DKNY founder Donna Karan cares about aromatherapy. At least, she cares enough about the possible healing properties of alternative medicine to donate $850,000 to the Beth Israel Medical Center to conduct a yearlong experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods.

According to the Oct. 30 New York Times article, “In One Section of Beth Israel Hospital, Some Patients Are Saying ‘Om,’ Not ‘Ah,'” the experiment, which will be overseen by ultimate yogi Rodney Yee, will test the notion that “yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Karan, who reportedly maintains a daily yoga practice herself, sites her commitment to integrative medicine as the result of the “narrowly limited treatment of her husband, a sculptor, and of Lynn Kohlman, a photographer, model and DKNY fashion director who died of brain and breast cancer in September.”

“Over 80% of cancer patients use  & some form of complementary or alternative therapies,” said Barrie Cassileth, PhD, chief of the Integrative Medicine Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in a 2004 article posted on the American Cancer Society Web site.

Although they do not take the place of Western medicine, Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) is being used as a supplement more and more frequently by oncology patients. A cumulative term for several holistic health modalities, CAM includes herbal medicine, homeopathy and aromatherapy, which all prioritize the unique experience of the individual in the treatment of symptoms.

Colleges like the Australasian College of Health Sciences in Portland, Oregon, have experienced a consistent increase in enrollment over the past few years, specifically among heath care workers who want continuing education classes in CAM to integrate into their current work or practice.

College President Dorene Petersen says of the trend: “Health and wellness continue to be the fastest growing industry. ACHS trains holistic health practitioners, but we also work with a lot of health care workers who want more natural solutions to offer their patients. And it works. They’re coming back.”

Among CAM modalities, aromatherapy is likely the most familiar. And if the Beth Israel Medical Center experiment is a success, one can reasonably assume the tested, healing properties of aromatherapy will become common knowledge.

But many don’t know that aromatherapy has a documented use dating to Egyptian times, where herbs were regularly burnt in public squares to purify the air. René-Maurice Gattefossé (1881-1950), a French chemist and perfumer, is officially credited with coining the term “aromatherapy,” and is known for his research of the dermatological effects of essential oils, which subsequently inspired a number of researchers and writers in the 1950s and 60s.

Today, industry experts commonly define aromatherapy as “the controlled use of essential oils to promote the health and vitality of the body, mind and spirit.” The largest online information source for the use of aromatherapy and essential oils, AromaWeb, adds that: “Essential oils inhaled into the lungs offer both psychological and physical benefits. Not only does the aroma of the natural essential oil stimulate the brain to trigger a reaction, but when inhaled into the lungs, the natural constituents (naturally occurring chemicals) can supply therapeutic benefit.”

Like Karan, AromaWeb founder Wendy Robbins attributes her commitment to alternative medicine to personal experience. AromaWeb arose from the desire to create an online resource with accurate introductory information for those seeking more in depth information about the field of aromatherapy.

“Before and after the launch of the AromaWeb,” Robbins says, “I craved to learn as much as I could about aromatherapy so that in turn, I could share that knowledge with others.” Today, Robbins writes articles about aromatherapy and essential oils, which she features on her user-friendly site, the world’s largest and most popular informational aromatherapy site on the Web.

“I feel immensely rewarded,” Robbins says, “that through AromaWeb, I am able to utilize the knowledge and foundation in aromatherapy that I gained from my ACHS coursework to introduce the concepts of holistic aromatherapy to thousands of individuals each year!”

Robbins founded AromaWeb in 1997, and began the Certificate in Aromatherapy program at the Australasian College of Health Sciences in 1999. She graduated in 2000. Robbins is the recent recipient of the ACHS 2009 Famous Alumni of the Year award, which is sponsored by the Distance Education Training Council.

In 1997, the Australasian College was named the first Aromatherapy Education Provider eligible to obtain liability insurance through ABMP. Founded in 1978, ACHS has more than thirty years of experience in holistic health care and is the only accredited, fully only college offering certificates and degrees in complementary alternative medicine in the United States.

When asked about Karan’s commitment to integrative medicine and her donation to the Beth Israel Medical Center, ACHS Founder and President Dorene Petersen said: “ACHS teaches students the value of holistic health care, to work with the whole person,… lack of sleep, diet, personal trauma, etc. Evidence shows us the appropriate use of essential oils [aromatherapy] is a great way to enhance preventative wellness and support daily treatment of chronic conditions like cancer. I think it ‰s important, what Donna Karan is doing. Supporting the use of CAM in allopathic care as an integrative tool is what wellness and ACHS are all about.”