Vannoy Gentles Fite brings another collection of essential oil recipes to the table, this time focused on mental health. This complement to her 2016 volume for physical ailments round them out to a complete set: now you can use her material to treat body and mind.

If you seek depth or medical knowledge, you may prefer some of the aromatherapy material put out by Inner Traditions over this book. For someone who has worked with them for a decade or two, much of Fite’s information remains basic –there’s a certain point where a recipe is just another recipe. For more experienced perfumers and aromatherapists what makes this book interesting is its point in time. What was typical for aromatherapy in 2010 no longer applies in 2018: clary sage has moved over in favor of palo santo, and the reality that not all oils need be essential to be beneficial has started to surface through Fite’s work.

While a deeper discussion of ethical sourcing would have rounded out the perfunctory discussion of how essential oils are a “you get what you pay for” proposition, the book covers the basics well.  Artisans and crafters might feel mild irritation at her recommendation that aromatherapists simply stir an oil mix into a commercial lotion base – but on a practical level, unless someone is out to learn the bath and body art, that is likely how most people can and will integrate their practice. Something that makes this book especially useful is the comprehensive set of warnings/contraindications of different oils in the back chapters.

Essential oils as a topic balances on the precipice of exhaustion – without integrating further medical studies there simply isn’t much more to know. Essential oils do amazing things, but they live on the far edge of standard western pharmacology, their use by major drug companies obscured. Yes, results can be dramatic – but dramatic results also come with larger drawbacks. It is not a criticism of Fite, who clearly knows her subject matter, but more a complaint towards the zeitgeist in general that more enthusiasm needs to turn to gentler, subtler herbal arts – because essential oils as a topic, like the resources that they are extracted from, need some time to replenish and shift direction.

~ review by Diana Rajchel

Author:  Vannoy Gentles Fite
Llewellyn, 2018
432 pp; $25.99