The professional’s bookshelf

Cite as: De Vuyst, Geert (7 January 2020) The professional’s bookshelf. Geert De Vuyst.

The professional's bookshelf

A selection of quality books about essential oils and aromatherapy

Previously published in French and Dutch.

During workshops and training courses I am often invited to share books that are worth reading. There is no lack of literature about aromatic plants, essential oils and aromatherapy applications: from concise practical guides on specific applications, to heavyweight reference books. That may sound great, yet access to quality information is not always as obvious as it may seem.

The easily read concise guide

Many introductory books lack the precision one can expect from authors who are professionally active in the field they publish on: from incomplete naming of essential oils to therapeutic properties that lack definition or scope.

I recently came across a cheerful-looking booklet that encourages the reader to incorporate essential oils in her of his massage practice. I will not quote the title – out of respect for the author. Under the heading “libido for women” (following the page “libido for men”) I read the author’s proposal: Ylang-ylang EO (EO: essential oil) and Clary sage EO in Macadamia carrier oil: “massage the lower back and lower abdomen 2 times a day”. There used to be a time when I got annoyed by such books.

Clinical studies have shown that Ylang-ylang EO (Cananga odorata, flower) does have “sedative” properties. Sedative, between brackets (see sidebar). Yet why this extract is often being associated with female sexuality, as an “aphrodisiac”, I don’t understand. Well, I refuse to understand. Even though I reject the underlying assumptions, I am willing to follow the reasoning that the “narcotic” action of the oil might release some degree of inhibition and I understand the association with the experience of sexuality. I also understand that the exotic floral aroma of Ylang-ylang EO is likely to be associated with “femininity”, even though my client work clearly shows that men also favour floral aromas. It is clear that we are in the playing field of socially conditioned symbolism.

The choice for Clary sage EO seems simplistic too. Literature describes how the oil can be used for problems with the menstrual cycle (regularity, pain), during the transition or to deal with hormonal imbalance. However, research is currently lacking that confirms a possible effect on the endocrine system, as well as its therapeutic modalities.

Clary sage EO (Salvia sclarea, flowering top) is perhaps the most cited oil with a potential phytoestrogenic action. The “estrogen-like” effect of the extract is attributed to the molecule sclareol, a diterpenol. Sclareol is believed to have a structure that is similar to the female hormones. Tisserand states that (allow me a bit of a shortcut here), given that the molecule contains neither a phenolic structure nor a secondary ring, sclareol is unlikely to exhibit estrogenic activity (Tisserand, 2010).

Back to the book. The author does not mention any molecule or working principle, but simply states an ambiguous benefit of the proposed routine: “stimulating massage for women”. If we assume “stimulating” means the arousal of the desire for sexual adventure (the heading states: “libido for women”), there is no evidence as to which constituents of the cited oils, or working principles, actually play that role, let alone how the action could be translated into a therapeutic model.

Now suppose that, despite my comments, both oils would still have the proposed effect, then two questions remain unanswered. Why should the massage routine focus on the lower back and abdominal area? Due to the nearby presence of the genitals? What working principle motivates this choice? Next, massage “twice a day”? The therapeutic model behind this frequency is a mystery to me.

Sidebar: Ylang-ylang EO (Cananga odorata)

Cananga odorata, Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.)

A 2008 British study confirms what is often referred to as the “narcotic” effect of Ylang-ylang EO. The study evaluated the effects on cognition and mood of diffusion with Ylang-ylang EO on 144 participants. In the same study, Peppermint EO is also being tested, the stimulating oil that one can regard to some extent as the absolute counterpart of Ylang ylang EO. The authors report increased calmness, reduced alertness, delayed speed of memory and delayed speed of attention (Moss, Hewitt, Moss, & Wesnes, 2008).

In 2004, a Thai-Australian team investigated the impact of inhalation of Ylang-ylang EO on a series of physiological parameters and on the subjective mental and emotional state (through self-evaluation with visual analogue scales) in 24 people (Hongratanaworakit & Buchbauer, 2004). The researchers report a decrease of pulse rate and a decrease in systolic blood pressure in the intervention group. The results indicate a reduced activity in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and a reduced sympathetic tone respectively. It is striking that people from the intervention group felt more alert and more attentive. The lower the pulse rate, the more alert people felt, in other words: the physiological and behavioral processes each went in a different direction. As the researchers state: inhalation of Ylang-ylang EO leads to the “uncoupling” of physiological and behavioral arousal processes. They conclude that the effect of Ylang-ylang EO cannot be described as relaxing or sedative, but as harmonizing.

Properties and applications

Mentha x piperita, Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

In the world of aromatherapy, copying and pasting lists of extract properties seems to be a favorite sport. If you are curious about the sources behind the information or the propositions formulated, you often have to conduct your own research. This is even more the case for a number of books that are being promoted as “standard work” or “indispensable”.

Those same properties are frequently cited without the context of a specific application. For example: an extract used via oral administration may have other properties than the same oil applied to the skin. Choosing the right application method will often be key to achieving the desired therapeutic effect.

Consider Peppermint EO (Mentha x piperita, aerial parts). The extract is (mainly) analgesic and tonic. What’s often missing, is the information that the analgesic effect relates to the cutaneous application at nociceptive pain conditions (and not with pain of a psycho-emotional nature, nor with neuropathic pain in damaged nerve tissue). The analgesic effect is due to (−)-menthol, a monoterpene alcohol that is an important component of both Peppermint EO and Cornmint or Japanese mint EO (Mentha arvensis, aerial parts). When applied topically, menthol has a dose- and time-dependent effect: a cooling effect, an analgesic effect (Liu, et al., 2013) and a blood vessel widening effect (vasodilation) (Craighead, McCartney, Tumlinson, & Alexander, 2017). The tonifying effect relates to digestion via oral intake. The extract also has a strong “tonifying” effect on the heart rhythm (the hypertensive effect causes a rising blood pressure) making its therapeutic application more difficult.

This may seem obvious to you and you might not expect any further explanation from the author. Let me try another, more convincing, example. Chamomile (Roman) EO (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis, flower) is calming, a property well known from the Chamomile tea (from the dried plant) before going to sleep. What does calming mean? Relieving a muscular spasm? Acting on the central nervous system? Or soothing the skin after sunburn? And, again, what are the application methods that achieve the intended effect?

This dual lack of precision forces you to conduct your own research and to make your own decisions about whether or not it makes (therapeutic) sense to use a given extract in your application.

The shortlist

What’s worth reading? This list is my personal view, based on the place I live (Belgium) and the languages I speak. Most books are in English and in French. Very little (almost none) quality reading is available in Dutch. Did you come across a solid book or an inspiring author that I should reference in this blog article? Drop me an email.

Robert Tisserand

With his The Art of Aromatherapy: The Healing and Beautifying Properties of the Essential Oils of Flowers and Herbs, Robert Tisserand published in 1978 what might be one of the first English-language books on aromatherapy :

Tisserand, R. B. (1978). The Art of Aromatherapy: The Healing and Beautifying Properties of the Essential Oils of Flowers and Herbs. Healing Arts Press.

In 1995 Robert teamed up with Rodney Young for their Essential Oil Safety, the reference work on toxicology of essential oils, covering both extracts and individual biochemical constituents. Nineteen years later, the second edition was published:

Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety (2 ed.). Churchill Livingstone.

With Tisserand as editor, two French aromatherapy classics were translated into English:

Gattefossé, R.-M. (1996). Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy. (R. B. Tisserand, Red.) Random House UK.
Valnet, J. (1982). The Practice of Aromatherapy: A Classic Compendium of Plant Medicines & Their Healing Properties. (R. B. Tisserand, Red.) Healing Arts Press.

Visit Robert Tisserand’s website for an extensive selection of text material aimed at professional applications (click Advanced clinical).

Jennifer Peace Rhind

Jennifer Peace Rhind is an author at the London publishing house Singing Dragon. In 2016 she published a book on the synergistic effects of blending, including an overview of the researched effects of essential oils in seven application areas and a review of a selection of extracts:

Rhind, P. J. (2016). Aromatherapeutic blending – Essential oils in synergy. London: Singing Dragon.

The author previously published Essential Oils – A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice. The third edition dates from October 2019:

Rhind, J. P. (2019 (Third Edition)). Essential Oils: A Comprehensive Handbook for Aromatic Therapy. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Dominique Baudoux

In line with his work at the Collège International d’Aromathérapie Dominique Baudoux, Dominique Baudoux published a number of books focused on the clinical application of aromatic extracts in a professional context, including his recent work “Aromathérapie – 100 huiles essentielles” with monographs of 100 aromatic extracts:

Baudoux, D. (2017). Aromathérapie – 100 huiles essentielles. Malakoff: Dunod.

Singing Dragon published an English translation in 2019:

Baudoux, D. (2019). Contemporary French Aromatherapy. Singing Dragon.

The author previously published a thematic series with formulas for an extensive number of health complaints, from which I choose the following titles:

Baudoux, D. (2010). Les cahiers pratiques d’aromathérapie selon l’école française – Volume 1 – Pédiatrie (Edition 2011 ed.). Inspir.

Baudoux, D. (2010). Les cahiers pratiques d’aromathérapie selon l’école française – Volume 5 – Grossesse. Inspir.

Baudoux, D., & Zhiri, A. (2010). Les cahiers pratiques d’aromathérapie selon l’école française – Volume 2 – Dermatologie. Inspir.

Janetta Bensouilah & Philippa Buck

Janetta Bensouilah and Philippa Buck published Aromadermatology in 2006, a book on aromatherapy for common skin problems. To my opinion, the authors pay too little attention to the transdermal absorption of essential oils, a complex and largely unexplored area for scientists. In chapter 4 they discuss the ingredients for topical preparations, with a very brief discussion of vegetable oils, concluding that further research is needed about possible skin permeation (penetration) of fatty oils:

Bensouilah, J., & Buck, P. (2006). Aromadermatology. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.

Pharma at its best

If you are interested in the pharmacological action of essential oils, a number of classic textbooks are indispensable. The pharmacological action includes, amongst other actions, the direct anti-infective action of essential oils on unwanted microorganisms (antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-parasitic …). In line with René-Maurice Gattefossé‘s famous 1937 work  “Aromathérapie, les huiles essentielles, hormones végétales” (Gattefossé, 1937), a number of authors have studied this anti-infective action during the past century. Some French-speaking countries (France, Belgium) appear to offer fertile ground in this matter: Jean Valnet, Paul Belaiche, Pierre Franchomme & Daniel Pénoël and Dominique Baudoux described the anti-infectious effect (among other things), each in their own way, in therapeutic setting.

Jean Valnet

Jean Valnet published in 1964 “Aromathérapie : Traitement des maladies par les essences des plantes“:
Valnet, J. (1964). Aromathérapie, traitement des maladies par les essences des plantes. Paris: Maloine.

A re-edition is available as a paperback:
Valnet, J. (2001). L’aromathérapie – Se soigner par les huiles essentielles. Paris: Maloine.

Robert Tisserand published an English edition in 1993:
Valnet, J. (1982). The Practice of Aromatherapy: A Classic Compendium of Plant Medicines & Their Healing Properties. (R. B. Tisserand, Red.) Healing Arts Press.

Paul Belaiche-Daninos (Traité de psychothérapie et d’aromathérapie, 1979, in multiple volumes)

Pierre Franchomme, R. Jollois, Daniel Pénoël (L’aromatherapie exactement, 1990)

Dominique Baudoux: see above for a selection of publications

Chinese medicine and essential oils

Dennis Willmont

Dennis Willmont has been practicing acupuncture, Taijiquan and Daoist meditation for 30 years. In the early 1980s he pioneered with a professional Shiatsu and Acupressure Therapy program in North America. Dennis uses essential oils and Chinese herbs in his acupuncture practice in Marshfield, Massachusetts. In 2004 he published the reference work “Aromatherapy with Chinese Medicine“:

Willmont, D. (2008). Aromatherapy with Chinese Medicine. Will Mountain.

Sylvie Chagnon

Impressive in terms of content, size, design and layout: “Wu : Manuel de massage énergétique chinois” by Sylvie Chagnon, published in 2013 by Guy Trédaniel. Impossible to describe, so I refer to the description on the editor’s website:

Chagnon, S. (2013). WU Manuel de massage énergétique. Guy Trédaniel.

Gabriel Mojay

In the concise “Aromatherapy for healing the spirit“, Gabriel Mojay presents a selection of essential oils for an variety of psycho-emotional problems. The motivating for his choice of extracts lies in Chinese medicine. A separate chapter is devoted to the discussion of 40 essential oils. The 1999 edition at Healing Arts Press:

Mojay, G. (1999). Aromatherapy for healing the spirit. Rocherster, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.

After work, there's yoga and good food

Mona Flynn & Asti Atkinson

Mona Flynn and Asti Atkinson teamed up to publish Essential Yoga Practice, a book in three parts. The first part is an introduction to yoga, ayurveda and chakras. Part two is a brief guide to the use of essential oils. Finally, in part three the authors describe six yoga flows with a number of aromatic blends:

Flynn, M., & Atkinson, A. (2016). Essential Yoga Practice. North Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Catherine Blondiau

If you are a yoga teacher working with children, Catherine Blondiau’s book is for you. In the first part the author explains a pedagogical approach to yoga with children; in the second part she describes five yoga sessions with essential oils. Dominique Baudoux (see above) signs for the choice of essential oils and the motivation:

Blondiau, C. (2013). Yoga pour les enfants et synergies d’huiles essentielles. Bruxelles: Editions Amyris.

Cooking with essential oils

A large number of aromatic extracts are available as a dietary supplement, lending some of them to a non-therapeutic use in the kitchen. If you run cooking workshops or blog about (healthy) food, these books are worth exploring:

Cupillard, V. (2015). Cuisiner avec les huiles essentielles et les eaux florales. Paris: Editions La Plage.

Hönig, S., & Kutschera, U. (2014). Aromakitchen cooking with essential oils. Atglen, US: Schiffer Publishing.

Literature (other than the listed books)

Craighead, D. H., McCartney, N. B., Tumlinson, J., & Alexander, L. M. (2017, 3). Mechanisms and time course of menthol-induced cutaneous vasodilation. Microvascular Research, 110, 43-47.

Gattefossé, R. M. (1937). Aromathérapie, les huiles essentielles, hormones végétales. Paris: Girardot.
Robert Tisserand published an English edition in 1996:
Gattefossé, R.-M. (1996). Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy. (R. B. Tisserand, Red.) Random House UK.

Hongratanaworakit, T., & Buchbauer, G. (2004, 8). Evaluation of the Harmonizing Effect of Ylang-Ylang Oil on Humans after Inhalation. Planta Medica, 70(7), 632-6.

Liu, B., Fan, L., Balakrishna, S., Sui, A., Morris, J., & Jordt, S.-E. (2013, 10). TRPM8 is the Principal Mediator of Menthol-induced Analgesia of Acute and Inflammatory Pain. Pain, 154(10), 2169–2177.

Moss, M., Hewitt, S., Moss, L., & Wesnes, K. A. (2008, 2). Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. International Journal of Neuroscience, 118(1), 59-77.

Tisserand, R. (2010, 4). Is clary sage oil estrogenic? Viewed on Nov. 17, 2017, Robert Tisserand: