What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the art and science of using fragrant plant essences, (known as “essential oils”) for therapeutic purposes that has been practised for thousands of years. Each essential oil has its own unique properties, proven by use through the ages; which can be used in the treatment of a wide range of common physical and emotional imbalances, whether massaged into the skin, vaporised in special burners or blended to make therapeutic bath and skincare products. Essential oils contain the active ingredients of a plant in highly concentrated form; they should be treated with respect and always be diluted in base oil before being applied to the skin. Children under 18 months should not be treated with essential oils, and oils should never be taken internally unless professionally advised.
Essential oils are naturally occurring substances which are extracted from certain species of flowers, grasses, fruits, leaves, roots and trees. Different parts of the same plant may produce various oils, eg: Pettigrain comes from orange leaves. Orange oil from the peel of the fruit. Neroli from the blossom.
Extracting essential oils is a complicated process; many are obtained by the process of distillation, where the plant material is processed by steam in a vat and the oil is separated from the cooled, condensed water. Very fragile flowers such as Rose, Ylang Ylang and Jasmine are obtained by solvent extraction as the heat and pressure of distillation would destroy the oil. These types of oils are called Absolutes. Oils from fruit peel are squeezed into special sponges. Barks are usually powdered before distillation and gums and resins are dissolved in solvents.
The History of Aromatherapy
The practice of Aromatherapy can be dated as far back as 5000 BC to early civilisations in Pakistan and India. The ancient Egyptians used aromatic substances for embalming their pharaohs, and also for treating depression and nervousness in addition to many other illnesses. The Babylonians built their temples with perfumed mortar (which was passed down to the Arabs who built their mosques in the same aromatic way). In the Greek and Romans bath houses, aromatic oils were extensively used, as prescribed by Hippocrates, for health and well being.
Hippocrates c460-c377 BC (the father of medicine) said that the “way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day”. He recognised that burning certain aromatic substances offered protection against contagious diseases.
Avicenna c960-c1007 AD the Arabian physician of the 10th century wrote of the beneficial uses of Rose. Thus rosewater was one of the main perfumes and essences that the crusades brought to Europe from the East.
Throughout Europe in the 14th , 15th and 16th centuries, many herbals were published. Glove- makers used aromatic oils, and it was reported that these and others who used essential oils were the only people to survive the plagues that struck Europe during these centuries. Today France is still leading the way in use of essential oils for therapeutic uses. Not only in the cosmetic industries, but medicinally and in the food industry.
It was not until the 1920′s that the first real scientific studies of the therapeutic properties of essential oils was started (almost by mistake). While making fragrances in his laboratory, Gattefosse burnt his arm very badly, thrusting it into the nearest cold liquid (which happened to be Lavender oil). He was surprised to find that the pain lessened considerably and that far from developing into a normal burn reaction of redness, inflammation and blisters, his wound healed very quickly and left no scar. This prompted him to dedicate the rest of his life researching the healing properties of essential oils, and it was he who coined the term “aromatherapy”.
How essential oils can help us
Essential oils can be used not only physically, but have uses in our cooking, homes, work environments and gardens. They are so versatile that they have an ability to operate effectively not only on the cellular, physical level but in the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic areas of our lives.
They provide a system of medicine, which is in total biochemical harmony with the human body, but also is non-invasive to it in terms of heat and electromagnetism. They are one of the great “untapped” resources of the world that can assist in preventing illness and alleviate symptoms. By incorporating essential oils into our lives, we can find a way to provide our families and homes with the protection and pleasure that is harmonious to our needs, without polluting ourselves, or our environments with modern man-made chemicals.
The skin is known to be an integral part of our immune system. T-cells are scattered throughout, primarily in the epidermis or outer layer. It has been demonstrated that oils rubbed on the skin are readily absorbed and travel to deeper organs in the body via the bloodstream to soothe, relax and heal. Note: Some oils should NOT be used during pregnancy and lactation. (see practitioner for details).
One of the most satisfactory aspects of using essential oils is that they enter and leave the body with great efficiency, leaving no toxins behind. Unlike chemical drugs, essential oils do not remain in the body. Depending on the oil used,oils are generally eliminated from the body within 2-3 days and are excreted via either urine, faeces, perspiration and exhalation.
Remedies absorbed into the body via the skin avoid being metabolised by the liver, as when taken by mouth. (only under qualified supervision).
The World Health Organisation is aware of the benefits of essential oils against infectious bacteria, based upon experimental work being done In Lausanne, Switzerland into bacteria resistant essential oils and from this work it has been scientifically proven that certain Phenol rich essential oils (particularly Origanum compactum and Thymus vulgaris) are far more effective against the Staphycoccus bacteria than anti-biotics. (Currently all bacteria are becoming resistant to anti-biotics and Pseudonomas are now resistant to all anti-biotics.)
Essential oils if used correctly, are safe and pleasant to use. However, remember that they are very concentrated and powerful, so certain precautions should be taken, and you should never exceed the recommended amount.
Some general guidelines for safe use:
* Avoid contact with the eyes and mucous membranes;
* Seek professional help/advice if you are pregnant or have a medical condition (ie epilepsy, high blood pressure);
* If you have sensitive skin, do not use undiluted oils on the skin or in the bath;
* Some oils have contra-indications, so always check the therapeutic properties prior to use;
* Essential oils are concentrated, only use them in the recommended dilution and with moderation;
* Seek advice from a qualified Aromatherapist before using essential oils on babies or small children.
Click here to read about our Aromatherapy practitioner, Anna Dimitrov.
- Treating Pain, Other Ailments With Lavender November 27, 2011
A recent study shows that breathing the aroma of lavender oil can reduce the stress and pain caused by inserting needles into skin.
The study, reported in the September 17 edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, tested 30 volunteers. Prior to use of lavender oil, all subjects demonstrated similar pain when needles were inserted into their skin. But the group that breathed lavender oil prior to the second half of the experiment showed decreased bispectral index values and less pain from insertion of needles. Bispectral index values assesses depth of anaesthesia using sophisticated monitoring technology. The conclusion of the researchers in the study was that lavender oil significantly aided patients with pain. Thus the use of lavender as a medicine of high value continues through time.
- Don’t Dismiss These Treatments as Placebos June 20, 2011
Evidence is growing, based on carefully controlled studies, that certain non-pharmacological complementary interventions may be useful adjuncts to conventional care. For example, the pain of osteoarthritis can be lessened by acupuncture; tai chi may be helpful in reducing the pain of fibromyalgia; and massage and manipulative therapies may contribute to the relief of chronic back pain and related functional impairments. Furthermore, evidence from basic research points to ways in which such interventions use the body’s own pathways known to be involved in response to pain.
Should we dismiss any benefits as mere placebo effects? Or should we explore the possibility, increasingly suggested by the science, that some complementary interventions provide powerful tools for studying the contributions of attention, touch, time, and reassurance, which are now in short supply in our health care system?