A Beginner's Guide to Aromatherapy by Susie Michelle Cortright
Contemporary healers, therapists, and marketing gurus are grabbing hold of a phenomenon that insects and animals instinctively understand: the power of aroma.
Scientists pursue aromachology (the study of scent and its ability to change human behavior) for its role in everything from medicine to marketing, migraines to memory loss, and relaxation to revitalization.
A Brief History of Aromatherapy
The ancestry of aromatherapy goes back some 4,000 years. Ancient Egyptians used aromatic botanicals for massage, embalming, medicine, and cosmetics.
Hippocrates himself might have been the first aromatherapy spokesman 2,000 years ago, as he touted the benefits of aromatic massage for physical and emotional well being.
In the 10th century, the Arabian world invented the process of distillation, which allowed more efficient extraction of essential oils.
For centuries, cultures around the globe inhaled aromas, drank potions, and wore aromatic amulets to protect them from harm.
In the early 1900s, France and England attempted to reintroduce these ancient remedies and help them gain acceptance in the more traditional medical community.
This trend continues in France today. Many French doctors prescribe aromatic remedies, pharmacies stock essential oils, and insurance companies pay for the treatment.
In the United States, aromatic healing is gaining ground.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to treat ailments. These conditions range from physical conditions to emotional problems. From headaches to herpes. Dry skin to acne. Arthritis to asthma.
The essential oils of aromatherapy are extracted from aromatic plants and herbs: from the flower, bark, root, twig, seed, berry, rhizome, or leaves (generally through a process of steam distillation.) These oils may be inhaled or massaged into the skin, after combining
with a vegetable, nut or seed oil.
Massage with essential oils is most commonly used to alleviate skin ailments and muscle pain or tension. Lavender, orange, marjoram, and chamomile are particularly effective aromas in the use of massage.
Essential oils can be inhaled with the help of a vaporizer, an electric diffuser or an aroma lamp.
How Does Aromatherapy work?
Our sense of smell is more complex than you might think. Your nose contains thousands of olfactory nerves.
While your tongue has the ability to taste sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, it is your sense of smell that creates all the delightful flavors you experience.
The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system in your brain. The limbic system is not under conscious control. It also controls digestion, libido, and emotions, so it is not your imagination that scents evoke emotion. Aromas actually trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that create a feeling of well being. Scientists say a typical response to an aroma takes just four seconds.
Which Essential Oils Are Right for You?
Essential oils are available in natural and synthetic forms.
Natural essential oils are not oils but non oily, non water soluble substances, which dissolve in alcohol and combine with true oils. Pure, natural essential oils may be as much as 70 times more potent than the plant source itself.
Some synthetics are derived from natural products. The exact formulation of an essential oil is virtually impossible to reproduce in the laboratory. Even the smallest variation can produce significant changes its effect.
Some synthetic oils fall into the category of artificial fragrances, entirely made of petroleum products. These products generally do not produce the same therapeutic effects as essential oils.
Each essential oil is comprised of different hormones and vitamins, which combine to create different effects. Furthermore, the effects of each essential oil can vary depending
on the botanical species and where it is grown. The effects of particular aromas can also vary among cultures and individuals, so the results of aromatherapy are not universal. Still, aromatherapists have developed a roster of scents with relatively predictable effects: