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March 25, 2009

Notes and News

  • March 20  Botany Photo of the Day: Mentha ×piperita is an electron micrograph of mint that shows the essential oil droplets and glands on the surface of the leaf.
  • Perfumer&Flavorist has a short note about “fair trade” sourcing of benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis) by the Swiss firm Givaudan, who have partnered with Agroforex from Spain and local villages in Laos to promote sustainable production and diversification.
  • P&F also reports that Earthoil India has received “Fair for Life” accreditation for its Indian mint growing operation. From the Earthoil media center, they have also received certification for their African grower group at the foothills of Mt. Kenya.

Posted by Rob on March 25, 2009 in Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Notes and News, Trade Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Call for Support for Firefighters/Victims in Australia

United Aromatherapy Effort is helping to mobilize efforts and donations to help wildfire relief efforts throughout Australia.  Any supplies or monetary donations would be welcome.


March 21, 2009 NEWS: CALL TO ACTION
Once again the amazing power of the internet, and all our interconnections have enabled us to network this call to Action (feel free to forward).
We are mobilizing to help out with the teams already working for the Wildfire Relief Effort. The Australian Practitioners Emergency Response Network (APERN) exists to help frontline emergency workers fulfill their duties in an emergency/critical incident and to support volunteers and victims in a caring and compassionate way. The blog: http://therapistsunite.blogspot.com/2009/03/apern-bulletin-tuesday-10th-march-2009.html. It emerged from the events of Black Saturday, the 8th February, 2009 when extensive bush fires in resulted in over 200 deaths. APERN is still in its formation stages and they are all volunteers. In addition Hands on Health Australia or HOHA http://www.handsonhealth.com.au/ aims to assist communities to improve the delivery of health and other services to marginalized people, utilizing the resource of community volunteers. They are looking at setting up 7 community clinics. At present some clinics are running and others are still in progress. Some communities around Whittlesea are only just returning to their homes to begin the rebuilding stage. There are 7000 people still homeless and living in tents, having survived one of the worst tragedies. (News links on the UAE site if you need a reminder.)
Supplies (respiratory blends, relaxation, clinic supplies like towels/base oils, etc) can be sent to Tuesday Browell ([email protected]) 424 High Street, Echuca, Victoria Australia. 3564 mobile ph is.0428342957.
In addition Ron Guba/Essential Therapeutics in Melbourne is collection donations for oil supplies if you want to purchase local supplies toward the Relief effort: visit http://www.essentialtherapeutics.com.au he will see your purchase is mixed into respiratory blends, or other useful products and delivered via the above organizations. Ultrasonic diffusers would be great for the seven clinics if someone wants to contribute those, contact Sheriar Irani in Sydney www.subtleenergies.com.au
This is a great quick way we can help rather than sending our own supplies.
Thank you in advance for any support as we mobilize globally to help out when we can. Please feel free to forward this to any other lists or organizations, and other caring aromatic friends.

Sylla Sheppard-Hanger

Posted by Blogmistress on March 25, 2009 in Conservation, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Education, Oil Crops, Organizations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2009

Frankincense Oil may be a treatment for bladder cancer

According to a study published this week in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2009, 9:6, “Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity” scientists at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center have found in vitro evidence that frankincense oil (probably its constituent boswellic acid) can kill bladder cancer cells without affecting non-cancerous cells. In order to determine that frankincense was the effective oil, they compared it to sandalwood, fir, palo santo and hemlock oils which did not differentiate between the types of cells. The study used a commercial frankincense oil that was not specifically controlled for origin and constituency, and the authors suggest that future studies should be more rigorous in determining these details. [See our previous post on frankincense.]

The study references numerous other studies that have found that frankincense has potential in treating cancerous cells.

The abstract can be accessed at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/9/6/abstract and a PDF of the full article is at http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-6882-9-6.pdf

Posted by Rob on March 21, 2009 in Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Research | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Brussels makes a conciliatory move over the ‘26 Allergens’ debacle

by Tony Burfield March 2009

Cropwatch has been campaigning for a number of years to change the situation regarding the 26 alleged allergens (16 of which occur in natural products) which carry a labeling obligation where the concentration of any one identified fragrance substances in the final cosmetic product is 0.01% or above for products rinsed off the skin, or 0.001% or above in leave-on products. This requirement was incorporated into Council Directive 2003/15/EC, whereby these materials were moved into Annex III of the Cosmetics Directive. The basis for the inclusion of these substances as allergens has never been explained by the SCCP (Storrs 2007).

Independent papers/peer-reviews/comments (e.g. Schnuch (2004),  Vocansen (2006 & 2007), and several by Hostynek & Maibach) have indicated that there is no robust clinical or experimental evidence to support many of these 26 ingredients as allergens. Up to now there has seemed to be no mechanism to independently review the SCCP’s Opinion, or undo Directive 2003/15/EC, although Schnuch (2008) had openly asked the EU to rethink their policy.

In a new move, a request for an updated scientific opinion on the labeling of 26 fragrance substances has been made by Brussels to the SCCP, apparently being described as a spin-off from the public consultation (Nov 2006) on the Commission proposal of regulation of some fragrance substances.

"Scientific information of general and specific nature has been submitted to DG ENTR in order to ask the SCCP for a revision of the 26 fragrances with respect to further restrictions and possible even delisting.“

“At that time there were not sufficient scientific data to allow for determination of dose response relationships and/or thresholds for these allergens.”

…And that’s presumably the nearest we will ever come to an apology from Brussels, for the imposition of over-precautionary and unnecessary legislature, which cost the industry millions of Euros in reformulation and labeling costs at the time, and presumably will again, with any new situation. The passage of the original legislation depressed the production of some essential oils worldwide for at least two years afterwards, reflecting their reduced usage in cosmetics. This arises from the fact that the large majority of essential oils, absolutes & resinoids contain several of the 26 named allergens, and cosmetic manufacturers wished to avoid excessive product labeling. The decline in the overall usage of essential oils in fragrances from this cause is still felt today.

What is needed now is an independent impact assessment, sponsored by DG-Environment, to find out the damage caused to industry, and especially to SME’s, over the whole 26 allergens legislatory debacle. Cropwatch identifies one of the problems as the chemophobic attitudes of some European governments, who have been led by the nose by career toxicologists, who have exaggerated the ingredient risks posed by allergens. This pressured situation has pushed the EU Cosmetics Commissioner into over-hasty legislation over this matter. What has been missing in this situation is a realistic overview and the application of common sense, and we can only hope that lessons have been learned In Brussels, before the aroma industry, or parts of it, are totally bankrupted.


Schnuch A. (2008) – remarks attributed to Schnuch by the trade media during the IFRA workshop on Allergy Prevalence in Fragrance Nov. 2008 e.g. by Montague-Jones in Cosmetics-Design Europe 18.11.2008

Storrs F.J. (2007) “Allergen of the year: fragrance.” Dermatitis 18(1),3-7 [linked version is a Medscape reprint]

Posted by Tony Burfield on March 21, 2009 in Perfumery, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 07, 2009

Sassafras oil distillers help destroy Cambodian forest

Copyright © Tony Burfield March 2009.

Illicit manufacturers of MDA, MDEA & MDMA (ecstasy) can utilise safrole from safrole-rich essential oils such as sassafras oil and “brown” camphor oil as starter materials (precursors). Therefore safrole & sassafras oils are designated as controlled substances in many countries, and safrole is listed as a Table 1 precursor under the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Since sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees) grow wild in the Eastern parts of the US, the Drugs Enforcement Agency has made safrole a List 1 substance under the under the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act, and it is unlawful to trade safrole & safrole-rich substances for illicit drug-manufacturing purposes. There are legitimate uses for safrole however - these include the manufacture of the aroma chemical heliotropin (‘cherry pie’) and the knock-down insecticide piperonyl butoxide. Interestingly, there is a tradition of drinking sassafras tea, of using sassafras as in ingredient in sarsaparilla drinks, and making root beer from the inner bark of young sassafras tree roots. Dried ground sassafras leaves, in the form of aromatic filè powder, is also used in cooking, being stirred into traditional Southern dishes just before serving. The FDA made sassafras a prohibited ingredient for food & beverages in 1976, since it is a weak experimental animal carcinogen (rats, mice) - Daimon et al. (1998). It has to be said that there is some resistance amongst many US citizens in accepting that safrole is actually the heptacarcinogen it is made out to be. The latest EFFA Code of Practice for example lists safrole both as carcinogen category 2, and as a mutagen category 3m. It is fair to day that the amount of evidence for safrole’s role in human carcinogenicity is scanty, even at this point in time, although there is very limited evidence of oral cancers from long-term safrole exposure from betel-leaf and areca-nut chewing practices (Chen et al. 1999). So the traditions of sassafras tea drinking (often made from the sassafras tree’s twigs & leaves) still persists in places, such as is still found within N. American Indian communities in Eastern parts of Canada. In the Eastern US, many citizens regard the right to use sassafras as part of their cultural inheritance, although any commercial root beer listing sassafras as an ingredient is now made with safrole-free sassafras extract.

N. American sassafras essential oil has a sweet-spicy peppery odour, with an underlying woodiness; the dry-out on a perfumers strip being invariably spicy and woody. Safrole has a cleaner, candy-like odour and its previous uses in perfumery included deployment in re-odourant formulae & soaps. In flavourings safrole was used as an ingredient to flavour medicinal products and confectionery. IFRA prohibits the addition of safrole to fragrances as such, and limits the safrole content of perfumes formulated with safrole-containing essential oils (basil, nutmeg, sassafras, cinnamon leaf etc.) to 0.01% for both skin contact & non-skin contact fragrances. This causes a potential problem for utilization of many safrole-containing fragrance ingredients, such as nutmeg butter; safrole-free versions of various aromatic nutmeg ingredients are commercially available, but often lack the spicy-sweetness and body of the authentic versions.

In South America, the safrole-rich chemotype of Brazilian sassafras tree Ocotea pretiosa (Nees) Mez. has been over-exploited as a safrole-source (there is also a methyl eugenol chemotype). As early as 1966 Mors and Rizzini (Mors & Rizzine 1966) noted that O. pretosia was becoming scarce in Santa Catarina due to uncontrolled exploitation and the natural slow growth of the tree. So Brazil went from being a major supplier of sassafras oil in the ‘sixties, to being a minor supplier in the nineties. Vietnam took over the role of being the major supplier, felling the tree Cinnamomum parthenoxylon (Jack) Meisn. to distill the roots to produce hundreds of tons of sassafras oil Vietnamese annually. Cropwatch (2007) declared the tree as now being critically endangered in Northern & Central Vietnam. Other geographic sources of safrole include Yunnan, China, where C. parthenoxylon, Sassafras tzumu & fractions of C. camphora are utilized for domestic piperonyl butoxide & heliotropin manufacture.

In S.W. Cambodia, sassafras trees (‘Mreah Prew Phnom’) Cinnamomum parthenoxylon are especially found amongst the 2 million ha. of forest within the Cardamom mountains. On-going investigations of illegal oil-producing activity were started in 2004 by the Flora & Fauna International Group. In a recent move, made together with help from the Ministry of the Environment, illegal distilleries were discovered within the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, run by Vietnamese syndicates, producing sassafras oil from the shredded roots & trunk of the Mreah Prew Phnom trees

distillation equipment being destroyed

Rangers from the Phnom Sankos Wildlife Sanctuary prepare to dismantle illicit sassafras oil still. Credit D. Bradfield – FFI. (used with permission.)

Subsequent action by the Royal Cambodian Armed forces dismantled 2 factories and led to 2 arrests. Tim Wood, FFI Field Co-ordinator at the Phnom Samkos Sanctuary is quoted as expressing grave concern that the harvesting of these trees is destroying the fragile eco-system habitats within the sanctuary. The FFI press release describes the pollution of streams used for cooling water for the distillation, and mentions the abstraction of fuel wood to drive the distillation process. Local peoples fear that this rate of abstraction could push the forest & Mreah Prew Phnom trees to the brink of extinction within 5 years. As a mark of their success, the 25th Feb 2009 FFI press release also mentions the fact that in June 2008, 33 tons of illicitly produced sassafras oil were destroyed, and the 2009 FFI raids reported above have to be put in context – since previously in 2006 there were some 75 operating stills in the Western Cardamom Mountains. Now however, the FFI are apparently facing funding problems and need economic help to continue their work.


Chen C.-L., Chi C.-W., Chang K.-W., & Liu T.-Y. (1999) "Safrole-like DNA adducts in oral tissue from oral cancer patients with a betel quid chewing history." Carcinogenesis 20(12), 2331 - 2334

Daimon H., Sawada S, Asakura S. & Sagami F. (1998) "In vivo genotoxicity and DNA adduct levels in the liver of rats treated with safrole." Carcinogenesis 19, 141-146.

Flora & Fauna International 25th Feb 2009. “‘Ecstasy oil’ distilleries raided in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.” Media Release, Phnom Penh, Cambridge.

IRIN –UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs “Cambodia: Ecstasy tabs are destroying the forest wilderness” – see http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79340

Mors & Rizzini (1966) Useful Plants of Brazil pub. Holden & Day, 1966.

Segelman A.B., et al (1976). "Sassafras and herb tea: potential health hazards." JAMA 236(5),477.

Posted by Tony Burfield on March 7, 2009 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Oil Crops, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 01, 2009

Bio-Piracy, Bio-Prospecting, Local Treatments & Ayurvedic Medicine

Copyright © Tony Burfield Feb 2009

Cropwatch has previously featured articles concerned with the fact that intellectual property relating to traditional treatments & medicines, and other exploitable properties of useful plants, has been looted or otherwise misappropriated. These acts have been carried out by multinational companies and in some instances by unscrupulous individuals or teams within universities. The pharmaceutical industry, of course, has a long history of bio-piracy - you have only to think of well-known long-standing drugs such as reserpine & vincristine where no recompense was paid to the communities where the drug was found. Some examples of misappropriation for nine Indian medicinal plants were given in a discussion-only document by UNCTAD India Team (2005), which was reproduced in Cropwatch’s Updated list of threatened aromatic plants used in the aroma & cosmetic industries v.10 Jan 2009.

Plant name

Patents Revealed (use similar to Traditional Knowledge).

Acorus calamus L. (Vacha)

3 granted, 7 applied

Adhatoda vasica Nees (Vaska),

1 granted

Andrographis pinacualta Nees (Kalmegh)

3 granted

Commiphora mukul Engl. (Guggul)

11 granted

Curcuma longa L. (Haldi)

20 granted

Phyllanthus amarus L.

4 granted

Rauvolfia serpentina Benth. (Sarpagandha)

19 granted

Swertia chirata Buch. – Ham. Ex Wall (Chirata).

None directly mentioned, but 3 applications need study.

Terrminila chebula Retz (Harar)

3 granted

Withania somnifera Dunal (Aswaganha)

1 granted, 1 applied

Table 1. Medicinal plants with patent claims possibly similar to Indian Traditional Knowledge (adapted from UNCTAD 2005 discussion document).

Quoting from the Cropwatch article: “The authors of this document (UNCTAD) point out, that for most USA patents relating to native Indian plants, the inventors are often Indian people of Indian origin, patenting uses of plants already used for the same purpose in Ayurvedic medicine. This surely must raise questions on whether these particular patenting authorities are “fit for purpose” by ‘mis-granting’ patents based on traditional knowledge, & in so-doing, failing to establish whether acts of misappropriation have occurred. A spokesperson for the US Govt. defended the performance of the US patenting authorities on this issue in 2001, stated: “The fault lies not with the patent system, however, but with the inaccessibility of the knowledge involved beyond the indigenous community” (Anon 2001). This feeble excuse for not spotting bio-piracy when it stares US officials in the face is simply not an acceptable position for a competent authority to maintain, but it certainly illustrates the need for recruitment of the appropriate expertise in this area.”

In a new departure, the Indian Government has effectively licensed 200,000 local treatments as “public property” which is intended to limit their use as a brand. This move was taken after Delhi scientists identified 5,000 bio-prospecting patents taken out by companies outside India. Dr Vinod Kumar Gupta, who heads the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, was reported in the Guardian newspaper (Ramesh 2009) as saying more than 2,000 of these treatments belong to the seven Indian systems of medicine, and he wonders why so many millions of dollars are being spent by multi-nationals, when so many lobbies deny they work at all. Gupta’s remarks on these doubters brought a particular smile to the face of the author, as Cropwatch is currently gathering evidence of media & academic put-downs of those Complementary Alternative Medicines (CAM’s) which utilise aromatic plant treatments. This comes in a week when in an Education Guardian article, Lipsett (2009) discussed whether Alternative Medicine should be taught as a scientific subject at all, and mentions the cyber-bullying from anti-CAM lobbyists and their influential blogs, determined to shut down CAM courses at UK universities such as Salford, Uclan, Westminster, Middlesex, Thames Valley, West of England etc., and their attempts to totally discredit the practice of homeopathy.

Returning to the Ramesh-penned article, Gupta further mentions the granting of 285 patents in Brussels, which involve the properties of traditional Indian medicinal plants, and he would like these patents lifted. It will be very interesting to see the outcome, given the activities of the estimated 16,000 corporate lobbyists with very large cheque books, known to lurk in Brussels. Readers may remember however that Indian officials have previously been to court to successfully nullify patents taken out on the neem tree (which took them ten years), and on turmeric derivatives (which only took one).

You don’t have to look hard to find evidence of Ayurveda as the current buzz-word in cosmetics trade magazines. For example, an article on “Ayurvedic Beauty – here’s how to formulate beauty products based on the ancient Indian discipline” by Shyam Gupta of Bioderm Research (Gupta 2009) takes us through the principles of the Ayurvedic beliefs and describes topical treatments, Ayurvedic anti-aging ingredients, Ayurvedic skin-whitening ingredients, Ayurvedic arthritis, muscle & joint-pain relief ingredients & treatments, and a list of Ayurvedic herbs for further development together with their potential for ‘inside treatments’, as cosmeceutical agents, and for ‘outside treatments’. I am not a lawyer, I just believe in a fair world and treating people properly. I therefore have serious doubts about the operational ethics, & ultimately the legality of marketing certain products from companies such as Bioderm and Sabinsa (the latter company previously featured in Cropwatch articles). If the Indian Government start using their large financial resources to defend traditional plant uses and to stop their unlicensed exploitation by foreign companies, we could see a big shake-down in the cosmetics sector.


Anon (2001): US General Declaration to the First Meeting of the WIPO Committee 1st May 2001, through Balasubramaniam K. (2003) “Intellectual Property Rights & Herbal Medicine” Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Scientific Sessions, December 2003. Theme Seminar “Herbal Medicines for the People” Sri Lanka Foundation Institute 10th December 2003.

Gupta S. (2008) “Ayurvedic beauty” Beauty Vol 3 (Fall 2008), 36-42.

Lipsett A. (2009) “The opposite of science.” Education Guardian 24.02.09 p8

Ramesh R. (2009) “India acts to stop foreign drug companies seeking patents on traditional remedies.” Guardian 23.02.09 p22.

Posted by Rob on March 1, 2009 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Regulatory Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack