Need Aromatherapy in Your Life?
Aromatherapy and essential oils are making a comeback as a holistic approach to improving health. Here’s our quick breakdown of the history, quality, and application of essential oils and aromatherapy.
What’s the deal with aromatherapy?
Technically, essential oils are not oils at all but are highly concentrated aromatic plant components.
They are derived from flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, roots, or bark that have mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional therapeutic benefits. These give plants and flowers their distinctive, oftentimes powerful fragrances, aiding pollination while also functioning as a repellent, allowing a living plant to grow and thrive.
Essential Oil History
Many consider essential oils precious and potent gifts from nature. They have been in use for thousands of years in food preparation, beauty treatments, and physical wellness.
In fact, if we were able to take a peek into the ancient Egyptians’ medicine chests dating back to 4,500 B.C., we would likely find myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, cedarwood, and other highly valuable aromatics used for healing negative energy and releasing emotional trauma.
From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, we know that priests and alchemists used essential oils to heal the sick, for religious ceremonies, cleansing spiritual rituals, and the embalming process.
Hippocrates was said to have utilized aromatherapy to enhance massage techniques and theorized that the body possessed inherent natural healing powers, which he suggested should be nurtured. He believed physicians were guardians of this healing power, charged with keeping the body healthy and strong.
China and India extensively embraced essential oils for use in herbal remedies in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Essential oil references appear in both Christian and Jewish religious texts as holy anointing oils used in healing rituals.
They were also purported to have been burned to fight sickness and plague.
Avicenna, a first-century Persian philosopher, scientist, and author of one of the most famous medical books, The Canon of Medicine, is credited with perfecting the distillation process for extracting essential oils. From ancient Greece to the fall of the Roman empire, to the Renaissance, to the 1700s, essential oils remained highly prized, precious aromatics.
Research suggests that ancient peoples had a great understanding of the intrinsic medicinal and healing properties of essential oils. In the more modern era, as new medical philosophies and techniques emerged, the knowledge of the powerful protective properties of certain oils was forgotten or cast aside.
Essential Oils in the United States
In the United States, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who served as Surgeon General in the Continental Army, along with Benjamin Franklin, established our first hospital in Pennsylvania in 1751. The two men differed in their approach to developing a national medical system.
While Franklin agreed with Hippocrates, Rush was of the philosophy that “Physicians were the masters of nature and that as opposed to allowing nature to follow its natural healing course, the business of healing should be taken out of her hands.” Until Benjamin Franklin passed in 1790, he continued to subscribe to his personal philosophy of healthy living, which included moderate diet, exercise, and self-control in all things, writing in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Time is an herb that cures all diseases.”
The Pharmacopoeia of 1820 consisted mainly of herbal medicines. Today, you won’t find herbals but will find that approximately 40% of pharmaceutical medicines are either a derivative of, or synthetically derived from herbs. During WWI, physicians began to rediscover the antibacterial and wound healing properties of essential oils.
When the supply of antibiotics ran short during WW2, essential oils were shown to have a powerful healing effect on battlefield injuries. Today, the various medicinal properties of over 270 varieties of aromatic compounds have been identified. While Ayurvedic and Eastern medical practitioners have long touted the benefits of holistic and natural remedies, many people are adhering to healthy lifestyles and exploring the benefits of essential oils today.
Aromatherapy is the diffusion of pure aromatic essences derived from plants and botanicals. Some researchers believe that our sense of smell plays a huge role in determining how essential oils aid healing. Inhaled essential oil molecules may stimulate certain areas of the brain that influence physical, emotional, and mental health.
Aromatherapy, as a type of alternative medicine, is widely used in France and Western Europe for the antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties of the oils. In the U.S., aromatherapy is becoming more widely accepted as a complementary or alternative treatment for a variety of conditions and is used in a wide range of settings from home use to health spas to hospitals.
The price and quality of essential oils can vary widely. Fresh botanicals and meticulous extraction methods separate quality, highly concentrated essential oils from lesser quality products.
Pure essential oils are far more powerful than the original botanicals from which they were extracted. For example, it can take as many as 12,000 rose blossoms to distill 5 ml of authentic, unadulterated essential rose oil. Quality oils are 100% pure and are not processed or diluted with solvents or additives.
Many are identified by their Latin names and are tested to meet the standards of the species.
Essential oils may be applied topically or inhaled using a diffuser. Three to five drops of highly concentrated oil may be diluted with one teaspoon of carrier oil such as coconut, sweet almond oil, or grapeseed oil and applied directly to and absorbed through the skin.
Try placing the oil on the wrists, behind the ears, or on the temples. Because essential oils are composed of very small molecules, the compounds can pass through the skin and into the circulatory system.
Carefully inhaled oils allow oil molecules to enter the bloodstream through the lungs. To get the benefits of absorbing the oils through the skin, while also enjoying the therapeutic scent of the oils, some prefer to add 10 – 15 drops of oil mixed with ½ cup of Epsom salt to bathwater.
Try soothing oils such as lavender or eucalyptus. Generally, when applying topically, a drop or two will not only suffice but will provide the maximum benefit whether you are seeking spiritual or emotional wellbeing or total mind/body wellness.
As essential oils are very powerful, it is recommended that they not be used excessively.
It’s important to note that not all oils are food grade. Although some recommend that one drop of oil may be taken internally, it is suggested this usage only be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.