If aromatherapy is a frequently misunderstood profession then the specialization of aromatic medicine is so out there we could be discussing xenobotany here. But we’re not talking about plant life on other planets, this is a unique branch of botanical medicine that employs volatile aromatic plant extracts in internal dose forms.
Twenty years ago I began studying botanical medicine in high mountain meadows, birthing rooms, greenhouses, gardens, and dining rooms in Northern New Mexico. Six years ago I studied clinical aromatherapy in a classroom at Boston Medical Center. Last year I began studying aromatic medicine at the Heal Center. It was an International effort coordinated by South African Roz Zollinger, Brit Gabriel Mojay, and led by Aussie Mark Webb. It was amazing and I’ve loved how it has taken my practice and education to another level. 🙂
What is Aromatic Medicine?
Aromatic Medicine is the internal dosing of volatile plant extracts. Extracts used in aromatic medicine include:
- steam- and hydro-distilled essential oils,
- expressed/cold-pressed essential oils,
- carbon dioxide extracted volatiles (CO2 extracts),
- and deterpenated/rectified essential oils.
Other botanical ingredients used in formulations might include:
- ethanol botanical extracts (herbal tinctures),
- triglyceride (fatty) oils, waxes, and butters (think shea butter and almond oil),
- and raw plant materials from powders to loose herbs.
Aromatic medicine draws on both pharmaceutical standardized methodologies (Gallenic method) as well as botanical medicine methodologies to calibrate and formulate doses. This has proven to be the biggest leap in the evolution of how I prepare remedies. Twenty years ago I used dashes, pinches, scoops and generally eyeballed my measurements. That would be a terrific way to make a batch of bone broth, blood builder syrup, healing soup, or adrenal-nourishing tea but a terrifying approach to aromatic medicine! Today you’ll find me cozied up to a fancy little scale measuring active ingredients in milligrams with a handy little calculator and a mason jar full of pipettes.
Dose Forms in Aromatic Medicine
You’ll recognize some of these dose forms from more common aromatherapy practices but I’m adding notes specific to how the dose may be different in aromatic medicine:
- Respiratory tract – an emulsified solution dosed via a nebulizer according to the constitution and age of the client; an emulsified nasal spray/wash; an aromatic suppository.
- Gastrointestinal tract – milligram dosage according to the weight of the client and chemistry of the active ingredients employed and dosed via enteric-coated capsules, aperitifs and digestifs, emulsified gargles, liquid syrups, or aromatic suppositories.
- Urogenital tract – milligram dosage according to weight of the client and chemistry of the active ingredients employed and dosed via aromatic suppositories or pessaries.
Should I try Aromatic Medicine?
Professionally, my aromatic medicine training has really elevated my formulation work and introduced me to some unique approaches to drafting wellness plans. Personally, I’ve enjoyed a broader range of wellness tools to support immune health during the 2015-2016 cold/flu season, and this year’s cedar fever season followed shortly by the mold and pollen sinus apocalypse ;-).
Aromatic medicine seems to particularly shine in the area of supporting the body during an acute or chronic infectious disease state. Examples of this include influenza, hospital superbugs, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, and Lyme disease.
Is it safe?
Safety and efficacy should always be at the forefront of any aromatic intervention, be it inhaled, topical, internal, or oral. If you’ve read some of my other posts like Friends don’t let friends drink essential oils, and Why essential oils are not water flavoring agents, and Essential Oils and GRAS: What it really means then you know there are risks associated with oral dosing: mucousal lining damage, internal organ stress, stomach and esophageal damage, phototoxic reactions (worse with oral dosing than topical), and immune system stress (sensitization, triggering an autoimmune condition, etc). So if adding a drop to a glass of water isn’t safe how is adding a drop to a gel cap and swallowing it safe? Great question!
The only way for aromatic medicine to be safe is to have a firm grasp on dosing, chemistry, and pharmacology of these concentrated ingredients. We know that essential oils can safely be used to flavor beverages and foods when they have been appropriately emulsified (remember that oil and water don’t mix!), and used in accordance with flavoring doses. Oftentimes this means an essential oil needs to be rectified for it to be non-irritating to the mucous membranes in the mouth, throat, and stomach.
Dosing, chemistry, and pharmacology go hand-in-hand in a treatment plan. We select a dose based on weight and constitution of the individual – very different dosing and dose forms for a 190 pound adult with a strong constitution versus a frail 110 pound senior citizen. Then we further calibrate the dose according to the chemistry of the aromatics we’ve selected. After that we further calibrate based on the dose form we wish to employ. So each capsule, suppository, nebulizer dose provides the same dose of aromatics.
Can I do this myself?
I get a lot of safety questions about using essential oils orally, and many of them are centered around the individual wanting to know if their at-home formula is safe or if a commercial formulation they’ve purchased is safe. With some inspiration from Jim McDonald, a Michigan herbalist, I’ve put together a list of questions to help you determine whether an oral dose of essential oils is appropriate and safe for you:
- What is the binomial (latin) name of the plant this aromatic extract comes from?
- Does it have a chemotype? (i.e. Rosemary CT Cineole)
- How was this aromatic extracted?
- Has it been rectified/deterpenated?
- How was the plant grown?
- What is the chemistry of this specific batch?
- How old is it and what were the storage conditions like?
- What is the LD (Lethal Dose) 50 of this extract?
- What are the possible medication and health contraindications for this extract?
- What is the maximum adult oral dose of this extract?
- What is the nature of the condition being treated?
- What is the dosage for the weight and constitution of the person being treated?
- What delivery form will be the most effective, and safest for the condition being treated?
- What is the dosage frequency and the treatment plan length?
- What do the side effects look like?
- What does an overdose look like with this dose form and aromatic?
Let me know if I can help you with your aromatic wellness plan!