Dr. Christoph Streicher, Founder and President
Dr. Streicher became aware that most essential oils on the market are in some way denatured. He envisioned Amrita to be a trustworthy source of nature's pure aromatherapy essential oils. Dr. Streicher upholds this vision each time he sources an essential oil.
Interview with Christoph Streicher
Aromatherapy products are so popular these days that you can find them on the shelves of your corner drugstore. But chances are, the oil that's labeled "Lavender" and smells like Lavender may not come from the Lavender plant at all. And it may not even be therapeutic. "Oils need to be looked at very carefully to see if they are good enough for aromatherapy," says Dr. Christoph Streicher, founder and president of Amrita Aromatherapy, headquartered in Fairfield , Iowa.
For aromatherapy to be truly therapeutic, says Christoph, the oils must be free of unnatural ingredients. Amrita prides itself in using only pure essential oils that have not been industrially processed or chemically manipulated, which is the case with many essential oils on the market today.
Christoph, a tall, slim German with a boyish look and a sparkle in his eyes, sits with me in the company's conference room and recounts how he became involved in the business of aromatherapy.
"You know, when you do a Ph.D. dissertation it takes a long time. So an old friend of mine in Germany just started an aromatherapy business and he suggested I do the same thing here in the U.S." This friend introduced him to Jacques Paltz, a French aromatherapy expert, who became his mentor.
"It was very important to be connected to an existing, well-established tradition," Christoph says. For thousands of years, the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians had relied on the natural fragrances of plants. The tradition was revived in the 1920s in France, when a chemist started to study essential oils and found them to have medicinal properties.
"I was exposed to high quality essential oils right from the beginning," says Christoph. He started to research sources, and within five years he had contacts all over the world. With degrees in biochemistry and physiology in hand, this seemed to be the right thing to do. Now, 11 years later, Amrita Aromatherapy has 18 employees and regular customers throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Far East.
"Oils distilled from organic and wild-crafted plants are always our first choice," says Christoph, who feels these herbs are healthier and produce more potent oils. But they are not always easy to find. In some countries organic certification is not available. When he cannot find certified products, Christoph buys from producers who farm and distill in accord with ecologically ethical standards. But first he carefully screens these products and accepts only the highest quality. To test his oils he uses a special technology that most companies do not have.
"The gas-chromatograph is a machine that analyzes all the different components of an essential oil," he explains. "We look for chemicals that ought to be there naturally--made by the plant--and we also look for adulterants." Essential oils can be modified in many ways--peroxidized, decolorized, denatured, reconstituted, or mixed with other chemical compounds. Gas chromatography can determine whether the oils contain any of these additives. "We inject a very small quantity of essential oil that goes into this narrow tube," Christoph says, as he demonstrates how the instrument works.
"The reason essential oils are so often adulterated is that most of them are produced for the flavor and fragrance industry," says Christoph. "They flavor canned food with garlic and celery oil instead of the herbs themselves. Ginger soda is flavored with Ginger essential oil, other sodas with Orange oil and Lime oil. And that industry doesn't need a natural product." Only pure, unadulterated botanical oils have real therapeutic effects, so testing is very important. Since very few essential oil companies do this kind of testing, Amrita makes some of the best aromatherapy products that can be found anywhere in the world.
Christoph has personally tested all the company's 140 essential oils this way. The essential oils come from all over the world - Rose oil from Bulgaria, Lavender from France, Orange from the West Indies, and Ginger from India. "We have a few oils that other companies just can't find, so they buy these from us," he says.
They also produce 20 blends that Christoph has invented. Over the years he has developed a deep knowledge of the therapeutic effects of individual oils and started to examine which of these oils complement each other.
"A blend can be more potent than the individual oil," Christoph explains. "You bring the elements together that support each other. They also have to be compatible on the level of the smell, and it takes a long time to get a blend right. In every step, there is pre-existing knowledge, intuition, and also a very well-trained nose."
Christoph takes me to the production room, which is filled with a sweet and heavy odor. This is where the oils are bottled, labeled, and packed.
First, he lets me smell Pure Joy, a sweet, floral scent that's a popular blend. Next he offers a whiff of a medicinal blend--it's called Headache Reliever. Then I sniff a calming citrus oil that goes by the name Mandarine Sunset. Christoph puts another citrus smell under my nose called Citrus Bliss. Finally, I take a whiff of another one that smells very unusual, like nothing else I have ever known, labeled Woman's Balance.
"I'm working on a new blend for women. Would you like to try that, too?" Christoph asks. He leads me into his office to smell the sample, but I've lost my ability to distinguish one from another. He says he cannot smell more than five at a time either.
In addition to essential oils and blends, Amrita Aromatherapy also manufactures massage oils, perfumes, carrier oils, and skin care products.
To train customers and health practitioners, Amrita established a Foundation for Aromatherapy Research and Education. "We have trained over 300 people so far," says Christoph. These courses keep retailers and their customers up to date about the latest research in aromatherapy.
From the start, Dr. Christoph Streicher has taken the quality of his products very seriously, making sure that these subtle gifts from nature are not lost, diluted, or altered in processing. The scents that have enveloped me for the past few hours accompany me all the way home. I light the candle in my aroma lamp and put in a few drops of oil. It's heavenly.
Written by Livia Horvath, published in The Iowa Source, February, 2001