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Historic And Modern Use Of Aromatherapy Health Essay

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with the sense of smell and identifying the ways that aromas are so influential on a person’s memories, thoughts and emotions. I decided to do my Independent Study on the history and practice of aromatherapy because I have always been drawn to it, and I hope to be able to offer others a chance to learn about it by developing a course that can be offered at the Firefly Academy.

I started my studies by reading several books about aromatherapy, buying some inexpensive essential oils, and putting into practice the things I read about. As I began using aromatherapy in my personal life and experiencing the things I learned, I realized that I was able to influence not only my own health and mood, but that others were benefitting from it as well. I began making blends for friends and family, and I incorporated it into the relaxation sessions that I developed for clients.

Using essential oils in my everyday life has given me many benefits. I can customize linen and room sprays according to the season, or the emotional atmosphere I want to create. It is simple to create salves for bug bites or muscle strain that are completely natural and work as well as store-bought items. I can use essential oils just like herbs to dress candles, add to talisman or amulet bags, or purify ritual space in my magickal practice. The only limit on the uses of essential oils is my own creativity.

What Do The Terms Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Mean?

To begin with, we need to define the terms aromatherapy and essential oil:

· “Aromatherapy is the art and science of enhancing health and well being with essential oils.” (Aura Cacia, a leading advocate and manufacturer of high quality essential oils) [1]

· Essential oils are the volatile essences extracted from plant materials for the purpose of affecting one’s health, mood or environment.

The Use of Scent Throughout Human History

We don’t need to have a degree in chemical engineering or physiology to understand how essential oils can affect us, or to enjoy them by adding scent to our everyday lives. It’s something human beings have been doing throughout thousands of years of history.

The use of ointments, powders, waters, oils and incense has been documented as part of worship, medicine and culture throughout many early civilizations. From Egypt and Persia, to India and China, trade routes flourished as the rich and powerful demanded steady supplies of aromatic salves for use as medicine, resins and incense to please the gods, and fragrant powders or perfumes to scent the skin [2] .

Although no one can prove exactly when essential oils were first distilled from plants, the Persian Avicenna (980-1037 C.E.) is generally given credit as the first. Avicenna was a philosopher and physician, and he used essential oils extensively in his practice. [3]

In more modern times, the scientific revolution in the 19th century led to the identification and isolation of many essential oils and active plant compounds. These discoveries soon led scientists to develop synthetic substances that could be produced cheaply and in mass quantities. This made it possible (economically feasible) to add artificial scent to products that were widely available to the public. Some of these products were soap, shampoo, beverages, and perfumes.

The term aromatherapy was coined in the early 20th century by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French scientist. [4] He developed an intense interest in the healing properties of essential oils after his personal experience with lavender essential oil. His family owned a perfumery business and he worked in the laboratory. One day, an explosion occurred and Rene-Maurice badly burned his hands. The closest thing around to use to quench the heat of the burns was a large container of lavender essential oil. He healed very quickly from his burns and was left without any scarring.

There are many notables in the development of modern aromatherapy. Two of the most well-known are: Dr. Jean Valnet [5] , a surgeon in World War II who began using essential oils on the battlefield after reading of Gattefosses’s work; and Robert Tisserand who is credited with being one of the first to bring widespread education about aromatherapy to the English-speaking world.

Where Do Essential Oils Come From

Most essential oils are used today as flavorings for foods and beverages, or as fragrance for perfumes, body care and cleaning products. Only a small percentage of all essential oils produced are used in practical aromatherapy.

Each essential oil is comprised of a unique combination of volatile, aromatic chemicals. Most essential oils contain over one hundred different chemicals. Thousands of different aroma chemicals have been discovered in plants by scientists so far [6] . The combination of these chemicals is what gives an essential oil its fragrance and also makes it effective to use.

Many things can contribute to the amount and variation of each chemical constituent in an essential oil. Things such as climate, soil quality, growing conditions, or harvesting methods can have a big effect on the quality of the essential oil that ends up in a bottle on the shelf of your local health food store. The various aspects work together to create each oil’s signature fragrance and physical properties.

Essential oils can come from all parts of the plant including, leaves, flowers, roots, seeds or fruit. Some examples of essential oils that come from different parts of a plant are: leaf-Peppermint, flowers-Rose, roots-Angelica, seeds-Black Pepper, fruit (rind)-Orange.

Unlike using fresh or dried herbs, to use an essential oil we must first to get it out of the plant. Try sniffing a fresh peppermint or thyme leaf. There will be very little scent. Now, rub the herb between your fingers and sniff again. By crushing the cell walls of the leaf, the essential oil is released. This is one way to extract the essential oil but not very efficient! And although there are many ways of extracting an essential oil from plants, there are three main methods used by most manufacturers today.

Steam distillation is an ancient process. The basic process remains unchanged from that used centuries ago. The majority of essential oils are distilled this way.

Fresh plant material is stacked on racks set above boiling water. The steam causes the cell walls of the plant material to break down and release the essential oil. After passing through a condenser, the essential oil can be separated from the water by skimming it off the top.

Expression is a mechanical method pressing the essential oil out of the plant. Usually this method is used for getting essential oils out of the peels of citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, or lemons. Citrus oils are fragile and the “fresh fruit” aroma is lost if the peels are steam distilled.

Enfleurage (Absolutes and Concretes) is the process used to extract essential oils from plants that are extremely delicate or have a low quantity of oil per plant. Some examples of oils that are made as absolutes are rose, jasmine or violet. These essential oils tend to be very expensive because they are labor intensive to create and it takes a tremendous amount of plant material to make a small amount of essential oil.

In the past, layers of flowers were covered in rendered animal fat or a hydrocarbon solvent. As the fat became saturated with the scent, the spent flowers were removed and replaced with fresh. This process makes a waxy substance called a concrete.

To further refine the mixture, the fat was mixed with alcohol to separate the essential oil from the fat. This produces an absolute from the concrete. This is the liquid product that contains the essential oil.

How Do We Interpret Scent and How Does Scent Affect Us

Most of us can think of examples of how scent has influenced our memory. One example might be that the smell of cinnamon evokes the memory of sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen as she made cinnamon rolls 20 years after her passing. Another might be the automatic grimace that comes to your face at remembering the smell of the skunk that sprayed the dog last year. These are just a couple examples that show how scent becomes wired into our memories.

Once scent molecules are breathed into the nose, they bind with receptors that send impulses to the olfactory bulbs that sit at the base of the brain. The olfactory bulbs interpret the scent “message” and send it on to the limbic system.

The limbic system is part of the oldest part of our brain. It controls the functions that are necessary for our very survival such as the sex drive, hunger, thirst or need for sleep. This area is close to the hippocampus, where feelings and emotions originate, and long-term memory is stored [7] . It is easy to see why scents can affect us so strongly when we see how closely the sense of smell is related to our memory and survival instincts.

We can apply this to our everyday lives when we extrapolate that our highest thought processes which include language, mathematics or abstract thinking can be affected by aromatherapy since the areas that process fragrance information and memory are so closely linked.

By using an essential oil (such as Rosemary which is used for mental challenges) while studying, this scent becomes imprinted in the brain along with the information being studied. By sniffing the same oil later, like right before an exam, we can take advantage of this linking to have better recall. In Victorian times, scented stationary was popular for love letters. Maybe the writers hoped the sweet scent of perfume would cause one’s beloved to think fondly of the writer.

We can use aromatherapy in so many ways to make our lives healthier and happier. We can use it to help us not only with physical applications, but also to improve our mental and emotional health. And if you have had any experience in magick or spell casting, you can begin to see the implications immediately!

How To Choose An Essential Oil

When choosing oils for use in aromatherapy, it is vital to make sure that you are purchasing an essential oil. Essential oils are extracted from plants that grew in nature. They are not created in a laboratory. It is important to choose oils that have been extracted from the appropriate part of the plant, and using the correct method of extraction.

On the other hand, “aroma” oils, fragrance oils, or “nature identical” oils have been created in a lab or altered in a way that does not include all the components of the pure essential oil. They are not interchangeable with essential oils! These other types of oils have their uses, but it not in the practice of aromatherapy.

An example of this is peppermint oil used by the food industry. Manufacturers will sometimes redistill the peppermint essential oil to remove the “grassy” notes and amplify the “minty” notes. This is done for a purer peppermint flavor in your toothpaste.

Essential oils can be chosen for their physical, emotional, or spiritual properties. You may choose an oil to relieve a physical symptom, to help deal with stress or to purify your ritual space. Some oils with be effective for all these areas. Frankincense was used in ancient times to fumigate (purify) churches and temples. Not only was this effective against disease agents such as plague, but it also brought people to a meditative state, and calmed the emotions. Many people use Frankincense for the same purposes today.

Most books have charts showing the properties associated with each essential oil. It is a good idea to get a couple books that list a variety of information the oils. It is important to know physical properties, such as whether the oil you are choosing might be antibacterial, stimulant or sedative. It is also useful to know what effects the oil might have on the mind or emotions. If choosing an oil to use for magickal purposes, the correspondences listed for the herb will be the same as for the oil.

Once several oils have been identified for the required purpose, the best way to choose the appropriate oil is to take a whiff and see which one pleases you the most. The imprint of scent is so individualized that even if all the books say that “oil A” is the absolute best choice for headaches, if the individual doesn’t find the scent pleasing, or has a negative memory of the aroma, it will not have the desired effect. Always choose essential oils based on your personal preference.

Essential oils are very versatile in their abilities to nurture, heal, support and rejuvenate our bodies, minds and spirits. They are easily absorbed into the body through the skin, by inhalation, or ingestion. But just because they are natural substances and have been used for centuries does not mean that they are without some risk. It is very important to use safety precautions when working with essential oils.

Many essential oils often share a lot of the same chemical components. Sometimes knowing which chemicals are present in an essential oil will give you a good idea how that oil might be used. One example is eucalyptol. Oils, such as eucalyptus and tea tree, that contain this chemical are helpful in relieving chest congestion. Another example is the neurotoxin, thujone. This chemical can be extremely dangerous. Oils with a low content of thujone, such as yarrow or sage, should be used with caution and not used on a continual basis. Other oils, such as mugwort or wormwood, (does absinthe ring a bell?) should not be used at all.

Skin irritation can be common if using essential oils without diluting them with a vegetable oil. These dilution oils are called carrier oils. Most vegetable oils can be used as carrier oils. If using essential oils on the elderly or young children, they should be diluted even more. Some essential oils can cause sensitivity to sunlight, as well. Pregnant women, and those with other health conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes, should take extra precautions in choosing essential oils. And unless properly trained, no one should ingest essential oils!

Always research the essential oils you use to make sure you are following the proper safety protocols. There are usually warnings listed on the bottle and most stores have pamphlets or brochures that will list safety precautions. It is well worth the time spent reading about potential problems or doing a skin-patch test (to test for allergic reactions) to avoid the pain and hassle of a bad reaction.

How To Apply Essential Oils

There are many different ways that essential oils (EOs) can enter the body. Inhalation through the nose is one of the best known. Absorption through the skin is another popular method. Less common ways include oral, vaginal or rectal application.

Although ingestion of essential oils is more common in Europe, never ingest them without the advice of a trained professional. Most cases of poisoning have occurred after people ingested too high a dose. Ingesting just one or two teaspoons of concentrated essential oil can be enough to cause injury or death [8] .

Inhalation is one of the easiest ways to use essential oils. Oils can be inhaled directly from the bottle, a drop or two placed on a tissue or light bulb, or a few drops added to a bowl of hot water or to the well of a pillar candle. A couple drops can be added to a dryer sheet and a whole load of sheets will be redolent with aroma.

Diffusers are another popular way to disperse essential oils into the air. There are many types of diffusers available. Some use a fan to move air through a paper filter on which you’ve placed a few drops of oil. Others use a nebulizer to vaporize the oil into a fine mist. And still another type uses ultrasonic technology to release the oil within a fine mist of water.

There are many way to apply essential oils to the skin and it is an effective way to incorporate them into your body. Essential oils can be added to bathwater or to massage oil. It is also easy to add essential oils to any unscented shampoo, lotion or body wash product to create your own custom blends.

General dilution rates for healthy adults are 10-20 drops essential oil in a bath tub of warm water or 10-15 drops per ounce of carrier oil. Use half or less of these rates for children or the elderly.

Essential Oil Quality

It is worth discussing essential oil quality and how to choose the correct oil for the purpose for which you wish to use it. It is vital to make sure the essential oil you’re using is produced from the proper part of the plant, extracted using the most efficient process, is harvested at the correct time, and contains all the active ingredients that make the oil effective. There should be no artificial components added. Choosing well-known suppliers and brands makes it easier to feel confident that the oils you buy.

Firstly, make sure the label says that it is 100% pure essential oil. To work as intended, the oil must be pure. As mentioned earlier in this essay, “fragrance” or “aroma” oils made from synthetic ingredients are not interchangeable with essential oils. An exception to this statement would be when purchasing extremely expensive oils such as Neroli, Rose or Jasmine that are 100% pure essential oils that have been diluted in a carrier oil to make it more affordable. The carrier oil will be listed on the ingredients panel.

If you only need a drop of two of rose oil for your Valentine’s Day sachet, you might decide that the 5ml bottle of diluted Rose Otto for $20 is a better choice than the 2ml bottle of 100% pure Rose Otto for $130. However, if you are making an anti-aging face cream you might want the real deal to increase the amount of active ingredients to make your cream more effective.

Secondly, make sure you know the Latin name of the oil you want. This way you know that you are buying the correct product. There are several types of Lavender essential oil on the market. One is extracted from the flowers of Lavandula augustifolia and is noted for its relaxing and calming properties. Another is extracted from the stems, leaves and flowers of Lavandula latifolia (called Spike Lavender) and is useful to repel insects and to help with cold symptoms. Each has different properties. The FDA requires that all manufacturers list the botanical names on the labels.

Thirdly, realize that it takes varying amounts of plant material and labor to produce each type of essential oil. If you are buying a brand of essential oils that has the same price on all oils, you are probably getting a low-quality, extremely diluted, or blatantly synthetic product.

It can take over 2000 pounds of rose blossoms to produce one pound of essential oil, but perhaps around 50 pounds of Eucalyptus to produce one pound of essential oil. It is obvious just from this one statistic that rose oil is going to a lot more expensive than eucalyptus. Just like in other real-life situations, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.

Where We Go From Here

This essay is the basis I am using to develop a course on Aromatherapy for The Firefly Academy. I hope to have it in included alongside the courses developed on Kitchen Herbology and Magickal Herbalism.

The course will build on the information presented in this essay, introduce in-depth lessons on the fourteen most popular and affordable essential oils, provide information on making essential oil blends, and showcase easy recipes to begin using aromatherapy to improve the quality of one’s life. There will be a project requiring students to make at least one recipe and describe their experiences using the blend in a short essay. A short, multiple choice quiz will be offered at the end of the course.

Below is the proposed outline of the course:

Lesson 1-What is Aromatherapy? What is an Essential Oil?

Lesson 2-Why Does Aromatherapy Work?

Lesson 3-Quality, Resources and Choosing Oils

Lesson 4-How to Use Essential Oils in Your Life

Lesson 5- Essential Oil Profiles Part 1 (Lavender, Tea Tree, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, German Chamomile, Clary Sage)

Lesson 6- Essential Oil Profiles Part 2 (Lemon, Geranium, Sweet Orange, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Rosemary, Sandalwood)

Lesson 7-Blending, Carrier Oils, Fun Formulas

Lesson 8-Essay, Quiz, Where Do We Go From Here?

Aromatherapy is a natural, effective way to improve many areas of our lives. It is not hard to learn and does not require an enormous expenditure of money. Essential oils are a good value as each one can be used for many different purposes and they take up little space in a cabinet or medicine chest.

My life has been enriched in countless ways by learning and using aromatherapy. I am fascinated by the ease in which I can ease the sting of a bug bite. I am rewarded with a good night’s sleep when I place a few drops of my “Sweet Dreams” blend on my pillow. My spiritual practices are enhanced by diffusing Frankincense and Myrrh on my altar to create sacred space. I will never regret the time and resources I have devoted to learning how to put the benefits of aromatherapy to use in my life.

Sources

http://www.auracacia.com

http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/avicenna.htm

http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/history.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15895251

Nyam News , December Volumes 1 & 2, Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, 2005

The Practice of Aromatherapy, Jean Valnet, MD, Healing Arts Press, 1980

The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood, New World Library, 1991

Aromatherapy: An A-Z: The Most Comprehensive Guide to Aromatherapy Ever Published, Patricia Davis, Random House, 2005

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils , Julia Lawless, Element Books Ltd, 1995

“The Aromatherapy Deck,” Frontier Natural Products Co-op, 2007

Certificate course on Aromatherapy, The American College of Healthcare Sciences (formerly Australasian College)

Aura Cacia Retailer’s Aromatherapy Course, Aura Cacia Company

Footnotes:

[1] www.auracacia.com

[2] The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless, Element Books Ltd, 1995

[3] http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/avicenna.htm

[4] http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/history.asp

[5] The Practice of Aromatherapy by Jean Valnet, MD

[6] Nyam News, December Volumes 1 & 2, Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, 2005

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15895251

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