A Beginner's Guide to Aromatherapy
By Susie 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 aromatherapy (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
For centuries, cultures around the globe inhaled aromas,
drank potions, and wore aromatic amulets to protect them
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
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
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
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:
Jasmine, ylang ylang, patchouli
Lemon, basil, bergamot, sweet orange, peppermint,
Cedarwood, clary sage, fennel, geranium, nerali, Roman
Lavender, myrrh, cardamom, cedarwood, German chamomile,
clary sage, frankincense
Susie Cortright is the founder of
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