Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for healing. Essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes since ancient times. These oils are either inhaled or applied on the skin and is fast gaining importance as alternative treatment. The first evidence of its use comes from China where, in 4500 B.C., a medical book was written by an emperor named Kiwant Ti on the aromatic and healing properties of plants. Egypt developed a reputation for its use of essential oils for medicine, pharmaceuticals, perfumery and cosmetology. A French chemist named Rene Gatteffose` wrote his first thesis on “Aromatherapy” in 1928 and this became the cornerstone in the study and practice of the uses of essential oils.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the petals, stalks, gum, resins, roots, leaves, seeds, or flowers of plants. Some plants yield different oils from different parts of the plant. For example, the bitter orange tree gives neroli oil from its flower, orange oil from its fruit peel, and petitgrain from its leaves and twigs. These essences are believed to contain the soul of the plant, which provides each plant with its own energies and healing powers.
The molecular structure and healing qualities of these oils are such that they are said to penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream, within twenty to seventy minutes after treatment thus exerting its therapeutic effect in the different areas of our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.
Each oil contains its own unique mix of active ingredients, which determines what the oil is used for. Some oils are used to promote physical healing like swelling and fungal infections. Some are known for their emotional value – to enhance relaxation and calmness. Essential oils are volatile by nature, and hence must be kept in a dark glass bottle in order to preserve it.
There are a number of different ways to use essential oils in aromatherapy. These range from massages, through baths and inhalations, and to sprays and compresses for specific healing needs. As home remedies, aromatherapy can be used in various ways.
Health Benefits of some Essential oils
In general, essential oils seem to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation. Essential oils like lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon and sandalwood, are believed to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression. Evidence suggests that citrus oils may strengthen the immune system and that peppermint oil may help with digestion. Herbs like fennel, aniseed, and sage have estrogen like compounds, which may help relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause. Human studies are however lacking.
According to mayoclinic.org, “some studies have shown that aromatherapy might have health benefits, including: Relief from anxiety and depression, and improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions. Smaller studies suggest that aromatherapy with lavender oil may help make needle sticks less painful for people receiving dialysis, improve sleep for people who are hospitalized, reduce pain for children undergoing tonsillectomy.”
For the immune system
Siberian ginseng is said to enhance resistances to diseases. Ginger oil burned in a room is a preventive that encourages immunity to colds, flu, bronchitis, blocked sinuses and headaches. Juniper oil strengthens the immune system.
The essential oil of Patchouli is anti-inflammatory and may ease the symptoms.
Inhaling jasmine or pine, or burning the essential oil in a room may ease cough.
For common cold
Burning the essential oil of bay in the room or inhaling it from a bowl of steaming water will ease cold symptoms.
The essential oil of cajeput is excellent when inhaled. Eucalyptus, marjoram, and melissa are also useful.
Bay, when inhaled, acts as a pulmonary antiseptic. Inhaling eucalyptus may also be beneficial. Pine is a powerful antiseptic for lungs. Use as an inhalation in a bowl of steaming water. It can be burned in a vapourizer and placed in a baby’s or child’s room.
Clove oil massaged over the stomach is useful for dyspepsia. Mandarin essential oil aids digestion.
Essential oils with a calming effect include roman chamomile, lavender, neroli, and marjoram. Use in the bath, or during massage. Petitgrain is useful for those with panic attacks. Cedarwood burned in a room or used in a vaporizer, balances anxiety and nervous tension.
Frankincense is excellent for achieving calm and relaxation. It also aids meditation, as it slows and deepens breathing.
A massage with mandarin oil, or a few drops in the bath water, helps sleeplessness in children. Adults suffering from insomnia should try marjoram as a massage or bath oil. Lavender oil too is soothing. A few drops on the bedclothes or in a bath just before retiring will help get sleep.
Inhale basil oil for migrane. Melissa in the bath or as a massage oil is uplifting and calming both for migrane and other headaches.
Researchers are not very sure about how aromatherapy works. Some believe our sense of smell may play a role. The smell receptors in the nose communicate with parts of the brain that act as warehouses for emotions and memories. When we breathe in these essential oil molecules, they are believed to stimulate these parts of the brain and impact physical, emotional, and mental health. Some researchers believe that the molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.
Although essential oils have been around for centuries, there are very few studies that have studied the effectiveness of aromatherapy in people. Scientific evidence is lacking and more research is needed before aromatherapy is accepted as an alternative remedy. However, this is beginning to change as more scientific studies on aromatherapy are conducted around the world.