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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

ROOTS: German Chamomile and other moderate climate oils

Many of the oils we use on a daily basis in aromatherapy are somehow associated with dry and hot climates or with poor soil. Apparently these stresses induce the plants to produce more powerful essential oils to ensure survival. Examples are Citrus, Lavender and Rosemary oils. The EO’s from these plants employ a chemical vocabulary that is heavily centered on simple monoterpenoid components, such as cineol, terpineol or linalool.

Quite distinct from those are essential oils from many species that belong to the Asteraceae and Apiaceae families. Often these oils find their highest degree of finesse not so much in the hotter subtropical climates but in the moderate and moist climates encountered in Central and Eastern Europe. In the case of German Chamomile the relation between the plant and a specific geography has even become a part of the common name of the species.

For aromatherapy this is quite interesting. These latter plant families thriving in the more moderate climates have evolved to display a more diverse array of components than the essential oils from plant species that developed before them. Lactones and en-yn ethers are just two examples.

In this post I would therefore like to share some thoughts about some classic oils of the daisy (Asteraceae) and the parsley (Apiaceae) family.

German Chamomile
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of the best researched medicinal plants. Much of the abundant modern research, dating from the late seventies and early eighties, is ‘pre-internet’ and hence not so easy to locate.

Summing up for the purposes of aromatherapy: Depending on a variety of factors, most importantly genotypes, the Chamomile plant produces chemotypes of essential oil. Some oils have high concentrations of bisabolone and others have high concentrations of bisabolol oxide. However, only a third type, with (-) alpha bisabolol, truly has the full powerful antiinflammative qualities associated with this essential oil. It is a more powerful antiinflammative component than the characterisically blue Chamazulene.

The oil we offer is from an estate in southern Germany specializing in the cultivation and distillation of German Chamomile essential oil. As this is the climate and also the cultural environment where Chamomile has been a part of life for at least a thousand years (Odo Magdunensis, 11. Jh.) it reaches its greatest finesse in the moderate climates of central Europe. Oils from other parts of the world with subtropical climates invariably are of lesser quality.

Yarrow essential oil is distilled in a variety of places, however, demand for it and consequently its production seem irregular. The most relevant quantities on the market are from Eastern Europe with Bulgaria being the main supplier, and to a lesser degree Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Wild oils are described as having a concentration of approximately 1% chamazulene and cultivated oils as having a somewhat higher percentage. The wild oils have a light blue tinge whereas the cultivated oils are a darker color blue. Whether the oil with the higher Chamazulene content is really of higher value – therapeutically – remains questionable.

The appreciation of Yarrow essential oil in aromatherapy is probably fueled to a large degree by its traditional popularity in herbalism. As such Yarrow is popular in different ethnopharmacological traditions, even Bedouins in desert areas of the Middle East value Achillea millefolium as an anti-allergy agent and for the treatment of high fever.

In modern aromatherapy Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) essential oil is described as a powerful antiinflammatory agent with particular affinity for rheumatic pain. It is ‘the’ oil to alleviate neuralgic pain and Franchomme and Pénoël even list prostatitis and kidney stones under the indications for Yarrow essential oil.

Some of the components found in Yarrow essential oil are quite special, i.e. the sesquiterpene lactone achilline or its isoartemisia ketone. Considering the appreciation Yarrow has had throughout history it is quite likely that some of its best therapeutic qualities are still to be explored.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root essential oil is precious and unique. Unique for its content of musk lactone and musk ketone which give its aroma the much desired exalting fragrance quality. The novice can easily explore this particular quality by creating a simple blend of equal parts of Bergamot, Jasmine absolute, and Angelica.

Therapeutically,  Angelica is an essential oil with great benefits for those who are weakened or asthenic.

Angelica Root essential oil contains a variety of coumarines and furocoumarines which render the oil photosensitizing if used externally, but make it effective to ease anxiety, insomnia and nervous exhaustion and to ease digestive cramping that goes along with these stresses.
Angelica Seed oil has generally similar qualities as the root oil and its musk fragrance is a bit more nuanced than that of the seed oil.

Lovage Root
Lovage Root essential oil is apparently somewhat difficult to produce. The specific gravity of the oil is very near that of water so it rises to the top very slowly. But the unique composition of this essential oil makes it worth the effort to separate this oil from the hydrosol.

Lovage Root essential oil contains a variety of components called phtalides. In a simplified way one could say that the phtalides from Lovage Root remove toxins from the body by chelating them. In the French literature Lovage Root essential oil is recommended for liver congestion, and food, chemical or drug poisoning. Franchome and Pénöel consider it to be one of the most effective agents to treat Psoriasis. The oil  is very powerful and should be explored cautiously.

Hops, being from the Cannabinaceae family do not fit perfectly into this post’s Apiaceae and Asteraceae theme. However, its cultural coordinates are classically central European. Its main actions are quickly described: it is estrogen-mimicking and it is a very fast acting sedative and de-stressing oil. It is especially effective to calm irregular heartbeat and heart arythmia.

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)
The outstanding therapeutic qualities of Carrot Seed essential oil have been explored in different environments. Recently, however, a study of Anne-Marie Giraud-Robert established the therapeutic value of this essential oil (in combination with some others) for conditions of the liver. The French literature attributes the capacity to regenerate hepatocytes to Carrot Seed oil. The oil’s ability to improve liver metabolism also seems to be the origin of its skin regenerating qualities.

The qualities of Carrot Seed on the market are often uneven as well as in essential oil is distilled from cultivated plants and from plants gathered in the wild. Although their therapeutic properties seem to be more or less identical the wild Carrot Seed oils often have a most appealing and complex fragrance, almost being a perfume in themselves!

Celery Seed 
Celery Seed essential oil (Apium graveolens) is next to Lovage Root the only common essential oil with a sizeable content of detoxifying phtalides. Similarily it drains toxins from the liver. It also acts as a forceful tonic.

From Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt’s blog. Posted in February 2013.

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