French Aromatherapy: The Concept of Terrain and “Oil Mapping”

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on February 7, 2016

the human Terrain: a holistic approach to aromatherapy

Introduction to French Aromatherapy

So one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned so far as I’ve started my coursework for the French Aromatherapy certification is the concept of Terrain.   In French medicine, Terrain refers to the physical, mental, social, and environmental (and some might argue spiritual) aspects of a person’s lifestyle that can contribute to the development of disease.  This seemingly contradicts the Germ Theory of disease but in fact was born around the same time.  You’ve probably heard of Louis Pasteur, right? He’s the guy who invented pasteurization and pretty much revolutionized the food industry.  He’s also credited as the father of the Germ Theory (although some sources point out that much of his work was plagiarized from Antoine Béchamp) and his experiments that “proved” germs cause disease helped cement this theory as the foundation of modern medicine.  However, a contemporary of Louis Pasteur’s, French physiologist Claude Bernard’s research on biological terrain is often overlooked today.  Bernard is considered the father of Experimental medicine and helped standardize medical experiments through the use of the scientific method.  However, he argued that Pasteur’s assertions that germs “cause” disease was erroneous and that there were too many other variables that could have explained his results.  Bernard was so sure of this that he was quoted as saying “the terrain is everything, the germ is nothing” before downing a glass of water filled with cholera in front of a group of his fellow physicians and scientists.  He argued instead that germs cause disease in unhealthy terrains.

A modern day French physician, Gérard Guéniot, is a practitioner of naturopathic medicine who trusts in the “healing power of nature” when helping his patients.  He recognizes that each individual is unique and there will not be one solution that will “cure” disease symptoms in every patient.  According to Guéniot:

“…terrain is a personal history. It is not simply our parents that gave us our terrain, but it is our story, everything that happened to us in this life and perhaps in other lives. It is what we bring as personal baggage, our memory.”

The current climate seems to be recognizing the failure of modern medicine.  A quick google search reveals dozens of alternative medicine models, including Acupuncture, Aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Chiropractic, Feng Shui, Herbalism, Kineseology, Massage, Reiki, and Yoga to name a few.  So perhaps it is time that we rethink the paradigm of “one-disease-one-drug” that has dominated modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, and start thinking in terms of terrain.


Why an essential oil might work for one person and not another

We’ve all got that friend who posts on Facebook swearing that Lavender oil helped her baby sleep through the night at 8 weeks old.  Maybe you’ve tried everything under the sun to help your baby sleep longer than 2 hours for months so in your “Mombie” state you excitedly pick up a bottle of Lavender oil from the supermarket hoping that finally this will be the thing that allows you to get a full night’s sleep.  Only to discover that it wasn’t the magic wand you hoped it would be and your baby still woke up 4 times last night… Tired, frustrated, and discouraged you declare that essential oils are some hyped up fad that will be over and done with next week.

But here’s the thing.  Just like pharmaceuticals, beauty products, or diets, essential oils may not work the same way for every person.  In addition to our unique terrain which accounts for our personal differences, plants also contain their own unique physical attributes.  Essential oils are volatile compounds, often referred to as the “life force” of the plants they are distilled from.  Each oil contains multiple chemical constituents that give the plant it’s signature fragrance, help attract pollinators, help protect the plant from pests and diseases, or even help keep competing plants from growing within it’s area.  Not only do these key constituents vary from plant to plant, they can also be affected by the individual species of plant, the location in which the plant was grown, the season of the year or time of day the plant was harvested, and environmental stressors like drought or a rainy season.  In addition, the method of distillation can impact the potency of these chemical compounds that you get in your little neatly packaged bottle.  That’s why choosing an essential oil company that is transparent in their plant sources and methods of distillation is so important and a big part of why I chose Young Living (read more about their Seed to Seal guarantee)!

Since there are so many chemical constituents in each plant that means that herbals and natural products (like essential oils) also contain a multitude of chemical compounds.  There is no standardized herbal medicine because multiple constituents can affect multiple systems of the body.  Our individual response is impacted by our own terrain (e.g., our evolutionary and ancestral heritage, personal diet and lifestyle, other pharmaceuticals we may be taking, our environment, etc.).  Thus, what works wonders for our best friend or neighbor may not work as well for us.  That’s why working with an experienced aromatherapist and trying multiple solutions is your best bet for finding the best natural products to support your areas of concern is so important!

personalized oil map

Oil Mapping

I have recently been introduced to a technique from a leader in my group that motivates and inspires me, Jen O’Sullivan (she also wrote the book The Essential Oil Truth, which you should totally check out), called Oil Mapping. Oil Mapping is essentially a detailed suggestion of essential oils, and sometimes other natural products or solutions, to help an individual support their body’s systems and address their specific areas of concern. These suggestions may be aromatic, ingestible, topical, or all three.

Part of my certification process involves case studies so here’s where you, my lovely readers, come in.  If you have a particular area(s) of concern for your or a family member that you would like help finding natural solutions to support then send an email to me at (be sure to put “Oil Map” in the subject so I know what it is about) and I’ll send you a customized Oil Map with various solutions to help support your area(s) of concern.  You can include 1, or as many as 3, areas of concern.  Please be as detailed as possible in your description of the specific areas of concern and any other lifestyle variables of note (I may email you back for more information if necessary).  I’ll be working closely with 12 people who are willing to try out some of the recommendations I make to use as my case studies (don’t worry, your identity and any identifying information will be disguised to protect your privacy).

I’m so excited about this new adventure and glad to find new ways to help educate others on ways they can live a more natural lifestyle! Thank you for joining me on my adventure! Questions or comments? Please share them below!


East-West School of Aromatic StudiesFrench Aromatherapy certification course materials

The Lost History of Medicine

Biological Terrain Analysis: Mapping Your Inner Health


These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products and techniques mentioned here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help. Consult with the health authorities of your choice for treatment.

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