What is it?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils taken from flowers, roots, fruits, leaves, or plant stems. Aromatherapy was widely used in ancient China, India, Greece, Rome, and other parts of the world. It may have begun in Egypt over 5000 years ago. The distillation process used in extracting the pure essentials oils was invented by an Arab physician in 1000 AD.
In the 1930's, Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist, discovered the healing power of essential oils after his badly burned hand quickly healed without scarring after using lavender oil. This discovery caused a renewed interest of aromatherapy in Europe. The experience also caused Gattefosse to further study the medicinal use of the essential oils of lavender and other plants. He called this systematic approach to his studies aromatherapy.
High quality essential oils need large amounts of raw plant materials to make highly concentrated (strong) oil. For example, it may require 50 pounds of eucalyptus or up to 3000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of the finished product.
Essential oils are usually inhaled or put on the skin. They can be used as a compress, a spray, or added to bath water. These oils may be gently heated to allow them to fill a room with their scent. This sends small amounts of oil droplets into the air. You can also put a few oil drops into a bowl, add a small amount of steaming water, and breathe in the vapors.
You can use aromatherapy to treat yourself or you can see an aromatherapist for treatment. Aromatherapists are not licensed in the United States. Many different types of care givers practice aromatherapy, such as massage therapists, nutritionists, chiropractors, psychologists, or other alternative medicine care givers.
Essential oils may cause allergic reactions. People with asthma or skin allergies should be careful when using essential oils. Certain essential oils may cause problems with a pregnancy. Essential oils should also be used with caution in children, especially those under three years.
For more information:
1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.
2. Cassileth BR: The Alternative Medicine Handbook, 1st ed. WW Norton & Company, NY, NY; 1998.
3. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.
4. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.
5. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.
6. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.
Last Updated: 1/4/2011