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Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years as an effective way to treat a wide variety of ailments, to imrove and maintain health and prevent illness. I completed my first aromatherapy qualification over 20 years ago and have continued to learn more over the years. I use aromatherapy myself on a daily basis; for myself, my family, friends, colleagues and around the home. In this blog I give an introduction to aromatherapy: what it is and how it works...
What is aromatherapy? It's the use of natural aromatic essences - essential oils - from plants. Essential oils, which do not actually have an oily texture but can be watery or sap like, are extracted from different parts of plants, flowers, trees, fruits and roots. The orange tree, for example, gives us orange essential oil from the peel of the fruit, petitgrain from the leaves and neroli from the flower blossom. Each of these, even though they are from the same tree, has different therapeutic effects.
The history. There is evidence of the use of aromatherapy dating as far back as 2000BC. The Egyptians used extracts from plants in the embalming process, they were used in ancient Chinese medicine, by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. It's the Romans that are probably responsible for bringing aromatherapy to Britain - they didn't just give us roads!
The earliest written record of the use of essential oils in England dates from the thirteenth century, but it is a French chemist, Dr. Rene Gattefosse, who is credited with creating the term aromatherapy and documenting and generating much of the research that our knowledge is now based upon. He discovered the healing benefits of lavender essential oil for himself when he suffered a severe burn to his hand in his laboratory. He plunged his hand into the nearest container of liquid (which luckily happened to be lavender essential oil!) and was amazed at how quickly his wound healed. This led him into further research and he went on to use essential oils on the wounds of soldiers during the first world war to accelerate the healing process and also for their anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and disinfectant properties. It is his research that revealed that essential oils penetrate the skin and reach the circulatory system.
So how does aromatherapy work? Essential oils, and therefore aromatherapy, essentially work in two ways:
1. They penetrate the skin, via pores and hair follicles, and are absorbed into our circulatory system. In this way we gain physical effects; alleviating pain, relaxing muscles, soothing itchy skin and stimulating or calming the digestive system for example.
2. The tiny molecules of the essential oils are inhaled through the nose and absorbed into the limbic system of the brain. This is the area linked to emotions, memory and behaviour and is how we gain the emotional and physiological benefits of aromatherapy - calming the mind, elevating our mood and enhancing the physical effects e.g. to help us sleep.
Using aromatherapy and essential oils at home is easy but I would always recommend consulting a qualified clinical aromatherapist for the correct advice, and to ensure that any essential oils that you purchase are of good quality - as a guideline there should be a variance in price: lavender and eucalyptus should not have the same price point as neroli or chamomile. There are some essential oils that can be harmful in certain conditions (high blood pressure, epilepsy...) and times when extra care should be taken, such as pregnancy, childhood, for babies and during serious illness. Aromatherapy and essential oils can be extremely helpful for these times, but extra care should be taken. With a couple of exceptions essential oils should not be used undiluted on the skin.
I hand make my own range of aromatherapy products, please take a look on my websites 'Products' page for more info.
I hope that you have enjoyed this intro to aromatherapy. If you would like further posts such as how to treat common ailments with essential oils, aromatherapy for pregnancy, birth, babies and children.... and more (please feel free to make suggestions) please leave me a comment!
In love and light