What is Aromatherapy?
Learn more about the powerful benefits of essential oils
Aromatherapy is a gentle but powerful healing art that uses essential oils in a way that can positively effect physical, emotional and mental health.
Essential oils are naturally occurring substances found in different parts of plants – the blossom, fruit, leaf, stem, bark, wood or resin. Through a complicated and often expensive process of steam distillation or solvent extraction, these precious essential oils are captured and bottled.
Massage and Inhalation
Certified Aromatherapists may recommend massage (introduction of essential oils through the skin) and inhalation (introduction of essential oils through the respiratory system) as the most effective methods of introducing essential oils into the human body. For massage, a good quality carrier oil, lotion, cream or salve is used to deliver essential oils to the area needed. For inhalation, a simmering pot, diffuser, hot tub, sauna – or something as simple as a common cotton ball – is used to deliver the benefits of the essential oils to the body through the olfactory system.
While modern science can in some cases duplicate the fragrance of some essential oils, they have been unable to duplicate the benefits each can deliver. Each essential oil is made up of between 50 to 500 different chemicals that occur in nature.
How do Essential Oils Enter the Body?
- Through our skin. Skin is the largest organ in the human body, and is accessible to essential oils because the molecular structure of the essential oils is so small they can enter through the skin and enter the blood steam. A modern application of this principal is used by many people today and is known as the patch. To quit smoking, or to raise estrogen levels in postmenopausal women, medication is introduced at a gentle and consistent level into the body through the skin. Massage is another way essential oils are introduced into the body through the skin. Essential oils in salves, creams, oils and perfumes are all vehicles of delivery via the skin. Essential oils take about half an hour to be absorbed.
- Through smell. The olfactory system, (nose) sends the chemical message of the essential oils through the limbic part of our brain, which is the oldest part of our brain. Here the message is telegraphed to our central nervous system and to our glands, which control how our body functions. Methods to use here are in baths, diffusers, humidifiers, hot tubs, steams, perfumes, on a hanky, or pillow. Takes only seconds for the message to be received.
- Ingesting. In North America it is unlawful to suggest or recommend ingesting essential oils. It is not the best method, in any case, as essential oils end up reacting with the other materials in the digestive tract, and are often of very little use to the client.
How long do Essential Oils last, once purchased?
Most essential oils will last 1-2 years if kept in a dark bottle in a cool place. Some of the resinous oils (such as myrrh and benzoin) are more like wine, in that they actually get better with age! Because citrus essential oils are top notes and highly volatile, they should be used up within one year, and once oils are blended with carrier oils they should be used up within 1 to 2 months as the therapeutic value starts to diminish.
Essential oils can be classified into top, middle, and base notes, signifying the length of time an oil”s scent can be detected. Top notes (oils like Bergamot essential oil, Petitgrain essential oil, Orange essential oil, Grapefruit essential oil and Lemon essential oil) tend to last 2-3 hours and give the first impression of the blend. Middle notes (oils like Lavender essential oil, Chamomile (R) essential oil and Geranium essential oil) give blends body and help to round out the sharp edges of the top notes. Typically these scents can last upwards of 2-3 days. Base notes or fixatives (like Patchouli essential oil, Clary Sage essential oil, Myrrh essential oil and Cedarwood essential oil) help to deepen the blend and create a lasting aroma. When smelled directly from the bottle they may have very little scent, but once used in a blend and applied to the skin, they react strongly and release their power. These scents can last from several days to a week, depending on the oil.
Brief History of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy dates back to early India when it started as Ayurvedic Medicine. It was believed that applying elements of the natural world to the body and treatment of the whole person was the way to effect positive health and healing.
China has books dating back to 4000 BC that record the use of essential oils. Egypt used these oils for embalming, medicines, perfumes and cosmetics. Greece adopted the skill of Aromatherapy. It was a Greek named Galen who first developed the bases for cold cream, and we still use his methods in today”s cosmetics. Greek soldiers are known to have carried Myrrh essential oil into the battle field to heal wounds. Rome borrowed from the Greeks and began using essential oils. One use was in their famous Roman Baths. The Romans were an aggressive people, and the use of essential oils spread throughout the lands that the Romans conquered.
England became enamored with the art of aromatherapy and helped spread its use through the crusades, establishing trade routes and spreading the word throughout the rest of Europe. World exploration was motivated by a search for spices and oils, not land. Monks and Nuns tended herb gardens and furthered interest and benefits of essential oils and herbs in general.
In 1665, a Monk invented Eau de Cologne, named after the city in which he lived at the time. We still use it today.
During the Black Plaque, it was found that those working with essential oils were immune to the deadly disease. In 1722, a quartet of robbers combined a potion of essential oils in vinegar to protect themselves when plundering bodies during the Great Plague. It was called 4 Thieves Vinegar. It can be proven today scientifically that essential oils are antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal etc. In the 1800s, the simple conclusion to these unscrupulous men”s success without becoming ill themselves was that the essential oils themselves possessed something that shielded the thieves from the disease. Green Valley’s Terminator blend is a version of the Thieves Blend.
Napoleon was known to use great quantities of Rosemary water. Rosemary essential oil has the property of enlivening the brain, helping with memory, concentration. Maybe Napoleon forgot to use it when planning the Battle of Waterloo?
In the 19th century scientific advances were responsible for the decline in herbal therapy. Scientists were now able to synthetically reproduce in the laboratory many of natural occurring substances. For example, they discovered and reproduced aspirin, which occurs naturally in willow trees.
In the 20th century herbal remedies and essential oils have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and have been studied, and proven scientifically to be effective in treating a number of medical problems. Essential oils have been shown to affect healing of skin, strengthening the immune system, and are also capable of relieving emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression. 1920, two Italian doctors, Gattefosse and Cayola demonstrated the psychotherapeutic effects of inhaling essential oils. Our sense of smell has, by reflex action, an enormous influence on the central nervous system.
An example of how this works:
Clary Sage essential oil stimulates the thalamus to release a hormone called encephalon, which is a neurochemical that creates a sense of euphoria and simultaneously gives pain relief. This all happens within seconds of inhalation. Thus Clary Sage is a known relaxing, calming essential oil.
Ylang ylang essential oil stimulates the pituitary gland into releasing endorphins, a sexually stimulating neurochemical. Thus Ylang Ylang is considered an aphrodisiac.
Lavender essential oil, Chamomile (R) essential oil, or Neroli essential oil stimulate the release of serotonin, which has a calming effect on fear, stress, aggravation and sleeplessness. Thus these essential oils are used to combat anxiety, and are recommended to help relax and aid in sleep.
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