Forest Bathing Ground Photo

What is the Evolutionary Basis of Aromatherapy?

MONQ is based on evolutionary biology.


Basic Principles of Aromatherapy

Let’s start with a reasonable proposition and extrapolate from there:

All living organisms thrive in environments as close as possible to those in which their ancestors evolved.

For humans, this environment was the forest or the savanna, an environment overflowing with natural aromatic compounds.

Plants grow by photosynthesis, but not all of the energy produced goes into making new plant material. Some of the energy goes into producing what are called Secondary Metabolites, and these are, to a large extent the fragrances you smell in the woods, and the ingredients in both ancient and modern aromatherapy. Many of these secondary metabolites are called terpenes.

Since our bodies evolved in environments which were awash with these secondary metabolites, it makes sense from an energetic perspective for our bodies to avoid the metabolic costs associated with the production of them. Therefore, just as is the situation with essential amino acids and vitamins (some of which are derived from terpenes), our bodies are unable to produce them, and one could consider that many of them are essential for our normal health and well-being. Yet by virtue of modern development, these compounds are dramatically absent from our environment. This leads to a disequilibrium and a non-homeostatic relationship between people and their habitat.

Basically, both for the plant that produces them, and for most mammals that breathe them,  terpenes are found to protect against stress. More broadly, these aromatic compounds have been proven to relieve anxiety, enhance mood, lower blood pressure and improve cognitive performance. One could say that we are in a chronic state of “Terpene Deficiency” and that this is part of what leads to “Urban Anxiety.”


Evolutionarily, the DNA in all animals changes over time, and this allows for different metabolic pathways to be active. However, the time required for meaningful changes to occur is measured in hundreds of thousands of years, known as ‘evolutionary time’ rather than hundreds of years. And yet over the course of the last couple hundred years there has been tremendous industrialization, and this has led to tremendous changes in the quality of the air we breathe.  And this diminution in quality is not merely the pollution, but possibly more importantly is the lack of the naturally occurring aromatic compounds found in our ancestral home.

Individual Components: Terpenes and Essential Oils

David O. Kennedy, in Herbal Extracts and Phytochemicals: Plant Secondary Metabolites and the Enhancement of Human Brain Function, states that a number of terpenes from a variety of natural herbs can provide a variety of beneficial functions. Studies have shown that both individual terpenes as well as essential oils, which could be considered a blend of terpenes, provide a variety of beneficial health effects. Again, evolutionarily, we grew up with these plant aromatics, and this is a basis for the effectiveness of aromatherapy!


When considering the use of either individual ingredient or multiple ingredient aromatherapy, one should look at the synergistic effects of essential oils. Consistent with the benefits of forest bathing, wherein you are benefiting from the experience of terpenes and other secondary metabolites from hundreds of different plant species as they pass by your olfactory bulb at the bridge of your nose, one should consider using aromatic compounds which are derived from a group of plants, as opposed to one single plant.  As addressed by Rhiannon Harris in Provence, France, in a paper entitled Synergism in the essential oil world “The synergistic rationale for using combination products looks to producing a dynamic product that has multiple modes of action, respecting the principle that the action of the combined product is greater than the sum total of known and unknown chemical components.”

A Holistic Approach: Forest Bathing

Forest bathing, supported by an increasingly clear scientific background since 1982, encompasses the concept of spending time in wooded areas and ‘bathing’ all the senses in the experience of being in the forest.  There are a tremendous number of benefits being described, including lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones such as cortisol, and in general a significantly increased sense of well-being and ability to withstand various stresses. These are, to a large extent, attributed to phytoncides, or secondary metabolites, which include the class of compounds called terpenes.

As written by Bum Jin Park, et. al., in The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan “From the perspective of physiological anthropology, human beings have lived in the natural environment for most of the 5 million years of their existence. Therefore, their physiological functions are most suited to natural settings [29]. This is the reason why the natural environment can enhance relaxation.” He continues “While subjects viewed forest landscapes or walked around forest environments, their pulse rate, blood pressure, and cortisol concentration decreased.”

While acknowledging that the beneficial effects of forest bathing can be attributed to more than the sense of smell, it seems as if the olfactory system is largely involved.  α-pinene is a commonly occurring terpene found in a number of plants, including pine forests.  “Collectively, these results indicate that a weak smell of α-pinene induces a relaxed physiological state…” and “blood pressure started to decrease after 20 s from the commencement of inhalation [of limonene].”

When further analyzing whether these effects occur largely from the olfactory system (the sense of smell), it is interesting to note that Yuko Tsunetsugu, goes on to state in Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan:

“The results of various studies on other scents, such as lavender, lemon, valerian, and others, showed considerable agreement with respect to the fact that the effectiveness of … lowering blood pressure [34] … disappeared in anosmic mice or rats, thus indicating the mediation of the olfactory system in the whole process.” and “it is likely that phytoncides exert their effects via the olfactory processing pathway, and not via the blood-borne route.”

Qing Li, by some considered the father of Shinrin Yoku, has published many papers discussing his findings.  One such paper entitled Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function concludes: “Forest bathing trips were found to significantly decrease urine adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations in both male and female subjects, while a city tourist visit had no effect.” This diminution of adrenaline concentrations is a clear indication of lower stress while experiencing Forest Bathing.

Conclusion about MONQ Aromatherapy

MONQ concludes from these various statements that the tremendously beneficial physiological effects of forest bathing, including lowering of blood pressure, pulse rate and the stress hormone cortisol are to a significant extent due to merely smelling the wide ranging terpenes and other phytoncides, secondary metabolites, which are emitted by the plants in the forest.

There are synergistic effects between various substances found in MONQ, and one clear inference you should take from this is that you cannot make conclusions on the action of MONQ as a whole based upon the actions of individual components.  More specifically, MONQ has not been tested with respect to any of the alleged benefits that are described in this article.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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