Back in the 1990’s, I didn’t know an essential oil from a glass of orange juice. In fact, I am sure I had never even heard the term “essential oil” before I began working in the bath and body shop known as Garden Botanika. The store had a custom fragrance bar filled with fragrance oils where the customer could scent their own lotions, massage oils, and shower gels. While there were scents on the bar such as patchouli, peppermint, and lavender, they were artificial fragrances – not real essential oils from plants. But, I didn’t know that. I was a newbie to the world of scent. I remember a customer asking how much an entire bottle of scent would cost (we only sold enough drops to scent their lotion) and I began spouting off how it would be very expensive since oil is extracted from plants. NOT. It was just a fake bottle of scent called patchouli.
A few months after the store closed, I actually learned what an essential oil was. I was embarrassed that I had given the customer bad information. When I started reading about essential oils, the massive amount of information in the books available was overwhelming. It was too much information – things a newbie just did not need to know yet, such as the in-depth (page after page) chemical composition of the oils.
I just wanted to learn which oils worked on what ailment and how to use them properly. When I set out to write this book, I remembered that experience. I decided to present a thorough book about aromatherapy and how to use essential oils, but not bog it down with technicalities that a beginner would skip over to get to the “meat and bones” of the subject.
So, this is the book I have written – how to use essential oils safely, what they are good for, how they are made, and how you can apply their use in your everyday life.
I decided to focus on the most-used essential oils. Based on my research and experience, I settled on what I consider the top fifty-five oils.
THE BACK STORY – HOW MY OWN AROMATHERAPY JOURNEY BEGAN
If someone had told me that one day I would own a bath and body company, I would not have believed them. After all, I had never even taken a chemistry class. In the big scheme of things, that did not matter because life eventually guides you in the direction it intends for you.
Back in 1998, I went to see a movie called Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. In the film, Bullock’s character Sally, a witch, opens up a little botanical shop called VERBENA. The visual of the store peaked my interest. Its harsh white walls and shelving lined with dark glass bottles; corks dipped in beeswax with unknown beauty potions lurking inside. The parchment style labels, the botanical wall hangings, a basket of bright green pears on the checkout counter; it was all eye-candy for someone who had read a lot about herbs and herbal remedies.
Shortly after that, my friend offered my previous life-partner a job as assistant manager in the Garden Botanika store she managed. The chain was in the process of closing approximately 200 stores, including hers, and her current assistant manager had already found another position. It was hard for her to find someone who only wanted to take a job for four or five months. My partner wasn’t interested. I was working as an interior house painter at the time, mainly repainting vacant apartments. With flexible hours and free time, I said, “I’ll do it!”
The next week I was standing behind the counter of the bath store, demonstrating hand creams and lotions, talking about soaps and body washes and helping customers blend their own fragrances in the custom fragrance bar.
Before the closing of the GB store, we began talking about starting our own bath company and began reading books of recipes and ordering in samples of fragrances. At first, like so many people, I didn’t know the difference in a fragrance oil and an essential oil. Our company, Mind and Body Bath and Perfumery launched in May of 1999 selling bags of bath salt, bottles of oil burner oil and scented melt-and-pour soap. That summer, I made my first batch of handmade soap – plain, unscented. I did not use enough sodium hydroxide (lye) because the batch never really got as hard as it should have and it eventually turned rancid. So much for making soap, so we went back to the melt-and-pour.
By that autumn, it became obvious that we had different ideas about what we wanted for the Mind and Body company and decided to dissolve it, but, I was still very interested. I began searching for a new name for my own company. Having recently discovered real essential oils, I wanted something that sounded like aromatherapy. I knew that once I had learned all about them, I would eventually try to start using all natural oils in the future.
Hmm, a company owned by a guy named Gregory that sounds like the word aromatherapy? That’s when I settled on Aromagregory Botanicals. In the spring of 2000, I made another batch of soap – this time using a stick blender instead of a wooden spoon and scented it with juniper breeze fragrance oil. (I hadn’t gone completely natural yet.) It turned out great. Hooked, I cleared out the last of the melt-and-pour soaps and leaned completely towards the handmade soap.
Still, sales were minimal. The manager of the apartment complex took another job and the new manager had her own painter in mind. My day job disappeared along with most of our household income. There were still a few odd painting jobs here and there but I managed to talk my way into a job with a local candle supplier. I began buying supplies from her before I ever made my first batch of soap. By the time I went to her looking for a job, I was knowledgeable about everything she sold. She taught me how to make jar candles, votives and pillars and I taught her what I knew (so far) about soap and bath products.
Summer of 2001 rolled around and I began setting up at an indoor flea market in Smyrna, TN, just outside of Nashville. My life-partner wasn’t especially interested in my little company and we both knew our relationship was winding its way down. So, one weekend a month I would go by myself and set up my folding table with stacks of soap on paper doilies – scents like: gardenia, cucumber melon and blackberry sage. Of course, by this time I was also including my latest discovery – jar candles.
By that fall, I was single again, working at the candle supply company and setting up at the flea market and other outdoor festivals and events. If I remember correctly, a weekend of sales back then was around $150. Not much. I learned Reiki (Japanese healing touch therapy) that year too. I enjoyed it but something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was.
In 2003 I met Roy who was interested in the whole process of making soaps and candles (and me). When we began living together as life-partners, I wanted to reinvent the company – make it something that belonged to both of us. Roy brought something new to the table – a sense of actually building a real company around the products instead of the hobby business I had been piddling at. That is when we came up with the name The Green Pergola Soap Co. (we eventually tossed the ‘the’ part). What did it mean? Green was to indicate a more natural or green product. Yes, we were going green long before it was cool. Pergola is a garden arch meant to grow trailing vines. We built a pergola in the back yard and looked at it – two sides and a top, three elements, a place to grow vines. To us, the shape symbolized a place to grow the three elements of body, mind and spirit, with the use of more natural or ‘green’ products. During this time, Roy also learned Reiki, fulfilling a long-time interest of his in the healing arts.
Alas, we were not as green as we thought we were. During our first setup at a festival together under the name Green Pergola, our booth was set up across from another soap vendor, one with soaps only scented with real essential oils – lavenders and mints and eucalyptus and patchouli. We looked at our table of gardenia and fresh linen scented soaps and were disappointed. Out came the essential oils books that night. By the next batch, our soaps contained only real essential oils – our very first batch scented with a lavender rosemary blend.
Our repertoire of products grew and we opened our first Green Pergola store that year – a tiny 375 square foot boutique packed with soaps, candles, lotions, incense, creams and scrubs. Traffic was terrible there. Hidden by rows of trees on a stretch of road with a 55 mile per hour speed limit, people passed the store before they even knew it was there. It closed in a little under a year. We began setting up monthly at the Nashville Fairgrounds Flea Market for most of 2004 and 2005.
In 2005, we both took a long-distance course (Canadian) in aromatherapy and upon completion, became official certified aromatherapists. Official, so to speak, because the U.S. doesn’t recognize the benefits of aromatherapy yet – we are a pharmacy-only dependent nation. Roy went on to advance his Reiki training and later became a licensed Reflexologist. I decided to expand my aromatherapy studies and enrolled in the 200-hour course to become a clinical certified aromatherapist, learning about anatomy and physiology and the effects of essential oils on the body. Once again, not something recognized in the U.S. In other words, if I lived in parts of Europe a doctor could refer you to me. Here, it just means I am knowledgeable about aromatherapy.
In 2006, we teamed up as “roommates” with a tea company and rented a larger store adjacent to a yoga studio. Around 675 square feet, it also came with a back office and a separate room for Reiki sessions. As roommates, we shared half the rent and half the working shift. By August 2009, the tea company pulled out of the store location and we took over the task of selling herbal teas alongside our soaps and bath products.
When the decision to incorporate came about in 2012, we decided to return to our roots and reclaim the original business name, forming Aromagregory Creative Inc. Not only the creation of our products, but also classes on soap making, a wholesale division, and books written on the subjects we had become experts in.
This is how all experts begin their journey. We take an interest in a subject and begin reading and researching. We experiment and fail. We experiment and succeed. After more than a decade of apprenticeship, we wake up one day to find we are an “expert” in the field we chose. For me, the next step was to begin teaching and writing about everything I had learned and experienced.