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What is Aromatherapy?
The term aromatherapy, or perhaps it is more appropriate to use the term aromatherapie as its language of origin was French, was coined in 1928 by the French Chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. Amazingly, it was by some accident that Gattefosse "re-discovered" the powerful and natural effects of what we today commonly call "essential oils." Gattefosse severely burned his hand whilst carrying out his work and plunged it into the nearest container, thinking it was water when, in fact, it was a vat of lavender. To his surprise, his hand did not bear the burn scarring that he feared, and thus "aromatherapie" was born.
Of course, the roots of aromatherapy can be traced much further back in history, all the way back to ancient times. Many civilizations have recognized, and used, the benefits of aromatherapy in one form or another, before it emerged today in its present form. The earliest recorded use of aromatherapy can be attributed to the use of plants and plant extracts in the use of medicine and for personal hygiene in places such as India, Egypt, Greece and by the ancient Romans. However, it is likely that it was in use long before even these early beginnings and record keeping.
The Art and Science of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is both an art and a science. Strictly speaking, the use of plants in earlier times is not how we define the practice of aromatherapy today. Aromatherapy is basically a therapy using the "aromas" of the plants, and not the use of the plants themselves. It is these "aromas," that we call essential oils, which are used in aromatherapy to help with any number of ailments and to induce certain moods.
Did you know?
In the 17th century, early English "alternative" practitioners were commonly seen as witches, and were burnt at the stake, as fear of the "wise woman's" knowledge was invoked by the medical profession wishing to suppress that which was "new."
The Science of Aromatherapy
Essential oils are the "life blood" of the plant.The essential oils of the plant are stored in a number of places; these include the glandular hairs, glands, veins or sacs of a plant, grass or tree. Essential oil is extracted from flowers, leaves, trees, roots, and the fruit.
Essential oils are volatile (from the Latin word volare, meaning to fly). This means they evaporate at or above room temperature. Heat releases the fragrance of the essential oils. A walk through a summer garden is an example of how heat releases the natural fragrance of plants; in the winter these fragrances are less noticeable as the cooler air prevents easy evaporation of the oils
Despite their name, essential oils are in fact non-oily. The extraction of these oils is a lengthly and sometimes costly process, prompting a wide variation in the cost of, for instance, rose oil. Rose essential oil is extremely difficult to extract in large quantities; compare this to an essential oil such as orange which is a lot cheaper because it is more easily extracted. If a "true" essential oil feels oily to you, its probably not a pure essential oil and has been adulterated. Unfortunately, several suppliers do this due to the high costs involved in pure extraction techniques.
Did you know?
It takes about 60,000 roses to produce just one ounce of essential oil!
The Art of Aromatherapy
Essential oils can have a number of effects on the body and help with a number of ailments. They can be used in a variety of ways; these include inhalation, massage, lotions and oils, compresses, baths, and, in some cases of an experienced aromatherapist, used undiluted. They can be stimulative or relaxing, depending on the quantity used, the essential oil used and for the type of ailment. Essential oils can be combined together to produce different effects; this produces what is known as a synergistic blend of oils, personally "adjusted" to help your particular ailment. In short, using essential oils can produce varying results, and thus the experienced aromatherapist is skilled in producing a unique blend of essential oils that cater to your specific need.
How to Use Aromatherapy
There isn't much that aromatherapy hasn't been used for! Aromatherapy may be used for helping the following conditions, although this is by no means an exhaustive list:
stress, back problems, asthma, arthritis, depression, burns, pregnancy related problems, childhood ailments, menstrual and menopausal problems, coughs and colds, circulation problems, headaches, skin problems, insect repellants and bites - and much, much more. Aromatherapy can also be used in various ways around the home including as an air fresheners and in place or regular household cleaning. Aromatherapy can be used in beauty treatments as well.
You can use aromatherapy if you are old or young, mother or child; seek advice from a qualified and experienced aromatherapist if you have not used aromatherapy before. This is particularly important when using aromatherapy with children, the elderly and mothers-to-be, as you should reduce the quantity of essential you use or avoid certain essential oils completely.
The Side Effects of Aromatherapy
There are little or no side effects with the use of essential oils when you compare them to the use of conventional drug treatments, if you use them correctly and in the correct quantities. However, it is best to consult an experienced aromatherapist to get the best advice on using essential oils both effectively and safely. If you use essential oils incorrectly or in the wrong quantities (especially in the case of babies and children) there may be some strong adverse reactions, simply because the person was not experienced in what they were doing. Used correctly, essential oils are extremely beneficial.
... Inspire, Educate, Create
Author of Authentic Aromatherapy
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By Sharon Falsetto