Greener Healing: An Interview with Audre Gutierrez, Aromatherapist

Audre Gutierrez is a certified medicinal aromatherapist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and partner in Wisdom of the Earth Essential Oils. Although it may not be evident, the organic food movement and aromatherapy actually have a lot in common. Each strive for authenticity and place great importance on knowing your source, whether it’s the farmer who sells your milk or the farmer who grows the lavender that becomes essential oils. Our relationship with the environment doesn’t stop with the food we eat but encompasses the herbs and oils we use to heal too.

Gutierrez has been deepening her relationship with the natural and its therapeutic properties for over a decade, using essential oils not only to heal herself but to heal others, too. For her, the earth is a living breathing organism and to enter a deeper relationship with it is to enter a more authentic relationship with ourselves.

Gutierrez took some time to talk to me a few weeks ago about what brought her to the field of aromatherapy and as it turns out, the path that led this one-time vice president of human resources for a pharmaceutical company to a career in aromatherapy, in the end, led her to eat more sustainably, too. Below, a little taste of our conversation. Click on the audio player at left to hear the whole thing, subscribe to our podcast here, or download a pdf transcript.

I think it’s important that we define aromatherapy because it’s a word that’s been misused by Madison Avenue. It evokes an image of candles that you buy in a mall. So, for you, what is aromatherapy?

Well, to just put it on the table: many times when I walk into those stores in the mall, I have to turn around and walk right back out because so much of what is out there is synthetic or it’s been adulterated. And so I think to make sure that we're on the same page and really talking about the same kind of substances, I think that’s an excellent idea because there are two levels of misunderstanding out there. One is: what is pure? What are pure essential oils, or aromatherapy? And the other because of the name aromatherapy that is just about the aroma. And because I'm into medicinal aromatherapy, it’s hugely about the chemistry of these incredible plant medicines, and the aroma is very, very small part; it’s really the tip of the iceberg. So when I talk about medicinal aromatherapy, I'm really looking at therapeutic or medicinal-grade essences that are literally produced to use for health and wellbeing; not for candles, not for food flavorings, or substances to minimize the smell of soap products, that type of thing — so they are used to either camouflage or enhance a smell. We're really talking about the ancient, ancient art of plant and tree medicines, really the original medicine of the planet, to use to address common conditions like migraines, stomach, digestive problems, things like menopause, things like headaches or eyestrain.

I could just go on and on. It’s really anything that we're confronted with in our daily life, whether it’s a burn or a bruise or a cut, or more of a health condition. And so we're talking about plant and tree medicines used in their pure state. Our essences are not adulterated in any way, so nothing is added, and nothing is subtracted. It’s exactly as it comes from the plant or tree, usually produced via steam distillation. There are some exceptions to that, but the vast majority are done via steam distillation, which is just a lot like a huge pressure cooker that really pulls the essence, the lifeblood of the plant from the plant material that’s in the cook, in the pressure cooker, and produces a very pure, powerful, therapeutically-based essence or substance. So we're really talking about using the whole essence, not just the smell, but the chemistry as well. And actually the whole issue of touch is a huge part of healing as well; so the application, topically, of pure medicinal grade essential oils for health and well-being.