Dive into Aromatherapy with ACHS President Dorene Petersen & Dr. Bianca Beldini

Dive into Aromatherapy with ACHS President Dorene Petersen & Dr. Bianca Beldini

The Wellness Collective is a podcast created by Dr. Bianca Beldini, a graduate of the ACHS Greece Study abroad program in 2008. Dr. Beldini is an Acupuncturist, Physical Therapist, Dry Needle Expert, Triathlon Coach, and wellness influencer who has amassed a following on Instagram where she shares valuable information about holistic wellness.

Dr. Beldini recently invited ACHS Founder and President Dorene Petersen to be a guest speaker on an episode of the Wellness Collective on Instagram Live. They took a deep dive into the basics of aromatherapy, and we are sharing an abridged version of the discussion here in case you missed it. You can also watch the full Instagram Live video here.

Background in Aromatherapy

Pictured Dorene harvesting vetiver in Java ACHS 2013 Study Abroad

Bianca: Dorene, please let me and everyone else know your back story and how you got into wanting to learn and study (and eventually become a teacher and leader) in plant medicine/aromatherapy?

Dorene: I started out really falling in love with plants as a child. I grew up in a family that was very plant-oriented. As I got into my teenage years, I was really interested in ethnobotany and traditional cultures and how they used plants for medicine. I studied ethnobotany and archaeology at Otago University in New Zealand.

When I graduated, I ended up working as a medical social worker, which was a real eye-opener for me. I was primarily focused on disadvantaged elderly populations and it became clear to me that a lot of the issues I was seeing were degenerative diseases as a result of a lifestyle that just hadn’t been focused on wellness.

I felt that I really had to delve more into that arena. So I went back to college and did a 4-year naturopathic program. In my last year of that program, I was asked to start the herbal medicine program for that college. I then also began my clinic. I was very involved in clinical work one-on-one with clients and part-time running this department for the college I graduated from.

Then they decided to close that department. They said “You’ve started it, it’s yours, you’re welcome to take it.” I was more concerned about the students we had. There weren’t many but I felt like I was responsible for those students and their success so I wanted to keep it going. That’s really how I started with the college. I got more and more into developing the program. And here we are, 40 something years later.

What are essential oils, really?

Bianca: The word AROMATHERAPY is everywhere. From beauty creams to shampoos to plug-ins. For all of the people that really don’t know, Can you tell us what exactly IS an essential oil? Is it really oil and why is it essential?

Dorene: An essential oil is the volatile (and that means that it evaporates) constituents that are found within some plants. They can be in the flowers, they can be in the leaves, they can be in the roots. The moment it is exposed to oxygen it will start to disperse into the atmosphere. If you take the lid off a bottle of lavender essential oil and leave it on the counter you’re going to be smelling lavender because those constituents that are volatile will start rising up into the atmosphere. 

The most incredible thing to me about aromatherapy is it’s the only wellness modality that impacts both the psychological and the physiological body at the same time. The other interesting thing about aromatherapy is that each individual is unique. How you relate to lavender might not be the way that I relate to lavender. It may even have a different physiological reaction. When you inhale an aroma, this whole cascade of events occurs. It’s a very powerful modality.

Real versus Synthetic essential oils

Bianca: How can one know the difference between that which is real vs synthetic even if it says “natural”?

Dorene: A lot of that does come with experience and just smelling a lot of different oils. Rather than just smelling an oil, what I would really recommend is to focus on using all of your organoleptic senses. So you want to actually feel the oil. If an oil is a true essential oil, the majority of oils are going to feel light, are going to evaporate quickly and you won’t have a greasy slick feeling on your fingers.

The other thing is that you really just have to trust your supplier. [At the ACHS Apothecary Shoppe] We focus particularly on certified organic and pesticide-free essential oils because of the focus of using essential oils as a wellness medicine. You should also buy by the Latin name, that’s important.

Therapeutic uses

Bianca: Besides using Aromatherapy for perfumed scents (which the general public associates it with “smells nice”) what are some therapeutic usages one can utilize of a plant’s essence? Are there specific reasons one would use an essential oil?

Dorene: Essential oils, depending on the plant, have a wide range of therapeutic implications. I think one of the most common applications is definitely for inflammation and mild infections. There’s a lot of research out there to show the efficacy of using essential oils to combat pretty common bacteria and even some viruses.

They can also be used all around your house. Essential oils are great in the laundry to add to a wet cloth in your dryer instead of an artificially scented dryer sheet. You can even put essential oils into your washer, just a few drops. And you can use essential oils for cleaning. What I think is really exciting is now a lot of products are using real essential oils. There are a lot of cleaning products out there that are really well made.

I take at least 3 or 4 essential oil baths a week. I also use essential oils in the shower. When I shower in the morning, I’ll have a variety of essential oils that I choose from and usually choose something stimulating. For me, that’s something like peppermint, rosemary, or sage. I just sprinkle a little bit on the floor. Really, the therapeutic applications are extensive.

Note: At the 2021 IFEAT conference, Dorene spoke about research highlighting the clinical aromatherapeutic and biological potential of unique Australasian (Australia and New Zealand) essential oils to assist in the management of antimicrobial multi-drug resistance. You can review her video presentation and summaries of the research that she spoke about here: https://achs.edu/publications/ifeat-2021/

Distillation process

Retro apparatus for distillation of lavender oil in Provence France

Bianca: Can you take us through the course of HOW an essential oil comes to fruition? (Harvesting, distilling, etc)

Dorene: Most essential oils are steam distilled using a distillation unit. What you’re basically doing is breaking down those cells that contain the essential oils, and you want that to release into the steam. It doesn’t dissolve in the steam, the steam kind of captures and holds it and as it comes up out of the still and through what’s called the condenser where it cools down, it turns back into water and essential oil. Then it’s just a matter of getting the essential oil out of the water, and that’s usually done with a separator. 

There are a variety of ways, complete steam distillation, water distillation, but of course with plants like most things, you can never just generalize. Some plants do not relinquish their essential oils to steam. When you think about something like jasmine, or honeysuckle, these are plants that have to be extracted using a solvent. The skill of the distiller is knowing how each plant is really going to perform as far as extraction goes.


Bianca: Diffusers are sold everywhere now, is there a special way to diffuse an oil? What other ways can an essential oil be used? (Ingested? Topical application?…) IS there a way that they should NOT be used?

Dorene: I think diffusing is a wonderful way to administer essential oils because as you inhale an oil, papers have shown that inhalation is the fastest route for an essential oil to enter your bloodstream. You don’t need to put it on your body, you don’t need to take oils orally, you just need to inhale them and they’re going to end up in your bloodstream pretty quickly. Plus they’re going to have the added benefit of impacting your hypothalamus and have a psychological response as well.

I do think it’s important to not use direct heat because heat is going to impact the constituents in a negative way. It’s better to use a water-based diffuser. When you are in an enclosed room, it’s always ideal to have a window open if you’re diffusing. Even with a window open when you’re inhaling, after about 20 minutes you have reached maximum absorption so really you don’t want to be diffusing for hours on end and inhaling essential oils for hours on end. It’s also really important to not diffuse excessively around kids and animals. Like anything, you’ve got to be careful. 

You can download our free 30 page eBook on Essential Oil Safety Guidelines here.

Essential oils for travel

Bianca: Are there a set of oils that you never travel without? 

Dorene: When I travel I like to take peppermint, lavender, and cinnamon. You can inhale it and apply it topically. I usually travel with about 5 to 6 oils. Sometimes I’ll just take a bag of something to give away. I like giving away oils when I travel. When people ask me about essential oils, I always like to have something to give away and I can teach them at the same time how to use it. 

Closing thoughts

Dorene: From the time an essential oil comes from the harvest to the actual still to the bottle, it is a long journey and long supply chain. The majority of essential oil plants are harvested by women in very difficult and arduous conditions. I’ve traveled all over the world primarily with the focus of going to where these oils are grown and harvested.

What I really want viewers to appreciate is that behind every bottle of oil is a tremendous amount of hard work. Physical labor, farmers who don’t get paid much, harvesters. I open a bottle of oil and I’m always in awe and try and have a lot of presence of mind when I’m working with essential oils, just really thanking the plant and thanking the people who got it to us. It’s an amazing product.

Watch the full unabridged interview here. If this article has you eager to learn more about essential oils, you may be interested in our Certified Aromatherapy Safety Professional program. Learn more about it here.

Earn an Accredited Online Degree in Aromatherapy. Click here to learn more.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.

About American College of Healthcare Sciences

American College founded in 1978, is a fully online accredited institute of higher education specializing in holistic health. Based in Portland, OR; our goal is to make research-driven and science-based holistic health education taught by industry-leading experts accessible to anyone anywhere while still giving students a hands-on experiential learning experience like a traditional college and a strong sense of community, school pride and student bond.

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We believe education is the most powerful tool for changing an individual and the world around us.

When a person enrolls as ACHS, it is vitally important that they graduate with tools they need to forge their own holistic and sustainable missions, build up their communities confidently and changing the face of healthcare with knowledge.

5 Responses

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  2. Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.
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    1. Thanks for asking! At this time ACHS only accepts guest articles from our students and alumni. I’m glad you enjoyed this article!

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