​​​What Is Aroma Therapy?

Have you ever experienced the wonder of reliving a memory through scent?  The smell of rain, a familiar perfume, or freshly baked cookies can transport us back in time.  Our sense of smell is a primal thing, and scent has the power to do a lot more than stir up memories.  Emotions and bodily responses are stirred too.  How does all of this happen?

The olfactory system is where it begins.  As tiny molecules enter nasal passages the sensation of smell is experienced.  Moving along, messages are relayed to the limbic, endocrine and autonomic nervous systems.  These powerful systems effect memory, emotions, and hormones, regulating body organs and functions like mood, metabolism, heart rate, digestion, and breathing to name a few. 

Wow, the nose is a very powerful instrument!  The art and science of aroma therapy seeks to use that power to promote balance in mind, body and spirit, through the use of essential oils.

So, what are essential oils, and how can they be used?  Essential oils are pure, fragrant, liquid substances.  They are derived from the raw material of plants, broken down, and distilled to create a highly concentrated form or essence.  Each essential oil has its own unique scent, chemical composition, and therapeutic qualities.  When blended together in the right combination, a synergistic effect is created, making the blend much more powerful than the sum of the individual oils.

Essential oils may be diffused, inhaled, or applied to the skin.  Because of the special way that inhalation provides entry to the brain and body, it is often considered the most direct delivery method.  Not all oils are safe for all applications, so care must be taken.  While a few suggest ingestion of essential oils, it is not recommended by most as it may cause injury.  When used properly, aroma therapy has the power to aid our innate healing processes and improve psychological and physical well being.

Since the beginning of time, our ancestors have used botanical ingredients for culinary, medicinal, and spiritual purposes.  Frankincense and Myrrh were presented by Wise Men as gifts of great value.  In the middle ages, small bouquets were carried to help relieve headache, and herbs were commonly used to make medicine.  However, it wasn’t until 1928 that the term “aromatherapy” was coined, by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. 

Monsieur Gattefosse was a French perfumer and chemist who accidentally discovered the healing properties of lavender.  After applying this essential oil to his burned arm, he noted accelerated healing.  This was the inspiration for extensive clinical studies and a 1938 book (entitled Aromathérapie:  Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales) about his findings on ailments and the uses of essential oils.  Aroma therapy was officially born!

Today, essential oils are readily available at grocery and natural food stores, and online.  You may already have some knowledge of commonly used essential oils like lavender; for soothing and relaxing effects, or tea tree; used for its antibiotic properties.  We encourage you to explore further.  Here are some websites and books that you might enjoy:

Aromatherapy – Clinical Studies
The Center for Health and Healing
Department of Integrative Medicine
Mt. Sinai Beth Israel

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy

Aroma Therapy and Essential Oils
National Cancer Institute
at the National Institutes for Health

Aromatiques:  a sensualist’s guide to aromatic oils / Eva Marie Lind

Essential Oils for Beginners:  The Guide to Get Started with Essential Oils and Aromatherapy / Althea Press

Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy:  The First Book on Aromatherapy / Rene-Maurice Gattefosse (Author), Robert B. Tisserand (Editor)