A Conversation with the The Aromatherapist
Hi, I’m Lisa, the on-staff Aromatherapist at The Big Carrot Danforth Community Market. Below is an interview with the lovely Bonita and Tatjana Barth, mom and daughter owners of The Aromatherapist, a high-quality line of essential oils and hydrosols that we carry.
How long have you been supplying to The Big Carrot?
Bonita: Since 1997!!
When did you get interested in natural healing and aromatherapy and why? How did the company start?
Bonita: I fell in love with plants and plant medicine in my early twenties and trained as an herbalist in the late seventies. In the early 90’s, newly landed in the quiet green-ness of Guelph, with a big herb garden and two little girls, I decided I wanted to use my herbal background to make natural skincare products. At that time I wasn’t able to find essential oils in Canada that I was interested in working with, so my business aim very quickly switched to finding a source of pure, organic, high quality essential oils.
Tell us about yourselves…
Bonita: Along with discovering this beautiful world of oils, I’ve spent the past 30 years learning as much as I could about them. I’ve been trained in the composition of essential oils, their internal and external uses, as well as how to work with them in natural skincare, organic perfumery and natural pharmacy.
Tatjana: I was so lucky to grow up around the business – I grew up in the best smelling house on the block, we were famous in the neighbourhood for ‘that Barth smell’! I went off to University and studied International Development, not really knowing where that might lead me, just knowing that my passion was for this big wide world of ours; both ecologically and culturally. I was lucky enough to spend a few years traveling after my studies, before landing back in Guelph and joining The Aromatherapist once again, as an adult this time, with my own passions and vision. I love how this business connects us and our customers with nature from every corner of the planet! Each plant has an amazing ethnobotanical story that connects it with the land, and the people it comes from. We connect with customers almost daily who have been truly helped by our products, and that’s just the most wonderful feeling.
How do you source ethically produced essential oils?
Our oils are sourced directly from the farmers & distillers who produce them, and we require that they provide a lot of information about the plant and its cultivation. We pass that information onto our consumers; the botanical name, part of the plant that’s being harvested, how it’s being harvested, the country it’s coming from. This information makes it possible for us to make informed decisions, and sometimes it does make it necessary for us to stop carrying an oil. Rosewood would be an example of this, it’s an oil that we loved, that became impossible to source ethically. Working with Eco-Cert EU brings transparency to the information being provided.
What is the connection with Germany and your company?
Our oils are bottled and labeled in Germany under the certification of Ecocert EU.
What sets your products apart from others?
Bonita: Hands down the aroma!! Every product in our line is chosen for quality; rather than profit margin or even popularity. There is so much variance not only in the quality and purity of essential oils available to consumers, but also in the oils themselves, the chemotypes, country of origin, part of plant; there are a plethora of factors to be considered for every single plant. With our line, I’ve used my education and experience to select the oils I believe will help people the most. I’ve tried to make the best options, the safest options and the most ecologically responsible options available to the consumer. Making those choices also means educating consumers about what we’re selling them and how they can use it in their lives. The aim of this business from the very beginning has been a passion for high quality essential oils and bringing them to consumers. I wanted to make the most beautiful oils, the most interesting oils and in many cases the oils people would never experience otherwise, available to everyone.
Tatjana: We often say to customers who are feeling bamboozled by the options in the Aromatherapy aisle, “Your nose knows”. And they come back to us, saying “Yah, you were right, I compared and I could tell”. At the same time, there’s a lot of crafty deception in the essential oil marketplace, so being a business that consumers can easily communicate with and trust is very important to us. We love making it easy and, most importantly, fun for people to bring essential oils into their daily lives. We run DIY Workshops and Courses, and we’re always excited to share tips and recipes with customers who reach out.
What is the power of essential oils?
There are so, so many! There are the very tangible powers of healing, which are pretty miraculous to see first hand. Using Lavender, Helichrysum and Blue Tansy on a sunburn for example, you literally watch the skin heal. But probably the most exciting power, is the psychological. Watching someone smell Sandalwood and seeing in their face the effect that it’s had on their psyche; that’s flower power! There is so much stress, anxiety and fear in our daily lives, to have something as effective and accessible as natural aroma to ease those feelings is truly a superpower of nature.
Do you think natural healing is only for the privileged among us?
The bigger picture of natural healing is really about prevention, a lifestyle that incorporates an arsenal of highly effective methods to avoid becoming seriously ill. We can pass these habits on to our children. Treating severe illness naturally can be limited by means, since in many cases our insurance providers only support allopathic models, but I don’t think supporting our health naturally is more expensive than supporting it with pharmaceuticals. A trip to the drug store is easily as expensive as a trip to the natural health store.
How can we make an impact in the world with our work in the natural health and wellness field?
If we look at the timeline of human’s consumption of pharmaceuticals and synthetic aromas and ingredients, we’ve only had these materials in our food chain for a little over 100 years, and we’re already seeing how our bodies and our planet cannot digest them. On the other hand, human beings have coevolved with plants over the past few million years; we’ve been eating them, drinking them, inhaling them. Our bodies recognize the materials found in plants and are able to digest them, as is our planet. By encouraging and helping people to move away from synthetics, back to natural options, we believe we can play a small part in righting the imbalance that’s plaguing our planet.
What is your favourite oil?
Bonita: Sandalwood and Neroli, at this moment!
Tatjana: My answer to this is changing all the time! Right now, I’m loving Vetiver. My perfume right now is a blend of Vetiver, Jasmine Sambac and Cardamom and it is just heavenly.
Why do some herbalists consider essential oils to be too potent and dangerous for use?
The two methods are different. Herbs are safer and simpler to ingest than essential oils, especially in terms of a consumer understanding of what’s appropriate to ingest and what isn’t. Essential oils are much more available to us through the limbic system than herbs are, psychologically they are infinitely more effective. Essential oils and herbal preparations aren’t interchangeable, they don’t contain identical properties of the plant. The volatile components of the plant are most effectively captured in the essential oil and it’s true, this makes essential oils much more potent. I don’t believe it’s a matter of choosing one form over the other, it’s about knowing what type of healing your body needs from the plant and how best to get it. The herb, the floral water and the essential oil work together beautifully to give us what we need.
What is it about our sense of smell that is so special?
Smell is the most powerful of the five senses. Our sense of smell is connected to our prehistoric brain; it overrides logic and has a direct effect on our physiology. Natural aromas are a passageway, a short cut, to being present in the moment. You can use the power of smell to positively affect not only yourself, but the people around you.
If you would like to learn more about the essential oils we carry at The Big Carrot Danforth Community Market please book a consultative Aromatherapy tour with me in our Body Care Department. I love talking about essential oils and the practical applications of them, especially how they can help with stress, difficult emotions, and increasing joy in life.
Lisa Smolkin, Resident Aromatherapist, The Big Carrot Community Market