History of Aromatherapy
With origins dating back 5000 years, Aromatherapy is truly one of the oldest methods of holistic healing.
Ancient man was dependent on his surroundings for everything from food, to shelter and clothing. Being so keenly aware of everything around him, and how it could be used for survival, he quickly discovered methods to preserve food and treat ailments through herbs and aromatics.
Aromatherapy, as it is practiced today, began with the Egyptians, who used the method of infusion to extract the oils from aromatic plants which were used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes as well as embalming.
At a similar time, ancient Chinese civilizations were also using some form of aromatics. Shen Nung's herbal book (dating back to approximately 2700 BC) contains detailed information on over 300 plants and their uses.
Similarly, the Chinese used aromatics in religious ceremonies, by burning woods and incense to show respect to their Gods - a tradition which is still practiced today. The use of aromatics in China was linked to other ancient therapies such as massage and acupressure.
Aromatherapy has also been used for many centuries in India. Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India, uses dried and fresh herbs, as well as aromatic massage as important aspects of treatment.
The Greeks acquired most of their medical knowledge from the Egyptians and used it to further their own discoveries. They found that the fragrance of some flowers was stimulating while others had relaxing properties. The use of olive oil as the base oil absorbed the aroma from the herbs or flowers and the perfumed oil was then used for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
The Romans learned from the Greeks and became well known for scented baths followed by massage with aromatic oils. The popularity of aromatics led to the establishment of trade routes which allowed the Romans to import "exotic" oils and spices from distant lands such as India and Arabia.
With the decline of the Roman Empire, the use of aromatics faded and the knowledge of their use was virtually lost in Europe during the dark ages.
Although it has been practiced for thousands of years, Aromatherapy has only recently become popular in our culture. This is a result of a return to a holistic lifestyle, recognizing the importance of combining the mind, body and spirit to achieve optimum health and wellness.
Modern day scientific research has been, and continues to be performed which verifies not only the emotional but the physical benefits that aromatherapy provides.
Through research and awareness we have come to better understand and appreciate what nature has to offer us. We know the effects of "clear cutting" our forests and polluting our skies. And we ask for change. We realize that in order to sustain this earth, for the generations far beyond ours, we have to preserve, and protect it. At the same time, we know that we need to look after ourselves.
We are all seeking answers for the illnesses that pervade our society, and the stresses that this fast paced modern life place on us. Conventional medicine has given us some of those answers in the form of prescription drugs and surgery, but still, we ask for more.
With growing health care costs and the sometimes impersonal quality of conventional medicine, we have turned to nature to find the answers to our questions. We have realized that we must take personal responsibility for our health and strive to educate ourselves on living more balanced lives.
Therapies and medicines that were once viewed as alternative, cloaked in a shroud of skepticism, have risen from the shadows, providing a complement to conventional medicine. Aromatherapy is one such example, and a very powerful one, of a complementary therapy widely practiced today.
For some of us, we don't even know we're doing it. When you burned that scented candle last week, you were practicing Aromatherapy. When you walk through a fragrant garden, you are doing it again! In fact, virtually all of the bath and body care products we use contain some form of essential oils - the basis of Aromatherapy.
This is one of the reasons Aromatherapy is so popular today. It is easy to practice, readily available, and effective as a therapy. The information you need to get started is right at your fingertips! Just click on any one of our links to find out more...
Essential oils are the highly concentrated essences of aromatic plants. Aromatherapy is the art of using these oils to promote healing of the body and the mind.
The Basics of Aromatherapy:
Each of the essential oils used in Aromatherapy can be used either alone or in combinations to create a desired effect. Before using essential oils as part of an Aromatherapy treatment, it is important to understand the effect that the oil(s) have, and how it works.
The oils are found in different parts of the plant such as the flowers, twigs, leaves and bark, or in the rind of fruit. For example, in roses it is found in the flowers, in basil it is in the leaves, in sandalwood in the wood, and so on.
The methods used to extract the oil are time consuming and expensive and require a high degree of expertise. Given that it takes in excess of 220 pounds of rose petals to produce only 4 or 5 teaspoonsful of oil, it is a process probably best left to professionals!
Due to the large quantity of plant material required, pure essential oils are expensive, but they are also highly effective - only a few drops at a time are required to achieve the desired effect.
Synthetic oils are available at a lesser price, but they simply do not have the healing power of the natural oils.
How Essential Oils Work:
Essential oils have an immediate impact on our sense of smell, also known as "olfaction". When essential oils are inhaled, olfactory receptor cells are stimulated and the impulse is transmitted to the emotional center of the brain, or "limbic system".
The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing, and blood circulation, as well as the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil, the fragrance and its effects, determine stimulation of these systems.
When used in massage, essential oils are not only inhaled, but absorbed through the skin as well. They penetrate the tissues and find their way into the bloodstream where they are transported to the organs and systems of the body.
Essential oils have differing rates of absorption, generally between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so it is probably best not to bathe or shower directly following a massage to ensure maximum effectiveness.
The "Notes" of Essential Oils:
Essential oils are often described by their "note". The three categories of classification are top note, middle note and base note, and these terms relate to the rate at which they evaporate - or how long the fragrance will last.
Top Notes are the most stimulating and uplifting oils. They are strongly scented, but the perfume lasts only for approximately 3 - 24 hours.
Examples of Top note oils are:
basil, bergamot, clary sage, coriander, eucalyptus, lemongrass, neroli, peppermint, sage, & thyme.
Middle Notes are the next longest lasting, at about 2 - 3 days, and affect the metabolic and body functions. The perfume is less potent than that of top note oils.
Examples of Middle note oils are:
balm, chamomile, fennel, geranium, hyssop, juniper, lavender, & rosemary.
Base Notes are the slowest oils to evaporate, lasting up to one week. They have a sweet, soothing scent and a relaxing, comforting effect on the body.
Examples of Base note oils are:
cedarwood, clove, frankincense, ginger, jasmine, rose, & sandalwood.
Creating Aromatherapy Blends:
To create a balanced perfume, a combination of all three notes will produce the best results. It is important to state that when making Aromatherapy blends, there are no fixed rules. The more familiar you become with the fragrances and their effects, the easier it will be to create combinations that are right for you!
Extraction of Essential Oils
Essential oils can be extracted using a variety of methods, although some are not commonly used today. Currently, the most popular method for extraction is steam distillation, but as technological advances are made more efficient and economical methods being developed.
To extract the essential oil, the plant material is placed into a still (very similar to a pressure cooker) where pressurized steam passes through the plant material.
The heat from the steam causes globules of oil in the plant to burst and the oil then evaporates. The essential oil vapor and the steam then pass out the top of the still into a water cooled pipe where the vapors are condensed back to liquids. At this point, the essential oil separates from the water and floats to the top.
Now, this doesn't sound like a particularly complicated process but did you know that it takes more than 8 million Jasmine flowers to produce just 2 pounds of jasmine oil? No wonder pure essential oils are expensive!
Maceration actually creates more of an "infused oil" rather than an "essential oil". The plant matter is soaked in vegetable oil, heated and strained at which point it can be used for massage.
Cold pressing is used to extract the essential oils from citrus rinds such as orange, lemon, grapefruit and bergamot. The rinds are separated from the fruit, are ground or chopped and are then pressed. The result is a watery mixture of essential oil and liquid which will separate given time.
It is important to note that oils extracted using this method have a relatively short shelf life, so make or purchase only what you will be using within the next six months.
A hydrocarbon solvent is added to the plant material to help dissolve the essential oil. When the solution is filtered and concentrated by distillation, a substance containing resin (resinoid), or a combination of wax and essential oil (known as concrete) remains.
From the concentrate, pure alcohol is used to extract the oil. When the alcohol evaporates, the oil is left behind.
This is not considered the best method for extraction as the solvents can leave a small amount of residue behind which could cause allergies and effect the immune system.
Only recently developed, this method uses Carbon Dioxide to extract the essential oil from the plant when liquefied under pressure.
Once the liquid depressurizes, the carbon dioxide returns to a gaseous state, and only pure essential oil remains.
Essential Oils from A to Z
Effects: Uplifting & stimulating
Aroma: Top note
Scent: Fresh, Sweet, Spicy
Combines well with: Citrus oils, Frankincense, Geranium
Analgesic, Antidepressant, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Emmenagogue, Uplifting
May cause irritation to sensitive skin. Use well diluted. Not to be used during pregnancy.
Effects: Refreshing and uplifting
Aroma: Top note
Scent: Sweet, Spicy
Combines well with: Chamomile, Geranium, Lavender
Antidepressant, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic
Loss of Appetite
Bergamot is a photosensitizer (increases the skins reaction to sunlight making it more likely to burn) so it should not be used when exposed to sunlight or tanning beds. Bergamot has antispasmodic properties and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy.
U] Effects: [/u] Stimulating
Aroma: Middle note
Scent: Warm, Peppery
Combines well with: Lavender, Rosemary, Sandalwood
Properties: Diuretic, Expectorant, Stimulant
Loss of Appetite
Muscle Aches and Pains
Black Pepper may irritate sensitive skin. Use well diluted. Avoid use during pregnancy.
U] Effects: [/u] Clearing
Aroma: Top note
Scent: Camphor, Medicinal
Combines well with: Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Tea Tree
Properties: Analgesic, Antiseptic, Expectorant, Insecticide
Skin Conditions (such as acne)
In high concentrations, Cajeput may cause skin irritation.
Effects: Soothing, Relaxing
Aroma: Middle note
Scent: Sweet, Herbal, Fruity
Combines well with: Bergamot, Geranium, Lavender
Analgesic, Antibacterial, Antiseptic, Digestive Stimulant
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Nervous Tension (anxiety, fear)
Skin Conditions (dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis)
Chamomile may cause skin irritation. Not to be used in early pregnancy.
Effects: Soothing, Strengthening
Aroma: Base note
Combines well with: Bergamot, Rosemary, Sandalwood
Antifungal, Antiseptic, Astringent, Expectorant, Sedative
Dandruff (blend with Rosemary)
Skin Conditions (such as acne, eczema, oily skin)
Cedarwood may cause skin irritation to sensitive skin. Do not use during pregnancy.
Aroma: Top/Middle note
Scent: Sweet, Spicy, Herbal
Combines well with: Geranium, Lavender, Rose
Anti-inflammatory, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Sedative
Muscle Cramps and Spasms
Do not use Clary Sage during pregnancy. Clary Sage is highly sedative - do not use before driving or other activities requiring a high level of focus and concentration
Aroma: Base/Middle note
Scent: Sweet, Spicy, Fresh
Combines well with: Lavender, Orange, Ylang Ylang
Analgesic, Expectorant, Stimulant
Muscle and Nerve Tension
Clove is highly irritating to the skin and must be diluted to concentrations less than 1% prior to use.
Effects: Relaxing, Refreshing
Aroma: Middle/Base note
Scent: Sweet, Refreshing
Combines well with: Citrus oils, Juniper, Lavender
Antispasmodic, Astringent, Diuretic, Expectorant
Muscle and Nerve Tension
Oily Skin and/or Hair
Cypress has antispasmodic properties and is therefore probably best avoided during pregnancy.
Effects: Balancing, Stimulating
Aroma: Top/Middle note
Scent: Camphorous, Woody
Combines well with: Juniper, Lavender, Marjoram
Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Antiseptic, Antiviral, Stimulant
Eucalyptus should not be used if you have high blood pressure or epilepsy and can be fatal if ingested.
Aroma: Middle note
Scent: Sweet, Earthy
Combines well with: Geranium, Lavender, Sandalwood
Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Diuretic, Stimulant
Gout (combine with Juniper)
Do not use fennel during pregnancy or if you have epilepsy. Fennel may irritate sensitive skin.