The Unstoppable & Unforgettable
Grande-Dame Jeanne Rose
for Scented Thymes  12/03

 by Kimberly Ayers

Just about every interview that has been done with Jeanne Rose has just about always included pretty much the same questions.  “How long have you been involved with herbs and aromatherapy?”  “How did you get started?”  “What is your favorite flower?”  What do you think of today’s aroma-herbal industry?”

It would seem, that the time has come for some new questions to be posed to the Grande Dame of Aroma-Herbalism!  Ms. Rose is, after all in my opinion one of the greatest treasures in the aroma-herbalism world, and one that I feel is overlooked  far too many times.   A pioneer, a visionary, and a woman who has overcome a major health illness only to emerge stronger than ever before, Ms. Rose works tirelessly to educate those who want to learn more about the benefits of aromatherapy and herbalism, and she has as well  single-handedly created the successful non-profit Aromatic Plant Project. 

The following interview was conducted via telephone with Ms. Rose who was in her beautiful San Francisco Victorian home, and also via email.  Now that 3,000 miles separates us, I miss not being able to pop over to her home, enjoy her garden, work in the herb room  and sit in amazement (usually holding my sides in hysterical laughter!) at her infamous anecdotes. 

If the reader is hearing about Ms. Rose for the first time in reading this article – please do yourself a favor and pick up the book that started it all, “Herbs and Things.”  The current copy I possess is dog-eared and the pages are falling out from constant reading and reference – and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.  

I have chosen to present Ms. Rose’s answers to my questions verbatim – as editing her answers in any way just doesn’t do Ms. Rose justice.  Personally, I am looking forward to many more exciting years of learning under Ms. Rose!

What is the biggest misconception about you that people have? 
JR:  I definitely hear the funniest things about me from people who do not know me, who have never taken my classes but seem to have a very strong opinion about me. One of the oddest that I ever heard was that I would not let people go to the bathroom during my classes. Duh!  Are they crazy? I have potty breaks, breaks, and lunch breaks, 10 minutes out of every hour and an hour lunch.

Another one is that I am mean – What I expect they really mean to say is that I do not suffer fools lightly and I do demand respect and attention in my classes. I have noticed that there is a general lack of attention and lack of respect for teachers in this country - the younger the person, the less they know, and the less respect they have for authority. In any case, I can tell you that I definitely have the best aromatherapy students in the country. If they stick with the class and complete the home study course, they learn, they are creative, they are not followers, they are leaders, and they are fabulous.

You probably have heard weirder things than I! What  are they?

What is your current pet peeve? 
JR:  People who refuse to read; who call me and ask me to define aromatherapy, essential oils and other basic terms and/or refuse to purchase a $15 book so that all  the information will be right there for them.  A dictionary — have people really forgotten the value of a good dictionary?

 My other current pet peeve is my total inability to ‘get’ a joke. I just don’t get it and so that makes it really easy for anybody to tease me.

You were among the first to see "Pear" essential oil.  How was that experience to actually witness the "birth" of a new essential oil?  Is this an oil that will be readily available?
JR:  Other than the distiller who separated the Pear essential oil from the distillate, I was the 2nd person to see it. Arthur Tucker who analyzed it said “Wow!”. Of course at $20,000 a pound, it simply is never going to be available. If only US citizens respected Agriculture, then we would stop bulldozing fields of Pear orchards, we could develop a way to more easily extract the essence from the Bartlett pear peel, we would have it available and it would make the most fabulous and fragrant skin care products.  I have let hundreds of my students smell this yummy oil. Many don’t believe that it is real.

Your book, “375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols” is such a great addition to any aromatherapy library.  Do you have any additional new books that you can tell us about? 
JR:  I have since written “Lavender, Lavender” and “Distillation-A How-To Booklet”. I have “100 Aroma/Herbal Treatments” coming in the spring. But honestly, big publishers are NOT flocking to my door. I could be doing so much more.

Your anecdotes are legendary, extremely honest and full of spunk.  Any chance that you'd consider putting together a book of all your anecdotes weaved with the spiritual/ritual uses of herbs and oils?
JR: This sounds like a great book to write, sort of like a biography but with all that therapeutic information intertwined. Sure wish there was a publisher that wanted me to write it and would give a hefty advance. I probably have forgotten more anecdotes than I remember. It would be fun to travel around and find  people who remember them. I wish that I had written them down as they happened. Who would know~! I also notice that I am editing out of my memoirs the more lurid details of my life. I would like to write “Essays on Herbs and Aromatics” ... Umm! maybe that could be a title. Some serious info and then a tacky tale or two and an herbal receipe attached. Maybe we could call it “Tomato Tales”.

As THE person who coined the term "hydrosol" you must be thrilled at how the use of hydrosols is gaining in popularity & consumer awareness.  What do you see as the next level for hydrosols in the next few years?
JR: Yes, I am pleased that after 13 years discussing and 10 years conducting distillation workshops and 9 years of the Aromatic News reporting on the use of hydrosols that there is actually some awareness. I am not so happy that unscrupulous grower/distillers are pretty much selling water as hydrosol. Just because there is some plant material in the still it does not mean that the distillate is hydrosol. Hydrosol is only the first 25-50% of the watery distillate, it is strongly flavored, strongly scented and has a pH of less than 5. If it looks like water, tastes like water, smells like water and has a pH of 7 -IT IS WATER. 

I HOPE that in the next few years there will be some real standard for hydrosol - that growers will grow the best plants, that distillers will be honorable, that consumers will be knowledgeable and that reporters will report the true facts. [I must be mad if I expect all the above!]

I wish that people would really use these products, not just to spray on their face, but to use in the bath for themselves, for their family, for their health and well-being, for therapy. Heck, 99% of the US still doesn’t even know what aromatherapy is - they can hardly pronounce the word.

What is the current progress of the Aromatic Plant Project?  If someone were to want to use their land to grow plant material for the A.P.P., how would they get involved?
JR: People do not grow for the APP, they grow for themselves – the APP is an educational resource.  We are out there educating, talking and teaching. Growers just need to sign up and pay their membership.  With that membership they get all the hands on and verbal help that they need. There is a membership form on the internet and in “The Aromatic News”. People do not grow for the APP - we are an educational resource. People grow for themselves, take their product to a distiller or I teach them to distill it themselves. Right now the hardest part is the marketing. There are 1 or 2 companies that are successfully marketing the hydrosols. I hope that will change and that more consumers  with desire the quality product, that more distillers  will distill a  quality product, which will encourage more farmers to grow a quality product. That will suit one of the missions of the Aromatic Plant Project which is to protect land and keep it as farm  land. Our mission statement  is “Cultivating  Today for a Fragrant Tomorrow.)

The internet has become a huge melting pot for people selling aromatherapy products and for obtaining aromatherapy "certification."  How do you feel this will affect the aromatherapy industry, as well as teachers such as yourself who really do have the ability to certify students?
JR: What a load of junk is on the internet. I still find the best aromatic products to be by mail-order. Internet Certification is nothing. I think that students know what is good education and what is just a front to sell products. At some point I will have to retire.  Who is going to travel as I do to teach? And even now my sponsors sometimes have a difficult time getting people to sign up for classes as you well know from the problems we have had in Arial.

Would you ever consider putting out a bi-monthly or quarterly "ezine" online?
JR:  I don't know what you are talking about. What is an ezine?

What do you like/dislike the most about today's aromatherapy products compared to the products of 5 years ago, or even 20 years ago?
JR: Twenty years ago, I had just stopped making products for my company, New Age Creations (started in 1967).  Many products were available that I felt were truly natural. With the advent of more technology; ‘natural’ ingredients are being divided, separated, isolated, and the components are being used in products. This, as far as I am concerned, is no longer natural. There are tons of petroleum-based products that are touted as ‘natural’. Most of what we use, we don’t need. The most important ingredient skin care is good soap. A nice clean pure simple soap. I used to like all those colored soaps with stuff in them -the older I get the more I am attracted to simple pure white soap with a clean odor that is made from vegetable oil (coconut and olive) and lye and simply scented with a really pure essential oil for the scent and the therapy.

When soap is made correctly this is the perfect ingredient. I use that same simple soap as a shampoo. I also use really simple things like vegetable oil (shea butter and olive oil) directly as a moisturizer. I still make my own bath salts and also use Moor mud baths. KIS is my motto [keep it simple].  Those skin care regimes that use greasy or oily bases as skin cleansers just don’t work. My only concession to modern stuff is the occasional conditioner after shampoo. But I don’t dye or alter my hair and thankfully it is still very dark with a simple white streak as a concession to my 66 years. It is all that Rosemary Shampoo that  I have used that keeps my hair dark and healthy. 

I think we have a plethora of skin care/aromatherapy products that are unnecessary and redundant.

Also, the 2nd most important beauty ritual is THE BATH. Do you know that there are some homes that are no longer even built with a bathtub?

In your opinion, what do you feel is the biggest mistake that consumers make when buying aromatherapy products or in selecting aromatherapy certification courses?
JR: Buying too much and not reading the label. If you can't pronounce the words or understand them they are probably synthetic.

            Regarding aromatherapy certification courses, IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE IT PROBABLY IS.   If it costs more than $325 a weekend it is too much.  If the home-study course costs more than 3 figures and you get less than 400 pages, or the words are font size 16 with lots of headers, it is too much money for not enough information.

Would you still consider putting out a smaller aromatherapy course?

What do you most enjoy doing at this point in your life?

What do you miss the most? 

Recently, your beloved dog Madame Wolfie, passed away.  If it's not too much to ask, how have you dealt with healing your grief?
JR: Madame Wolfen and Mr. Sumo, Sumo and Wolfie, I had altogether for over 18 years. Sumo got deaf, then lost his ability to climb stairs and we put him to sleep in Equinox 2000, Wolfie was really lonely and began to howl. She made me start walking her and she and I walked in the park for a mile every day for the rest of her life. Like all Siberian Huskies she spoke with howls, howling, mouth sounds and smiles. One day that stopped. She had gone deaf but pretended she could still hear. The she developed a tumor over the area where she had been hit by a car years earlier. It did not seem to bother her so we just left it alone. At the beginning of this year, she seemed fragile and slow. Literally, overnight she went from capable to incapable of going down the back stairs to relieve herself. 

We carried her down the stairs.  Wolfie never liked to be picked up, she always wanted to walk on her own. That became the day. We put her in the car and Amber and I took her to the park and we walked her one final time in the park, so she could smell things. Then we took her to the vet. Even the vet cried. Both those dogs were such good creatures,. When Wolfie left, I suddenly realized I was alone in the house. Now this was the first time in my life that I had lived totally alone- there were no parents, no children, no roommates, no tenants and no pets. Whew! I woke up in the night and there was no breathing. Yes, I was emotional about these deaths because after all Sumo had lived for over 15.5 years and Wolfie over 16 years. That is a long time for big dogs. But then one morning a few weeks after we scattered Wolfie ashes in the yard, I could not raise my arms above my shoulders, they had frozen in their sockets. It is now 9 months later and I am beginning to get motion back, every time I walk in the park, I think of that wonderful black and white, blue-eyed dog and cry. Maybe my physical problem was an external manifestation of the emotional pain that I was not acknowledging. I don’t know.

Now I cry at dog commercials, I cry when I read about a gallant team of huskies in a book, smiling dogs are guaranteed to make me shed tears. I loved those dogs, I really loved Wolfie. I had those dogs in my home for more years than I had my children and they were nicer too. I don’t know yet how to heal totally but I am working on it.

Your aromatherapy and herbal intensives are fabulous and well worth the educational investment.  If someone wanted to sponsor an intensive or distillation workshop, how would they go about setting it up?

Since women are the ones that usually sponsor me, the hardest thing for them to do is to sign the agreement. Signed agreements seem to terrify women.  Also, people like to think that they appreciate education but when it comes right down to it, that does not seem to be the case.

Keeping in mind that everything that you do, what helps you to stay so focused?

Remember that I have never worked for anyone, therefore, I have no retirement plan, Social Security gives me  just about enough to pay my house and car insurance and have 1 martini.

Also, I think that education is the cure for many problems. I wish I had a lifetime grant to teach, so that I could teach and not have to charge for it. My work is not done - there is still so much to do.

Which 3-5 essential oils would you recommend for those who suffer from stress and anxiety due to their fears and concerns with today's world situation? 
JR: The same that I would use for any Stress situation.   A good Lavender, maybe from Bulgaria or Tasmania, Bergamot, Spearmint to make you smile, Rosemary Verbenone for gentle stimulation, loving Ylang-Ylang, hydrosol of Lavender and infused Calendula oil.

 Any thoughts on how you can't go anywhere without running into some sort of "aromatherapy" products?  i.e., dishwashing soap, car fresheners, laundry detergent, carpet freshener, hair care, hair color, etc.

JR:  Well, it certainly is not aromatherapy, it is what the Fragrance Foundation calls aroma-chology.  Aromatherapy is for human health and well-being, aroma-chology is for the pocketbook of business.  All of these synthetic products are not doing the human condition any good, nor is it good for the environment.

Describe what the ultimate pampering experience would be for you.
JR:  1973.  A week at Rancho La Puerta in 1973 when they had the really fabulous herbal wraps, slimming good organic food and a somewhat primitive environment.  Now it is as sophisticated and elegant and modern as are all the others.  Still, I did teach them about distillation and they are now distilling and using their own Rosemary for the wraps and in the SPA.  Okay, send me there for a week.  No TV, no phones and lots of reading and body conditioning.  Maybe I will find my waistline again.  I lost it a couple of years ago and can’t find it anymore.

Herbal baths, herbal wraps, pedicures, manicures, lots of weight training, body conditioning, reading, long comfortable night-time sleeps, massage, mud baths, Aztec inhalations, simple food, and anything else that comes to mind.  Umm! yes, send me to a SPA.

There has been a lot going on with the Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies that includes some pretty exciting recent accreditations.  Could you tell us more about it?

Both the Aromatherapy Studies Course and The Herbal Studies Course have been accredited for some time.  These distance-learning classes are accepted by the California Board of Registered Nurses for CE, by the Texas Massage Board, by ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals), and considered by the NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork).  There are other Certifications as well.  These are all very important and Nurses and Body workers can get Continuing Education credits and units by taking my home-study courses and in-person classes.  Yes, it is exciting!  

With the internet, home-based and small aromatherapy companies are popping up constantly overnight.  In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake that women make when they are trying to start up their own AT and/or natural body care company?
JR:  Trying to reinvent the wheel, not doing the homework to first find out what is already out there.  They should also take a basic business class to find out how to do business, how to keep accounts, they also must remember to include in their pricing structure the cost of producing the product – that includes gas, electric, water.  Many women who work at home under-price their product because they neglect these simple costs – so when they move out of the home and try to continue making their product they lose money.  Think ahead.  In my blending classes I give a simple mathematical exercise to the class because women fear mathematics – yet you have to know how to adjust measurements from ounces to pounds from grams to ounces, etc. to make consistent products.

What's next for Jeanne Rose?

JR:  I haven’t a notion – what do you think?

Please visit Jeanne Rose on the web at or at the Aromatic Plant Project website for updates on Jeanne’s work, her calendar of events, or to order any of her fabulous books!

Kimberly Ayers  continues to train under Ms. Rose in all things aroma-herbal.  She is a freelance writer, an artist and is the editor for the Scented Thymes online ezine. (  Kimberly currently resides in Atlanta with her husband and two children.

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