care products, and farm tours. Farming of lavender on an industrial scale usually happens outside of the U.S. (Michigan State University, 2018).

There are over 45 different species of lavender with over 450 varieties (Anderson, n.d.). It is important to know which species and cultivar you are working with. For instance, sometimes there is casual reference to “Lavender Grosso” as being a type of “lavender” grown on a farm. This could lead one to assume it is a variety of Lavandula angustifolia. However, the Latin binomial for “Lavender Grosso” is Lavandula × intermedia, which translates to the English name of lavandin.

Lavandin is a hybrid between the species Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia. It is therefore not a true Lavandula angustifolia, as you might first assume from the name “Lavender Grosso.” It is a different plant in terms of its botanical characteristics, cultivation, and harvesting needs. In addition, within these species there are different varieties or cultivars, sometimes with synonyms. For instance, Lavandula × intermedia var. Grosso could also be known by the synonym Lavandula × intermedia var. Dilly Dilly (McNaughton, 2000).

Lavender species and varieties are available in a large color palette. The leaves can be different shades of gray or green. The buds also vary in color from white, pale pink, deep violet, light blue, and light purple.

Propagation

Lavender should not be grown by seed due to cross-pollination by bees. Lavender can be propagated from cuttings from the plant. Some cultivars are easier to root than others. Growers take cuttings in the fall and grow them in a heated greenhouse over the winter to be ready for spring planting. Some types of lavender plants are protected by rights or patents, so check out your variety before propagating (McNaughton, 2000). You can also purchase plants in plugs, packs, or pots. If you do this, be sure to purchase healthy and disease-free plants.

Cultivation

The best place to purchase plants from is a lavender grower, or a nursery that specializes in lavender. It is important to select a variety that will survive in your area. I live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4. The lavender farms in Baraboo, WI, are located in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5, but they’re only 10 miles away from Zone 4.

Some of the challenges to growing lavender in the Midwest are: the winter, wet conditions with the amount of rainfall received and the level of humidity experienced, and the soil quality – which is mainly clay. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is considered to be mostly hardy. If you’re trying to avoid winterkill, Lavandin var. Grosso may be a good choice (Lavandula × intermedia) (Adam & Rittenhouse, 2018). The typical lavender plant has a life span of about 8-12 years. You can start to harvest them when they’re three years old.

Lavender does best when the roots are somewhat dry, so being planted up on a hill with good draining soil is a must. It likes poor and rocky soil. Sometimes you may need a soil amendment, as well as covering the plants in the winter. Keeping the plants dry and happy also helps to reduce the potential for fungal infections and disease.

It might be a good idea to get your soil tested before planting, especially if you’re thinking about adding any additional fertilizer such as lime, or nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Sandra from Evening Light Lavender Farm encourages diligent record keeping including recording information about planting, watering, crop rotation, harvest, inventory, distillation, etc. (S. Shuff, personal communication, August 12, 2019).

Harvesting

How and when you harvest is going to be dependent on the end use (McNaughton, 2000). Lady J. from Rowley Creek Lavender Farm indicated that there is one key sign to know when the plant is ready for harvest. “If the bees are foraging on your lavender plant, then you’re nearly there. You’re almost ready to cut and harvest for steam distilling.” (K. Jones, personal communication, July 31, 2019).

Distilling

Lady J. and AJ of Rowley Creek Lavender Farm prefer to use a copper still as it makes a “sweeter hydrosol,” which has to do with a chemical process during distillation. This is due to the sulfur ions being removed from the hydrosol as it has been bound with the copper (Harman, 2015). Copper is preferred over stainless steel, especially for hydrosols, to avoid the still note (Harman, 2015).

Sandra of Evening Light Lavender Farm, talks about the “angel’s mist” which is the “first few vapors that come through just before the first drops [of essential oil]. It is the highest volatiles that cannot be captured. They are absolutely a taste of heaven as they excite all your senses immediately. It lasts but a few seconds but is worth the experience.” (S. Shuff, personal communication, August 12, 2019).

THE STORY OF LAVENDER

Visiting the lavender farms and talking to the growers was an eye-opening experience for me. It provided me with a greater understanding of how lavender is cultivated and how it is used to create essential oils and other products. The passion and dedication of these farmers were truly inspiring, and I gained a newfound appreciation for their work.

As an aromatherapist, this experience was crucial to my journey and work. It has motivated me to explore high-altitude lavender farms in other countries and attend more distillation workshops.

Whether you are an aromatherapist, herbalist, gardener, or simply someone who loves essential oils, I encourage you to take a closer look at the journey of lavender from farm to bottle. You can find lavender farms that are open to the public by visiting the United States Lavender Growers Association website. If you have the opportunity to visit one of these farms, I invite you to share your experience and photos with us. Let’s continue to support these dedicated farmers and enjoy the beauty and benefits of lavender.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

REFERENCES

Adam, K., Rittenhouse, T. (2018). ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Lavender production, markets, and agritourism. https://attra.ncat.org/publication/lavender-production-markets-and-agritourism/

American Farm Bureau Federation. (n.d.). Our Food Link. https://www.fb.org/programs/womens-leadership-program/our-food-link/

Anderson, D. (n.d.). Lavender Varieties. Lavender Growers Association. https://uslga.memberclicks.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73:lavender-varieties&catid=24:lavender-101&Itemid=138

Bader, S. (2012). Lavender Lover’s Handbook. Timber Press, Inc.

Harman, A. (2015). Harvest to hydrosol: distill your own exquisite hydrosols at home. IAG Botanics LLC dba botANNicals

McNaughton, V. (2000). Lavender: the grower’s guide. Timber Press, Inc.

Michigan State University. (2018). Growing lavender: a curriculum for growers [PowerPoint slides].  https://www.canr.msu.edu/growinglavender/

United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). What is a Specialty Crop? https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/scbgp/specialty-crop

What is Aromatherapy?

Have you ever inhaled the scent of a rose? Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the scent of fresh rosemary, sage, or thyme as you use cook with the fresh herbs. Or, maybe you live in an area where there are pine trees or flowering trees that bloom in the spring.

If you’ve had these experiences, you have connected with the natural aromatic compounds from these plants. They may create feelings of warmth, evoke fond memories, and maybe even excitement.

While these experiences are not considered “aromatherapy” in the professional sense, it is certainly a window into that world.

I WAS USING ESSENTIAL OILS, BUT NOT AROMATHERAPY

When I first started using essential oils back in the early 1990s, I only used them for two reasons: to scent my environment, and to feel calm. Was this aromatherapy? Not necessarily.

Sure, I had several different types of diffusers, including a fancy glass nebulizing one. I also was gifted an expensive and overwhelming essential oil kit. I had no idea how or why I should use the oils, and I didn’t appreciate their aromas. I was in college at the time so I was busy studying and working. I didn’t have the time or energy to explore aromatherapy any further.

So, I only used the lavender essential oil with the occasional addition of lemon or sweet orange. I’d use the diffusers, or I’d drop the essential oil on a cotton ball. After that, I wouldn’t interact with the oil, and I certainly wouldn’t pay much attention to it other than to notice the smell in my room or car. The rest of the essential oils went to waste because after opening them one time, I never touched them after that.

Even though I was using essential oils with a hint of purpose, I was not using them with any skill.

THE HISTORY OF AROMATHERAPY

Left: Rene-Maurice Gattefossé. Right: Dr. Jean Valnet.
Left: Rene-Maurice Gattefossé. Right: Dr. Jean Valnet.

To be able to understand aromatherapy, we need to look at some of its history.

In ancient texts, there are references to aromatic plants that have been used for thousands of years. The aromatic plants and oils that were used in ancient China, Egypt, India, Greece, and Rome may not have been exactly like the essential oils that we know and use today. They were most likely used by these ancient civilizations in the form of incense, perfumes, and scented fatty oils. They were used for a variety of purposes including medicinal, spiritual, social, relational, and also for trade.

The approach to modern-day aromatherapy started to be molded in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The most well-known of the early pioneers were Rene-Maurice Gattefossé, Jean Valnet, and Marguerite Maury.

In 1910, French chemist and perfumer Rene-Maurice Gattefossé was working in a laboratory when there was an explosion. He states that his hands were covered “with a rapidly developing gas gangrene. Just one rinse with lavender essence stopped the gasification of the tissue” (Gattefossé, 1993, p. 87). Battaglia (2018) states that “Gattefossé is to be commended for having the insight to see that the therapeutic application of essential oils constituted a discipline in its own right.” (p. 36). He continued to have an interest in using essential oils therapeutically in medical settings and coined the term “aromatherapie” in 1937.

Dr. Jean Valnet was an army surgeon who used “essential oils as antiseptics in the treatment of war wounds during the Indochina war from 1948–1959” (Battaglia, 2018, p.36). He continued his work and focused on anti-infectious and antibiotic properties, dosage levels, and methods of application (Shutes, n.d.). Valnet (1980) states that “Aromatics have always played a leading part in the maintenance of health” (pp. 260–261).

Marguerite Maury was a beautician and biochemist (Battaglia, 2003, p.18) with a background in nursing and surgical assisting (Shutes, n.d.). She moved from Vienna to France and became the pioneer of dermal application, including dilution for massage and the use of essential oils in the beauty industry (Battaglia, 2003, p. 19).

In 1977, Robert Tisserand published his book The Art of Aromatherapy. Tisserand (1977) references the work of Professor Paolo Rovesti at Milan University and states “essences cannot be expected to do the whole job on their own: they are not miracle drugs. In such cases some form of counselling, psychotherapy or spiritual inspiration is needed in combination with aromatherapy.” (p. 98).

To identify this concept, Tisserand coined the term “psycho-aromatherapy” in the 1980s (H. Tisserand, personal communication, May 19, 2022). Note that psycho-aromatherapy is a different concept than aromachology. At the Botanica2022 conference, he referred to this concept as “aromapsychology” (Tisserand, 2022). Mr. Tisserand is the founder of the Tisserand Institute which provides education on aromatherapy, essential oils, and safety.

Around this same time, there was a new shift in aromatherapy, and it “became a semi-medical modality, which allowed the lay person to attempt self-therapy for many common ailments.” (Battaglia, 2018, p.38).

Fast forward to today, where the use of essential oils and aromatherapy is a thread that intertwines and overlaps across many different industries and professions.

AROMATHERAPY BY DEFINITION

There are a variety of definitions and perspectives that illuminate the fragrant world of aromatherapy. In general, aromatherapy can be considered the skillful use of pure essential oils with a specific goal in mind. This goal lies within the context of an overall holistic picture: to restore balance and enhance the well-being of the individual.

Aromatherapy can be considered its own practice. It can also be integrated with other approaches and modalities. While essential oils are a wonderful tool to support health and well-being, they are not a magical solution or a “one size fits all” approach.

You may hear some aromatherapists also using the term “essential oil therapy” to ensure the inclusion of various application methods. Rhind (2020) uses the term “Aromatic therapy” (p. 21).

To enhance our understanding, we can review some additional definitions of aromatherapy. Here are a few that come from professional aromatherapy associations:

Aromatherapy refers to the inhalation and topical application of true, authentic essential oils from aromatic plants to restore or enhance health, beauty and well-being. The field of aromatherapy activity is quite wide, ranging from the deep and penetrating therapeutic actions of essential oils to the extreme subtlety of fragrance on the psyche. One of the uses of aromatherapy is to strengthen the self-healing processes by preventative methods and indirect stimulation of the immune system. (AIA, 2019).

Aromatherapy is described as both an art and a science because it takes the knowledge of the scientific aspects of the plants and oils and combines it with the art of producing a beneficial blend. Basically, a successful aromatherapy blend is a synergy of science, art, and the practitioner’s knowledge of both, and how to apply it. (NAHA, 2022).

Aromatherapy uses the volatile aromatic plant essences, known as essential oils, to treat ill-health and help maintain good health. (IFPA, 2022).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health describes aromatherapy as “the use of essential oils from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees) as a complementary health approach. The essential oils are most often used by inhaling them or by applying a diluted form to the skin.”

While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute describes aromatherapy as the “therapeutic use of essential oils (also known as volatile oils) from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees) for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

WHAT DOES AROMATHERAPY MEAN TO ME?

Left: Connecting with the oil while visiting an aromatherapist’s shop in Alberta, Canada. Middle: Connecting with the plants and distillation process. Distilling Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). Right: Connecting with the plants and the farm at New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Jen getting ready to blend.

For me, aromatherapy means using essential oils with skill and purpose. I have a specific purpose or goal in mind. I also have a skill set that I can draw upon. My skills have developed from going to school, but also from ongoing education. I have a process that takes me from when I first encounter an essential oil, to when I’m using it in my blends.

My process includes the science and art of aromatherapy. When I’m first introduced to a new oil, I begin to study it from different perspectives. I learn about essential oil research, chemistry, and how the oil has been used traditionally.

I also spend time with the oil. I spend time sampling the aroma on different days, in different situations, and with different methods of application. I also spend time blending the oil to see how it interacts with other essential oils. Throughout this process, I make notes about the oil for later reference.

When a situation comes up where aromatherapy would be a great option, I review what I have in my current stock, and start my process to create the aromatherapy product that I’d like for that specific situation.

For example, if I want to improve my mood, I first identify the emotions that I’d like to work on. Let’s say that it’s wintertime, and I’m feeling a bit down, and overall sluggish. I take a look at what I have on hand and find that I have some great options which include lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), and frankincense (Boswellia carterii).

From going through my educational and experiential process with each of these oils, and also knowing my scent preferences, I’m able to move forward. I proceed to make myself an aromastick that I can use throughout the day to help bring myself back into balance. The key then is to make sure that I continue to use it. It will be even better if I can pair the use of the aromastick with other practices I have, such as breathing or meditation.

This illustrates aromatherapy and how I use it in my daily life. Aromatherapy is an ongoing journey. Regardless of where you’re at with your knowledge, experience, and skillset; there is always something new and fun to experience!

REFERENCES

Alliance of International Aromatherapists. (2022). Aromatherapy history and basics. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.alliance-aromatherapists.org/aromatherapy

Battaglia, S. (2003). The complete guide to aromatherapy (2nd ed.). Brisbane QLD, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Battaglia, S. (2018). The complete guide to aromatherapy (3rd ed., Vol. 1). Zillmere QLD, Australia: Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.

Gattefossé, R. M. (1993). Gattefossé’s aromatherapy. R.B. Tisserand (Ed.). C.W. Daniel Company, Ltd., Trans. Essex, England: The C. W. Daniel Company Ltd. (Original work published 1937).

International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists. (2022). What is aromatherapy? Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://ifparoma.org/resources-media/information-on-aromatherapy/

National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy. (n.d.) What is aromatherapy. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/what-is-aromatherapy

Rhind, J. (2020). Essential oils: A comprehensive handbook for aromatic therapy (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Singing Dragon.

Shutes, J. (n.d.). Foundations of Aromatherapy and Scholars courses. Retrieved from https://courses.aromaticstudies.com

Tisserand, R. (1977). The art of aromatherapy (16th impression printed 1994). Saffron Walden, Essex, England: The C. W. Daniel Company Ltd.

Tisserand, R. (2022, May 20-22). From energetics to science and beyond – A personal journey [Conference presentation]. Botanica2022 Conference, virtual.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute (2022). Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/aromatherapy-pdq

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2022). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/aromatherapy

Valnet, J. (1982). The practice of aromatherapy: holistic health and the essential oils of flowers and herbs. (The C. W. Daniel Company Ltd., Trans). Rochester, VT: Destiny Books. (Original work published 1980).

Why I Went Back to School for Clinical Aromatherapy

Being a clinical social worker, I saw a need for holistic care for my clients and patients. I wanted to offer aromatherapy as one of the tools they could choose from.

After working in the field of clinical social work, I had seen both the strengths and the opportunities for growth within our medical, mental health, and behavioral health care systems. While many individual providers strive to provide excellent care for their patients and clients, service delivery is confined within a system that is driven by finances.

I have always been passionate about providing care that is geared towards prevention, stabilization, and revitalization. This passion stems from many years of being frustrated with the gaps in care while trying to help patients and clients navigate the system. I’ve also pondered how service providers can empower clients to participate in their own self-care with non-pharmacological interventions.

This passion led me to investigate the integrative therapies that I was introduced to as a child: essential oils, herbs, and nutritional intervention. I wanted to know if, and how, these interventions were being utilized within various areas of the health care system. I was curious about their integration in the field of social work. Particularly in hospice, oncology, home care, chemical health, and mental health.

During this exploration, I became fascinated with aromatherapy. Having worked primarily in behavioral and mental health for the majority of my career, I was particularly interested in its effect on stress and emotions. I was impressed by the affordability, versatility, and accessibility of this complementary health care modality.

In my career, I’d learned from other medical professionals on my teams that it is important that patients have all medications, supplements, vitamins, and any other natural products be reconciled. This is for proper assessment of potential contraindications as well as ongoing medication management.

Just like vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements, essential oils can be purchased over-the-counter. Anyone can buy them from the internet, grocery stores, or home parties. I started to have questions about my patients using essential oils without any direction. How were essential oils benefiting, or even interfering, with their medical and mental health conditions? Was it possible that the essential oils could be interfering with their medications?

As these questions and concerns arose within me, I knew I needed to investigate further. So, I started a new quest for learning, specifically about the use of safe and effective aromatherapy. I was not even aware that there was formal education out there for clinical aromatherapy.

Around this same time, I had started working as a medical social worker for a local hospital based home care agency. The hospital system was already utilizing aromatherapy with its patients, primarily in hospice and the family birth center. This approach to using essential oils was new to me. It was based in evidence-based practice, and there were policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures had been developed by an integrative team that was spearheaded by a nurse who had extensive training in aromatherapy. She had also consulted with a local clinical aromatherapist. This experience led me to seek further education and guidance on how I could implement this with our home care team.

I started to look for additional training around the use of aromatherapy in health care and I found a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist named Jodi Baglien. At the time, she was teaching a two day Aromatherapy Foundations course at a local community college. I attended the class and was overwhelmed with the amount of information regarding aromatic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, therapeutic actions, methods of application, profiles, safety, and best practices. I grew up around essential oils, and I’d never realized how much there was to know! A short time after, she offered me a position to work for her in her studio, which I gladly accepted!

At this point, I was faced with two paths for my level of involvement with aromatherapy. I could learn just enough to be able to use essential oils safely, and confidently, in my own personal life. Or, I could go back to school for a formal education so that I could use essential oils safely with my clients.

As a social worker, it is my ethical duty to refer out to other professionals, and to not engage in work that is outside of my scope of practice. So, did I want to refer my clients out to the clinical aromatherapy professionals? Or, did I want to become a professional clinical aromatherapist? If I did the latter, I could work with clients individually. I could also bring education to other licensed professionals, so that they could learn how to integrate aromatherapy into their practice. After several months, and many conversations with my mentor, I made the decision that I wanted to go back to school for clinical aromatherapy.

If you know anything about social workers, you know that we love our research, resources, and connections. I thoroughly researched the different levels of certification, and every approved school that was listed on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists websites. I created a spreadsheet that took note of each school’s qualities that included: costs, time investment, method of learning, teaching styles, certification options, values, morals, ethics, rooted in evidence based practice, and the alignment with my professional trajectory. With the help of my mentor’s reflection, observations, wisdom, and feedback, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to complete enough hours to become a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist. I also decided to get my specialty certification in wellness coaching at the same time. The rest is history!

I encourage you to reflect on how you became interested in aromatherapy and using essential oils. What drew you to them? Do you want to only use them in your personal life? Or would you like to be able to integrate them on a professional level? Is this a tool that you can see yourself using to empower your clients in their own self-care and wellness? How in depth do you want to go in your learning?

If you would like help reflecting on any of these questions, please feel free to contact me for a complimentary consultation.

References

National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics. Retrieved 8/10/17 from: http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp

 

Essential Oils for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health disorders within the United States today, affecting just over 18% of adults, and 25% of children ages 13-18 years old (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). Anxiety has been linked to the development of multiple health problems from heart disease (Harvard Medical School, 2008) to gastrointestinal disorders. They can cause significant distress, and have detrimental effects on the overall health and well-being of the individual as well as those around them. 

Clinical Anxiety

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5™) describes anxiety disorders as differing “from one another in the types of objects or situations that include fear, anxiety, or avoidance behavior, and the associated cognitive ideation.” (2013, p. 189).  

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The diagnostic criteria for GAD include excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control. There must also be other symptoms present such as sleep disturbance, muscle tension, irritability, difficulty concentrating, being easily fatigued, and restlessness (APA, 2013, p. 222). The worries associated with GAD are not routine everyday life worries. This worry is excessive and interferes with significant impairment in various areas of life functioning. Around 3.1% of the U.S. adult population carries this diagnosis (NIMH, n.d.). 

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is characterized by having recurrent panic attacks that are unexpected. There also must be a persistent concern or worry about having additional panic attacks, or there has been a maladaptive change in behavior because of the panic attacks. A panic attack occurs with an abrupt surge of intense fear that usually peaks within minutes and symptoms may include: heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, paresthesia, etc. (APA, 2013, p. 208-217). There are 2.7% of adults in the U.S. that live with Panic Disorder (NIMH, n.d.).

Stress Response

The DSM-5™ refers to fear as the “emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat”, and anxiety is the “anticipation of future threat”. Both of these mental states trigger the body’s stress response (APA, 2013, p. 189).

The stress response involves the autonomic nervous system, which consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is like a gas pedal that launches the body into fight, flight, or freeze response. It prepares the body for action to engage and defend against stress. The parasympathetic is like the brake pedal of the car. It promotes the rest and digest response by helping the body return to homeostasis.

Traditional approaches for anxiety

Psychotherapy and medication have been the routine methods of treatment for anxiety. For some people, this may not be enough. There is a risk of addiction with some of the medications typically prescribed for anxiety (particularly benzodiazepines). Some people may prefer to begin utilizing alternative and holistic therapies for integration into their care. These therapies fall under the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) umbrella and include things like: acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, nutritional intervention, herbal remedies, and aromatherapy. 

Drug claims

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) says that we cannot make drug claims when it comes to essential oils. For instance, it is against regulations to use language like “Bergamot can be used to treat anxiety”. What we can say is that “Bergamot supports overall emotional wellness”. This article focuses on the research that has been done and is using language taken from those studies and other educational materials in the field of aromatherapy.

Research

There are various animal and human studies that may show support for the effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing feelings of anxiousness and calming the nervous system. Some studies have been focused on various chemical constituents, while others have been focused on the essential oils themselves.

Several studies have shown anxiolytic effects of various essential oils in health care, from patients on an intensive care unit (Karadag, Samancioflu, Ozden, & Bakir, 2015), burn patients (Seyyed-Rasooli et al. 2016), and in hospice.

Ylang ylang (Conanga odorata) was found to have harmonizing effects and was shown to decrease pulse rate and blood pressure. This is an indication that there is a decrease in autonomic nervous system arousal (Hongratanaworakit & Burchbauer, 2004).

Fukumoto et al. (2008) studied the effects of lemon essential oil in an animal study and results showed that some of the chemical constituents in the lemon essential oil (limonene, citral, and γ-terpinene) decreased physical and psychological stress. In 2013, Lima et al. found that (+)-limonene exhibited anxiolytic effects and was comparable to the control of Diazepam in a study with mice.

In 2008, Chen et al. found that neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara) essential oil was comparable to that of the benzodiazepine Xanax in an animal study. In another animal study, inhalation of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil was shown to have anxiolytic effects comparable to chlordiazepoxide, also a benzodiazepine (Tsang et al., 2012)

The European Medicines Agency (2012) reviewed several studies on bergamot essential oil. They indicate that bergamot essential oil “possesses anxiolytic and neuroprotective activity and attenuates HPA axis activity by reducing the corticosterone response to stress.” (p. 16).

Johnson et al. (2016) of Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, published a study of aggregate data from 10,262 hospital admissions. Qualified and trained nurses offered aromatherapy interventions to patients (inhalation, massage, or both). Patients rated their symptoms on an 10 point scale, “0” being reflective of no symptoms and “10” being the most. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) had an average decrease in anxiety symptoms by –2.73 points, mandarin (Citrus reticulata) by –2.44 points, and sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) by –2.73 points. These results were statistically significant and supports the use of aromatherapy as evidence-based medicine. 

Choosing the essential oils

The choice of oils will depend on several factors including not only the chemical constituents, but also aroma preferences of the individual receiving the aromatic intervention. Care also needs to be taken into account for potential contraindications with medical conditions (i.e. pregnancy, seizure disorders, heart conditions, allergies) and medications. Following safety guidelines is recommended for ethical and best practices.

Symptoms of GAD include excessive anxiety and worry, restlessness, muscle tension, fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Panic attack symptoms are related to the arousal of the autonomic nervous system and peak within a few minutes. Essential oils that would be supportive for would be aimed at helping the body’s natural ability to return to homeostasis. Also, essential oils that help in calming the central nervous system, promoting restful sleep, interrupting ruminative thinking, and clearing the mind would be supportive for use on a daily basis. 

Expert Aromatherapist Recommendations

The recommendations are vast and wide, and each essential oil has multiple indications for use. However, there is a theme among the experts. The most common examples of essential oils recommended for use with feelings of anxiousness remain to be: bergamot (Citrus bergamia), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana), neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara), petitgrain (citrus aurantium), Cedarwood, Atlas (Cedrus atlantica), Ylang ylang (Conanga odorata), and Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides). 

Summary

While exploring aromatherapy as a wellness tool for people with anxiety, it is important to review the chemistry of the essential oils to learn more about their properties. It is also important to follow safety guidelines. Essential oil therapy is a subjective experience for the end user. While essential oils can be effective as a stand-alone modality, pairing them with another mind-body technique, as well as psychotherapy, may enhance the overall effect. This would add even greater support for the overall health and well-being of those who live with GAD and/or panic attacks.

References

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.

Battaglia, S. (2003). The complete guide to aromatherapy (2nd ed.). The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Buckle, J. (2015). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in healthcare. Elsevier.

Bowles, J.E. (2003). The chemistry of aromatherapeutic oils (3rd ed.). Allen & Unwin.

Caddy, R. (2015). The essential blending guide: Creating a collection of pure medicinal blends for common ailments (4th ed.). Amberwood Publishing Ltd.

Chen, Y-J., Cheng, F., Shih, Y., Chang, T-M., Wang, M-F., Lan, S-S., (2008). Inhalation of Neroli essential oil and its anxiolytic effects. Journal of Complementary and Integrative medicine, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.2202/1553-3840.1143

European Medicines Agency, Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products. (2012). Assessment report on Citrus bergamia Risso et Poiteau, aetheroleum [PDF]. Retrieved from: http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Herbal_-_HMPC_assessment_report/2012/08/WC500131463.pdf

Fukumoto, S. Morishita, A., Furutachi, K., Terashima, T., Nakayama, T., & Yokogoshi, H.(2008). Effective flavor components in lemon essential oil on physical or psychological stress. Stress and Health, 24, 3–12. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.1158

Graeff, F. (2007). Anxiety, panic and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Rev Bras Psiquiatr, 29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1516-44462007000500002

Harvard Medical School, Harvard Women’s Health Watch. (2008, July). Anxiety and Physical Illness. Retrieved 3/20/17 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/anxiety_and_physical_illness

Hongratanaworakit, T., Buchbauer, G. (2004). Evaluation of the harmonizing effect of Ylang-Ylang oil on humans after inhalation. Plant Medica, 70(7), 632–636.

Johnson, J. Rivard, R., Griffin, K., Kolste, A., Joswiak, D., Kinney, M., Dusek, J. (2016). The effectiveness of nurse-delivered aromatherapy in an acute care setting. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 55164-169.

Lawless, J. (1994). Aromatherapy and the Mind (Kindle Locations 1623-1625). Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Lima, N., De Sousa, D., Pimenta, F., Alves, M., De Souza, F., Macedo, R., Cardoso, R., Almeida, R. (2013). Anxiolytic-like activity and GC–MS analysis of (R)–(+)–limonene fragrance, a natural compound found in foods and plants. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 103, 450–454.

Karadag, E. Samancioflu, S., Ozden, D., Bakir, E. (2015). Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety patients. British Association of Critical Care Nurses, 22(2), 105 – 112.

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults [Statistics file]. Retrieved 3/20/17 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Anxiety Disorder Among Children [Statistics file]. Retrieved 3/20/17 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-children.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Generalized Anxiety Disorder Among Adults [Statistics file]. Retrieved 3/24/17 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/generalized-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Panic Disorder Among Adults [Statistics file]. Retrieved 3/24/17 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/panic-disorder-among-adults.shtml

Price, S., Price, L. (Eds). (2012). Aromatherapy for health professionals (4th ed.). Elsevier.

Purchon, N., Cantele, L. (2014). The complete aromatherapy and essential oils handbook for everyday wellness. Robert Rose Inc.

Rhind, J.P. (2014). Fragrance and wellbeing: Plant aromatics and their influence on the psyche. Singing Dragon.

Schnaubelt, K. (1998). Advanced aromatherapy: The science of essential oil therapy. Healing Arts Press.

Schnaubelt, K. (1999). Medical aromatherapy: Healing with essential oils. Frog Books.

Seyyed-Rasooli, A., Salehi, F., Mohammadpoorasl, A., Goljaryan, S., Seyyedi, Z., Thomson, B.(2016). Comparing the effects of aromatherapy massage and inhalation aromatherapy on anxiety and pain in burn patients: A single-blind randomized clinical trial. Burns, 42(8), 1774-1780.

Shutes, J., Easley, T. (n.d.). Herbs and essential oils for anxiety [PDF for video]. Retrieved 3/20/17 from: https://aromaticstudies.com/herbs-essential-oils-anxiety/

Tisserand, R., Young, R. (2015). Essential oil safety (2nd ed.). Elsevier.

Tsang, H., Lo, S., Chan, C., Ho, T., Fung, K., Chan, A., Au, D. (2012). Neurophysiological and behavioural effects of lavender oil in rats with experimentally induced anxiety. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 28, 168–173. https://doi.org/10.1002/ffj.3148