The Impact of Thymoquinone on COVID-19

by Petra Ratajc, The PhytoVolatilome
Last week, two studies were published about the potential role of thymoquinone against COVID-19.

Thymoquinone is a monoterpene quinone found in black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds, essential oil, cold-pressed oil, and CO2 extract. Its outstanding antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activity enables a range of possible cytoprotective applications. It also has interesting antitumor properties.

One of the new studies found that thymoquinone effectively binds to the ACE2 receptor expressed on the surface of many cells, thus preventing the coronavirus from entering and infecting the cell. In addition, a previous study indicated that thymoquinone might inhibit the viral protease enzyme, which could further strengthen the antiviral effect.

The other study is a review article that discusses the potential role of thymoquinone in cancer patients infected with the coronavirus. It argues that thymoquinone has a unique combination of antiviral and antitumor properties. At the same time, it may alleviate systemic inflammation associated with both diseases, as well as chemotherapy-associated toxicities.

Readers can access the full-text articles here:
Computational and Experimental Studies Reveal That Thymoquinone Blocks the Entry of Coronaviruses Into In Vitro Cells
Thymoquinone: A Tie-Breaker in SARS-CoV2-Infected Cancer Patients?

Please note that both articles are based on preclinical research. Clinical studies are necessary to validate their findings.

Stay well,
Petra Ratajc is a biologist, researcher, educator and the person behind The PhytoVolatilome. She is a frequent contributor to the IJPHA. View her other blog posts at: Reprinted with permission.

The Benefits of Teaching Multi-Sensory Aromatherapy Courses

As we know, life in its complexity is an integrative experience. Most of us use all our senses (touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste) in all facets of our lives. Creating a variety of sensory dimensions for our Aromatherapy classes makes good sense and good scents. After 20 years of teaching, it gives us additional opportunities to enhance every participant’s learning experience.

Immersive van Gogh experience Denver, CO © Lora Cantele

I first became inspired to use a multi-sensory approach to the Aromatherapy classes I teach after attending the van Gogh Immersion in St. Louis, MO. This immersive experience surrounded me with art, music, and the written word, along with the use of an inhaler I created, the experience was simply divine! It was so different from visiting a standard museum where everything is stagnant. When I returned home, I knew I wanted to create a multisensory class for my students. First, I wrote my thoughts and ideas down until I was inspired by a title, Les Jardin (The Garden). My goal was to create a French garden experience within the classroom.

My intention was to incorporate all the senses with smell being our primary focus. For sight, I decided to use a mixture of the artists’ works on postcards. I displayed the postcards throughout the room and on the tables. There was a variety that included Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir.

Le Jardin de Monet à Argenteuil by Claude Monet. Public domain.

At the last minute, I decided to add another dimension with a mixed floral bouquet on the main table. The vase was filled with roses, lavender, sunflowers, and cypress branches I collected from my garden and the gardens of my friends.

For sound, we enjoyed French café music on a compact disc. The music offered a delightful ambiance while blending.

To focus on scent, I created an aromatic blend for the diffuser I called Les Jardin. It was made with Rose (Rosa damascena) Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), and Lemon (Citrus limon) or Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) to reflect the plant life featured in the artists’ paintings and offer another connection to our aromatic components for the class.

The student activities included making (tactile) a soothing Rose hand cream, an aromatic Les Jardin room spray, and a 5 ml (about 0.17 oz) diffuser blend using their choice of essential oils. All these items were to be taken home for future use and to reinforce the memories created in the classroom.

Incorporating the sense of taste came after the formal class. Refreshments of sparkling grape juice, Earl Grey (bergamot) tea, lavender almond shortbread, fresh green grapes, and dark chocolate candies were served. During this time, we shared our favorite experiences of the day.

Lavender shortbread cookies © Heather Barnes/Unsplash

To say the class was well received would be an understatement; as they all asked if we could go as a group to see the Van Gogh Immersion. I was so pleased to see the positive response to the class since it was my first attempt at teaching a multi-sensory class. I must admit, it took extra effort on my part, but when you love teaching these reactions are priceless.

It is important for Aromatherapy educators to remember that smell is the strongest of the senses and directly influences brain activity. The limbic system plays a key role in this entire process. When we use more than one form of sensory learning there are more connections that influence learning and positive brain activity. It enhances our memories and further engages us on every level.

I would strongly encourage all educators to consider using a multisensory approach to teaching any course materials. I believe that combining two or three additional components would produce an incredibly positive outcome. Not only will students enjoy the experience more; but they are also more likely to retain the information learned. The ratings for overall effectiveness and enjoyment were a 10 plus.

Formula for Les Jardin room spray

In a base of 4 oz (about 120 ml; 111 ml if using Solubol) distilled water in a cobalt glass bottle with a spray nozzle.

Add the essential oils to the bottle:

15 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

12 drops Bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia)

10 drops Rose (Rosa damascena)

8 drops Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

180 drops Solubol (dispersant) Optional, but recommended.

This creates approximately a 2% blend. Shake and blend thoroughly. If you desire (recommended), you may add 180 drops of Solubol for thorough dispersion of the oils. Shake thoroughly and spray throughout your room.  Bel arome!!

Room spray © Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

By Sara Jo Holmes

Sara Jo Holmes had a personal healing experience with the use of Aromatherapy and CAM. She decided I wanted to share this with others struggling with their own issues. After going back to school, she graduated with BS and continued studying with Aromatherapy leaders. Sara is a Registered Aromatherapist and Certified a Licensed Massage Therapist with BCTMB and NCBTMB. She holds a certification for teaching continuing education. She is the founder of Botanical Healing Arts & Massage in Tuscola, IL and has been working as therapist and educator. 

World Memory Earth Day Event

World Sensorium / Conservancy invites people around the world to bring attention to aromatic plants and the need to conserve them, by telling their personal scent-fueled memories that these plants evoke.

Aromatic plants can evoke autobiographical memories for people around the world but these sources of our scent-fueled memories are at risk. Help bring attention to what these plants mean to us by creating a short video interpreting your memory experience triggered by aromatic flora.

The goal is to spark an emotional response in others that have become indifferent to the natural world. We need everyone to act, restore and conserve plant biodiversity, because it is our united actions that will save the natural world for future generations.

Smells of plants are special because they often bring back specific meaningful memories that otherwise might never have been recalled from long-term memory. The brain regions that process smells, emotions and memories are intrinsically intertwined in a unique evolutionary wiring that has enabled our survival. Smelling aromatic plants not only evokes positive autobiographical memories, but their molecules reduce physiological stress and systemic inflammation, bringing about a sense of well-being. Over time, the scents of some plants have become a critical part of our bio-cultural heritage.

Proust Phenomenon

In Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) perfectly described how a bite of a madeleine biscuit dipped in Linden tea immediately transported him to a forgotten time in his childhood. How olfactory stimuli can cue autobiographical memories became known as the “Proust phenomenon” and in time scientists found that odor-evoked memories are most often recalled from the first couple decades of life. 

Plant scents not only enhance memory but act as sensorial chemical cues to memory retrieval. 

During difficult times, it is the captivating beauty of a flower’s scent that may lift your spirits and change your mood. That positive feeling of lift and connection is real and scientifically confirmed. Unfortunately, many plants and the magnificent places they grow in are threatened. As global temperatures climb and the destructive effects mount, humankind must transform our impact on the natural world. It is essential that we stop exploiting plants and protect them together as conservationists.

There are many roles aromatic plants play in our lives from time spent in natural landscapes and spiritual practices, to gardening, cooking, celebrations, traditions, self-care and health practices. We love aromatic plants for their beauty and the sense of well-being they bring about in us. Conservation action not only preserves the natural environment;  it saves culture, traditions, and meaning that can only be known through sense of smell. 

Olfaction, Plants, and World Memory

All aromatic plants release microscopic volatile molecules, compounds that likely evolved to attract pollinators. These complex chemical mixtures stimulate human olfactory receptors that detect the molecules and send the information via electrical signals to the brain for identification. The limbic system that processes smells is intertwined with brain structures responsible for emotions, memory, learning, performance and creativity. These consciously and unconsciously affect mood, feelings, and behavior, which is why smell is such a powerful sense. 

Within our brains, smell and memory are a team. How smells affect us depends on our conditioned responses – preferences determined by associative learning through cultural immersion. This process begins earlier than one might think. By the third trimester, a baby’s brain is processing the chemical stimuli of smells and tastes. After birth, children often show preferences for food the mother consumed during pregnancy. Also influential are smells the mother inhaled. Research has found that aromatic chemicals can be detected in amniotic fluid within seconds, meaning the chemicals of the external sensory environment begin forming our preferences in utero. We are born pre-conditioned to our chemical culture and environment, creating an emotional connection to our early homes.

The link between smell and memory is common and essential to all human beings. Smelling grass, pine trees, or jasmine in the night air, can automatically bring back memories from years or decades ago. The cultural research of the World Sensorium project provided strong evidence of powerful human-plant relationships, and the impact of their characteristic scents.

The sensory experience of flavor is mostly from smell. When one chews food, aromatic molecules travel to the back retro-nasal area of the nasal epithelium where olfactory receptors are held. World Sensorium is full of edible plants whose molecules have been transmitted to the olfactory bulb in the brain and have guided human behavior for centuries.

About World Sensorium/Convervancy

Formed in 2017, the World Sensorium Conservancy (WSC) by New York based Nalls Studio is an online public interest initiative committed to addressing the biodiversity loss and sustainable conservation of world flora through art, science, and education.

Using research on olfaction and bio-cultural heritage from the World Sensorium project, the Conservancy monitors and reports on objective findings from the international scientific community, climate organizations, and biodiversity data banks. Our mission is to provide guidance for individuals who wish to contribute to the conservation of medicinal and aromatic plants and address biodiversity loss.

World Memory Earth Day Event

The World Sensorium/Conservancy invites you to tell the world about the scent of a plant that triggers memories for you. We must let others know why and how certain plants and their scents are important to us— how they support our lives and the lives of the world we love. Plant smells are hard to capture in words but communicating your scent triggered memory can help tell this story.

It’s the smell of the Arnica cream your mother used to rub on your bumps.

It’s the White Sage along the path of your favorite hiking trail.

It’s the Sandalwood perfume you wear on date night.

It’s decorating the Chritmas tree with loved ones.

(All of the plants mentioned above are endangered in various parts of the world.)

Share your short plant scent memory video on
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook 
or TikTok on April 22nd.

Tag your video @worldsensorium and include
#myplantscentmemory and #worldsensoriumconservancy

Click here for hints on how. Click here for video examples.

We’ll Plant a Tree In Your Name

If you sign up, when you share your video, we’ll plant a tree in your name and your name will be listed on the WS/C website Earth Day video challenge page. Sign Up and invite your friends to and make a scent memory video.

Every action adds up. Reforestation addresses climate change, helping all plants thrive!

Visit for more information.

Written by Gayil Nalls © 2021 (Reprinted with permission)

Gayil Nalls, Ph.D. (United States) is an interdisciplinary artist creating at the forefront of science-art practices and theoretical discourse. She is an internationally known pioneer of olfactory art and science and is the creator of World Sensorium, the olfactory social sculpture. World Sensorium is the culmination of Nalls’ investigations into neuroaesthetics, botany, the anthropology of olfaction, and collective behavior. This statistically based composition of phytogenic materials is an on-going work created to evoke a global memory. Nalls broadened the definition of sculpture and public art when World Sensorium, endorsed by UNESCO, premiered at New York’s Times Square 2000 celebration, released to a crowd of millions as the New Year arrived. The influential work creatively tapped into collective world memory as a natural resource to provide a universal experience.

Product Review

Organic Aromas Raindrop Nebulizing DiffuserTM

The Raindrop nebulizing diffuser is one of the most attractive diffusers on the market today. With a large, rounded plantation hardwood base and a striking conical glass reservoir, this diffuser would be beautiful in any space. The diffuser also features rainbow LED carousel lighting, which creates an ambient atmosphere.Organic Aromas has similar models that feater hand-carved wood bases in various Asian motifs.

The Raindrop is an effective Aromatherapy diffuser that does not use heat or water. The device is easy to use, clean, safe, uses very little energy, and is very quiet.

Some of the nicer features of this diffuser include a use cycle that runs for two minutes, then stops for a minute, and then continues the cycle for two hours before stopping. The light will remain on after the unit stops running. There is a separate touch switch to turn off the light during diffusion. The lights change in a revolving fade from one color of the rainbow to the next.

Cleaning is easy as you simply add several drops of rubbing alcohol to the glass reservoir and run for 5-10 minutes. The unit should be dry and free of alcohol; however, should there be any remaining alcohol, it can be properly disposed of. The diffuser comes with clear instructions for use and cleaning, as well as extra pipettes for cleaning. The company also includes clear information for their customer service department, should you require assistance.

Organic Aromas also offers essential oils and blends to use in your diffuser, as well as other sizes and styles of diffusers.

I really like the look, and I have received many compliments on the diffuser owing to its design. There are other diffusers on the market that offer a range of colored lights; however, the Raindrop model seems to emit the lighting more elegantly, perhaps due to its raindrop shape.

I was hesitant at first to use this diffuser, as glass nebulizing units are so fragile and require special care when handling. The Raindrop is far sturdier and more stable on a table or countertop. The diffuser arrives well-packed in a foam-lined, sturdy box.

Of note, whether using a single oil or a blend, I did notice some distortion of the aroma. For example, the odor of Limbu (Citrus medica) peel oil is fresh and vibrant, and the aroma smells strongly of fresh lime. When this oil was diffused in the nebulising diffuser, the aroma was less vibrant and more sharply bitter. After running its course, I cleaned the unit and waited a few hours before adding a blend to the diffuser. Once again, the brightness of the blend was somewhat reduced and contained a sharper and bitter lingering aroma. Perhaps this is the nature of the beast with room-size nebulizers.

On the plus side, this diffuser scented a very large space (approximately 525 sq. ft) in less than 20 minutes. I am grateful to have such an efficient unit as I’ve been diffusing essential oils in our most commonly occupied communal spaces and ‘sick rooms’ during this viral pandemic.

The beauty and efficiency of this unit make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone wanting to diffuse their essential oils. The addition of the LED lighting enhances the ambience of any environment. The ease of use and cleaning make it extremely user-friendly.

Prices range from $95 for full-sized diffusers to $195 for hand-carved designs. Other customizable options are available such as laser-cut designs and photo options.

This review appeared in the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy; Vol. 9, Issue 4 (Spring 2021) Page 62

The complete guide on how to find reliable essential oil information


When we enter the world of aromatic plants, essential oils and aromatherapy, we’re usually all excited and pumped up to try everything. But it is precisely this phase of initial enthusiasm that may pose a threat. We can quickly misinterpret things or start following wrong or even dangerous advice, ending up doing more damage than good.

As a beginner, how can you recognise good and bad practices from a jumble of internet sources, books, friends, aromatherapists? What details should you pay attention to when discovering a new source of essential oil information, and which claims should set alarm bells ringing?

How can you know who is trustworthy and whom to avoid in a big circle?

In the beginning, things can look very confusing. People make all sorts of claims that may seem odd or contradict what others say, and you can quickly end up in an information overload.

I always recommend learning the basics before you start using essential oils: what essential oils are and what they are not, how they are produced, when is it justifiable to use them and when it is not, which ones are most suitable for home use and which you should avoid, and general safety measures. When familiar with the basics, everything will be much easier.

While differentiating between reliable and less reliable sources requires knowledge and experience, eliminating useless, misguided or even dangerous advice is relatively easy.

In the following, I will describe some key points that you can use to orient yourself and eliminate questionable sources even if you don’t have any experience. We can separate those key points into two groups: to the first group belong those concerning plants and essential oils as such and to the second one those relating to the use of essential oils and aromatherapy in general.

NOTE: The mentioned signs, phrases or recommendations have orientation purpose and mark only the most obvious criteria for identifying suspicious information sources. You should have in mind that we all continuously learn and make mistakes, and a lapse here and there does not necessarily mean that the source or a person behind it is unreliable. Moreover, new data about essential oils and their use is emerging fast, which means that something that held true yesterday may turn out to be incomplete or even wrong today. So check out multiple signs before deciding whether you trust someone or not.


  • Is there a definition of essential oils and is it accurate?

Essential oils aren’t any life force, they don’t circulate in plants like blood or even carry oxygen and nutrients, and thus aren’t any circulatory or immune system analogue of plants. If you see such claims your alarm bells should be ringing.

Read more about essential oil definitions and how they differ from the plant volatiles.

  • Not all aromatic extracts are essential oils

There’s no essential oil of jasmine, violet, honeysuckle, osmanthus, tuberose or carnation, and neither are there essential oils from animals. If it’s obvious that an author doesn’t discriminate between essential oils and solvent extracts (such as absolutes, supercritical (CO2) extracts, tinctures, etc.), this indicates the lack of the most basic knowledge about essential oils.

A particular part of the story is not distinguishing between essential oils and fatty plant oils. I heard about the peanut essential oil, for example. Essential oils aren’t technically oils. Generally, they don’t contain lipids, such as triglycerides (fats), waxes or sterols, although some contain very small amounts of fatty acids, a type of lipid. Essential oils are predominantly composed of terpenes and phenylpropanoids, and their derivatives.

  • Not distinguishing between natural extracts and perfume oils

Essential oils of peach, apple, strawberry and other fleshy fruits don’t exist. Their fragrances are sold as perfume oils, reconstitutions of natural fragrances using synthetically manufactured aroma chemicals, which also comprise a significant part in the majority of modern perfumes.

In recent years, however, natural extracts of certain fruits appeared on the market in the form of supercritical (CO2) extracts, or as mixtures of natural isolates. Natural isolates are single compounds obtained from plant extracts by a process called fractionation. That’s why reconstitutions from natural isolates can be marketed as natural products and used in natural cosmetics, even though coming from many different plants that may have nothing in common with the plant whose fragrance they’re used to reconstitute.

  • Are the botanical (Latin) names stated?

If a source is supposed to be an expert or a professional one, botanical naming is the standard. Clary sage and common sage, Roman chamomile and German chamomile, sweet basil and holy basil can differ substantially in their volatile composition and safety measures.

Botanical naming is the most precise and internationally accepted way of classifying plants; not employing it is not a good sign.

On the other hand, it’s useful if you get familiar with the botanical names, if only just a few basic ones. Searching for information using the botanical names will significantly boost the likelihood of finding higher quality results.

  • Claims that essential oils were used by the Ancient Egyptians and/or mentioned in the Bible

Yet another type of claims with no scientific evidence, sometimes reaching unbelievable proportions. Essential oils as we know them today have existed for about 1000 years (though some new but inconclusive evidence points in another direction, but that’s another story).

The oils mentioned in ancient texts were most likely herb and resin infused oils, not essential oils. When writing about the supposed ancient use of essential oils, authors frequently use just “oils”, omitting (on purpose?) the “essential” part. Such hiding behind unspecific terms is all over the place in many generic articles, listicles and infographics (see next bullet). You can check out for yourself how many essential oils does the Bible actually mention.

Let’s move on to some less obvious, but more significant points.

  • Equating beneficial effects of essential oil with herbs

This is likely the most widespread misassumption that is unique to aromatherapy. It started at least 400 years ago (but probably much earlier) when leading herbalists were incorporating distilled plant products into their medical practice (e.g., Culpepper 1652). Of course, nothing was known at the time about the chemistry of medicinal plants.

However, this generalisation continued in the 20th Century when early aromatherapists drew their knowledge mainly from herbal books. And sadly, it remains widely present in many of today’s popular aromatherapeutic books and online sources.

Although essential oils are highly concentrated, their composition represents only the volatile part of plants’ secondary metabolite profile. It is estimated that of all known secondary metabolites, volatiles present roughly about 1% (Dudareva et al. 2006).

In the majority of medicinal plants, known beneficial effects are due to non-volatile compounds, such as alkaloids, tannins, carotenoids, bitters, mucilages, flavonoids, saponins and vitamins. Aromatherapy is only a small and specific subset of more general phytotherapy.

Essential oils, for example, cannot have astringent effects because they don’t contain tannins. Distillates from St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) won’t have antidepressive activity as they don’t contain hypericin and hyperforin. Frankincense (Boswellia sp.) essential oils won’t contain anti-tumorigenic boswellic acids, and there will be no cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) in the cannabis distillates. There’s much more to this – in fact, this misconception is so huge that it undermines the credibility of aromatherapy as a whole.

Is there a way to recognise this bad practice? Well, it’s difficult if you don’t know what to look for, but listing all sorts of healing effects without citing the relevant research (see next bullet) is already a bad sign. If the original research is cited, you can google the headline and usually it is evident from the abstract whether the study was conducted on essential oils or solvent extracts. If it just says that ‘extracts’ from X plant were used, you can be quite sure there were no essential oils involved.

It is true that the majority of research is done on solvent extracts and single constituents, rather than essential oils. But this shouldn’t be the reason or an excuse to extrapolate those findings to essential oils.

  • Is original research cited?

For general information about essential oils, citing original research is not necessary, but is indeed desired when making specific claims. Scientific literature is based on the empirical method (controlled conditions, precise measurements, sufficient sample size, reproducibility, statistics, peer review, etc.), and should thus be the primary source of essential oil information.

Citing original research not only lends credibility to claims that an author makes, but it’s also a fair way of making information transparent to the audience.

  • Is the cited research interpreted correctly? (if you’re a beginner, you can skip this one)

It’s easy to search databases such as PubMed, Research Gate or Google Scholar to find scientific articles, books and other reports. There are thousands of published papers about essential oils and their constituents.

What matters is how the research is interpreted. Although it may be difficult to determine if the cited research is correctly interpreted or even relevant, you should at least be aware of potential traps.

1) Not all research is quality, especially nowadays when quantity is more important than quality. The internet is full of dubious “scientific” journals and publishers that will publish just about anything, as long as they collect their publishing fees. Bad research can be noticed from a mile away, but sometimes it requires careful reading throughout the article.

2) Incorrect interpretation of research results can happen when an author lacks sufficient background, reads just an abstract of a study, or is just sloppy. One of the most common examples of misinterpretation is an over-interpretation from in vitro (lab) studies to whole organisms. If a study finds that an essential oil or a single compound from that oil exhibits anti-tumorigenic potential on a human tumour cell line, this doesn’t mean it can actually cure cancers in humans.

Another frequent misinterpretation is taking individual claims out of context, such as “forgetting” to mention that a study was conducted on mice (thus implicitly suggesting that the results are proven for humans) or that results are valid only in certain conditions. Such claims can quickly mislead us. In most cases, high-quality clinical trials supported by relevant mechanistic studies are the final step in providing proof that something works for humans.

3) Cherry picking. Let’s say you read an online article citing a study A that confirms the hypothesis X. You will believe that claim, right? But what if there’s also a study B (and perhaps C) that rejects that hypothesis or is inconclusive about it, but is not mentioned in the article?

You guessed it: it’s not good, it’s difficult to spot (unless you’re a specialist in a field) and it’s called cherry picking, or biased representation of data. There’s not much you can do about it, but bear in mind that nobody is entirely immune to it, including the researchers. In most cases, cherry picking is unintentional. Authors may simply find what they search for and cite it to back up their claims, without looking at the big picture.

  • Claiming that home users can discern essential oil quality and purity based on GC–MS analysis

When it comes to quality of essential oils, you will sooner or later encounter the acronym GC–MS (Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry). It is the key analytical method, which enables us to see the detailed chemical composition of essential oils.

The goal of the GC–MS analysis is to explain as much essential oil composition as possible and to identify potential impurities. The end result is a list of constituents and their percentages, identified in a specific distillation batch of essential oil.

In recent years, an idea became popular that home users themselves can read from the GC–MS report if an essential oil is pure and of high quality. The idea is indeed attractive, but in reality, it’s not that easy. Unless your oil is poorly adulterated (with something that obviously shouldn’t be there) and you know what you’re looking for, it’s very difficult.

In most cases, essential oils are adulterated with nature-identical aroma chemicals, produced via organic synthesis. The process of manufacturing aroma chemicals always leaves certain impurities, which act as markers analysts are looking for when verifying authenticity. There are other methods, such as measurements of optical properties of the molecules, which can further inform the analyst whether synthetic adulterants were added.

Non-specialists do not have this information at hand and must, therefore, rely on professional analysts or trust the providers.

Can the GC–MS analysis tell you the quality of essential oil?

Assuming you have a pure and authentic oil, what is the measure of quality? Is it the diversity of the constituents? High levels of key constituents? Or rich and natural smell?

Well, it depends on whom you ask; there’s no right or wrong answer. Quality depends on what you’re planning to do with your oil. The GC–MS analysis can help you with that decision, but it does not, by itself, determine the quality of essential oils.

You can, however, use the report to calculate safe dilution rates for oils that contain toxic or irritable constituents (see next bullet) or to pick up essential oils with the highest levels of desired constituents.


Now if we can pardon some incorrect information about essential oils since not every provider has a background in natural science, it is advisable to take a more critical stance towards various recommendations regarding their use. Let’s scroll through some key points that will help you determine whether the source is trustworthy or not.

  • Advising topical use of undiluted essential oils

You probably know that essential oils are highly concentrated mixtures of compounds that may be irritable or toxic if used undiluted. As a rule of thumb, all essential oils must be diluted before application, especially if you’re not familiar with the particular oil. For a dermal application, typically 1-3% concentration is used, but safe dilution rate varies considerably, depending on the essential oil, type of application (massage or local targeted application), age and dose.

How can you find safe dilution rates for specific essential oils?

It’s always good to have an evidence based literature at hand, whether you’re new to essential oil use or an experienced user. A classic resource on safety guidelines is Robert Tisserand’s and Rodney Young’s Essential oil Safety(Second Edition from 2014). Although some resources may be a bit outdated, you will find lots of useful information about essential oils and individual constituents, with updated safety guidelines and regulations.

If you don’t have an appropriate book or want to have the newest guidelines, or you’re thinking of selling your products, you can look at the IFRA’s Standards page for consumer cosmetic products safety recommendations. Search under the “Standards library” and click “+” (this will show details) in the search results table. For example, if you type in “lemon” and click “+” at the “Lemon oil cold pressed” search result, you will see this:

ifra essential oil

This means that the maximum recommended level for the dermal application of the cold pressed lemon essential oil is 2% (on a weight-per-weight basis). You will also notice that this limit is due to known phototoxic compounds in that oil and that you should take into account their combined effect when using multiple phototoxic materials (expressed citrus oils except sweet orange oil, and some others such as angelica or cumin, are phototoxic).

Note however that only a few natural extracts are listed in the standards library, and you will likely have to search by individual toxic or sensitising constituents, which act as limiting substances. This makes sense as their quantities can vary significantly from batch to batch. For example, if your oil has 33% citral (geranial + neral) and the safety limit for citral is 0.6% for a leave-on topical application (Category 4), you should dilute to 100/33 = 3*0,6% = 1,8% max.

But how can you know which compounds are likely to be limiting for specific oils?Well, there’s no other way but to learn them.

Some common examples: carvone (spearmint), cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamon), citral (lemon balm, lemon grass, citronella, lemon tea tree, verbena…), citronellol (geranium), cuminaldehyde (cumin), estragol (tarragon, basil, star anise, fennel…), eugenol (clove), geraniol (geranium, thyme, palmarosa), octenyl acetate (lavender), methyl eugenol (rose, holy basil, pimento, bay leaf…), rose ketones (rose). This is by no means an exhaustive list!

  • Advising the use of essential oils in water

Quite frequently we can encounter recommendations to add essential oil to a glass of drink. In this case, we’re dealing with the internal use of essential oils (see next bullet), as well as the use of undiluted essential oils.

Have a look at this advice:

hint of mint? Well, if you try this (better not to) I can guarantee it won’t be a hint but a burning punch in your mouth. And what’s wrong with the mint leaves, anyway?

Water and essential oils don’t mix, regardless of the quantities used. You risk contact of an undiluted essential oil with mucus layers in the oral cavity, oesophagus and stomach, which can cause burns and inflammations.

The fact that essential oils and water don’t mix must also be taken into account when preparing aromatic baths.

  • Advising the internal use of essential oils

The notorious internal use. In general and especially as a beginner you should avoid internal application of essential oils for any therapeutic purpose. It’s OK if you mix a drop of essential oil into a jar of honey to flavour it, but targeted internal use for therapeutic purposes usually consists of much higher doses and is limited to very specific cases.

Bear in mind that internal use doesn’t include only ingestion with oral capsules or direct ingestion together with food or drink, but also an application by rectal and vaginal suppositories. Application of aggressive essential oils on mucous surfaces such as oral cavity, vagina or rectum can cause serious burns and tissue necrosis when used in high concentrations, and local inflammations in prolonged exposures even when highly diluted (Endo and Rees 2007, Sarrami et al. 2002).

For some, ingesting essential oils is something progressive, as opposed to ‘old-school’ traditional thinking that is against internal use. I don’t see this as a traditionalist/progressionist issue because essential oils are extremely diverse; any generalisations on their activity and safety measures are simply misplaced. Each case needs to be assessed individually, and more safety data specific to internal use is generally needed.

In lay advice and coffee talks, internal use is often recommended for irrelevant, inappropriate or overly casual situations. For example, drinking water with lemon oil for more energy (where a better option would be to drink a glass of good old lemonade), treating vaginal infections with a tampon soaked in tea tree oil, or easing the teething pain with clove oil.

Another misleading claim comes from certain well-known providers, asserting that their essential oils are the only ones pure and therefore safe enough to be used internally. They may further justify this by pointing to other providers’ labels stating that essential oils are not intended for internal use.

It is indeed possible to register certain essential oils as a food supplement in some countries such as U.S. However, this does not depend on quality or purity of essential oils but on regularities under which they are registered (see next bullet). What matters the most is that essential oils’ safety does not depend on the producer, but on their chemical composition, application mode, dilution rate and dose.

  • Labelling and marketing essential oils as therapeutic, medical, clinical and food grade

What exactly is the measure of therapeutic, medical, clinical grade? Who determines that?

As long as our essential oils are pure and authentic, they are suitable for therapy. Various labels, grades and fancy looking acronyms have nothing to do with actual therapeutic potential; they are just a marketing move. Don’t let them fool you.

There are of course some legitimate certificates such as those concerning growth standards (bio, organic, etc.), cultural standards (e.g., kosher) and certain international quality standards such as ISO or pharmacopoeias. The latter, however, define industry standards rather than therapeutic potential as such, and they apply only to a fraction of essential oils.

Certain essential oils have the GRAS status (meaning “generally recognised as safe”) which is approved by the FDA. Hence, they can be registered as food additives in the U.S. Again, the GRAS, or similar status in other countries, is not a quality or therapeutic grade, it just means that the material – a mixture or a single compound of natural or synthetic origin – is safe for its intended use as a food additive (flavoring) in very small amounts.

Check out this post about essential oil quality and certificates if you want to dig a bit deeper into this topic.

The bottom line is that there are no objective criteria for quality and no formal regulatory bodies for quality or therapeutic certification. Again, quality is a matter of context and depends on what we want to do with our essential oil.

  • Employing functional groups to explain biological activity of essential oils

You may have encountered claims such as:

  • To prepare a wake-up blend, choose essential oils high in alcohols
  • Roman chamomile essential oil prevents spasms because it is rich in esters
  • You should avoid using essential oils rich in ketones because they are neurotoxic

Well, I wish it were that easy! The functional group approach shows up in various forms, colours and sizes. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise as such because authors may not present it as a theory/hypothesis but simply take it as a fact. Whenever you encounter claims or graphical representations how essential oils are supposed to work in the body based on whole groups of molecules with similar properties, this is functional group theory.

I’ve written elsewhere extensively why the functional group theory is wrong. If you want to skip the details, the takeaway message is that this theory is only superficially scientific and has no real explanatory value. It’s one thing to classify essential oil constituents according to their chemical structure, which is fine (and it’s how you learn chemistry), but it’s something entirely different to attempt to explain extremely complex biological processesbased on mere chemical classifications.

Biology is way more than chemical groups. The good news though is that you don’t need to be an expert in chemistry to know how to use essential oils.

  • Recommending the use of essential oils for 1001 troubles

Essential oils certainly have proven biological and psychological effects, but they’re far from being a miracle solution to every problem. I’m frequently bewildered when reading through all sorts of indication lyrics, claiming that anything can be used to treat just about everything.

For example, listings of “27 reasons why you should use x oil” can be misleading because the majority of those reasons usually won’t have practical significance. You would either intoxicate yourself before some of the effects could even take place, or there are simply better solutions out there.

Be careful when encountering any big claims. Usually, it’s just a sign that someone wants to sell their products or give an impression of being an expert (see next bullet).

  • Over-emphasising own expertise

This one can be rather tricky to notice by a beginner. Listing large numbers of beneficial effects, using unnecessarily difficult to understand, fancy-sounding terminology, citing a lot of poor or irrelevant research, offering definitive answers to complex problems, or continuously stressing one’s own experience in the field, should raise an eyebrow.

Learning how to tell apart talking smart and being smart is not easy. Try to read between the lines, don’t take what you read for granted – no matter where it comes from – and think rationally. Don’t let big claims and promises take over when deciding whom do you trust. Here’s a nice list of common logical fallacies, specifically relevant for aromatherapy; it’s an excellent exercise for developing critical thinking.

It’s quite funny actually when some people continuously underscore evidence-based approach but in the next moment say something esoteric or biologically nonsensical. This is not holism but mixing apples and oranges. Bear in mind that a true expert is very careful about the claims he or she makes, rather than acting like a know-it-all.

  • Recommending the use of essential oils to treat diseases that need professional medical care

Take the amazing stories about almost miraculous healing that you read on facebook with a grain of salt. Even in cases that someone truly recovers from a severe condition, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

There’s no proof that essential oils can cure cancer or any other serious medical condition in humans. Following such advice can give you false hope, causing you to lose precious time when you could already be seeking professional help. Recommendations of this sort are not only dangerous but also unethical.


When separating the wheat from the chaff, it is useful to have in mind who is the source of essential oil information. We can divide them into 3 categories.

  • Providers: online store owners, salespeople in specialised stores, or individual sellers and advocates that can be independent or belong to a multi-level marketing network.
  • Educators: book authors, bloggers, presenters of webinars, workshops and courses.
  • Producers: they often also sell essential oils directly to end users or act as educators (e.g., lead distillation workshops).

Depending on who is the information source, we can adjust our critical stance accordingly. From the producers we expect expertise in distillation techniques and procedures, but not a detailed theoretical knowledge about the chemistry of medicinal plants or essential oil safety. We are responsible for our own safety. The same applies to the sellers. Although we expect them to know their products, they may not be qualified to recommend their use, often relying on inaccurate sources or incidental cases.

As opposed to producers and retailers, you will typically aim to learn the most from the professional educators and therefore should be most critical about the information they provide. Keep in mind the key points described earlier. If the basic stuff doesn’t hold, what’s the chance that more specific topics will?

There is one more thing I would like to mention here: trusting your circle of people you know well can importantly affect how you will use your essential oils. Blind trust may not always be the best practice when attempting any serious use. Before taking advice, check out if recommended essential oils are suitable for your need in the first place, how to use them safely and what are the potential side effects.


People often ask me where to start in all the jumble of information. The initial enthusiasm is usually a big enough motive to start educating yourself. But at the same time, it’s also a critical phase where you can make mistakes. Just start reading, eliminate dubious sources and don’t stick to a single source.

Education however never ends and the more you know, the more there is to learn. You will soon realise: there are no final answers! There’s much more about essential oils we don’t know about than what we do know. What matters the most is developing a critical distance. When you start having doubts, you’re on the right track!


Dudareva, N., Negre, F., Nagegowda, D.A. & Orlova, I. 2006. Plant volatiles: recent advances and future perspectives. Critical Review in Plant Sciences 25: 417–440.

Endo, H., & Rees, T. D. 2007. Cinnamon products as a possible etiologic factor in orofacial granulomatosis. Medicina Oral, Patología Oral y Cirugía Bucal 12(6), 440-444.

Sarrami, N., Pemberton, M. N., Thornhill, M. H., & Theaker, E. D. 2002. Adverse reactions associated with the use of eugenol in dentistry. British Dental Journal, 193(5): 253-255.

Header image: Pixabay

Dr. Petra Ratajc is a biologist, researcher and educator, and the insightful person behind the most excellent blog The PhytoVolatilome. Her educational background includes medicinal and aromatic plants, secondary plant metabolites, pharmacology, pharmacognosy, conservation biology, and general biology.

Petra started The PhytoVolatilome because she felt “that the use of aromatic plants and especially essential oils is losing its botanical foundation, turning into instant problem solving. Nowadays, it seems that anyone with some basic training in aromatherapy is an expert in medicine and chemistry of essential oils.”

Chemistry is fine, but it’s not enough. I believe that understanding the plants themselves, together with human biology and some critical thinking is crucial for understanding the wider context and acquiring true knowledge. The big picture empowers you to start acting independently of popular information sources, make informed decisions, and avoid getting fooled by the snake oil sellers. –Dr. Petra Ratajc

We at the IJPHA are huge fans of Petra’s insights and her writing. This article was reprinted with her generous permission in the hopes that you will share this with your colleagues and friends who are using essential oils. Check out her blog to read more of her wonderful articles.

Protecting your Intellectual Property

Another good article on plagiarism and theft of intellectual property and how you can protect yourself and what to do if you fall victim to it. Sharing for you to have more resources on this topic.


‘Intellectual Property Theft’, ‘Plagiarism’ and ‘Aromatherapy’. What do these things have in common? On the surface, it may appear to be almost nothing. By digging a little deeper, however, we discover that as Aromatherapy becomes increasingly popular there is a concomitant public demand for “more information”, “more recipes” and “make it all free, too!”

While the burgeoning popularity of our craft is a welcome trend for those of us who promote the use of aromatics for health and wellness, it can have an equally dark side. The ever-increasing demand for new and interesting things to learn about regarding essential oils leads more authors to simply recycle material they have read elsewhere, parrot others’ ideas, and generally play the old game of ‘telephone’ with facts.

In stark contrast to the healing benefits of Aromatherapy we wish to provide to others, there is an opposite harm–the harm of intellectual property theft and…

View original post 1,881 more words

Feeling overwhelmed? Eight ways to protect and nourish yourself

by guest author Bevin Clare, MS, RH, CNS, Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Associate Professor Maryland University of Integrated Health

Right now the world seems to be bearing down on all sides with fires, hurricanes, deportation, human rights issues, political tragedies. There is so much to care about, so many ways to give and directions to be pulled in. Many of us feel a dire need to stay afloat ourselves or to fight for those of us who are less privileged. It’s essential to create all of energy and protection we can muster right now.

Here are 8 ways we can tend ourselves to reduce overwhelm and protect ourselves during these stormy times:

1. Touch the Soil (or at least the leaves)

Nature provides us with consistent solace. Take a moment to touch it, smell it, taste it. If you can reach a big immersive forest take the time to do that. If you can reach the overgrown lot in your city block go and pick some wild flowers. Be sure to experience nature with more than one sense. The consistency, tenacity, and peace of plants is a good reminder of strength.

2. Cook up some medicine

Your food can be your medicine, and taking the time to make a healing meal for you and perhaps people you care about can be a wonderful way to self-care. Consider the food which makes you smile and feel whole, one from your lineage or from your favorite menu. Think about what flavors, herbs, vegetables are nourishing to you. A simple bowl of rice and beans can be healing as can a more elaborate meal shared with friends.

3. Connect in a real way

Connect with someone in your community or with someone online, with someone who makes you feel purposeful and valid. New friend or old friend, see if you can get beneath the superficial interactions and develop a connection which can feel nourishing. Your connection can be through service, friendship, professional connections, the grocery store line, or any place you find an opening.


4. Take a break

Stop and take a break to breathe, nap, meditate, find a place of stillness. See if you can carve 15 minutes out of your day to find this time but even 2 minutes is better than running constantly ragged. Create a space and try to clear it as much as you can to immerse yourself in a place which allows you to regenerate a bit.


5. Play (maybe even get silly)

Do something playful and distracting. If you know some small children they can often be good at encouraging you to be present and playful for a while. Splash, paint, color, pretend, sing, cartwheel, do something which captures your attention and creates space for you to be present in a new way (or one you might have forgotten about).


6. Nourish with herbs and teas

Many herbal teas can help modulate your stress response, aide in restful sleep, and provide overall support for the inflammation which can occur in a chronically stressed individual. Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is an adaptogen supreme and helps us to feel more energetic and less stressed while minimizing some of the negative effects stress has on our bodies. A simple cup of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita) can soothe us into deeper sleep or tame anxiety throughout the day, especially helpful if your response to stress involves changes in your digestion. Ashwaganda (Withnia somniferum) changes the way we respond to stress and can also be helpful with sustained anxiety and the effects of poor quality sleep patterns. It’s best taken as a capsule or used in its traditional form boiled in milk.

7. Laugh out loud

Find something funny, anything you know is sure to make you laugh until you run out of breath. Share it if you can find someone with a sense of humor. Those auto-correct lists always seem to tickle my funny bone, but for some of you it’s stand-up comedy or your favorite movie or novel. Laughter changes our bodies in all sorts of good ways and can be a simple way to tend yourself.

8. Make a plan

Some of our overwhelm can be from wanting to help and not knowing where to start. Take the time to make a plan. Figure out what you have to offer (Time? Money? Skills?) and where you can offer them (Local organizations? National non-profits? Friends of friends?) and make a solid plan which is feasible and will not only serve your community but will help with your sense of purpose.

Whatever you do, it’s worth taking the time to take care of yourself so you can be as effective as possible in these times when we need to pull our weight more than ever.

This article appears on her fabulous and informative website and is reprinted with permission.

Bevin Clare, M.S., R.H., CNS, is a clinical herbalist and nutritionist and an Associate Professor and Program Manager of the Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She holds a MSc in Infectious Disease from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, serves on as an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the New York Chiropractic College. Bevin has studied herbal medicine around the world and blends her knowledge of traditional uses of plants with modern science and contemporary healthcare strategies as a consultant and educator. Bevin is the president of the American Herbalists Guild, the largest body of professional clinical herbalists in the US.  She is founder of the Herbal Clinic for All program, providing cost-free herbal medicine healthcare since 2007 and is a board member of the United Plant Savers, a group working to protect at-risk medicinal plants in North America. You can find Bevin’s musing on a variety of Clinical Herbalism topics, including infectious disease, at She resides on a beautiful piece of earth in Maryland with her family.

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement in the Aromatherapy Community

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Written by Lauren Bridges and Hana Bělíková

I’ve never really explained how I came up with the name Aromapologist.

While I do have a background in anthropology as has been pointed out before, Aromapologist is actually a play on apologetics and combining it with aromatherapy. The fact that it looks like it loops anthropology in with it is just a fun bonus for me and a coincidental shout out to good times past. But, before Indigo Aromatics Services, LLC was established, I created The Aromapologist as a platform to discuss matters within the aromatherapy community and our craft that may be considered a bit more controversial in many cases.

That all being said, in the spirit of this blog’s creation, I’m going to bring up a few subjects that are going to be polemic, not because I want to or like it, but because in this particular case it is very necessary. Those subjects are plagiarism and copyright infringement.

These are not enjoyable subjects to write about, so let’s establish that fact right now. I hate this. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are ugly, distressing words that immediately instill a sinking tension that no amount of lavender is going to resolve, especially if you are on the receiving side of things. We all remember the gut-wrenching feeling of someone parading our ideas as their own, from a classmate copying our science project, to our BFF wearing the same dress to the prom. Some are a bit more serious than others.

In professional terms, these subjects force us to address concerns that are of both an ethical and legal nature. As such, we are unceremoniously dumped into territory that requires an honest examination of the aspect of our psyche that puts us on edge as well as compels our conscience to moral reasoning. We are required to fight for ourselves. In other words, it is a raw, hackles-raised position in which to find oneself, and this is especially true when the subject matter involves friends and colleagues where there is more than just matters of professionalism at stake.

Such is the nature of community.

But in a community of healers and individuals dedicated to helping those who are already hurting, these matters cross over into a more sacred territory: the relationship between teachers and students and the trust between a practitioner and their client. These relationships require trust.

We are a voracious gathering of people craving information – information that establishes the foundation we have to best understand the art behind aromatherapy so we may care for our families and ourselves. This goes for both professionals and enthusiasts alike. But when that trust is violated through the false establishment of expertise at the moral and legal expense of work that belongs to our colleagues, the positive intention that is rooted in the effort of so many is tainted.

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are both examples of intellectual property theft. Theft. Let that sink in for a minute. It is quite literally as serious as it sounds, and there can also be legal ramifications in certain instances just as there can be with other examples of theft. These two topics are similar yet different, but they both contribute to one very large elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.

Time we flat out name that elephant Not Okay.

Intellectual Property Theft

The National Crime Prevention Council defines intellectual property theft as follows:

“Intellectual property is any innovation, commercial or artistic; any new method or formula with economic value; or any unique name, symbol, or logo that is used commercially. Intellectual property is protected by patents on inventions; trademarks on branded devices; copyrights on music, videos, patterns, and other forms of expression; and state and federal laws” (, 2017).

In regard to what we see in the aromatherapy community, this means that anything you write (of which any original content is automatically copyrighted), any memes or infographics you create, etc. is intellectual property. Piracy of intellectual property is a crime. Literally. It is not a harmless act and the cost to the original owners of the intellectual property can be great. It is the theft of hard work and time spent, and depending on how that theft is used, it can also rob the creators of income. This in particular can land the individual stealing material in legal hot water.

Copyright Infringement

Simply put, copyright infringement is a legal matter in which copyrighted work has been reproduced, publicly performed or displayed, distributed, or has had derivative work created from it without appropriate crediting or permission (, 2017).

I want to highlight derivative work for a minute. This is precisely why there is a huge risk in merely covering well-worn subjects in blogs and memes, especially when there is a lack of citation involved. The right to create derivative works belongs the copyright owner (Anon, 2017). Period. Without permission from the copyright owner to expound on their original idea, one setting forth to write their own work based on the portion of the work that is original copyright, add to that idea, etc. is guilty of copyright infringement. Now, with appropriate citation, Fair Use may protect someone from infringing on the copyright of published work (Jones, 2017), but this is not the case concerning unpublished work (Digital Information Law, 2017). This is also a spectacularly unethical thing to do. According to the Archive of American Archivists, unpublished work is defined as work “not intended for public distribution or if only a few copies were created and distribution was limited” (, 2017).

Example: Person X writes a unique article about why putting cinnamon bark oil in your baby’s ear is a bad idea. All of a sudden, Person Y decides to go also write an article about why putting cinnamon bark oil in baby’s ear is bad and mimics the originality of the first work but adds why clove oil and oregano oil are also bad to use this way. They never cite the author of the original article talking about why cinnamon bark oil in babies’ ears is bad even though they are taking the idea or argument presented in the original piece. This is an example of derivative work. The original idea and article has been used and expounded (hence the derivative), but without the permission of the owner of the copyright it is copyright infringement, and the lack of appropriate citation does not offer them any protection through Fair Use.

Could they get in legal trouble for this? Absolutely.

It does not help that copyright infringement is everywhere. If you are on the internet, you have come across it at some point. Most people are likely so accustomed to seeing it that the fact they are looking at it does not even consciously enter their mind.

Copyright infringement can also be done accidentally, believe it or not, and this is why educational institutions stress so firmly the need to be able to cite and establish the research used in writing. It must be differentiated from what constitutes original ideas, and the need for originality being within the research framework cannot be neglected.

Research is necessary to back up the reasons for ideas and hypotheses, and it should be used to help substantiate any ideas being put forth. But what is key here is supporting an original point. If all one does is set out to beat a horse that is dead and (has been) done, it becomes startlingly easy to cross into the territory of copyright violations.


Quoting Robert Tisserand: “Plagiarism isn’t taking someone else’s idea and improving it, it’s taking someone else’s idea and pretending it’s yours” (obtained via personal communication, August 23, 2017).

Everyone take a minute and recognize the beauty of that citation; you can cite what people said to you without stealing their words when you write an article, create a meme, teach a class, etc.

Now, plagiarism is often thought of as word-for-word copying of a work. But plagiarism goes beyond exactly copying the words of another. Paraphrasing can also be plagiarism. You cannot merely artfully rearrange and substitute the words of an original author and call it your own work. That is actually referred to as “paraphrasing plagiarism.” This example from Indiana University Bloomington does a good job in explaining and providing an example of what paraphrasing plagiarism may look like. It explains clearly the need for both citation and referencing in order to avoid committing plagiarism (, 2017).

What if I told you plagiarism is not illegal? Interestingly, it is not; however, while plagiarism itself does not violate any laws, it is a moral and ethical issue and is still wrong per accepted values within professional and academic paradigms (Hawkins, 2017).

Can it happen accidentally? Of course. And it can be easily remedied in most cases when it is done if it was truly not intentional. But plagiarism is also something that occurs frequently and with awareness, and that is half of the reason why we are having this conversation to begin with.

It seems that people have (perhaps willfully) misunderstood what actually can constitute plagiarism and intellectual property theft and think that just because an offender has not produced an exact copy of someone else’s work that there’s not enough to call foul.

Let me reiterate: word-for-word copying is just the tip of the iceberg. And like that tip, it is also most easily seen. But there is a whole mess of other issues that lurk beneath the surface that still lead to problems in professional writing and material development. Quick writing tip? Do not rely on online plagiarism detectors to determine if you’ve committed any offenses in this matter. They will not catch issues with paraphrasing plagiarism and then they are also notoriously neglectful in catching word-for-word plagiarism at times. It is always necessary to ask if an original point is being made and if the research backs that point up has been cited appropriately.

Ethical and legal implications in aromatherapy

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not new issues, but they are issues that are only just now starting to get the more acknowledged attention they need. But why is that? What are the reasons behind plagiarism? And more importantly, how to make sure you don’t plagiarize?

It is a very hard thing to see and even worse to make space for the acknowledgment that people we know and trust may be doing this. None of us want to sit back and dwell on this capability when it comes to friends and colleagues. But if we cast emotions aside and simply evaluate the facts, it is what it is, and we cannot change the fact that these are large issues at the moment and ones that touch several areas in the industry.

I think perhaps that a large portion of these offenses occur organically as a response to new information as it comes forth – new information that is so very necessary for the sake of safe practice. Within our circles essential oil safety is a daily topic of conversation. Social media provides an easy platform to cater to this subject of discussion with several groups and public blogs being dedicated to helping those seeking real and safe information on using essential oils. So, the information is passed along, redistributed, used in memes, etc. Some people properly cite the resources in all these; others do not and instead treat it as public domain (or outright thievery). Much of the safety information that is being spread nowadays was published in 2014 in the second edition of Tisserand and Young’s Essential Oil Safety. To be clear, this work does not fall under public domain.

Robert Tisserand’s book on essential oil safety calls for interpretation, due to it being a heavy text with practical info often clouded in a lot of research and chemistry information. However, there is no need to re-invent the wheel, or not state where the information comes from. Also in today’s fast pace of internet, the pressure to come up with new and intriguing content is high. It is therefore tempting to get “inspired” by a successful blog you saw a few weeks earlier.

Copying each other is neither empowering nor beneficial in the grand scheme of things, and it certainly does not help the chatter behind the scenes. As a matter of fact, these two issues can almost paralyze the will to act and address the elephant in the room simply because the heart gets caught in the crossfires of right and wrong. I’ve been there, and emotion is an unfortunate blinder when it comes to seeing the truth sometimes. But again, when we realize it, the emotion can be removed from the equation, and we can examine the facts that are left behind. These are ethical and legal violations, and they are very serious.

Some instances are simply more glaring than others.

So, what is my point? My point is that if you are seeing this too, you’re not alone. If your work has been stolen, you’re not alone. If you are currently facing recovering stolen work, it is within your right to contact a copyright lawyer or reach out to DMCA to have matters resolved. It is within your right to ask or demand for your intellectual property to be removed from any site to which your work was added without your permission, be it the original copyright, derivative work, or plagiarism. If someone has profited from the distribution of your copyright and copyright infringement is determined to exist, you have the right to take further action for compensation. And you should.

We cannot as a community be complacent in these matters as hard as it is to have to address them. The negative influence does not need to bear its mark on a community dedicated to helping others. Not to mention that regurgitating the same information is not moving the field any further.

Do you suspect that you may actually be guilty of borrowing ideas from others? Here is a good article on how to avoid doing so inadvertently. Trust me, there is definitely enough new material in aromatherapy that even if every one of us focused only on one aspect of it, there would still be a lot of uncharted territory left. I have it on a good source that the research in essential oils is booming, and so are potential uses of these precious substances in clinical settings. Plus, there is nothing wrong in admitting who inspired you to write what you did. Quite the contrary.

And remember, the only victims existing in matters of copyright infringement and plagiarism are the original copyright owners or the ones who have had work stolen and expressed as belonging to someone else. The one taking the work and treating it as their own – for whatever purpose – is never the victim in these matters.

A special thanks to Hana Bělíková for her input, editing, and feedback during the process of writing this article. Hana, your guidance and wisdom are greatly appreciated!

Edited 8/25/17: There was some confusion about the example of derivative work used. I’ve gone back and tried to provide a little more clarity on the matter. Matters of illegal derivative work are not simple with whole court cases on the offense speckling legal history, so there will be some limitation in what is able to be expressed in an article. But to reiterate, derivative works are works that are are developed from an original copyright. This is illegal without the permission of the copyright owner. Fair Use doctrine may offer some protection in specific circumstances, but you need to make sure you have verified said protection in regard to what you are writing.


References: (2017). Copyright and Unpublished Material | Society of American Archivists. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Aug. 2017].

Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Aug. 2017].

Digital Information Law. (2017). The Bare Bones of Fair Use | Digital Information Law. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].

Hawkins, S. (2017). Copyright Infringement vs. Plagiarism – What You Need To Know. [online] Sara Hawkins. Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017]. (2017). Examples: Paraphrasing Plagiarism: How to Recognize Plagiarism, School of Education, Indiana University at Bloomington. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].

Jones, A. (2017). Copyright Citing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017]. (2017). Copyright Basics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017]. (2017). Intellectual Property Theft: Get Real — National Crime Prevention Council. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Aug. 2017].


A Path to Aromatherapy Credentialing: General Evaluation of the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC)









By Judy Klispie, MS, EdS


The use of essential oils by the general public has substantially increased in the past few years. With the plethora of Facebook (FB) pages, websites and blogs devoted to essential oil use, safety, and chemistry, the public is becoming inundated with a mixed bag of information that can be confusing, possibly dangerous, and inaccurate.  Those that are trained in Aromatherapy have become concerned with several issues surrounding the information that is being disseminated throughout the internet, school course work, and within the essential oil Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies. In the many social medium forums where Aromatherapists discuss and share their concerns, one issue is common: many essential oil users believe that if they read a bit about essential oils or they belong to a MLM company, they are then qualified to tell others how to use them. This situation has become somewhat of a threat to the overall aromatherapy practice because it puts the public at risk with unsafe usage recommendations and devalues the qualifications and years of experience of trained Aromatherapists. With this alarming situation, Aromatherapists have begun to question what can be done regarding this situation.

One of the potential solutions is the standardized certification or credentialing of aromatherapy students who have achieved a minimum amount of training hours from specific types of trainings, workshops, and schools. According to Professional Testing Corporation (PTC) and Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE, NCCA), standardized certification is a part of a process called credentialing. It focuses on the individual’s knowledge, skills and attributes (KSA’s) in a specialized field of practice (see also). Becoming credentialed is usually met by taking a formalized valid and reliable assessment. In general terms, for an assessment to be reliable, it must be a tool that produces stable and constant results while the validity of an assessment refers to how well the test measures what it is supposed to measure (Creswell, 2014; Gall, Gall, Borg, 2007). There are many ways to assess one’s knowledge and can include one or more delivery methods, such as, a valid and reliable multiple choice test, oral testing, case studies, and portfolios.

Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC) Beginnings

Although standardized credentialing for Aromatherapists is not available at a state or national level, there is currently a professional Registration Exam available to Aromatherapists, through the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC). The aromatherapy community felt there needed to be an entity that gave credence to the schooling that Aromatherapists completed so in 1998, the ARC was created. The pioneers that started the ARC felt that:

Neither schools nor membership organizations can issue professional certification or registration examinations with credibility. Independence from membership organizations ensures an impartial and unbiased body distinct from a body where members pay to belong, which is essential for objectivity and credibility from both within and without the industry” (

With this belief in mind, the ARC creators felt that the aromatherapy community needed to be self-regulated and an advocate for safe use of essential oils. They also contended that there needed to be one body of knowledge for the assessment to demonstrate the general knowledge, skills, and attributes (KSA’s) required for an Aromatherapist. This body of knowledge was developed by the pioneers in the aromatherapy community at the time of the creation of the ARC with test items created and are currently reviewed annually. The Registered Aromatherapist (RA™) exam uses the most important information needed to assess an Aromatherapist’s KSA’s. Aromatherapists who have completed 200 hours or more of training can take this test to demonstrate their understanding of a common body of knowledge. Upon successful passing of the exam Aromatherapists are entered into a National Registry. Although the RA™ is a registry and not a credential, it is currently the closest offering to a credential or certification the aromatherapy community has.

Although the aromatherapy community has the RA™ exam available, they seem to have great concern that the ARC is not meeting the needs of Aromatherapists because, (1). The aromatherapy community generally believes that the test items do not reflect the current trends in Aromatherapy; (2). The test does not assess accurate chemistry knowledge; (3). ARC does not have a large and diverse governing council; (4). ARC does not have open communication with the aromatherapy community; (5). ARC is perceived to be aligned with a specific college that offers aromatherapy programs amongst other certificate, diplomas and degrees.

The ARC and Registered Aromatherapists (RA™) Exam

This author’s general evaluation of the ARC began with the above concerns in mind. The goal was to explore what the ARC offers and the specifics of the RA™ exam.  According to the ARC:

the goal of ARC has been constant since the nonprofit was established: to provide an unbiased, voluntary, standardized, independent test which is maintained and administered by the PTC to test aromatherapy concepts and knowledge with a focus on safety standards required for the professional practice of aromatherapy, in order to ensure public safety (

The ARC exam creation, item review, and process of administering is clearly discussed on the ARC website. The test is composed of multiple choice questions that have been submitted directly to PTC by aromatherapy educators, schools, colleges, RA’s, and industry members. In addition, as a school’s curriculum changes and new knowledge is added to the aromatherapy practice, test questions can be sent to PTC to be added to the test bank.  ARC follows the PTC’s rigorous procedures and processes in order to “ensure fair, valid, and reliable examinations that reflect current best practice of the aromatherapy profession…” The test items go through many series of review by subject experts and PTC test development specialists at least annually. The areas tested are listed in the ARC’s content outline. Further, “exam items reflect current best practices, and item writers are asked to provide at least two professional references for all multiple-choice questions. Once submitted, all new items… go through editing and psychometric review by PTC.”

The testing protocol that ARC has created gives the aromatherapy community a reliable, valid, and fair assessment tool that can assess Aromatherapists knowledge base of best practices. Based on their test review practices, discussed both on their website and on PTC’s website, it is erroneous to believe that the test items are outdated, inaccurate, and have never been updated. The PTC and ARC requires a minimum of annual review of the current test items in the bank and of newly submitted items.  A review of test items is an arduous and lengthy process and must be done sequestered and confidentially, to ensure test security. ARC accepts test items from RA’s and the practicing aromatherapy community. There is a protocol to submit to PTC and it can be reviewed on their website. However, if test items are sent directly to any ARC board member in any other method, they become invalid and cannot be used.

Discussion                                                                     There has been discussion in the aromatherapy community about the ARC and its current relevancy to the profession. The perceptions of ARC’s connections to a specific school college, conflict of interests, and the test being outdated due to new trends in the profession are perceptions that are not true, and are being perpetuated among the aromatherapy community with or without any valid basis. Indeed, one of the purposes of this paper was to discuss the ARC as a council and their procedures regarding the testing as being outdated. Some of the information gathered for this paper brought to light not only the testing information, but also gave insight to the allegations of conflict of interest and connections to a specific school.

This author emailed the ARC to ensure that the general information gained from their website was accurate. The response from the directors was timely, courteous, and informative, and pointed out a few small inaccuracies and then were corrected by the author. Although the IRS annual files for not-for-profit organizations are public record and detailed files can be requested through IRS channels. this author specifically requested documentation from ARC that would show the financial and contractual obligations of the Council. The purpose was to attempt to ascertain the social media discussions of ARC’s connection with any school, or other organization.  After consulting with ARC legal staff, four (4) documents were sent to the author for viewing: 1. PTC contract; 2. Admin Contract; 3. Annual ARC Balance Sheet; and 4. Annual Profit and Loss sheet. Also included in this email was a statement (see appendix, pg. 1) for this paper that was approved by their legal counsel (aromatherapy council, personal communication, July, 13, 2017).

Based on the documents provided to this author and the information on ARC website, there is no evidence found that: 1. the test is outdated, invalid, unreliable and unfair; and 2. The organization is connected financially to any other organization other than PTC. This does not mean that there are not potential issues that could and should be addressed, but the scope of this paper was limited to only what was visible to this author through their website, general social media, and the communications from the ARC. One of the comments from ARC legal counsel in email communication was pertinent to the current discussions that are ongoing on social media:

it is almost impossible to wage a campaign on social media and “win.”  From the safety of their computer screen, people are always more willing to be inappropriate, assert claims, and “fight.”  And it seems that there is always a new social media site to have to consider, whether it is facebook, Instagram, twitter, or what have you.  Further, it is easier to say the wrong thing on social media, because generally people are responding off the cuff, not in a professional setting or with appropriate consideration of legal implications. Accordingly, I recommend that the organization’s board members simply refer to its published, official responses when responding to assertions on social media, or do not respond at all (aromatherapycouncil, personal communication, July 13, 2017)

It seems as if the perceptions of the aromatherapy community is that it does not support the RA™ exam as a valid, reliable, and fair assessment of an Aromatherapist’s KSA’s. According to the ARC website, there are over 400 RA’s throughout the world, with 130 from the USA. With only a little over 100 RA’s in the USA and the level of discussion observed on FB and other social media, the aromatherapy community does not support the ARC and its mission, or there would be more RA’s. It is necessary to examine why that may be, especially if the aromatherapy community would like a standardized credential for the profession. There may be other barriers not included in the scope of this paper that should be explored, such as cost of the exam, continuing education costs for renewal, the requirements of the various schools 200 hour curriculum, and others. The aromatherapy community’s “buy-in” is critical. With “buy-in”, the RA™ becomes an important aspect of professional aromatherapy and if the ARC can move to accreditation, it will then become a valuable credential in the eyes of the public.  It is paramount that the aromatherapy community would need to embrace the ARC and assist in promoting the RA™ exam, its goal to become an accredited credential, and its mission of professional self-regulation.

The RA™ exam is a valid, reliable, and fair assessment of the KSA’s and general body of knowledge of an Aromatherapist who has had training in a 200-hour program or training that meet the content outline of ARC. ARC has a goal of having their test become accredited through an accreditation agency. If ARC were to attain accreditation, their RA™ exam would become an accredited credential. Currently, the exam meets the criteria required to apply for accreditation, according the ICE/NCCA check list of standards ( One major challenge to becoming accredited is that the self-assessment process is in-depth, detailed, and costly. This process would require many hours of volunteer teamwork. The ARC may not have the volunteer person-power and or the funds to begin this process, at this time.

Regarding the discussions surrounding the aromatherapy community wanting to have some type of regulation, the ARC began with becoming self-regulating in mind. They state on their website:

The ARC voluntary exam emphasizes an Aromatherapist’s knowledge of public safety issues and promotes the interests of the entire professional aromatherapy community by illustrating to regulatory bodies that the aromatherapy industry is sufficiently mature to self-regulate, and does not need to be regulated from outside or above.

With a history of the aromatherapy community desiring self-regulation, working with the ARC may be the path to follow because (1). It has already been created and has policies and procedures in place; (2). The RA™ exam is valid, reliable, and fair; and (3). Meets the checklist of standards for the NCCA self-study to become an accredited credential. With the support of the community, this will lead to a stronger public stakeholder acceptance of professional skills and knowledge.

According to this author’s general evaluation of the ARC’s procedures, practices, and protocols, the RA™ exam is a valid, reliable, and fair assessment of an Aromatherapist’s knowledge and best practices based on a 200-hour training course. In addition, according to the ICE/NCCA preliminary checklist, this exam could very well meet the credential accreditation standards after undergoing a rigorous self-study which would cement the exam as a credential.

essential oils on the scientific sheet with medicinal herbs

The aromatherapy community desires to have a credential that validates an Aromatherapist’s KSA’s and general body of knowledge that will set them apart from those with little to no education. This author suggests that it is already here, although not a credential, the RA™ exam is currently the national test that can show stakeholders and clients an Aromatherapist’s competence of 200 hours of education. It is far from perfect and there are many more questions that will arise with further discussion, but it is what is available now and the groundwork has been laid for it to become better. Resources and manpower would need to come from the aromatherapy community, funding would come from fund raising, grants, or other funding streams. With more help for the ARC, it follows that there could be great strides in moving forward to the goal of a professional credential, which is what the aromatherapy community desires.

Going forward, there are many questions that need to asked. To begin the discussion, these are some of the questions that could be explored as a start:

  1. How can the Council expand to become more diverse in scope?
  2. What level of transparency and efforts of communication does the ARC need to provide the aromatherapy community in order to gain support?
  3. What is needed from the ARC for the aromatherapy community to begin to advance the importance of becoming an RA? And how can the need for marketing the importance and value of the exam in the U.S. be addressed?
  4. Does the level of testing needed to assess the KSA’s and body of knowledge meet the new trends and best practices of aromatherapy? And, how can the aromatherapy community be ensured that is the case without jeopardizing test integrity/security?
  5. Is there is a need for more than one test for the future, for instance, a level 1 test for 200 hours of education, a level 2 test for more advanced hours of education, other types of assessments, such as portfolio, case studies?
  6. How can the aromatherapy community assist with a future accreditation process?
  7. What are other barriers that would prevent Aromatherapists testing and what is needed to overcome them?                                                                                                                        


Aromatherapy Registration Council (n.d.). Available: Last accessed 13 August 2017.

Creswell J W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Gall M, Gall G, Borg W. (2007). Educational Research, 8th ed. Boston, MA.: Pearson

Institute for Credentialing Excellence (nd). Available: Last accessed 13 August 2017.

Professional Testing Corporation (nd). Available: Last accessed 13 August 2017.

Appendix                                                                                                                         The Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC) was established in 1999, by vote of the Steering Committee for Education Standards in Aromatherapy in the United States.  It is an Oregon public benefit nonprofit corporation, which has been recognized by the IRS to be exempt from tax as a 501(c)(6) organization.   ARC is in compliance with all requirements for this exempt status, which ensure that it is not being administered for the benefit of private individuals.  ARC’s financials are reflected on its annual information return filings on Form 990-N, which may be viewed here:

ARC is not affiliated with any specific school, though individual volunteer board members do have regular employment, which may include (but is not limited to) working for schools, hospitals, aromatherapy organizations, or other organizations in some way related to aromatherapy.  The goal of ARC has been constant since the nonprofit was established: to provide an unbiased, voluntary, standardized, independent test, which is maintained and operated by the Professional Testing Company (PTC), to test aromatherapy concepts and knowledge with a focus on safety standards required for the professional practice of aromatherapy, in order to ensure public safety.  Neither schools nor membership organizations can issue professional certification or registration examinations with credibility. ARC’s independence from membership organizations and any particular school ensures an impartial and unbiased body distinct from a body where members pay to belong, which is essential for objectivity and credibility from both within and without the industry. (aromatherapycouncil, email communication, July 13, 2017).

Judy Klispie–Aromatic Harmony, LLC

The AIA Aims to Shed Light on Growing Concerns Regarding Essential Oils

A recent market report indicates favorable shifts in consumer demand and market expansion have helped the Essential Oil Manufacturing industry thrive in the current five-year period (IBIS World, 2016).

Market share concentration in this industry is low; no company accounts for more than 5.0% of industry revenue in 2016. Furthermore, IBIS World estimates that the top four players account for less than 10.0% of revenue in 2016. The level of concentration has been slowly rising over the past five years as network marketing companies continue to establish their brand names and thereby increase their market share. Although market share concentration has been slightly rising over the past five years, the level of concentration is expected to remain low over the long-term. A moderate level of barriers to entry will allow new companies to enter the market to take advantage of the rising revenue over the next five years.  The report’s analysts forecast the global essential oil market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8.26% during the period 2016-2020.

With the increase an increase in the demand for essential oils, we are seeing more adulteration in essential oils-even in those that are relatively abundant and easily produced. What does this mean for authentic practitioners of Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine?

With the theme, Out of the Bottle and Into the Garden: Traditional Herbalism to Aromatic Medicine, the Alliance of International Aromatherapists International Conference aims to explore the use of various plant preparations while emphasizing the importance of the plants from which we obtain our precious oils. Lectures will feature experts from around the world discussing sustainability, ethics and professionalism while growing your business. The importance of how essential oil demand  is impacting the availability of our oils will be highlighted with attention to other types of plant medicine that can be used to provide complementary care in practice.

With the growing interest in Aromatic Medicine and questions regarding our ability to practice Aromatic Medicine and specific protocols that incorporate internal use of oils, we will feature two special lectures on Aromatic Medicine and protecting your business from government intrusion.

This August the Alliance of International Aromatherapists, in partnership with the Rutgers University Plant Biology Department (New Brunswick, NJ), will bring together 300-400 of the world’s top Aromatherapy leaders, practitioners, educators, research scientists, integrative health practitioners and entrepreneurs. Business development, thought-provoking content and endless networking opportunities are tied together by engaging and inspiring speakers, trade exhibits, and pre-conference workshops, and social events about the future of the Aromatic plant community, innovation, marketing, communication and imagination.

Registration is open and information about the schedule, speakers, pre-conference workshops, hotel and transportation are all online at