Aromatherapy is generally defined as the use of volatile materials extracted from plants for physical and mental well-being purposes. Its foundation lies in the belief that certain aromatic oils of vegetal origin have healing properties.
Although it was officially recognised as a form of alternative medicine only at the beginning of the 20th century, aromatherapy has been used since ancient times. It may originate from the Chinese wellness practices or from the Persian and Indian distillation techniques, but the first evidence refers to Egypt and Greece. The Egyptians used cedar wood or cinnamon extracts, infused oils and herbal mixtures not only to embalm the dead, but also for medical and cosmetic purposes. Some Greek scientists like Dioscorides, Megallus or Hippocrates will always be associated with aromatherapy’s history. However, the concept as it is used today was developed in Europe and the word itself first appeared in 1937 when a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé accidentally healed his burn with lavender oil.
Extraction techniques have greatly evolved since their first uses, but the principle stays the same: steam or pressure is applied on plant leaves or stem until they break down and release the fragrant oils contained within. They are afterwards filtered to remove the water. The outcome is the well-known essential oil which is usually combined with other oils and lotions in order to obtain the final product.
While there is a lot of skepticism around this technique, plenty of studies have been conducted upon its efficacy and benefits. Here are some of the most popular essential oils used by aromatherapy practitioners:
• Bergamot, a citrus-scented oil has proved to have a mood lifting effect and was successfully used to fight stress, depression, anxiety and anorexia. It has also been applied on skin for psoriasis and eczema.
• Cedarwood oil has calming properties that help alleviate stress and anxiety. Respiratory problems, skin conditions and urinary tract infections are also common indications for the use of this wood-scented oil.
• Clarity of mind, sharpness, energy boost are only a few of the results obtained with peppermint oil.
• Roses and geraniums are not only wonderful flowers, but also the providers of essences efficient with hormone imbalance treatments and skin issues.
• Tea tree extracts are well known for improving immune system and helping your body fight viral infections.
• The sweet smelling ylang-ylang and jasmine flowers contain oils famous for their aphrodisiac properties.
• Chamomile plant has been used for ages to make the calming tea that would help people with insomnia, and teething in babies.
Women have always used lavender to add fragrance to their wardrobes. But aromatherapy takes out of these plants extracts with antibacterial, antiseptic and analgesic properties.
Although each one appears to be able to trigger a number of physical or mental reactions on its own, essential oils are almost never used alone. They are combined to obtain a synergistic effect with enhanced healing properties.