Recently, the aromatherapy world has begun discussing the truth behind the so-called “French,” “German,” and “English” aromatherapy “schools,” as if they actually existed.
I am thrilled to see this topic come up because the idea of these “schools” has baffled me for some time now. I would definitely advise reading Gabriel Mojay’s open letter to me on this subject here. He says, “In a nutshell: the so-called ‘French’ and ‘British’ labels are being used to mislead and mystify.”
In reality, depending on the need, there are only three methods of essential oils use: topical, oral, and inhalation (or external, internal, and environmental). Although, as Gabriel points out, the integrated therapeutic discipline of Aromatherapy should combine these methods. The different “schools” get the methods of aromatherapy correct, but that’s about the extent of their accuracy.
So where do these “schools” come from? To explain, I’ll need to dive back into the history of aromatherapy.
Around 1910, a Frenchman named R.M. Gattefossé burned his hands badly and contracted gas gangrene, which he successfully treated with Lavender essential oil. Afterwards, he coined the term “aromatherapy.” He was not the first researcher to write about this form of therapy, but he was the first to recognize the therapeutic use of essential oils as a discipline in itself (more on Gattefossé here).
Later, Dr. Jean Valnet coined the term “aromatic medicine.” He was also French (you can find his literature here and a brief biography here). Dr. Valnet has been made into the face of oral and undiluted use of essential oils. However, his research was much more widespread and focused on aromatherapy and essential oils as treatments for illnesses.
Nowadays, Gattefossé is hailed by many as the “father of aromatherapy.” He has been grouped together with Valnet, thus building the idea of a French “school” that supports widespread essential oil ingestion.
The French “school”
As medicinal aromatherapy took root, it began to engage pharmacists and physicians all over Europe; however, many were in France. In 1978, Dr. Paul Belaiche published a study on the clinical use of essential oils in the treatment of infectious and degenerative diseases (more information on Belaiche here). Jean-Claude Lapraz, Christian Duraffourd, and Dominique Baudoux have all contributed enormously to the understanding of the medical activity of essential oils as well.
In 1980, French chemist Henri Viaud published a study on the purity and quality criteria that essential oils have to meet in order to be suitable for medical purposes. Then, in the 1990s, Dr. Daniel Pénoël and Pierre Franchomme provided the medical aroma text of the decade. Today, we have the Endobiogeny sector with Doctors Lapraz and Duraffourd for that purpose (learn more about that here).
The contributions of these French and Belgian doctors and pharmacists have greatly added to the understanding of how to incorporate essential oils into medical treatments. This has become known as the “French method.”
The British “school”
Meanwhile, I’ve seen Marguerite Maury associated with the British School, though she was Austrian-born and studied in France. Maury did train beauty and massage therapists in London, but she also trained therapists all over Europe. She was Valnet’s student, too, though she had different goals for aromatherapy and a different perspective. She wasn’t aiming to medicate people in the way Valnet and his fellows were. However, her teachings were just as valid and are most often used in conjunction with other forms of aromatherapy. (See more on her here).
The separation of aromatherapy methods into “schools” really began in the early 2000s when one of Dr. Daniel Pénoël’s lectures included a joke that became truth.
Dr. Pénoël, whose speaking style is very charismatic and humorous, described the differences between the three schools in this way:
“The German system of aromatherapy (smell) is comparable to platonic love. You cannot make babies with platonic love. The English system is like flirting. You still cannot make babies. The French system of aromatherapy is like ‘The Full Monty,’ and it will make babies!”
So, although Dr. Pénoël’s statement had a joking quality to it, it was taken very much to heart.
In addition, Pénoël had previously lectured in California in 1989 and 1990, showing audiences his “living embalming” technique. He saturated an ill woman’s tissues with repeated undiluted applications every 30 minutes. We saw him drip large amounts of oils on her back and use a hair dryer to dry them on her skin. Many of my colleagues were witness to this. Not long after this event, Gary Young started spreading a similar method called Raindrop Therapy, which he supposedly learned from a Lakota medicine man named Grandfather Wallace Black Elk. Black Elk’s children and tribe have since denied Young’s claim, and you can read a direct letter on that subject here.
The Influence of Multi-Level Marketing Companies
After Pénoël spoke at the Young Living convention and had his book published by the company (Pénoël, D. & R. – Natural Home Health Care Using Essential Oils. Editions Osmobiose, La Drome, France 1998), Young Living began using the idea of different “schools” within their marketing campaign. It makes perfect sense from a business perspective; telling people to perform undiluted medical treatments like this and oral use, too, sells more oil than diluted topical or atmospheric use. This was the beginning of the “schools” myth. Meanwhile, these marketing campaigns purport that the French method is superior to other, non-medically focused forms of aromatherapy.
And so began the use of undiluted oils on spines to correct scoliosis, along with daily oral use in capsules or water to treat many serious medical conditions. This is essentially the practice of medicinal aromatherapy by the masses, which I absolutely believe our beloved French aromatherapists never intended. Now all the other copycat companies repeat the same “joke,” making it appear real to newbies searching on the internet!
The German “school”
One aspect that especially confuses me is how Pénoël came up with the idea of the “German” school. Some sites say it’s because Germans find inhaling essential oils similar to walking in a forest with streams and brooks. But I think we all enjoy that, no? Why would this be relegated to a German school of thought?
It’s all very confusing and unclear, in my opinion. After all, at the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, I teach topical use, oral use, and inhalation, and I am not French, German, or British. I’m a USA born-and-bred southern gal! I’ve also benefited from training all over the world with French, German, British, Australian, and American aromatherapists, leaders, and experts.
The Truth Behind the Myth
Someone recently asked me which school I subscribe to, and my answer was this: None of them! I teach and use essential oils and other natural products internally, externally, and environmentally.
I will use essential oils and natural products internally if I’m ill, but not on a daily basis because there is no need and they contain no nutrients. When using oils topically, I dilute them because it’s safer, more economically effective, and it covers a wider area. I apply essential oils daily in creams and lotions, and I inhale them daily in my environment; I’ll also inhale them from a diffuser if I’m congested. Most importantly, I don’t subscribe to any one school, because I subscribe to all of the schools. All of the so-called schools, together, make up aromatherapy. No matter the particular method of aromatherapy, it’s important to be well-trained in the safe use of essential oils.
Mostly, I’m baffled by this school myth because it attempts to rewrite aromatherapy history in the United States—and I was there for much of that history, starting in the 1970s. I saw aromatherapy come to America via herbalists; we’ve had companies here since the ’70s. I’ve worked with scientists and industry leaders like Martin Watt (UK), Dr. Trevor Stokes (Australian), Robert Pappas (Greek/American), Tony Burfield (UK) and Michael Kirk-Smith (Ireland)—to name just a few. I was part of the Purdue Initiative that ultimately led to the formation of the ARC (Aromatherapy Registration Council) exam. See some stories from this time on my Vintage Aromatherapist Blog.
Recounting my experiences
For 40 years, I’ve actively been studying essential oils and essential oil safety. I’ve been involved in the industry since early 1980, long before the idea of these schools ever took root. I will not allow aromatherapy history in the USA to be rewritten. As long as I’m alive, I will recount my true experiences with it.
So please trust me. You’re better off focusing on all aspects of aromatherapy and learning how to use each one safely and effectively. Don’t worry so much about the schools! And help stop this myth from taking over our history.
Learn more HERE.
Dedicated to those who tried to make the joke truth.
We can’t help but say the joke is on you.
There’s been longstanding discussion on whether alternative medicine or western/conventional medicine is the most beneficial. When I was diagnosed with Stage 1, non-aggressive breast cancer in 1998, they both played a significant role. Together, they made this time in my life one of deep reflection and profound change.
I found the lump myself and underwent a lumpectomy to have it removed. The doctor also did a lymph node removal to see if the cancer had spread. Thankfully, it hadn’t, so I went through daily radiation treatments for six weeks.
Going through the actual process of radiation treatment is painless and only takes about a minute. However, the side effects come slowly and build up over time in the tissues of the skin. Redness and irritation are common. This isn’t so bad in comparison to some of the other side effects of cancer treatments. But this does take a toll, and since the effect is cumulative, it grows with every treatment. Fatigue is also a major side effect of radiation treatment, and I used aromatherapy blends to help combat it. I also used topical treatments on my scars to help with healing.
Now, before I describe how I used aromatherapy, essential oils, and aloe throughout this process, I want to point out that doctors ask you not to apply anything to the irradiated area. That’s not because it has any effect on the treatment. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s because the radiotherapists put little marks on you to indicate where the radiation beams should be directed. I opted to have the tiny pin marks tattooed on. Yhey rubbed off anyway throughout the day, even when I wasn’t applying anything.
Both my oncologist and radiologist were aware of my profession, and they approved my use of complementary and self-administered treatment.
The Irritation and the Incisions
First, I applied aloe (Aloe barbadensis) straight from the plant. The doctors warned me against applying anything with alcohol. Moreover, I wanted to stay away from the preservatives found in many commercially-prepared aloe lotions, so the plant itself was the best way to go. This alone was very soothing and helpful to the area.
I also used a water spray on the irradiated breast, and this is where the essential oils came into play. Using a four-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water, I added equal amounts of Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum). I sprayed this onto the skin after radiation and after my morning shower. When the skin became increasingly tender, I upped the amount. I used this every day during treatment and continued using it for a month after the radiation had ended.
The redness persisted, but the severe irritation ended two weeks after the treatment. Though skeptical of my brand of medicine, the radiologist admitted that my skin fared better than most. He said he was amazed by the lack of burning.
As for the incisions, I had both a one-inch and a three-inch incision from each of the removal procedures. I applied Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Artemisia (Artemisia arborescens, high chamazulene, Pacific Northwest variety). Using a 50:50 ratio and diluted at 10% in fractionated coconut oil, I believe this helped with healing and preventing any inflammation or infection. Thanks to my topical treatment and an excellent plastic surgeon (see—complementary!), I barely have scarring now.
Fatigue and Mood
I also used aromatherapy to help with the fatigue and the emotional side effects of a six-week radiation treatment. My afternoon blend included stimulating oils like Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, camphor variety), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), and Basil (Ocimum basilicum). I put this blend in an air diffuser.
When I wanted to rest, I used blends containing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis), Neroli (Citrus aurantium), Rose (Rosa damascena), and Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Out of those, my favorite was Geranium, and that’s what was most often in the diffuser. I also put 5-10 drops of this oil in my bath, and these practices really helped with my moods. Cancer and cancer treatment are very difficult on a person’s well-being, and having my favorite oils there to help me was an immense comfort.
I used Rose in times of depression and confusion as well. To demonstrate how much psychology plays a part in this, I’ll tell you that I used Rose after my mother passed away. So I had developed a cognitive association with Rose when I needed to work through grief. This helped the oil stimulate that response in me again.
What I learned
While I was treating myself and following the advice of my doctors, I also received an immense amount of love and support from the aromatherapy community. I could feel them out there, sending healing vibes and providing unseen but much-felt protection. I learned how important that network is. It can be incredibly healing to have a friendly and open support system.
I also learned how to rest because it was required of me, medically. I’m sure anyone who’s active can understand this, but sometimes I didn’t know how to stop. However, I learned this was necessary in order for my body to recover and recuperate. Once the fatigue set in, I had to rest or else I risked prolonging recovery. Additionally, I learned that sometimes I can’t physically do everything I want to do, and that asking for help isn’t shameful. That was a fantastic life lesson for me—one I wish upon everyone.
I’ve also become much more active in volunteer work since then. I participate in several cancer groups and speak about my experience using aromatherapy as complementary treatment.
I truly believe both approaches can be used in combination as powerful tools for those suffering from cancer and undergoing cancer treatment.
Blooming on Schedule
I’ve never grown Calendula before, but I got some seeds at our local market from someone else with a yarden (a garden that covers the entire yard). I planted the seeds last fall and finally, I have plants!
In light of this, I am trying my hand at infusing an oil. I’ve never done this before, so I will let you know how it goes. If you have any advice, please leave a comment!
My colleague, Jade Shutes, has a great Calendula PDF on her school’s website. It says that the name Calendula comes from the plant’s affinity to bloom on schedule. How funny, we thought, because we’ve been working towards blooming on our own schedule!
We officially launched our new website today in celebration of the Spring Equinox. You can enter to win a free book or class here.