Aromatherapy is one of the most popular of all complementary therapies. It is moving in bold direction playing a greater role in the treatment of pain, as a mood enhancer or even in sleep therapy.
Aromatherapy has flourished in the past forty years. Sales of essential body oils are continuously growing as more people are indulging aromatherapy to enhance their everyday environment.
Reasons for the resurgence of this traditional therapy are many, not the least being its gentle, natural approach to healing and its soothing effects. The art of aromatic essences re-emerged early this century, when the application of plants to medicine, health and beauty-therapy was renewed with vigor, particularly in France. The French chemist Gattefosse, having badly burned his hand, plunged it into the nearest liquid, a vat of lavender oil. He was so astonished by the subsequent healing that he became utterly absorbed in what he was to “coin” as aromatherapy.
In 1964, Dr. Jean Valnet, a Frenchman, who used essential oils to treat his patients, wrote an influential work on aromatherapy that remains highly regarded. Modern use of essential oils in massage was pioneered by Austrian-born biochemist Marguerite Maury who studied both the physical and emotional effects of aromatics.
Our sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than other senses which must travel the body by reaching the brain. Only the olfactory response is instantaneous and leads directly to the brain. A scent is a combination of fragrant aromatic molecules that exert an influence chemically on the body, or in other words it is an interplay of a complex chemical tapestry with each part playing an important synergistic action.
Aromatherapy, incidentally is an ancient art, using pure and natural “essential” oils to enhance a mood, treat ailments and to promote good health and wellbeing. As far back as 4500 BC a Chinese emperor recorded what he thought to be the medical properties on rhubarb, opium and pomegranate. The Egyptians around 3000 BC were also familiar with the art of aromatics. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened in 1922, many of the aromatic preparations were still fragrant. One perfume known as Kyphi was a mixture of some 16 ingredients, including honey, raisins, myrrh, cinnamon, turpentine, juniper and cardamom. When the Romans acquired the knowledge of aromatics, they used essences to perfume their homes especially their bathrooms and improve their massage.
This book introduces aromatherapy so that readers may enjoy, through personal use, the beneficial properties of essential oils in daily life. This book confines itself to areas that the unskilled person may enjoy in safety and comfort. It can be as simple as a scented handkerchief to pamper the senses, a wonderfully invigorating bath, or a pleasing aroma for the home; or it can promote better indigestion, improve circulation, or offer relief for the common cold with its wonderful vapors.
Essential oils contain many organic compounds which unite in a delicate, complex balance. It is this exquisite balance that produces the therapeutic and olfactory qualities. The therapeutic value of essential oils lies in the total mysterious complexity of the natural composition in nature’s perfect balance.
Essential oils are not only derived from various culinary herbal plants, but specific parts of the plants. For example, only roots of ginger, the flower of lavender and the leaves of rosemary are used. However, it should be said that the most familiar essences are probably those derived from flowers, like the rose, geranium, and ylang ylang.
To extract pure essential oils from plants is a painstaking task, requiring huge quantities of plants. To produce 1 kg of lavender, rose and lemon essential oils, some 200 kg of fresh lavender flowers, between 2000 and 3000 kg of roses and 3,000 lemons are needed.
The most widely used method of extraction is steam distillation. It involves placing the plant material on a grid inside a distillation vat and passing steam through it under pressure. The heat of the steam causes the cell walls of the leaves, twigs, berries, etc. to break open, releasing the essential oil as a vapor. The vapor is passed with the steam through cooling tanks, where it condenses. When the steam and oil vapor are cooled, the essential oil usually floats on the water in the collecting tanks because essential oils are lighter than water. The essential oils are eventually separated out.
Essential oils can evaporate so they should be kept in tightly-closed containers in cool, dry and dark places. Plastic must be avoided because it can interact with the chemical make-up of essential oils and, in time, cause disintegration.
Essential oils are classified in three evaporation rates called notes, middle notes and base notes. Top notes are lightest with the fastest rates of evaporation, for example a few hours in the case of eucalyptus. Middle notes last around a day, such as lavender, geranium and peppermint. Base notes are slowest to evaporate, some lasting a few days, such as patchouli and sandalwood. They are used as fixatives to keep the blend together. It is interesting to know that to achieve the best balance in a blend, you should mix oils of differing evaporation rates.
It is important to stress how important it is to use pure, natural and authentic oils. Synthetic oils contain no dynamic, “life force”. When you want to buy an essential oil, you should check the country of origin, the botanical of the plant, the part of the plant that has been used, and the method of extraction.
This book introduces us to the creative and scientific application of essentials oils to create beneficial changes in our lives on aesthetic, therapeutic and even mystical levels. After all, essential oils can be literally described as the quintessential spirit of plants captured in a jar.