Bad Aromatherapy Books

There are only a few reviews here. Frankly, I got bored of writing the same thing over and over in reviewing them (or in posting other's reviews): no references, plagerized info, no research, 'made up' recipes, incorrect information, lack of safety data, etc.

The most succinct example of bogus writers putting false  information out there I gathered in a personal phone conversation I had with Jami Lin, Feng Shui practitioner, author, teacher. We were associated for a while in promoting a Feng Shui lecture series in Miami. She gave me a copy of her book "The Essence of Feng Shui: Balancing Your Body, Home, and Life with Fragrance". I was shocked, as usual, by the lack of references, the clichéd 'uses' of the oils, and the generally unprofessional tone of the book.

I called her up, and in a noncommital voice asked, "Jami, what are your references for the oil uses you promote, in other words, how did you arrive at the uses you promote?", and she blithely, laughinly answered:

"I made it all up."
These are either:
1)poorly referenced, 
2)full of contradictions, 
3) repeat erroneous assumptions,
4)flights-of-fancy from original 'sources', 
4)all of the above. 
The brief reviews I have written here are covered by the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech Amendment. I have written many music and book reviews in my career, and if the artist or author doesn't like the review, they can't sue me. So, if any AT authors are offended by my review of their book, please be advised the reviews have already been cleared by my attorney. Actually, I'm hoping they will take my non-biased review to heart, and attempt to write books that adhere to good referencing, fact-checking and the advancement of aromatherapy. I purchased all of these books for myself, beginning in 1979 or so. I really want to believe in the powers of essential oils to heal, or uplift or alter people's lives. Some do, of course, but these books exaggerate, misquote and just plain stretch the truth.

Buckle, Jane, Clinical Aromatherapy In Nursing
This book contains numerous research references.  However, many have not been adequately evaluated to ascertain if they are relevant to aromatherapy or not. My impression is that the author is ill equipped to sort the aromatherapy wheat from the chaff, a task vital for a book targeted at the medical profession.  I find it alarming that this book will be promoted to the medical profession as a definitive work, when it contains so much ill evaluated material.

Far too many references are to previous aromatherapy books, (themselves packed with gross errors and hype). This is particularly noticeable in the technical sections and in the section on fixed and infused oils.  Many of the references when followed up, are found to be theoretical ideas presented by previous authors, rather than sound verifiable facts.  I find this particularly irksome when scientific information is being presented (such as in the section on interactions with drugs) and made to look like it is sound information, when it is no such thing.  Many of the references quoted bear absolutely no relation to the use of essential oils in aromatherapy.

Pages 61-62 contain the usual childishly simplistic aromatherapy nonsense on the chemistry of essential oils. These types of generalisations are gross simplification of the compositional activity of essential oils and can be hazardous if followed to the letter.

Many of the claimed properties of the infused oils, are derived from the herbal use of the water soluble parts of the plant when consumed as traditional medication.

Definitions of skin irritation are incorrect and sensitivity is an incorrect term.  Some of her ideas on chemical solvents being responsible for the reactions are not proven, whereas certain of the extracts she talks about are well-proven as sensitizing agents in their own right.

The section on antiviral properties contains numerous references.  However, the fact that much of this research was not conducted on essential oils, but rather on water based extracts is simply overlooked.   This makes this section extremely misleading, in fact very few essential oils are proven virocides in vivo.

The section on the treatment of wounds contains some hazardous information. Unless the infused oils mentioned contain an effective preservative system, then they are likely to contain viable fungal spores and bacteria.  Likewise floral waters, unless they contain an adequate preservative system are highly likely to be contaminated with bacteria and fungi. Just what the body does not want when trying to heal itself.   Traditionally aqueous infusions were used to treat wounds and were effective.  However, that is only when they are freshly prepared.  In aromatherapy such products are purchased and goodness knows how long they have been transit or storage.  Nurses, do you really want to risk being accused of professional misconduct by using floral waters which have not been bacteriologicaly tested?
         Reviewed by: Martin Watt

To read Maria Lis-Balchan's review of Buckle's book click  here.

Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla (Sylvia), The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual,  (self-published),  1995
Often contradictory information about the use and properties of an essential oil can be found on the same page   For $125 you get lists of chemical components (accurate, for the most part), lists of traditional and esoteric uses (mostly taken from herbalism, a big mistake) and a dumpster-style listing of uses for the skin, respiratory, cardio, etc. systems that is so fraught with contradictions and lack of application information to be useless. If that isn't bad enough, nowhere in the charts will the reader find the linked reference information to the mostly-out-of-date citations in the bibliography. What good is it for the potential AT practitioner/researcher to read that sweet fennel EO is 'powerful on neuromuscular spasms-paralysis' (CHART 225) when that interesting, outlandish tidbit is not cited? In addition, a number of the oils she lists are not available, and have not been for years. There simply is no market for them, but in throwing together the Manual, she did not check that fact.

Folks are shelling out $125 for a book that seems to thumb its nose at scientific responsibility, writing ethics, and any sense of shame. Not to single Shepard-Hanger out as the only guilty party, as most books are not publishing relevant or accurate research information, although they may appear to do so. They are merely regurgitating plagiarized information, extrapolated fantasies, and author's flights of fancy based on herbal uses of plants.

The one redeeming fact about the book that some cite is the fact that she includes chemotypes for the oils. These can be found in other books that do no include voodoo/New Age silly uses for the oils. The other books also have proper citations. Martin Watt is demanding his name be removed from the (proposed) second edition. 

Lawless, Julia. The Encyclopaedia of Essential OIls. 1992. Element Press.
It is obvious that Lawless has an extensive background as an herbalist. It almost made my 'good books' list, but, in the time-disgraced manner of most AT books, she mixes the herbal uses with the AT uses. In other words, she knows that Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) has been used for thousands of years in the herbal/folk traditions  for its benefits on the urinary system, in cases of excessive loss of fluid, such as heavy perspiration and menstrual flow, and diarrhoea. The Chinese also used it, in preparations for liver, respiratory system problems, and again, to check profuse perspiration.

So, Lawless blithely transfers those healing properties, of extractions of the whole plant to the essential oils of the plant. Beginner courses in AT teach that only a fraction of the properties of the herbal part of the plant are extracted in the distillation process, why can't writers like Lawless, Shepard-Hanger, Schnaubelt and others "get it"?  Why can they believe, and write, without references, that using the essential oil in massage to the external organ of skin,or inhaling the diffused oils, would have the same healing properties of a tea or decoction? The person receiving the tea is receiving the entire range of 'principal constituents', not just a select few of the aromatic ones that made it through the distillation process.

With that in mind, it is inconceivable that Lawless recommends the use of Cypress EO in treating edema, an ailment that involves water retention, when the most-recognized use of the Cypress herb is to stop excess fluid loss. Totally illogical.

That said, the reasons I like the book and would recommend someone interested in AT purchase it rather than Shepard-Hanger's overpriced 'manual', is that Lawless lists the principal constituents, much like Shepard-hanger does, in less detail, true, but that may be a moot point for a non-chemist who is willing to pay $10 vs $125. In other areas, such as General Description (of the plant), Distribution (geographic), Other Species, Herbal/Folk Tradition, Actions, Extraction, Characteristics (what the oil/absolute looks and smells like), Safety Data, AT uses and Other Uses, the book shines. Of course, remember that I disagree with her AT uses, but if you can separate the wheat from the chaff in this book regarding that, it is a better buy, less expensive, and definitely more joyful and enjoyable to read than Shepard-Hanger's.

As I progress with these reviews, I will not focus so much on comparing one writer to another, for brevity's sake, but I had to compare those two, because it is evident to me that Shepard-Hanger, with her non-scientific backgroumd, just copied the principal constituents of the EOs from a book, and unless you are intent on somehow becoming an organic chemist/AT practitioner, that info is showy, but superfluous to a practice.  Lawless notes the main constituents, and that is good enough for most. On many oils she does not give an average composition just the NAMES of components.

However --safety data is far from being accurate, take a look at what she says about Lemon verbena on page 80.  "possible sensitiser, photosensitiser-other safety data unavailable".  Look at Acorus calamus page 76.  She says it should not be used, yet then goes on to give all its uses. Lots of AT books do this, major caveats all around.