Essential Oils are concentrated essences extracted from various parts of aromatic trees and plants. More than just lovely scents, Essential Oils play important part of the existence of the plants in which they reside. Essential Oils provide plants with countless benefits, including protection against predators and disease and as well, play a key role in plant pollination.
Aromatherapy is the use of Essential Oils for optimizing health, cleansing the spaces we occupy and promoting well being and healing of the body as well as peace of mind, soothing away stress or invigorating the senses, helping you feel more energetic, or perhaps more emotionally balanced. Aromatherapy is both art and science, requiring knowledge of the therapeutic actions of Essential Oils and creativity in the blending process. Proper use of Essential Oils is vital as they are highly concentrated and therefore much more potent than in their original form, within plant material.
Plant essences have been used therapeutically for several thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians recorded their use of Essential Oils, on papyrus dating back as far as 2000 BC, with mention of fine oils, perfumes and incense. They used herbs and plant essences for embalming the dead and in their mummification process, such as Cedarwood and Myrrh. Alongside many treasures, an ointment was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen when it was opened in 1922, with the distinct scent of Frankincense. Several ancient civilizations, including those of India, China, Greece and Rome used plant essences and aromatic oils as well, in medicines, skin care, cosmetics and perfumes. Essential Oils were commonly used for spiritual purposes, enhancing meditation; religious and cultural rituals; physical therapies, massage for instance; for hygienic reasons, in baths; purifying living spaces and to prevent/deter illness. We use Essential Oils in Aromatherapy for the same reasons today.
The use of Essential Oils continued for centuries until the Dark Ages when the healing art seemed to disappear over time around much of the world. That is of course, with the exception of India, the only country, it appears, the tradition was never lost. Traditional, or Ayurvedic medicine in India, is the oldest form of medical practice using therapeutic oils and this has continued since its beginnings, thousands of years ago.
A 20th century French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, discovered the healing properties of Lavender Essential Oil when he applied it to a burn on his hand, caused by an explosion in his laboratory. It aided in the relief of pain at the site almost immediately, sped up the healing process and minimized scarring. He then started to analyze the chemical properties of Essential Oils and how they were used to treat burns, skin infections, gangrene and the wounds of soldiers during World War I.
In 1928, Gattefossé founded the Science of and coined the term, "Aromatherapie". By the 1950's massage therapists, beauticians, nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, and other health care providers began using Aromatherapy in their practices throughout Europe.
Aromatherapy did not become popular in North America until the 1980s. Today, interest in Aromatherapy is on the rise not only as a way for people to scent their homes with natural essences, but as a healing modality, as people look for alternatives to modern medicine for minor ailments.
On store shelves though, you'll see lotions, candles, and beauty products being sold as "aromatherapy." However, many of these products contain synthetic fragrances that do not have true essential oils or their healing properties, anywhere on their ingredient lists. Knowing this, consumers should be cautious and follow the age old advice, "buyer, beware".
Aromatherapy can have positive effects on all systems of the body if used therapeutically and mindfully with safe methods of administration, but in no way should replace the advice of your Health Care Professional when dealing with major medical conditions.
Please see HopeWind Health's "How to Use Essential Oils" page to become more knowledgeable about using Aromatherapy to enhance your life and allow you to be your best self.