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Introduction to Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils which have been extracted from plant materials in order to promote physical and emotional health and well-being.  Evidence shows that plants have been used in various healing methods for over 4,000 years.  The cultivation and utilization of essential oils had first been noted in the cultures of India, China, Persia, Egypt, Israel, Greece and Rome and eventually spread around the globe.  The term "Aromatherapy" was coined in 1937 by French cosmetic chemist René Maurice Gattefossé, Ph.D.  He had been studying the antiseptic properties of essential oils beginning in 1907.  In July of 1910 Monsieur Gattefossé had personal experience with the healing powers of essential oils after burning his hands in his laboratory. He was able to heal his wounds by applying lavender essential oil, which he described in his 1937 book Aromatherapié.  The external application of small quantities of essences rapidly stops the spread of gangrenous sores. In my personal experience, after a laboratory explosion covered me with burning substances which I extinguished by rolling on a grassy lawn, both my hands were covered with a rapidly developing gas gangrene. Just one rinse with lavender essence stopped “the gasification of the tissue”. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating, and healing began the next day (July 1910).”  Gas gangrene is a potentially fatal infection, and was the cause of many amputations and deaths in the First World War. Since this incident, he collaborated with a number of doctors who treated French soldiers for war wounds using lavender and other essential oils.

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

Aromatherapy can be described by author, Gabriel Mojay “as the controlled use of essential oils to maintain and promote physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.”   Essential oils are volatile (easily evaporated) substances that occur in plants growing all over the earth.  The essence of each plant is extracted from a primary source using different methods, the most common one being steam distillation.  

Essential oils are retrieved from many parts of plants.  For example, the orange tree produces 3 completely different essential oils, depending on the parts of the tree use. Sweet orange oil (Citrus sinensis) is extracted from the orange peel, neroli oil (Citrus aurantium) is made from the orang blossom flowers, and petitgrain (Citrus auranium) is created from the leaves and twigs of the tree. Each of these oils have entirely different aromas and healing properties. With these three amazing essential oils coming from one plant, imagine how many essential oils there are in the world to choose from! 

The aroma of essential oils is broken down into three components - top, middle and base notes.  The top note is the first one your sense of smell will pick up on and is usually light and fresh, such as a citrus oil. The middle notes provide the bulk of the fragrance and are commonly a floral or herbaceous aroma.  The base note are heavy and rich and are the last to emerge from the scent. Typically the top notes will last 2-4 hours, middle notes 4-6 hours and base notes up to 72 hours. 

References:  Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Moray, Gabriel, 1997