In the early 21st century Eastern Aromatics experience an unexpected revival through the interest of molecular biology. There is an avalanche of research, much of it from India, but also from other Asian countries and also from the US which focuses on the anti tumor properties of classic Asian spices and their ability to prevent cancer.
In their broad sweep researchers such as Bharat Aggarwal and Ajaikumar Kunnumakkara have documented many healing properties of Asian – Turmeric, Ginger – and also European spices such as Mint and Rosemary which have long been known by traditional healers but have been dismissed by conventional western pharmacology.
The developments in Systems biology take this even one step further. Chinese researchers around have succeeded in finding measurable physical manifestations of the elusive phenomenon of Qi.
The Chemistry of Eastern Oils
When we first learn about the staples of aromatherapy we learn about Lavender and Rosemary and similar oils, often from green leafy herbs. We relax with Clary Sage oil and become fascinated with the magic of Rose. What these oils have in common is that they are dominated by mono terpenes, low molecular components with 10 carbon atoms, usually modified by oxygen in the form of an alcohol – or other simple functional group.
The characteristics of these different terpenoids, the alcohols, the aldehydes or the ketones for example are so distinct that French style aromatherapy contends that the dominant therapeutic characteristics of an oil are determined by its terpenoid main components. Lavender, for instance, is calming for its content of linalool – a terpene alcohol and linalyl acetate – a terpene ester.
Rather different from the composition of classic oils distilled from European herbs such as Lavender is the chemistry of resins, rhizome and wood oils from the East. These oils often have a higher viscosity and, upon analysis, reveal a sheer endless variety of complex sesquiterpenes with 15 carbon atoms. Sesquiterpenes are not easily classified and often surprise with unique physiological properties. From Patchouli to Sandalwood and Spikenard to Ginger, the Eastern oils are dominated by the seemingly infinite realm of sesquiterpenes.