Essential oils have been used for millennia. This means that there is a wealth of information about them and their uses. This knowledge comes not only from the worlds of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda but also from the Greeks, Romans and Arabic traditions among others. While this wealth of knowledge is something today’s practitioners can draw on, it is not something we should do with an uncritical mind. In the past Ayurvedic practitioners have used arsenic in ways that would be thought of as extremely unsafe and damaging to their patients and this is just one example of an ancient practice that is now thought to have actually poisoned people. Of course, Western Medicine is not immune from having used practices that killed patients in the past.
As an aromatherapist, there are few if any oils that have not been extensively tested for toxicity by either the food or perfumery industries so, it is extremely unlikely that I am ever going to even be at risk of poisoning someone in my practice but I do need to be aware of oils that should not be used in pregnancy, epilepsy, hypertension and a few other conditions. When assessing an oil for use for a particular client, I draw on a number of different sources.
Firstly, there is my aromatherapy training and notes from that. Linked to my training is my further reading about different plants and the traditions surrounding their uses in healing. Then there is my own very subjective experience of a particular oil. What thoughts come to mind when I smell it? What are my feelings on doing the same? This information about an oil is particularly useful when dealing with psychological matters but it is also useful to note my physical reactions to an oil. Eucalyptus Globlus for instance has a clearing effect if I have a cold. Rosemary likewise.
Of course, I do not ignore my knowledge of Western Medicine and my nursing training though the only essential oil I came across during that was Benzoin, the main ingredient in Friars Balsam.
Lastly and possibly most important is what my client tells me. I will not use an oil that they can’t stand the smell of or that has unpleasant associations for them. I will also think about which oils they are drawn to as I believe that like some animals will be drawn to herbs that allow themselves to self medicate for various conditions our own bodies will be drawn to things from nature that we need if only we allow ourselves to tap into that part of our nature.
Taking all of the above into account, when I choose oils, it is never with just one condition in mind but rather taking into account, all the information I gather about both physical and psychological needs. Only in this way can I provide a truly holistic treatment.