- Alternative & Natural Medicine
Practical and Historical Facts about Using Scented Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
Historical and Practical Facts about Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
It is important to know the historical and practical facts about aromatherapy or the practice of using essential oils for cosmetic and medicinal purposes - aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is defined as the use of essential oils to effectively cleanse, protect, heal and revitalize the body and spirit. When used correctly, essential oils are helpful both therapeutically and for pleasure. When used incorrectly, very unpleasant affects, sickness and even death, can be the result.
It is a well known fact that the use of essential scented oils in healing, as perfumes and in rituals can be traced back thousands of years. The essential oils have been described in scrolls dating from 1500 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed the essential oils were delivered by the gods and they respected the medicinal value they felt were derived from their use.
The revered ancient Indian herbal and healing texts, the Ayruvedas, were writings that included the use of essential oils for healing, balance, purification and overall holistic health. Much of the text of the Ayruvedas particularly favored using the essential oils derived from the native plants that produce the essential oils of sandalwood, rose, and jasmine. Because of the belief that the sense of smell is linked to the sixth sense, this may have inspired the proliferation of the use of aromatherapy in the early Indian culture and may have given a patient a heightened receptiveness to using aromas as a form of medicine.
The Egyptians were skilled at extracting, blending and applying the use of essential oils in their everyday lives. It is thought that oils played a large part in Cleopatra's seduction of Mark Antony in her efforts to retain her power and save her kingdom.
Oil residues have been found in Egyptian mummy wrappings, suggesting that the oils were used in mummification, making them as important to Egyptian belief in the afterlife as they were to the living.
By the 14th Century, references to aromatic essential oils began to show up in the writings of Monks, the learned men of that time, whose principle occupation was to transcribe texts into Latin. Much like our pharmacists today, the Monks provided specific recipes and dispensed potions and concoctions for ailments ranging from headaches to aching joints and from acne to breast reduction. The recipes were usually paired with an incantation or chant during preparation - blending the herbs and oils with other ingredients - and/or during the application of concoction.
Probably many of the herbal recipes and remedies transcribed by the Monks were obtained from the ancient mixtures and potions of essential oils developed by the Celtic people. It is just as probable that the early herbalist and aromatherapist of the Middle Ages were the women and men who were labeled as witches and burned at the stake partly because of their practices of healing using essential oils.
The belief in the effectiveness of aromatic herbs was ingrained in the lives of the 14th, 15th and 16th Century European, so much so that during the Plague, writings describe the use of aromatherapy to combat the deadly disease. Historical accounts describe massive fires built in the towns and villages in strategic areas such as the common entrance to the village or the middle of the village square and essential oils - or their plant derivatives such as juniper or cypress - were thrown into the fires. "Smoking" the patient was one of the earliest forms of administering some of the aromatic recipes and these bonfires represented "smoking" a large number of patients at once. It was believed the vapors would destroy the bad air that contributed to the Plague and that the inhalation of the fragrances from the essential oils would cure the body.
It was also during the 15th and 16th Century that one herb in particular became popular both as a fragrance and as a healing source - patchouli. Patchouli oil was not extracted from a plant native to Europe, but rather was introduced during trade with India. The nobility became aware of the oil because of their penchant for silks. The silks were packed in patchouli leaves to protect the fabric and the scent clung to the fabric. Its earthy, exotic scent caused the Europeans to believe it must also have healing properties. In truth, it was used in Ayruvedic practice for its healing property. Patchouli essential oil rose to popularity as a fragrance in incense and as a body fragrance again during the sixties and early seventies.
Although essential oils had been used therapeutically for centuries, it was Rene-Maurice Gattefosse who first used the term aromatherapy in the early 1900s when he recognized the healing properties of the essential oils. The term spread when he published his book, Aromatherapie in 1928. Others soon followed with research substantiating Rene-Maurice's and the centuries old beliefs that there were healing properties to be found in using aromatherapy therapeutically.
Modern researchers in Ireland have found that some essential oils are proving to be beneficial in combating the superbugs that are becoming such a potentially deadly problem in hospitals today. Cinnamon essential oil and thyme essential oil have both effectively killed the Staphylococcus germs on surfaces. This is leading doctors and researchers to explore putting the essential oils into lotions and bath products to minimize and possibly eliminate these superbugs. This is not a medical endorsement of using thyme and cinnamon essential oils for a medical problem without medical supervision, but rather is a report of what medical science is learning today that was probably known to the ancient cultures thousands of years ago.
Therapeutic Grade Oils and Their Uses
Essential oils have been extracted from various parts of the plant, including the leaf, the petal, the bark, or the fruits of a plant. Extraction can take on a variety of forms, as well. For example, essential oils extracted from a seed are usually obtained after the seed has been crushed. For some plants, the orange for example, the oil came originate from various parts of the plant. In the case of the orange, oils are obtained from the blossom or the skin of the fruit or the leaves. For that reason, extraction will take various forms - crushing the petals and leaves or mashing the peeling.
When searching for essential oils, be advised that there are differences in oils. Therapeutic grade oils are preferable. When using therapeutic grade oils, you are purchasing true oils, not oils that have been manufactured and synthesized to smell like true oils. Neither the potency nor the efficacy will be there. While the scent may be close, the scent will not be authentic.
Therapeutic grade organic oils in are increasingly in demand since the plants are free of pesticides, which means the oils will not contain potentially harmful contaminants.
When you purchase essential oils, be aware that therapeutic oils will cost more than synthesized oils. In addition, the price of oils will also vary according to the availability of the parent plant and the difficulty in extracting the oil, combined with the yield from that particular plant.
There are over 400 types of oils that can be blended into any number of fragrances. However, when the application of the oils is therapeutic, there are specific oils and specific combinations that are purported to yield specific results, generally increasing the oil's potency. For example, lavender oil is known to be calming; citrus oil is energizing. It would be rare to see them as a therapeutic combination. However, lavender might be paired with vanilla to enhance the calming effect of both.
Eucalyptus oil and rosemary oil is another example of a combination that you would rarely see. Both have analgesic properties; both have very strong distinctive scents, consequently one would probably be prescribed over the other. However, eucalyptus oil might be combined with lavender oil to soothe and relax as it enhances breathing.
It is important to be aware that while we are accustomed to think of an oil as a liquid with a thick viscosity, pure, undiluted essential oils generally have the consistency of water and evaporate easily. Because light will often change the oil's chemistry resulting in a change in its smell and effectiveness, you will see oils packaged in dark or opaque ceramic bottles and stored in cool, dry places to prevent evaporation and spoilage.
Essential oils can be used during massages, as an inhalant, in baths, applied directly to the skin to relieve skin irritations or they can be used to fragrance the environment or the body. Special equipment, such as diffusers are available to disperse the fragrance in the air. Carrier oils are available to apply the oils to the skin. It is important to remember that there are hundreds of different oils with many different combinations producing many different effects, for example, using sage to clear a room or the mind. Sandalwood and patchouli oils can be seductive scents, as well as act as anti-inflammatories. Applied to the skin, neroli or orange blossom, can have a healing affect and when ingested can hep the digestive system. The list of benefits of each essential oil stretches on.
Essential oils can be purchased and blended with carrier oils or used alone, to suit your needs and preferences.
Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be expensive. In its purist form, the oils may damage the skin if applied directly. Consequently, mixing essentialoils with an odorless oil is necessary. These oils are referred to as carrier oils. Carrier oils have varying viscosity and are generally odorless. They often have therapeutic properties of their own which also helps to increase the potency and efficacy of the essential oil. If you are serious about using essential oils as part of your aromatherapy or solely as a fragrance, the following are carrier oils that are commonly used:
- argon oil - relatively new to the United States, argon oil has little to no odor. It is therapeutic for hair and for skin. One drawback of using argon oil is that it is also rare and can be expensive.
- jojoba oil - the popularity of this oil really rose in the eighties. It can enhance the therapeutic properties of any essential oils which benefit the skin and treat such problems as eczema, acne and psoriasis. Jojoba promotes healthy hair and the essential oil you choose should complement the light aroma of jojoba and provide a pleasant scent.
- olive oil - it is found in most kitchens and has properties that are beneficial to the skin and hair. It is also used in cosmetics and lotions.
- Evening Primrose - its healing properties has been used for both health and skin issues. Some of the health issues include menopausal problems and heart diseases.
- sweet almond oil - a most effective oil for dry skin, but it can actually be used on all skin types. It is especially good for relieving itching.
These are just a few of the carrier oils that are commonly available. The choice of carrier oil is yours or the aromatherapists. However, as you can see from some of the beneficial properties of carrier oils in their own right, combining with the right essential oil is important to healing.
Consult an Herbalist or Aromatherapist
Working with essential oils can be fun, as well as beneficial. For instance, a few drops of fragrance oil in the bath will work wonders for the spirit and the body if the right oils are chosen. The benefits of a massage based on aromatherapy can be an exquisite, very therapeutic and relaxing. While most essentialoils are harmless, a very few are toxic. Because some individuals may be allergic to specific oils, it is always best to patch test the skin for reactions before using it extensively on the body or the hair. But even better is to consult an aromatherapist or herbalist.
Aromatherapists and herbalists are experts in the field of using herbs and essential oils as curatives and are well acquainted with the facts about using essential oils and aromatherapy. It is always best to consult one before embarking on self treatments. Besides, they can probably introduce you to combinations of essential oils and carrier oils that will be the most beneficial and they you may not have considered. Additionally, consulting an aromatherapist can help you determine which essential oils may be contraindicated if you have a medical disease such as high blood pressure. Just remember, none of the information is to be taken as medical intervention or recommendations. Only a licensed, certified medical practitioner can do that.
Essential oils are not only important health additions to our lives, but they are also enjoyable as fragrances in their own right, making it well worth it to explore and learn the facts using essential oils as aromatherapy. The fact is that the use of essential oils can contribute to our overall well being.
Have some fun with aromatherapy, make your own signature blend!
© 2011 Cynthia B Turner