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Aromatics Explorations

Aromatics Explorations


Dear Friends-
I hope that all of you are enjoying the winter season as it is a fine time to collect ones thoughts and develop a plan for the coming year. Each and every time of year has some special quality about it that can help us develop into the people we would like to be. The winter has that lovely quality of contemplation where we can diget what has happened before and use the wisdom gained for making one's own life and the life of those around them peaceful and happy. Soon I will begin another series of newsletters with the first one focusing on Eucalyptus. April Shalon has done a wonderful job of editing it and making it more presentable. I hope that in the coming year I may be able to send out a newsletter every two to three weeks as happened in 2002. People sometimes say to me, "It must be a lot of work to collect all the information," and on one level that is true, but for me it also a form of creative relaxation which keeps the whole world of aromatics alive and vibrant for myself and hopefully for all of you.

In this newsletter I would like to share a few simple thoughts about the world of aromatics which we all share and enjoy. As we all know there are many approaches to this fascinating subject and I think we would be hardpressed to exhaust any one of them in this life. Plants and the aromatic treasures concealed within them are a never ceasing source of wonder and as we allow our hearts to become more and more receptive to the miracle of life they are sharing with us, we undergo a subtle transformation that allows us to penetrate deeper into the subject. Every part of our being can get engaged in this subject-body, mind, emotions and spirit. Each of these parts which compose the wholeness of our being peceives the world of aromas in their own way and if we keep the vision of unity before us, they compliment and inform each other. It is a happy experience to participate in.
On this aromatic journey there are many stages that we go through. In the beginning we are presented with a vast range of materials that we may not have thought about very much. One day something happens in our within and we begin to conscientiously realize that there is magic in the sense of smell. As we focus our attention on the subject we begin to realize that each and ever natural essential oil has its origin in a plant that lives on the earth like we do. This often inspires us to find out more about the plants, where they grow, the people who live in the environments where the plants exist etc. Right around our own homes we may find many of these plants growing either naturally, in parks, botanical gardens, conservatories and the like.

Then we may be further prompted to explore the world of the concentrated essences distilled or extracted from the plants. Our journey may then take us to health food stores, book stores or other places where we can gain immediate access to the oils contained in display stands etc. We may also come under greater exposure to these precious materials by attending trade fairs, fragrance conferences etc. By one means or another we begin to train or olfactory sense to discern and discriminte between different qualties of an oil distilled from the same plant etc.
There is no good or bad in that training. It is an experience that each of us must participate in as this is not a matter that can be decided by anyone but ourselves.

Sometimes people write and ask me if I like this or that oil that has been procured from a particular vendor or place and I often answer by asking the question-Do you like it? If the individual likes it then that is what is really required. Our own inner sensibilities will lead us to explore further if that is what is going to be useful for our further aromatic education. What I mean to say by this is not a subject that we need to prove or disprove to anyone. Rather it is one in which by being gentle, kind an thoughtful towards one another that we discover our own unique way of understanding a subject which is very deep and special. It should be a joyful exploration where we help one another to discover ever new worlds of beauty and delight.

When we are beginning this discovery we may have to face many difficult choices as to what we should or should not by. Nowadays the range of materials available is considerably more than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Many people like myself offer oils produced by conventional agricultural practices, wild harvest ones, organic onesm etc. It can be bewildering.
For instance one may find lavender being offered as EcoCert organic, organic non-certified, wild-harvested and conventional. Not only but the same plant may be steam distilled, hydrodistilled, solvent extracted, or CO2 extracted. Furthermore one may find that the very same species of Lavender, Lavandula augustifolia being offered from France, Italy. South Africa, India, etc. It presents a bewildering array of choices because the truth is that there will be subtle differences between the different methods of cultivation, methods of extraction and the region where grown. It is not so easy to say that one is better than another. Much depends on the individual smelling it, the place they are in their aromatic self education, the way that material is going to be used, for cosmetics or perfumery) etc. On one hand it can be bewildering for a newcomer but what a delightful bewilderment!!!
But on a practical side it is important to have a starting point for ones journey and so one has to make choices of who to buy from, what to buy, and all such matters. In that regards I always tell people that procure a small amount of the same oil from different vendors and see what ones heart-felt intuitions tell one. Take out of the mind as much as possible the cost of a particular oil and simply evaluate it on its olfactory merits.. One can even ask a friend to give them smelling strips from the different bottles without indicating which oil is from which company. Then make the evaluation. This becomes a delightful exercise in itself and helps one gain confidence in their own ability to evaluate oils.
An extension of this can be to share ones exploration with others. If a number of friends and colleagues share this passion one can have get togethers where different oils are investigated and commented on in a spirit of openess and appreciation. This can further enhance the range of materials that one is exposed to, and it is very important that one be exposed to as wide a range as possible because this is where one begins to develop ever more refined olfactory awareness.
But the elementary question is where to start? Is it better to start with a oil that is distilled from a conventionally grown plant that is invariably less expensive or one that is grown from an organically grown one that is more expensive. Ideally one should experience both side by side. In this way one can begin to have a feeling of the similarities and differences between the two oils. Then one should go on smelling the two a period of months. But one has to realistically begin there journey somewhere so the point of entry has to be determined by the inner outlook of the person making the exploration. But beware!!! Once you have entered this magical world with a simple and open heart you are going to find delight after delight awaiting you at which point the main consideration is are you going to have food on the table or oils to smell.

From a personal standpoint(and this is indeed an opinion)with the passage of time I have come to feel that the oils distilled from organically grown plants(if the distillation technique is good) are superior. They almost always have to seem a more complete bouquet. This would make good sense if we look at the plant as it grows in a soil which is well nourished with a complex food base(as there would be in compost, green manure crops, organic fertilizers etc) Their are a basic set of nutrients that people tend to look at more than others, being nitorgen, phosphorous and potassiam but there are is a whole host of trace minerals that is equally vital for the total health of the plant that has to be obtained from other sources. A plant can only absorb into her being whatever the soil contains. So if the food available to her is more complex and complete then it means that she can selectively take out what she needs. Then there is also the issue of feeding the soil with organic matter so that it can breathe better, provide food for micro-organisms and earthworms etc. If the soil is not fed with organic matter it tends to get compacted which means that it cannot breathe as well, the water from irrigation and rain can not circulate so easily etc.
When a plant has a complex food base, has good air and circulation around the roots, etc she can withstand disease assaults better than if those conditions do not exist. One might say that the plants will have a better immune system if the soil is cared for as a living entity over a period of many years.
There is also the vital element of the people caring for and nurturing the plants. Generally speaking they may also have a very good attitude toward the earth and all the gifts she shares with us. It is much more labor intensive to care for the earth organically than by conventional means so people who take on that challange are usually farming much smaller areas of land which they can manage with the people power at their disposal. This works very well in the so called Third World Countries where many families still live in rural settings and have an intimate relationship with the land. They have the means to hand weed and cultivate around the plants, apply the fertilizers, observe closely how the plant is doing in her life cycle, etc. Close observation is one of the keys to success in such enterprises.
One may also wish to view the world through the plants perspective with regards to being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. They no doubt destroy some of the disease organisms and insects but along with that may hurt the many other forms of life that are part of the plants world. Butterflies, benificial insects, earthworms, and many other benign denizens of a world we do not know much about may be impacted.
What I mean to say is that by gradual steps we may wish to replace our cost evaluating faculty with one that examines all the factors that bring an oil into manifestation. As our quality of understanding we also have a chance to invest each and every oil with the precious quality of our attention, an attention filled with respect and veneration for all forms of life and their contributions in bringing the specific jewel of aromatic essence into our hands.

With regards to organic oils there are so important things to consider. Many of the places where these plants are nurtured are in countries where the people are living on small wages. They may not have the financial resources to pay the required fees for having their crops certified organic like is done by third party organizations such as EcoCert. These organizations render an invaluable service but their services work best in those instances where the growers have larger segments of land under organic cultivation and the total cost of the certification process can be justified on that basis. But in some sections of Africa and in larger ones in India the farmers cannot afford official certification processes. They are not growing a single crop on their land but 10 or 20 with an aromatic crop being just one of them. It may be that quarter acre or half acre is set aside for such a special crop. So even though they may be growing organically they cannot put any official certification in place.
In that case the knowledge and integrity of the distiller is the key to verifying whether an oil is being distilled from an organically grown crop.

In my case I have chosen to offer both certified and non certified organic oils based on my direct interactions with people like Ermias Dagne in Ethiopia, Clive Teubes in South Africa and Ramakant Harlaka in India. These people know their subject and the distillers involved with different projects in their respective countries and so can verify whether and oil is from an organically grown crop.

In the two short years since I started offering organic oils I have noticed an increase both in the number of oils available as well as keen interest from all of you. As I become aware of these beautiful oils I will continue to add them to the selection so that all of you can make decisions for procurement based on your own perceptions and needs.