Aromatherapy is an alternative form of healing that relies on the application of oils extracted from plants, and the belief that those oils can have a beneficial effect on our physical and psychological health.
Aromatherapy Brief History
Though knowledge of some of the substances utilized in aromatherapy stretch back thousands of years, the art of aromatherapy itself originated in Europe in the early 20th century. Scientists and doctors began promoting the benefits of essential oils, and a French surgeon named Jean Valnet even used them as an antiseptic in his treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II.
While scientific evidence remains inconclusive on the effectiveness of aromatherapy in treating medical conditions, it has been shown to have positive effects on mood, and, as the name suggests, there may be a connection between the smell of the oils used and the effects they have on emotions.
The signals they send to the olfactory system, the part of the brain that controls smell, prompt a release of chemicals that promote a sense of well-being and relaxation. According to Medical News Today, the emotional lift that these oils provide may be a result of the smell, the massage techniques used to apply them, or a combination of both. Next we will look at some examples of aromatic substances
Famous for its strong odor, eucalyptus is often used to treat colds and flu due to its ability to cleanse the airways and relieve congestion in the sinuses and lungs.
It’s also been used as an antiseptic on wounds and insect bites, to treat fatigue, and even as a means of preventing conflict due to its supposed calming effect on the mind.
According to howstuffworks.com, the eucalyptus or gum tree originates in Australia and Tasmania, but can now be found all over the world.
The French government planted the trees in Algeria, believing they could purify the air and thus help to combat malaria. Funnily enough, it actually succeeded in staving off the epidemic, though not for the reasons they thought. The malaria-carrying mosquito thrives in swamp environments, but the eucalyptus trees drained water from the ground much quicker than anticipated, and ended up draining the marshes and converting them into dry land.
Originating in Malaysia, Madagascar, India, Indonesia, Singapore and China, black pepper oil is believed to improve circulation and relieve aches and pains, and to have antiseptic and anti-toxic qualities, leading some to use it as a complementary treatment for arthritis or as an aid to digestion. According to the book Aromatherapy Science by Maria Lis-Balchin, it may even help people quit smoking by relieving cigarette cravings.
Drawn from the fruit of the citrus tree, which was supposedly discovered on the Canary Islands by Christopher Columbus and brought back to Spain, bergamot has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral and antidepressant properties.
It has been used as a treatment for viruses, bacterial infections and skin conditions, and as an ingredient in Earl Grey Tea. It even served as a good luck charm for superstitious travelers, who believed that carrying a bergamot fruit in their pocket would protect them on long journeys.
The famous white-leaved flower is sometimes known as the mistress of the night, as its scent is strongest in the late hours. This has led to it being associated with seduction, and being attributed with aphrodisiac qualities. Aside from that, it serves as a treatment for muscle cramps and nerves, and as a stimulant for the brain.
A number of studies have been conducted on the effects of jasmine, one of which showed that women who received weekly massages with jasmine oil reported an improvement in their menopausal symptoms. Another found that computer operators who received aromatic treatments with jasmine were able to reduce the amount of mistakes they made by one-third.
The benefits of aromatherapy
Though generally considered an alternative or complementary form of medicine, the effectiveness of which remains a point of contention for many, there are places where aromatic methods and substances are not only deemed effective, but have actually been incorporated into conventional medicine. In France, for example, some essential oils are treated as prescription drugs, and are attainable only with the permission of a doctor.
It’s been suggested that aromatic substances can benefit animals as well, and some pet owners even choose to use them as substitute for chemical flea and tick repellents.
Aromatherapy In Pregnancy
Aromatherapy can also be used to help ease some of the stresses, aches and pains of pregnancy and even labour, although oils should be used with care. While there are oils that are perfectly safe to use throughout pregnancy, others should only be used after the first trimester. According to Wendy Mackay (who belongs to the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association – IAAMA), ginger is an example of a safe remedy, which is great because when inhaled it helps with the dreaded morning sickness. Grapefruit oil can be used in foot bath to get rid of uncomfortable swelling. And ubiquitous indigestion can be treated by massaging a combination of spearmint and sweet almond oil onto the belly – just remember to do it in a clockwise direction.
During the first trimester, Mackay recommends avoiding geranium, lavender, rose, and roman chamomile, but after that they are good to go – in moderation. Other good oils to use after the first three months include:
Bergamot, as a general mood enhancer and to treat bladder infections.
Lemon, for nausea and to prevent varicose veins.
Eucalyptus, in the event of a niggling cold or flu.
Tangerine, to aid sleep and prevent stretch marks.
Frankincense, to relieve labour pains and generally make labour as comfortable as possible.
Some oils are quite strong, so it’s important to dilute them as much as possible without having them lose their effect. Other oils are too strong or even toxic and should be avoided. Oils to be avoided include, but are not means limited to:
Always, always consult a qualified, accredited and registered before using aromatherapy remedies during pregnancy, and only ever buy 100% pure oils from reputable stockists.
Either way, the feel-good factor of aromatherapy cannot be denied, and its positive effects on mood indicate that it has much to offer as a complement to conventional medicine.
All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.