Book Review: Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art
• By Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
• The Crossing Press, PO Box 1048, Freedom, CA 95019, 1995.
• Softbound, 156 pages, $14.95.

The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day. –Hippocrates

I’ve read at least a half-dozen books on aromatherapy over the past few years, and I have to say that this comparatively slim ­volume is the best. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art truly lives up to its title. It is grounded in science yet delightfully accessible; comprehensive yet not overwhelming; packed with useful, fascinating information yet a good read.

This should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the coauthors. Kathi Keville and Mindy Green have a passion for aromatherapy born of a combined total of forty-five years of experience as herbalists. Keville is a prominent herbalist, teacher, masseuse, and author of several good books, including Herbs for Health and Healing and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Green is also a respected herbalist and massage therapist, co-founder of Simpler’s Botanicals, and a faculty member at both the California School of Herbal Studies and the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. Both Keville and Green are founding members of the American Herbalist Guild. So they know their stuff and love what they know, and what they love most is aromatic plants and the essential oils that are distilled from them.

Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art opens with three brief but excellent chapters on the world history of the use of fragrant herbs, the ­science of smell, and the surprisingly large number of ­studies on the effects of fragrance on the mind and body. The book covers all the im­portant studies, including my own personal favorite, an in­genious experiment cooked up by Chicago neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch, a noted smell researcher, who felt frustrated that some of his medical colleagues doubted the importance of the sense of smell. Hirsch approached a certain Las Vegas casino and obtained baseline data on the average amount gamblers wagered there each day. Then he suffused a faint, ­almost imperceptible floral scent into the casino, and the day’s receipts shot up an astonishing 45 percent. The conclusion is inescapable: fragrance has subtle but astonishingly ­powerful psychological and neurological effects on us all.

The bulk of Aromatherapy is a practical, nonintimidating guide to this fragrant art and craft. Keville and Green discuss safety issues, how to store essential oils, and how to prepare every conceivable type of aromatherapy item: herb-infused oils, boluses (suppositories), salves, infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and vinegars. Some reviewers praise books by saying: You won’t be able to put it down. But in praise of Aromatherapy, I’d have to say: You will put it down to make aromatherapy preparations because Keville and Green make it sound like such fun.

The book includes a comprehensive materia medica with more than sixty herbs and medically responsible, straightforward guidelines for aromatic massage to benefit every body system.

Aromatherapy also contains three features I can’t recall seeing in other books: a discussion of essential oils in cooking (aromatic whipped cream, anyone?), an introduction to the perfumer’s art of oil blending, and a brief guide to distilling your own essential oils. Personally, I can’t see getting that deep into aromatherapy, but I found the information fascinating. I bet you will, too.

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