Brief History of Aromatherapy

Anthropologists speculate that primitive perfumery began with the burning of gums and resins for incense, and smudging with aromatic plant material. From the history of the Egyptian culture, we have learned how the resins, balms, and fragrant oils were used by the priests, who were also the doctors, for magical and religious ceremonies, for embalming, and as an offering to their gods.

Many ancient cultures recognized the physical and psychological benefits of scented ointments and oils. Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, maintained 2,500 years ago that “the key to good health rests on having a daily aromatic bath and scented massage’. Some of the plant materials Discorides wrote about in his Materia Medica 100 AD include many of the herbs and essential oils we use today including cardamon, cinnamon, myrrh, basil, fennel, frankincense, juniper, pine, rose, rosemary, and thyme. Scented ointments and oils were recognized as having great benefit on both the physical and psychological level. Bay laurel was used to produce a trance-like state; rose, myrtle and coriander were respected for their aphrodisiac properties, while myrrh and marjoram were used as sedatives.

It is well known that aromatic oils were used in China and India during the same period as ancient Egypt. One of the principle aspects of ayurvedic medicine is massage with aromatic oils. Jasmine was used as a general tonic for the entire body. Rose was employed as an antidepressant and used to strengthen the liver. Chamomile was given for headaches, dizziness and colds. Many of the properties ascribed to herbs and aromatic oils by the ancients are regarded as valid today.

Distillation of essential oils is credited to the Persians in the 10th century, although there is evidence of distillation long before that by other ancient cultures. By the 16th century printed books were readily available and gave rise to a new era of progress and the spread of knowledge. A German physician, Hieronymus Braunschweig, wrote several books on essential oil distillation which went through hundreds of editions in every European language In 1597 he referenced 25 essential oils included rosemary, lavender, clove, cinnamon, myrrh, and nutmeg. Many books about distillation of essential oils were written in the 16th century, especially in Germany, which seemed to be the center of European aromatherapy renaissance.

The role of micro-organisms in disease was recognized in the 1880’s and by 1887 French physicians first recorded laboratory tests on the anti-bacterial properties of essential oils. These early tests resulted from the observation that there was a low incidence of tuberculosis in the flower growing districts in southern France. In 1888 a similar paper was published showing the micro-organisms of glandular and yellow fever were easily killed by active properties of oregano, Chinese cinnamon, angelica and geranium.

By the nineteenth century the role of the medical doctor was well established and in spite of regular use of essential oils, the medical professional became firmly fixed on isolating the active principles of natural substances and producing chemical drugs based on the identified “active ingredient” of the natural substance. However, it could be noted that, the French and German medical profession maintained a close connection with the healing properties of botanicals and did not experience the schism with botanical medicine as we have experienced in the United States over the last two hundred years.

In 1910, Rene Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of lavender after severely burning his hands in a laboratory explosion. He later used the wound healing and antiseptic properties of essential oils in the care of soldiers in military hospitals during WWI. Gattefosse coined the term “aromatherapy” with the 1937 publication of his book, of the same name. Gattefosse’s book has since been translated into English as Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy (1993). Dr. Jean Valnet, a French army surgeon used essential oils in the treatment of war wounds during the French Indochina War and wrote the book, Practice of Aromatherapy, which was translated into the English in 1964.
Marguerite Maury, a French biochemist and nurse, lectured and gave seminars in the early 30ies throughout Europe on the rejuvenating properties of essential oils and resulting overall sense of well being they provided.

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Aromatherapy Basics

Aromatherapy refers to the inhalation and topical application of true, authentic essential oils from aromatic plants to restore or enhance health, beauty and well-being.

The field of aromatherapy activity is quite wide, ranging from the deep and penetrating therapeutic actions of essential oils to the extreme subtlety of fragrance on the psyche. One of the uses of aromatherapy is to strengthen the self-healing processes by preventative methods and indirect stimulation of the immune system

Major points to keep in mind when working with essential oils:
Use only genuine 100% essential oils (avoid synthetic fragrance oils)
Be aware of individual sensitivity/allergy
Use diluted in a carrier, such as lotion, vegetable oil
Photo-sensitive essential oils: bergamot, lemon, lime, bitter orange, angelica root
In the case of skin irritation, apply vegetable oil to wick essential oils from the skin.
Keep out of reach of children; Store away from heat and light
Can stain clothing and damage the finish on furniture

Effects of essential oils by inhalation

The inhalation of aromatic molecules affect us on a variety of levels – physical, emotional and spiritual. When inhaled, aromatic molecules enter the nasal passages where they stimulate olfactory receptor sites and trigger nerve messages to the limbic center brain. The limbic area of the brain, also called the old brain, or rhinocephalon, it is thought to have evolved more than 70 million years ago and predates the neocortex. It represents a complex area with 34 structures and 53 pathways that in turn stimulates physiological responses within the body via the nervous, endocrine or immune systems, affecting sensations of pleasure, pain centers of the brain, emotions, memory, sleep, appetite and sex.

There are many ways to use essential oils for inhalation including electric micro-mist diffusers, heat generated diffusion (candle diffuser, light bulb ring, Aromaball), spritzing, steaming and the favorite aromatic bath, which is also wonderful for the skin.

The effects of stress in daily life, often seen as depression, anxiety and irritability, is an area of care in which aromatherapy enjoys a great deal of success, especially in combination with massage.

Topical Applications

When used topically (on the skin), in a suitable dilution, essential oils have a myriad applications for health, beauty and well being. Besides being used in massage and for skin care, they are easily applied as first aid remedies. The anti-inflammatory properties of Helichrysum and German Chamomile make them useful for pain due to local inflammation. The anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of Tea Tree, Eucalyptus globulus and Cajeput are helpful for flu and sinusitis prevention and general strengthening of the immune system. Essential oils can be added to many personal care products and integrated into home maintenance chores to enhance the overall environment.

Dilution Guidelines

Dilution Guideline:

0.5 % = 3 drops per ounce (sensitive skin, emotional and spiritual purposes)
1% = 6 drops per ounce (recommended for children, expectant mothers, skin care)
2% = 12 drops per ounce (massage, body lotion)
3% = 18 drops per ounce (massage, body lotion)
10% = 3 ml (sixty drops) (pain, infection, usually on small body area)

Methods of Use:

Bath – sitz, hand, foot, full bath. Use 6-8 drops total per adult, always using a carrier to disperse into the water. Avoid irritating oils such as peppermint, spice, & citrus oils. Bath is useful for respiratory, stress and insomnia complaints. Water and heat increases absorption.

Inhalation – personal and environmental fragrancing, steam inhalation, diffuser, aroma lamp, room sprays, tissue, humidifier, potpourri pots, candles, jewelry

Massage – localized or whole body. 2-3% dilution in a vegetable, nut or seed oil as a carrier, or unscented natural lotion. 4% dilution (24 drops/oz.) can be used for local areas needing stronger concentration.

Facial steam – 1-3 drops in a bowl of hot water. Use skin friendly essential oils (lavender, geranium, R. chamomile) according to skin type, keep eyes closed.

Compresses – hot, cold & alternating; local treatments for headaches, menstrual pain, muscle pain. Whole body wraps for encouraging general detoxification, relaxation and stress maintenance.

Clay masks – for face and whole body clay packs