WHAT IS AROMATHERAPY?
Aromatherapy is the art of using scents – more specifically essential oils, which are distilled or extracted from plants – to create health spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
There is much debate about why plants produce essential oils because plants do not appear to use these oils for their own functions or survival. In fact, some plants produce hundreds of extra substances that scientists cannot determine uses for within the plant. One of the theories in herbalism is that plants are producing these substances as medicines for humans.
THE EVOLUTION OF AROMATHERAPY
Evidence of the use of aromatic plant oils can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians who used the oils in the mummification process. Aromatic plants were used in ancient times in Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, and Roman cultures, to name a few, for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Though the popularity of using aromatics declined after the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of using herbs / aromatics was preserved in the monasteries.
Avicenna (AD 980 – 1037) was an Arab scholar and physician who invented the refrigerated coil which was considered a break-through because it allowed essential oils to be steam distilled, though archaeological discoveries in Pakistan have discovered that this process was being used around 3000 BC in the ancient Indus Valley. Avicenna’s invention spread through Europe. Herbs and spices from all parts of the world were then being discovered and and traded and distilled for perfumes, alchemy, and medical interests.
The term “aromatherapy” was coined by a French Chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1928. He accidentally discovered the healing effects of lavender oil after he burned his hand severely during his work at his family’s perfume business and plunged his hand into the nearest container of liquid – lavender essential oil. He was amazed to discover how the lavender healed the burn and left him without a scar. He went on to publish many works on the healing properties and psychotherapeutic benefits of essential oils. Lavender oil is still used in hospitals in France and other parts of Europe to treat burn victims.
PURCHASING ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils can be purchased at many health food stores, as well as online. Always use pure (organic if possible) essential oils – buying cheap oils is a waste of money because they may contain solvents or other chemicals. If you are pregnant, you should not use essential oils without consulting an aromatherapist, as certain oils are considered abortifacients. Some essential oils also cause phototoxicity for some people, so it is best to use sunscreen or avoid harsh sun if you are using the oils directly on your skin, especially if you are sensitive to the sun.
When buying oils, check the label for the botanical name of the plant which should be listed by genus followed by species. For example, Jasmine is the common name for the plant whose botanical name is: Jasminum (genus) officinale (species).
INTERESTING STUDIES IN ENGLAND
In England, aromatherapy has been studied for as means of lessening anxiety and stress for intensive care patients. See article: http://internethealthlibrary.com/HealthinHospitals/intensivecare.htm
Recently, scientists researching essential oils have found that it is effective for killing ‘superbugs’ such as MRSA which are present in hospitals and responsible for thousands of deaths per year, effecting people with weakened immune systems. According to the BBC article, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/health/4116053.stm, “The team then tested 40 essential oils against 10 of the most infectious agents found in hospitals, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). Two of the oils were found to kill MRSA and E.coli almost instantly, while a third was found to act over a longer period of time.”
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN STUDYING AROMATHERAPY….
My aromatherapy teacher was Francoise Rapp, a Licensed Aromatherapist and Perfumer living in Paris. She offers webclasses and has excellent material to purchase and download on her site: http://aromalchemy.com/
Another wonderful Aromatherapist whose books and articles I rely on is Jeanne Rose. She is the Director of the Institute of Aromatic Studies. She offers home study courses and classes in the San Francisco area. She also sells high quality oils on her site: http://www.jeannerose.net/