Aromatherapy…. Ancient Wisdom to Modern Science

Aromatherapy is derived from two words, aroma meaning smell and therapy meaning treatment.  It is the art and science of using essential oils for their therapeutic, physiological and aesthetic attributes and benefits to maintain and promote health and well-being.  It emphasizes the fact that nature continues to offer us ways to heal ourselves.  We believe connecting with nature is vital to body, mind and soul.  It can be employed as a complementary therapy or, more controversially, as a form of alternative medicine.  Aromatherapy’s intent is to balance and harmonize the body, stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities.

The actual term “aromatherapy” first originated in 1937 when French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse invented the word after a burn incident spurred his curiosity about the healing power of essential oils. On the heels of Gattefosse’s discovery that lavender essential oil helped to cure his burn, French surgeon Jean Valnet used essential oils as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers in World War II, proving the medical benefits of aromatherapy.

Essential oils should not be confused with fragrance oils. Essential oils are natural to the plant, whereas fragrance oils are chemically produced to mimic aromatic scents.  Fragrance oils have no therapeutic benefits and are often the cause of allergic reactions.  But, essential oils have very versatile and broad beneficial effects on our physical body, energy, and emotional plane.  They influence our immune, nervous, hormonal and digestive systems.  It’s been shown that aromatherapy can alter one’s mood, improve cognitive functioning and psychological or physical well-being.

Essential oils are the most potent essence of the plant, contained in tiny droplets between cells.  From a bio-chemical point of view they are part of the plant’s immune system and a type of vegetal hormone, that helps the plant in its adaptation to the environment.  The name “essential”  is derived from the Latin “quintessential”, meaning the fifth element.  The fifth element was the vital element the alchemist sought to change base metals into gold!

Essential oils are volatile which means that they evaporate completely when exposed to air.  And they are hydrophobic meaning they don’t mix with water.

In the steam distillation process only volatile and water insoluble constituents are isolated from the plant.  The main type of chemical compounds in lavender essential oil are terpenes and terpenoid compounds, and the oxygenated compounds which are mainly esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols .  The molecules that are soluble in water are not in the essential oil  i.e. acids and sugars, or those too large or too high in polarity to evaporate in steam such as tannins, flavonoids, carotenoids and polysaccharides.

Lavender essential oil’s chemical components vary by plant species or variety, and the geographical region, climate, soil, and altitude in which it’s grown. Harvesting time, methods and distillation processes affect the chemical components too.

Essential oils should always be kept in dark glass bottles with screw tops to minimize oxidation from air, heat or sunlight.  They should be kept in a cool, dry space, out of the direct sunlight.  They can even be refrigerated, which extends their shelf life.

Essential oils are powerful, concentrated substances, and knowing how to use them is of the utmost importance. Essential oils should not be feared but they should be respected and used properly, to ensure the safety of the individuals using them. 

Once you understand the principles of essential oils and experience their benefits,  you will want them in your life forever!