Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine which is fast growing in its popularity. It is the practice of using essential oils from plants, its bark, flowers, stems, leaves and roots to enhance psychological and physical well-being.
The beginning of aromatherapy is shrouded in the mists of time. The identity of the first person to utilize the healing properties of plants is unknown but well sealed urns filled with aromatic resins have been unearthed in the tombs of Pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians, Indians, Chinese and Greeks used oils for perfumes, drugs, spiritual and ritualistic purposes. Evidence shows that essential oils have been used for well over 6,000 years.
The word ‘aromatherapy’ was coined in the late 1920’s by Rene’-Marice Gattefosse’, a French chemist, who after accidentally discovering that lavender oil was able to heal and prevent scarring of a severe burn on his hand. In 1964 the results of a study was published which showed the effectiveness of treating medical and psychiatric disorders with essential oils. The first aromatherapy clinics were established in Paris, Britain and Switzerland in the 1960’s.
The word ‘aromatherapy’ is somewhat of a misnomer as it suggests that the methods of healing utilizing essential oils works exclusively through the sense of smell affecting emotions. However, oils have individual elements which work with the body’s chemistry to affect certain organs or systems as a whole. Essential oils have three modes of action within the body, pharmacological, physiological and psychological. The pharmacological affect happens when oils are ingested and enter the bloodstream thereby reacting with the hormones and enzymes of the body. Physiological is the mode in which the oils affect the systems of the body by sedating or stimulating. The psychological affect happens as a result of the odor being inhaled. This area is the most commonly known however, it is the least understood. It is basically known that the scents can induce an immediate and powerful response that defies rational analysis. However, it is not only the aroma that is important for therapeutic benefit but also the chemical reaction between the oils and the body.
Aromatherapy is a part of the larger field of herbal medicine. However, since most plants produce essential oils, it important to understand the therapeutic qualities of the oil versus those of the whole herb which is taken or prepared in a different manner. Herbs give many of their benefits to water and alcohol but do not have the aromatic elements and therefore do not have the same effects on the mind and body.
The potential of essential oils has yet to be fully realized even though medical herbs have been used for centuries, although many have been exploited to form compounds for use in our modern pharmaceutical world. Research has long held the traditional belief of the therapeutic benefits of particular plants although terminology has changed quite a bit. For example, basil was described as an herb that “taketh away sorrow” and as “good for the heart” whereas modern terminology now describes it as an antidepressant and/or a prophylactic. It is also important to note that essential oils can cover a wide range of activities, for instance one oil can be a stimulate for particular body systems while being a sedative for another.
The use of aromatherapy is applied in settings that range from health spas to hospitals to improve mood, encourage relaxation, lessen anxieties, as well as to relieve pain, itching and more. There is also evidence to show that some oils help to strengthen the immune system and reduce blood pressure. Currently there are no boards that certify or license aromatherapists in the US but many are trained in some other form of holistic therapy in which aromatherapy is included. To locate a qualified aromatherapist one can contact the National Association of Holistic Therapy at www.naha.org.
Essential oils can be used at home in simple yet effective ways too for both cosmetic and medical reasons. They can be used as perfumes, added to baths for relaxation or to treat itchy, irritated skin, and to treat minor complaints such as achy muscles, headaches, colds and congestion. For home use just be sure to consult your doctor, holistic practitioner and a reliable reference source.
Not all aromatherapy products labeled as aromatherapy are pure and natural. It is extremely important to read products labels to make sure there are no artificial or other unpure chemical components are added. Products with added artificial ingredients do not provide aromatherapy benefits and can be harmful. It is best to use certified, pure therapeutic grade essential oils from a reputable company and/or trustworthy holistic practitioner.
The use of essential oils covers is wide and varied sharing holistic qualities such as with aromatherapy while also playing an active role in the pharmaceutical industry. Aromatherapy’s history is long, but unfortunately there is still much to be learned but with the ever-increasing danger of plants becoming extinct there is a real risk that some plant sources will be lost as will the many treasures they have to offer. So while there is still time, fall in love with what nature has to offer and stop to smell the roses.