In any profession it is essential to keep one’s skills and knowledge up to date, and aromatherapy is no different. So, as part of my own ongoing professional development this year, I attended the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) annual conference which was held in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh at the beginning of June. The choice of venue for the two-day event could not have been more apt; the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens provided the perfect setting for two days of lectures, presentations and sharing of the latest learning and developments from around the world.
IFPA is the worldwide centre for clinical excellence in all aspects of aromatherapy, and its membership includes many trained practitioners with a wealth of knowledge and authority. The high standards of expertise creates a totally unique organisation influencing the practical standards of aromatherapy worldwide as a clinical healing technique.
Among the presenters at the event was Clinical Aromatherapist, Author, Editor and Educator, Rhiannon Lewis whom I had the pleasure of interviewing during the lunch break. Rhiannon is a very gifted aromatherapist and is widely acknowledged as the world’s leading expert in the field, so it was a genuine honour for me to hear her thoughts on the latest trends.
Rhiannon described how aromatherapy is being used to address physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs and to improve the quality of life of people in palliative or end-of-life care. This is an area in which aromatherapy is now starting to make some inroads as an alternative to conventional forms of treatment, and although there is still much resistance to aromatherapy in health services internationally, Scotland’s National Health Service (NHS) has recently commissioned a scoping study into its use in the treatment of primary care patients with multiple conditions including mental health problems.
Like myself, Rhiannon is motivated by the potential of essential oils to significantly improve health and quality of life, and driven by the desire to make evidence-based information available to therapists wishing to effectively integrate essential oil as a supplementary treatment to conventional medical care.
The afternoon session kicked off after lunch with a fascinating presentation by Lora Cantele, a Registered Clinical Aromatherapist which focussed on the most common concerns with children on the Autism spectrum: irregular sleep, poor digestion, anxiety, and an inability to focus. Lora eloquently shared her thoughts on how aromatherapy can be used to care for those who look after kids on the spectrum–parents and siblings–who often can be impacted emotionally, physically, and mentally by the challenges of living with someone with the condition.
This is huge topic to understand and address, but I can see that the use of aromatherapy techniques in this area is certain to become of increasing interest to those in Hong Kong who care for an autistic child.
As aromatherapists we know the properties of the essential oils we use, but we don’t always know the story of the plants that provide them. Thankfully, the second day of the event involved a guided walk around the beautiful Edinburgh Botanic Gardens led by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal who provided us with a fascinating insight into the living organisms whose consciousness and nature have been distilled into our precious essences. Julie is a Naturopathic Herbalist and a Fellow of the Association of Master Herbalists (AMH), while Matthew describes himself as ‘an enthusiastic amateur herbalist’ despite the fact that he has co-authored several books with Julie on the subject.
The garden walk focussed on plants that have well-understood and established medicinal uses including plants often dismissed as weeds as well as a number of other carefully nurtured specimens from around the world. As Julie says: ‘Knowing the plants as beings is like the difference between reading someone’s job description and meeting them in person’. Having a deeper understanding of the raw materials of our practice allows us to use alternative preparations: hydrosols or infused oils, and even the use of fresh herbs in massage.
We looked mainly at Scottish native aromatic species such as yarrow, ground ivy, sweet cicely, nettle, and hogweed. And no list of Scottish plants would be complete without a mention of the noble thistle–Scotland’s national flower from which we obtain milk thistle extract, a natural treatment for liver problems including: cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders. It is also understood to provide benefits for the heart by lowering cholesterol levels.
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.Mahatma Gandi
As we walked through the gardens studying the wealth of medicinal plants Mother Nature provides us with, I was reminded of a message from one of the previous day’s speakers. Kelly Ablard who holds a PhD in Chemical Ecology reported on the findings of research conducted on the conservation status of 400 essential oil and carrier oil-bearing plants commonly sourced for aromatherapy oils. Of those 400 plants, twelve are categorised as threatened (i.e. critically endangered, endangered, and/or vulnerable); and of these, six are facing extinction due to overharvesting for their oil.
The six critically endangered species are:
- Palo santo (Bursera graveolens): Peru
- Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi a.k.a. N. grandiflora): India; Nepal; Bhutan; Myanmar; SW China
- Sandalwood (Santalum album): Timor Leste
- Guggul [a.k.a. common myrrh] (Commiphora wightii): India (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan); Pakistan
- Silver white fir (needle) (Abies alba): Belarus
- Agarwood (Aquilaria rostrata): Malaysia
Kelly went on to describe a model for the sustainable management of threatened oil-bearing species, and emphasised the importance of educating consumers on what they need to know in order to make an informed decision before purchasing essential oils from threatened or protected plants.
Overall, I found these two days of conference very enlightening and a great help in bringing me up to speed with the latest news and developments from across the globe. It was a privilege to meet up with so many like-minded friends and to share our experiences and best practice.
I’m sure I speak for all of the attendees when I say: a huge thanks to IFPA for organising the event and for bringing us together with so many seasoned experts.